17 January 2011

I got the call I’d been half expecting for a number of months.

“I am disappointed,” I said, “but not surprised.”

It’s the end of an era. “It is being made official in the morning and there is an embargo on the story until 10am tomorrow. Charlie Hodgson is resigning in the morning.”

I was leaving for Verbier in the morning, for a few days skiing and boarding with the family and friends from work. Charlie is someone who I’d consider one of the most underrated fly-halves in today’s game. Underrated or not, you have to treat the people who work for you nicely, and if you want incredible results my advice is to go overboard on the “lavishing praise” aspect of management.

The lavishing praise is something I learnt from Richard Branson, and sitting here now in his home in the Swiss Alpes with friends I am reminded just how much he has helped me and UKFast in 2010.

The Lodge is a great place to reflect and the New Year is the best time to review and plan. I am here with a crowd from work and we wouldn’t be here if Branson hadn’t kindly offered up a few pearls of wisdom. It just goes to show you that being nice pays off as I am spending my hard earned money in one of his luxury properties, spoiling my top performers at UKFast!

Team launch

So, what did I learn and how are we different?

Well, UKFast was a pretty good business going into 2010 but it wasn’t perfect and I was probably the biggest of a number of few weak links. I had no formal training to run a business of this size. With an anticipated turnover of between £17 and £20m this year, the business is very different from the one I set out on the journey with Gail back in 1999.

And although my heart and intentions have always been in the right place, I have been learning as I have been going along. Now this is not too much of a problem when the business is small. However, as the stakes get bigger, small mistakes can manifest themselves as much larger ones down the line. So, it is essential that errors of judgement are kept to a minimum. On the whole we have been lucky but luck is not something you want to solely rely on when everything you hold dear is at stake.

I needed help and fast. Ironically, on this journey of development I have come to the realisation that as fast as I develop, I will always need to learn more! This is to maintain the momentum that you create. Mohammed Ali said, “I run on the road, long before I dance under the lights.” This beautiful phrase is almost prophetic. There is so much you can read into this statement. You can image just how hard Mohammed Ali trained and how far he must have run to become the living legend we all now know and love. And what was his ultimate outcome? To be the greatest boxer? Or to change the world? Somehow I think the boxing was just a stepping stone for the latter and the momentum he created will live on long after his memories fade.

Tony Robbins sums up the importance of learning with the phrase, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” I can associate with this. The times in my life where everything slotted perfectly into place coincide with the times I was consciously making an effort to develop. All the people I know who end up failing, simply stopped developing, often riding on their past successes. They stop doing everything that got them to that place originally. The result? They get less lucky.

Going into 2010 was no different to previous years; I knew we had some work to do to maintain the spirit we’d worked hard to achieve since inception. Managing thousands of customers and hundreds of people required skills I simply didn’t have at that time. It was the first question I asked Richard B, “how do I maintain the spirit that we have had since inception whilst growing it beyond a hundred people?”

But the answer is not important and maybe something for another day. What is important is that I was asking questions and eager to learn other people’s opinions. You will find the answer to the most extraordinary problems if you set out on the journey to discover them.

And now, sitting in the basement of The Lodge, typing away, with the guys from work watching “The Hangover” which is swiftly becoming a cult film for our team in this cult venue, I enter 2011 really excited about the differences we are going to make to people’s businesses and their lives. I am even more excited about the differences we are able to make for the guys at work, all of them. I have learnt that my colleagues have the appetite to develop at a similar pace to me and they need rewarding just like I do.

Team Building

Enjoy the challenge

And reflecting on 2010, was it a good one? I certainly regard it as such as it was one of those life changing years. One where I stepped up a gear and started listening, not just to the advice of great people around me, but also my gut too. Following your heart and fulfilling your dreams is where you are ultimately tested. Fundamentally, isn’t this really what it’s all about anyway?

So, if you are a dreamer like me, dream big and best of luck for 2011. I wish you every success. Go make those dreams a reality or come and join me on mine.


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