14 June 2015

This weekend, Lawrence – usually a man of sound judgement – decided to let one of his employees write today’s blog, giving them free reign over its content! Emma, who has been part of the UKFast family for two years, took on the task, explaining why the team were so chuffed to see him receive his MBE.

Although he might remember it differently, the first time I met Lawrence was a disaster. At the best of times I’m a bit socially awkward, but on that particular day – the day of my interview – I truly outdid myself.

In reception, I made the unwise choice of sitting in one of UKFast’s huge egg-shaped chairs, which are surprisingly uncooperative when you’re a 5’2″ ball of awkward trying to look nonchalant. In the interview – for a communications job – I somehow lost the ability to articulate thoughts in the form of full sentences. My brain, however, was quite eloquent in its running commentary of how badly I was performing.

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Receiving his MBE on Friday

After a couple of my stuttered answers, Lawrence sat back in his chair, studying me for a moment. Then, he simply said: “Tell me something about yourself you wouldn’t normally want me to know.” A pause followed, while I mentally searched the list of my abundant idiosyncrasies.

“I’m a bit obsessive,” I answered, immediately and acutely regretting it. But, rather than the uncomfortable silence I had anticipated, Lawrence nodded. “So am I,” he replied, before explaining how this trait can actually be a positive, with the self-discipline and high standards that often come with it, whilst also acknowledging its flaws, the mistakes to be mindful of.

In any other interview, with any other CEO, I would likely have walked out of there without a job offer. My portfolio of writing aside, I had very little paid experience and – on that day – all the sparkle and effervescence of a three day old glass of coke left out in the sun!

When you’re a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, the tips you’re given for interviews always seem like an act in not being yourself. The question Lawrence asked me during our first meeting was a way of acknowledging that, of creating a connection whilst simultaneously making me feel less insecure.

What I realised that day was that UKFast is an organisation for square pegs! Lawrence (I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this) is the biggest square peg of them all – imaginative, unconventional and obsessed with enhancing other people’s lives – and when he became bored of trying to fit into a standard mould, he simply created his own. And, because it takes one to know one, he sees potential even when it falls outside the standard candidate checklist so many corporations favour.

Lawrence took a chance on me when I needed it the most, giving me the kind of responsibility I wouldn’t have earned for years in other firms. He knew I’d step up, just as he knows every single person that makes up UKFast will step up, and work hard to prove him right. And if you start to doubt your own abilities, it won’t be long before he gives you a push. I’ll always remember climbing Snowdon with Lawrence leading the group.

As we caught our breath after a particularly steep pitch, he said, “Those of you at the back, you might think it’s easier to be there but you actually get less rest than everyone else.” Thinking I had an excuse, I chirped up, “But I’ve only got little legs.” He raised an eyebrow. “So? You just need to take more steps. Come up here to the front.”

A disadvantage, I have learnt, is only a disadvantage if you allow it to be. You might have to put in some extra effort, but there’s no reason you can’t be as fast, as strong or as successful as anyone else.

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The Jones’s

Lawrence’s outlook on life – and on people – has led to the creation of an organisation that moves, as he would say, to the beat of its own drum.

I have been at UKFast for two and a half years, and found myself surrounded by weird but endlessly wonderful people who I’m incredibly lucky to call my friends.

Seeing Lawrence, Gail and the girls after the Queen’s Birthday Honours last week, you can’t help but smile.

It might be an MBE for services to the digital economy, but for the extension of this family – those of us back at UKFast Campus – it’s a recognition of Lawrence’s lifelong quest to support, strengthen, and enrich other people’s lives.

From everyone at UKFast – every square peg who finally found a place to fit in – thank you. We’re all very proud.

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