8 April 2013

It only takes a second to change. It’s a stationary moment in time when everything stands still, when the world stops around you and everything becomes clear. Real change requires real discipline and in these moments there’s a cold realisation that there’s a great deal of discomfort ahead if you are going to be true to yourself. The greater the need for change, the greater the discomfort.

It was one of those uncomfortable moments that drove me to this place where I am now. Have you ever felt that no matter how hard you work, you seem to be going backwards or standing still? Last year and the run up to it felt a bit like that for me.

Stepping back to move forward

Stepping back to move forward

I remember reading the book “Delivering Happiness” about Zappos and how Tony Hsieh woke up one day and realised that the culture in his business had changed. It was no longer the small start up with the energy and passion that it once had. His answer was to quit, but that word is not in my vocabulary.

Everyone warned me that UKFast would change eventually because all businesses do. And whilst change is good, the thought of losing some of that dynamic spirit inherent in all great British start ups never sat well with me. But about 18 months ago, I woke up with one of those feelings. It wasn’t that something was terribly wrong, it was just the thought that if I was going to do something truly extraordinary and really change peoples lives, something had to change. “I need to adapt, everything needs to step up a gear, we need to start working smarter.” It’s a scary feeling, but it’s these uncomfortable feelings that drive and inspire us to continually improve.

I am learning that there is nowhere to hide when you are at the helm of a business because everyone turns around at some point to ask for guidance and if you are not there, steering the ship at those crucial moments, people lose faith and the business loses direction. Ever heard of the Titanic? The business world is littered with organisations that had awesome potential and leaders who thought they were invincible.

If you want to learn how to do something, go and find the best teachers. I play squash and I have a coach who is arguably the best person in the UK outside of the players with official world rankings (and he even gives them a run for their money). Choosing someone who is significantly better at something helps to stretch you where ordinarily you might cruise with a lesser opponent. It also gives you the belief when you realize that these individuals, playing at the very top of their game, are human. They might just be slightly more focussed in key areas.

Businesses are no different and if you want to get good at something, search out the best to learn from and find out the key areas where you can make the biggest impact when you make your changes.

I have been lucky enough to meet and get to know some incredible people, not least the amazing Tony Robbins, arguably my biggest influence. I am a completely different person to who I was a decade ago thanks to a few of those moments where I knew I had to make a number of those uncomfortable changes.


Jonathan Bowers and behind just as she is with me Gail Jones, UKFast cofounder

It turned out that what was needed at UKFast was more simple than I had realized. It was just a matter of establishing a structure that worked when we were small and arguably at our best, then applying a simple formula that everyone can follow so no team member or client ever feels remote. It was easy; the difficult part is that you need to find extraordinary people to help you as you can’t do it on your own.

So, last year on the advice of a great friend, I stepped back from UKFast, not out, I just elevated one of my key directors and life long friends to managing director to help ease some of the pressures of  the the everyday operation of such a rapidly-expanding business. Jonathan wasn’t expecting this challenge and I am sure he’d tell you he wasn’t ready for it either, but that same someone told me “promote someone over and above where they expect to be and you will get tremendous loyalty and they will develop far quicker and surprise you in the process.”

Well, true to these wise words, one year on, same place, same people, same passion, same everything really, yet something feels very different both with the business and with me too. It’s so much clearer when you come back and visit the place and people who inspired the change. You create a clear bench mark when you stop and take stock and and compare two moments in time from the same physical point.

From that tiny thought and that standstill moment, I look back on a the last 12 months with tremendous pride. It wasn’t just JB who stepped up; there are so many great people in UKFast, too many to single out individually, but suddenly from having a business that was full of great people, doing great things we now have a businesses where those same people are doing extraordinary things.

In the last 12 months we have built 2 data centres, hit £20 million in turnover, and the business has added some 50 or so people, yet we feel tighter and more close knit than ever before. But, more important than any profit margin or financial statistic, we have enhanced that dynamic spirit. We are back in business.

So somehow from stepping a little further back everyone lifts to fill the gaps each person makes as they rise to the challenge. You might think this is just a romantic notion, but I can promise you that something great is happening back in Manchester. These guys are running UKFast now. They are a new breed of entrepreneurs, they are empowering each other and they know what is needed to drive and grow UKFast to new levels. I believe in them, they are amazing.

There’s nothing quite like sitting in front of a log fire, taking a minute, taking a deep breath, taking stock of everything that’s going on in this crazy world of ours. It’s one of those moments now, looking out over the mountains of Verbier, watching the snow come down, reflecting on what is undoubtedly the most amazing part of the journey so far.

So, what have I learned?

Take a second to stop what you’re doing and reflect. Light a fire, get out a pen and paper and start writing your lists. Don’t stop, and dream big. Write down what you want to do and then when you have finished, write down what you need to do to achieve everything on the list. If you do this, there will be things on that piece of paper of yours that you will need to cut out and stop doing to improve. These are the painful moments, finding the sacrifices you have to make, but remember just how strong you are. Remember that everything you have around you now started as a single thought. You can achieve exactly what you set your mind on so now, quit writing, it’s time to start doing what you need to do in order to make it a reality. It’s easier than you think and you above all people know you can do it.

I have learnt that the only things that matter in life are the moments you create or share with people where you experience something special. So, whatever your aspirations are, take a moment to be a great person on your journey and I promise you it will work out.

See you at the top of Mont Fort.



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