1 October 2017

There’s nothing more important than family. This week has been a real reminder of that.

On Friday we said goodbye to the amazing Arlene, our director of people development. Arlene is one of our full time teachers and she’s been a big part of the UKFast Family for more than 4 years. She’s not gone forever, but for a year or so while she takes on a new role: Mum.

In the early days of UKFast the thought of such a key team member being away from the office for so long was absolutely terrifying. As a team of two starting our own business, we have learnt how to run UKFast day by day, one step at a time. There is no manual and there are a great deal of legal complexities along with important responsibilities like how we manage maternity and paternity leave.

Over the past few years we’ve seen more and more UKFasters starting their own families, often together! As the business is growing up, so are the team, myself included, (although some may disagree!). It’s so important for us to help where we can to take the strain away from new parents. There should be no concerns about leaving work for a while.

By accident or by design, we’ve never recruited for someone to cover maternity leave. The team naturally pull together and fill the gap. This is the beauty of running a business like a family and watching people’s supportive natures come out. 

Raring to go

Whilst I was frightened of losing people to maternity or paternity leave in the early years, I now see it as a blessing. It’s extraordinary to see how well people settle straight back in, often more passionate and hungry than ever! I often refer to parenting as nature’s greatest management training program. My wife Gail is a prime example of this. Coming back in her new role as UKFast MD, with 4 kids and a definite decision not to have any more, she was ready for a new challenge. Whilst it is a challenge balancing a career and four children, Gail is impossible to slow down. After a significant period away from their colleagues, it’s amazing to see just how much people really want to make a difference.

A few years ago a few women left the company to work elsewhere. The feedback they gave was that the maternity package just wasn’t good enough. So we spoke with the young mums in the business and designed a new one. Now we have one of the best in the world. It’s no coincidence our team are having more babies than ever!

Business and family go hand in hand

Ultimately, a business isn’t about making a profit; it’s about making a difference. A business in its perfect form has the potential to be as close knit as a family; a proud and passionate community. If you set your business up to make a profit, when times get tough, people lose their passion to carry on and, more often than not, under these circumstances they fail. If you set it up to make a lasting difference, your team are far more likely to pull together through the hard times and success will naturally follow.

A visit to Boundary Farm with my four girls reminded me of this earlier in the week. We went down to the local farm in Dunham Massey. The owner Alan, father of a friend of mine Jonny who owns Redhouse Farm, had picked all of the apples from our home at the Priory. We went down there together to press them into apple juice. Jonny’s dad started the farm as a side project when he retired. Now he has more than 3,000 trees! All of the girls joined in and even one-year-old Summer was washing the apples and putting them into the machine. Time together like that is so important. It’s also great that these apples, which in previous years lay rotten on the ground, are now being hand pressed and are on the way to the UKFast Campus. 

The results are clear

Your business is a community and it’s worth remembering this when you make decisions on how it works. It took me a good 10 years to figure this out!

If you genuinely care about the people you work with, you start to make better decisions. Designing a great maternity package just inspires you to do more innovative things. One of my favourites is giving newlyweds an extra week’s holiday too. Weddings, whilst very exciting, are very expensive and time consuming to organise. An extra week may seem a lot to the finance director, but consider what it means to the person getting married. I have never regretted creating perks that put smiles on people’s faces. I only wish I’d done it earlier.

So this week as Arlene heads of on maternity, two new mums start their ‘Keep In Touch’ days and one of the team returns a newlywed after three weeks off to get married abroad.

Rather than back-to-work blues, they’ve already been in touch to say how excited they are to get back to the office and take on a new challenge. It’s an honour to have them back. 



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