29 January 2012
It’s been a great start to the year. I am not able to give you profit figures yet as it’s a little early. However, I can confirm that we had another record year in 2011. In the last 5 years, we have grown 630%. If we maintained that, we’d hit £100m in the next 5 years.
We have our work cut for us if we want to keep up this momentum though, as it is technically harder to increase percentage growth year on year whilst growing organically. It’s the first thing analysts question, “how do you intend on maintaining this trajectory?” The simple answer is that you don’t unless each year you increase every area in identical proportion to your turnover. It’s very difficult to achieve this organically because with growth comes cash flow difficulties and a plethora of challenges. Also, in an economy such as ours, I believe it’s more prudent to follow common sense; build at the speed you feel most comfortable at.
That being said, we are on a massive recruitment drive, although I am not sure where we are going to house everyone yet as we are bursting not just with energy on the 28th floor but at the seams too.
But under the skin of UKFast we are having fun and that’s important. Breaking down our larger goals into a myriad of challenges for smaller teams to tackle is the new game. I would be kidding myself if I thought I could influence every team member as well as the direct line managers can, who work directly for and on behalf of their team mates. My job is to motivate the managers and trust that they are able to pass on the message with passion and without dilution.
It’s part of the process of learning to manage a much larger business. It’s sad in a lot of respects as I have thoroughly enjoyed the responsibilities of leading from the front and battling with my mates, for all of whom I’d swim the channel as they would in return, (with the possible exception of Rich, who’s not a great swimmer!) Over the last 12 years, a great many of them have become close friends and I love being a part of their growth outside of work too as they settle down and start having kids. But it’s time for these friends of mine to wear my shoes and develop new skills of their own, managing and developing their teams.
If I look at this pragmatically, there are similarities to the old days when there were just 20 or so of us. If you total up all our managers and team leaders, we are in a similar place. The only difference is that, unless I want to continue to slow down the growth of UKFast, I have to let nature take its course. I can’t be sitting next to every person, coaching them individually!
So, have I officially stepped back? I have done so before at my peril and watched managers with pedigrees and so called proven track records steer us off course. On previous occasions, I have had to step back in to pick up the pieces. It’s costly when you get it wrong. You not only slow down growth, you also lose great people who get disheartened in the process.
Yet, this time, I am confident that we have the right people in place and whilst I don’t think any of us are the finished article yet, their appetite makes them the right people for the job. I have spent a number of years preparing for this and working tirelessly on the culture of the business, ensuring that I invest all my time and energy in the right people.
It comes at an interesting time too, as my own family is also growing. My wife Gail gave birth to our newest baby last Friday at 2.26am. Not many people can work with their spouse but we have had an incredible innings and I have enjoyed working with her and building this great organisation together. So, in a funny way I know that I have lost her too at this crucial time. Mind you, don’t for a minute underestimate my wife. At ten minutes past midnight, I was reminding Gail that I had a sales meeting starting in just over 7 hours. And whilst I was slightly late for the meeting and a little shell shocked and emotional on arrival, my wife too arrived at work carrying our baby less than 9 hours after giving birth. If you thought Thatcher was tough, you have no idea. It’s this sort of commitment that makes UKFast special.
So, whilst Gail is doing her mum stuff, you can rest assured that I wont be allowed to and she will continue to motivate and inspire me and the troops from a different angle. But this time is going to be different for her too.
After the birth of our first daughter, she lay on a play mat whilst Gail (with support from June and Paula) entered every transaction of every customer into our new accounting system that we’d designed and built. It took months. The impact of our second daughter followed a similar suit as the business had grown to new levels with new extraordinary challenges that required endless hours of commitment. So, this time, I can say with certainty that Gail’s officially on maternity leave and I am going to see to it that she enjoys every moment.
Luckily, we have been planning this for some time and we have put in place a team that, whilst they cant replace Gail, can support me and my managers to the highest levels.
So, it is undoubtedly the birth of a new era, and a very interesting one too. Wish us luck!
Best of British