2 August 2015

This year seems to be flying faster than ever. Yesterday was my 47th birthday and a great time to reflect on life in general and the year so far.

I have some wonderful friends and a varied life that keeps me on my toes, not least with my wife and 3 beautiful daughters who are constantly challenging and testing me.

But whats next? What does the world have in store for me over the years ahead?

Do you reach a point where you think, “OK time to slow down and enjoy myself” or do you plough on?

View across Verbier

View across Verbier

Just over a year ago I moved to Switzerland to a small town in the mountains called Verbier. The rationale was to step back from the day to day running of the business and let the younger talent drive UKFast forward.

Whilst it worked well and UKFast grew more with me away than in any time I’d been at the helm, I realised a few things about myself.

As soon as the ski season finished and the town emptied, I found myself walking around the village looking for something to do.

I realised that we’d been spending an increasing amount of money each year taking people from UKFast skiing. It made sense that we own our own Chalet; this way we could neutralise some of the costs. “Maybe we could buy a small hotel” I thought.

Next thing I know I am knee deep in a complex transaction involving people from all over the world acquiring a landmark property and hotel called the Farinet in the heart of Verbier.

Verbier's best night spot Le Farinet

Verbier’s best night spot Le Farinet

I love a project and this was one of the toughest of my life, with the odds stacked against me with the ski season about to start in 10 weeks from completing the purchase. The whole place needed renovating and as I found out building and renovating is not as simple in Switzerland as it is in the UK.

But that’s for another blog.

We were lucky with the Farinet project and scraped over the line just in the nick of time. I had a tremendous team on the job. A team that dropped everything in the UK, friends, family, kids because they saw me in difficulty and wanted to help. I will never forget the wife of one of my teammates from UKFast on her hands and knees scrubbing paint off the floor minutes before the doors opened. She wasn’t paid, she is a lawyer by trade! She did it because she believed in what we were doing. She did it to save my bacon.

I will never forget the effort that went in to that project and the amazing people involved. We’d been told by so many of the Swiss authorities that we couldn’t make the deadline! “You do know we are British” I recall saying to one of the senior people in the Canton. “We don’t give up that easily!”

It was my wife who pointed put, “Lawrence we came here to slow down! You just don’t know how to do you?”

Gail is usually right and she was definitely right with this observation.

As I grow older its nice to try and start understanding myself. What are my strengths and weaknesses?

Well slowing down is not going to be something that is easy for me to do, that I am learning.

I thrive on seeing people develop. I love projects that involve pressure and time and help bring a team together. I am great believer in the idea that people achieve far more than they can ever imagine when filled with belief and passion.

There is no doubt that running UKFast remotely with everything going on in the background in Switzerland helped enormously. It taught me to look at a bigger picture and to “Skate where the puck is going and not where it is now” as Wayne Gretsky poetically put it.

But once the snow had melted this year, my feet were itching to sink my teeth into a much bigger project. “What is the ultimate challenge?”

It was sitting right in front of me, UKFast.

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UKFast brightens up the road in to Manchester with a 60ft Video Wall, promoting Cash For Kids

“How do I help grow UKFast into a really amazing and inspirational business that genuinely changes peoples lives, be they customers, team mates or extended family?’

I drove back across France with a best friend eager to get back to the UK and start afresh.

With all the top entrepreneurs talking about “disruption” I couldn’t help thinking this isn’t how I saw the future of UKFast.

I understand the concept of being a business that “disrupts a competitor” or “shakes up an industry.” I’d like to think we’ve done a bit of this in our time, but to be a business that is lucky enough to hit that sweet spot requires tremendous dedication and focus.

With all the talk of disruption prominent entrepreneurs were saying that people needed to employ “disruptive people!” This couldn’t be further from my mind and is completely against everything I stand for.

If you look at the ultimate disruptors, Apple, Google, Twitter being good examples, they are extraordinarily collaborative. They look after their staff to the highest level and they work incredibly hard make their brands special.

The result of this cohesion is “disruption” but it’s this forward thinking and planning and coordination that makes it possible.

Personally I think disruption is passé and “collaboration” is the future.

So now back at UKFast and looking to make a real difference, the way forward is engaging with our customers, helping them grow and learning from them what we need to do most to make UKFast a better business.

The best part of this is the team who like me enjoy watching things develop fast, they can see the difference our new mindset is making already.

We are helping schools, universities, governments, councils, police forces, NHS trusts and a myriad of small businesses.

This in turn is connecting and changing the lives of soldiers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, mums and dads, kid at school, kids at home developing their skills after school, the list just goes on and on; its simply inspirational.

A clever bloke called Jim Collins once explained the 3 circles concept. He said businesses only succeeded when they answer positively to 3 questions.

  • Can I be the best at it?
  • Is it financially the right thing to do right now?
  • Am I passionate about it?

It’s the last question that awakens me the most. Am I passionate about connecting and helping so many businesses doing so many extraordinary things that change peoples lives?

It’s the most rewarding job on the planet and somehow we have got ourselves in to a privileged position where we are able to help at a community level and give back more than ever, all at the same time.

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Kids visit UKFast for Code Club. Aaron Saxton welcoming the kids and making them feel at home

This is undoubtedly what I am passionate about. Building places, people, projects and slowly but surely contributing to make Britain a better place to live and work to bring up the next generation.

Our grandparents fought for the association of Great in our countries name and its up to us to work together just as our ancestors did and make them proud and produce an even better environment.

Find what you are passionate about and get stuck in. Its not huge actions of a few that count but those of millions of individuals all inspired pulling in the right direction.

Collectively we can achieve everything we put our minds to, harnessing technology with the creativity and passion the British are famous for.

Enjoy your Sunday, but most of all, think of what you can do differently on Monday and start as you mean to go on!

See you on the road ahead.

Best LJ

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