1 July 2012

Whatever your vocation in life, if you are looking for guidance on your quest for continual improvement, you don’t have to look very far. There are great examples of awesome success stories all around us.

Recently, I keep bumping into Fred Done from BetFred.  I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner party where he and his brother Peter talked openly about their challenges and their story. There is nothing more entertaining than hearing how the underdog can prevail against all odds and, as Fred put it, “against the establishment.” It’s such a British story, because there aren’t many places where you can go from rags to riches in one lifetime quite like you can in Britain.

It’s wonderful seeing a 70 year old man demonstrate the passion and energy you’d normally attribute to a teenager. It is no coincidence that Fred’s energy and his success are linked.

I was keen to learn more about Peter’s business, Peninsula, It’s less high profile but, in a sector thats not particularly buoyant and during an economic downturn, they reached £100m turnover in the time it’s taken us at UKFast to reach £20m.

Here is an opportunity to learn, I thought to myself as I listened to Fred and Peter talk about their journey.

I always travel with a little black notebook in my pocket. I got it out and started scribbling. It’s a great discipline because it helps me to recount a story more accurately and, whilst scribbling, my own ideas start flooding in.

It’s interesting how similar traits appear in successful businesses. I am learning that there are certain things that, if you do them, translate across all sectors and, whilst they don’t guarantee success, they certainly help you on the way up and on the way down. It amazes me how complicated people make business by being overly tough on their suppliers and their team around them.

The thing that strikes me most about Fred and his brother Peter is that they are both very open and very giving, both of their ideas but also to their staff. By caring about their team, they have managed to build a loyal following who collectively embody the values of the founders, ensurung that, as all their business interests grow, the culture remains potent and never dilutes.

This is not an easy thing to manage. Many cultures start to crumble when they grow too large. It will be interesting to see if he is able to convert the Tote, an ex government dusty establishment, into the vibrant colourful operation that he prides himself on. If I was a betting man, my money is on Fred, his personality is big enough to carry it off.

So, a week or so later at an awards dinner run by EY (Ernst & Young) Entrepreneur of the Year, I bumped in to Fred in the corridor. I stopped to talk with him and thank him for inspirational words from the dinner I’d attended. I joked with him that we’d deployed one of his tactics that he and his brother discussed a few weeks earlier. “You’ll be in a lot of trouble if it doesn’t work out Fred.” I joked.

We talked for sometime before returning to our tables.

I realised if he was up for the award, I didn’t stand a chance. I had been nominated for this particular award once before in 2008 and, whilst the business was booming, I hadn’t, in my opinion, had a long enough track record to prove myself a success. Anyone can do well for a short period but the true measure of an entrepreneur is tested over time. Whilst we have done well and produced profits for 13 consecutive years, my money was on Fred at this point for obvious reasons, in the same way that if Branson had entered the competition. Fred, I am sure, would concede second place.

Sure enough, Fred won both his category and the main prize. It’s great to see that nice things can happen to nice people.

It’s a lesson for all us business folk. Investing in our teams is the single most important part of what we do. If you are not a business person, give your boss a nudge and tell them there is always a better way! Its worked for Fred and Peter and its working for us at UKFast. There are more and more businesses deploying more positive signs of management, but we are still someway off changing the whole of Britain.

People often assume that you have to be cut throat to succeed in business. Actually, the opposite is true in my experience. And, whilst being ruthless can help rocket you to the top, it doesn’t help you much when you are there, if everyone around you, including people on your team resent you or your ethics. I see so many people who have reached a level, fail to enjoy what they have and hold themselves back because they are not happy within themselves. Success is not success if you are unable to share it.

 

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