11 July 2009

I was recently asked by the TechTrack or FastTrack what was the most challenging thing that faced our business over the past decade.

It is a difficult answer and to define one event as anyone in business will know it is a fast paced journey of peaks and troughs and no 2 days are alike. The most difficult challenge I face and continue to face is the pace I am required to develop.

10 years ago the skill set I had to set up a small business was very different to the one I now have running a multimillion pound organisation. That in itself presents challenges year after year.

I know if I’d walked into a business the size of UKFast 10 years ago, I could not have managed it. Yet I dont feel I have changed that much. However it is very easy to under estimate the experience you gain from being on hand day to day.

If I take a snap shot of me a decade ago and me now, along with the aging process on the outside, the inside is very different too. Eight years ago I was interviewed on Granada News by Lucy Meacock. Last night at the National Business Awards in the Hilton Hotel in Manchester Lucy Meacock was the presenter. We had a chat afterwards and she remembered Gail and I, however she could not believe how much we had changed over the years. It made me think, she is right, I just assume I am the same person. I often describe myself as a man with “no qualifications” and this may be true, however I now have experience, and that is priceless.

Jim Collins describes “great businesses” in Good To Great as having leaders who grow from  within. It makes perfect sense now. Experience out ranks qualifications.

So why then do some businesses grow faster than others? Is it safe to say people are gaining experience at different speeds. I think the answer is obvious. This then explains why businesses evolve at  different speeds. It is relative to the amount of learning and experience the entrepreneurs with in the business encounter.

One of the responsibilities Gail and I have at UKFast is to continue to learn and every year we regroup. We go off to the Maldives for a 3 week holiday. 2 weeks of family fun and 1 week of intense preparation for the year ahead. We write huge lists which fill books and we review the lists from previous years. And we tick off our accomplishments and those we miss we carry forward. Imagine a graph that is steadily rising. This upward curve represents everything we do in our lives. It is easy to peak and trough in life, so we then draw a horizontal line at the highest point we are at at present. This line now becomes the platform for continued growth. Anything below this line is considered an area of dissatisfaction, there is only one way to grow.

So if that means, if I had done 6 hours a week of exercise in 2008 and if we consider being in good shape important to maintaining our growth, I would set a goal to increase that to 7 or 8 hours.

We apply this principal to everything we do.

To be truly successful you have to be disciplined. On that journey to achieve whatever you set out in the early days, you will be tempted to ease off, take your eye off the ball, but I have never met a successful person who was not incredibly disciplined.

Take Lucy Meacock for example. She was employed to present the awards at the ceremony last night. Her schedule of responsibilities from her employers that night would involve arriving early for a rehearsal, and being ready to perform between the hours of 8 and 10 o’clock. During those hours she is on show. She will be required to perform her duties at the highest level. For that she will have received her fee and her rider.

Yet she is the consummate professional. Once the show had finished she took the trouble for the next 2 hours to walk around the entire room greeting and thanking everyone for coming. This is a discipline which not only made her successful but keeps her at this elevated level.

I will give you an example of a fallen star. Do you remember Victoria Wood? The comedian. In a previous life before hosting dedicated servers I had a small business that Granada aquired from me called MDC (The Music Design Company). I organised events. I was lucky enough to win the contract for a charity fund raiser, Christies for Cancer. I chose the venue, The Palace Hotel, Manchester (a place I later got married in).

I wanted Steve Coogan ( a then rising star) however Angela Rodden the MD insisted we went for Victoria Wood. Between her and my PA I was out voted. What a big mistake. Steve Coogan was a mega star by the time the event happened. They both commanded the same fee. £17,000 for the hour.

I should have known when I saw Victoria Woods rider. Her list of particulars was ridiculous. I had put on events for mega pop stars with smaller requirements.

We provided everything to the letter. The flowers (a particular length) were ready in her dressing room, the particular alcohol, the flesh coloured microphone that she taped to her forehead, the Steinway grand piano and the spot light that resembled a bomber tracking light from World War II, we did everything. 

I went to her dressing room and introduced myself. My God, what a rude woman! I politely explained that Angela (who had chosen her) was a massive fan, and would it be possible for her to have a photograph with her at some point before the end of the evening. It was a flat “no” “you have employed me to do a stage show, and that is what I am here to do!” or words to that effect.

We got the last laugh though, when she was doing her stand up, the sound engineers tripped over a wire and switched off the spot light mid act, which was being operated by Jonathan Bowers who is now UKFast’s communication director.

But this sort of attitude explains why Victoria Wood is no-longer on our screens. It is a great lesson, whatever your profession, always be professional. I have a rule that I only do business with people I admire or have the greatest respect for. If somebody’s standards slip in any way, ethically or performance wise , I will not want to do business with them. I have been known to turf suppliers out if they have not stuck to an agreement, either verbal or written. If you agree something, stick to it. Honour it at all costs.

I had a supplier who  cost me a great deal of embarrassment and stress not so long ago. When I confronted their acting MD on the matter, I was told to read the terms and conditions. He said “I think you will find we are doing everything we are contracted to do.”

Two weeks ago, I wrote a cheque for almost £3,000,000. That supplier who has had a monopoly in Manchester on the service he supplied is about to find he has a very passionate competitor in his midst. At a time when they are planning expansion, they are about to loose their biggest customer and find out they have an exodus of existing clients who we already have undertakings with that they are coming on board with our new venture.

Lack of professionalism isn’t a one off. People who are unprofessional are consistently unprofessional, day in day out. And, if you want to be successful, in whatever profession, stay alert and learn from everything that goes on around you. Be disciplined and be a great person. Follow these simple practices and you cant go far wrong. 

I’ll see you at the top! Or on that great journey.

Lawrence Jones @ UKFast

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