What inspired you to start a business?
I was never very good at waiting to be “the boss” – always thought I knew how to do things faster, more efficiently and better and to vision how things might work. In some areas this was true. But time has taught me that in many it wasn’t. The instant you start to build your business the ultimate responsibility rests with you to make it succeed – the weight can be trying – and it does offer a degree of freedom but not as much as I had imagined.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
The greatest challenge is creating an environment where great people want to work. When you begin as we did with no investment, you create an environment that has to be sale-focussed. You work 24/7 and that sets up expectations to others joining the firm. When you then want to attract people better than you, it looks like a tough place to be. Altering that when you are on the road so much is a challenge.
The rewards now are definitely in the work itself. Knowing that we created a firm that runs training courses that impact the lives of others for the better is amazing. The feedback we get from our Women’s Leadership programmes, seeing people who believed they could never reach above the “glass ceiling” do so – hearing stories about how we helped to ‘re-write’ their own inner dialogues is amazing – enough when it happens in the UK but to have been the founder of an organisation that now does the work across the globe – now that is a huge reward.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing successes and failures?
Get a great partner. Without a doubt having someone with you as invested in your organisation as you are is essential. Heather Butler and I have run the firm together for over 17 years. There is an understanding of each other’s vulnerabilities and strengths that has carried us through many a crisis. Also, in building a global operation you do need someone with their feet a little more firmly “on the floor”.
There was a point when The People Development Team wandered a little off course. When I look back we had an overall fiscal goal but had lost a collective view of what that would actually feel like when we had achieved it. The route was fuzzy too. We were hitting the numbers but it was even harder work than we had done before – and our team felt that way too. Always having and talking up the visual of achieving your goals is as essential as having them.
It’s the vision that leaves you in times of stress and pressure. You can stop dreaming and stop believing in your future. As a strategist I know how important a realistic view is of your capability to deliver – but the dream that sits around it is just as essential.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
The last recession was the scariest time for us. At that point we were a traditional Management Development operation – we taught strategy, culture change, and high performance leadership – face to face. Companies like ours were closing at a rate of knots as organisations cut their ‘non-essential’ budgets. At the same time we had started work in a new area – working with the impact of the unconscious brain on data driven decisions. A niche area that we saw as a side-line.
After some close calls it was that work, combined with our determination to be able to visualise, globalise and scale that made us successful. Having a niche and sticking to it – even when it seems terrifying is essential. We probably would not be around today if we hadn’t done that.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
I have mentors that probably don’t recognise that they are! Or have been!
Early on, I realised that I had a flair for Moderating panel events. Often I offered to do them at no cost to our clients – and they jumped at the chance. What that did was introduce me to some brilliant people who, after a period, I was able to be totally transparent with in discussing specific business issues. Over a coffee or dinner they were challenging and often more importantly energising. Again, it’s important to be willing to open up to the areas you need help with – specifics not hinting! But it works. I still get some great text mentoring too – the latest was from a mentor who has given me lots of profile raising introductions saying “Where is your ‘We are the City Profile?’”!
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
I long since stopped “working a room” – and have never been great at strategic networking – so many events are in the evenings and by then I have few words left. However I think that has worked well – as I ask more questions of others and enjoy hearing about their day/family/life/job/dog! Many people I exchange cards with probably have no idea who I am or what I do when I leave them at first, but I always follow up with an email and a LinkedIn offer.
I am closely involved with just a few senior networks and charities too – and my tip is always give more than you take: time, ideas, offers of help.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
Growing a business is not essential. Growth for the sake of it will exhaust you and probably fail. Always have an end in mind – be that a target, exit sale or ultimate goal for yourself. It’s easy to lose sight of that. We have grown organically with almost no financing. People say that is a rough route but we have not been answerable to banks and financiers. It also has meant slow and manageable growth that relies on creative ideas and a very committed workforce too.
My regret is that we didn’t strengthen our board sooner – it may have given us the courage to finance and grow at a faster pace. Although now, with a global operation and one of the most impressive client bases, I’m not sure.
What does the future hold for you?
So I took the decision to become a Non-Exec Chair a year ago. Heather is a great CEO and holds the operation on the ground together in better ways than I do. After so many years working in the Strategic Inclusion space I love sharing the work at conferences and with Senior Teams. So, currently I spend more time out of the UK than in it.
I cannot imagine not doing this work – although I may soon have to start speaking more on the importance of a mature work force! The People Development Team continues to grow globally and one day we may accept one of the offers of merger or acquisition. But for now, continuing to help create inclusive workplaces where everyone gets to excel is good enough for my motivation.