12 November 2017

Entrepreneur Lawrence Jones MBE climbing Mount Snowdon on a UKFast team-building trip

In the blowing winds on the way to the top of Mount Snowdon.

Every now and then you make a big mistake, this weekend was one such occasion.  Heading to Wales with Gail quite late into Saturday evening, we pulled into the petrol station a few miles from our house in Wales where the team were already waiting for us.

Whilst Gail went in to get some provisions, I topped the car up with petrol. Getting back in the car I realised that I’d dropped a huge clanger! The worst thing imaginable had happened. And on the screen in the car it said ‘key not found’. My heart sank as I realised that as we were leaving the house, Gail had triggered the alarm. We had run back in to switch the alarm off and I had left the keys in the door. Once you start this car, you don’t actually need the keys to drive. So with the keys in England, 100 miles away, we were still three miles from our destination with a car was full of bags that we are now unable to lock. With the team unable to pick up our calls as they had no signal, we were stranded.

Where was the car?!

It’s how you deal with situations like these and other mishaps in life that counts. As frustrating as it may be, it was impossible not to see the funny side of things.

The worst part is having to ring people back in England. Calling to ask for their help and explain the ridiculous story. But what it did show was just how lucky we are with the number of people who are prepared to rally round to help us out. Within minutes of talking to one of my teammates and great friend, Chris and his wife Naomi (who were due to come the next morning) had got into their car with the dog and set off. And at the same time, our housekeeper Dorota was apparently all dolled up on a night out. She also dropped everything to come and make sure the house was safe. The only thing left for us to do was to ring a taxi and arrive to an awful lot of questions. “Where was the car?”

Just to add to the hilarity of the situation, the taxi took a short cut across the lawn. Unfortunately the driver didn’t realise that it was a mud bath and all four wheels sank. So the team then had to help push him out and promptly got sprayed in mud by the wheels.

Despite the start of the weekend not going so well, we have had an absolutely great time. The team from the Farinet, our hotel in Switzerland, had flown over for some team building. Scotty the GM was keen to introduce some of the newer members to Gail and I, and to UKFast.

Under a clear sky with bright stars and the tranquil lake without a single wave, we all sat around a big camp fire until about half past midnight drinking beers and listening to funny stories.  Chris and Naomi eventually arrived with my car a few hours later and I had to take more flak for my stupidity yet again.

Every year the team evolves

James Timpson, once told me that it takes three years to really get a business into its best shape once you have bought it. Whilst I’m sure there are business owners out there who have done it quicker, the Farinet is a really great example of what he meant. And, whilst it has made profit every year, it has been a journey of great discovery, huge investment and complex challenges. Each year the team has evolved with people coming and going, each leaving their mark. And the business has evolved to be something we are incredibly proud of. Never owning a hotel before meant it was a brave move going into that industry. Never owning a business in a foreign country made it doubly complex.

There was significant opposition to our arrival in Verbier in the early years, with people unsure of our intentions. But three years in, with slight improvements year on year, the Farinet continues to evolve. It is going from strength to strength.

Climbing Snowdon today with the crew really demonstrated how strong Scotty’s new management team is. It also showed just how much he has developed over the years since I have known him. I first bumped in to Scotty on Necker Island when he worked for Richard Branson. Back then he was in charge of watersports, which was once of the biggest responsibilities on the island. We became good friends and kept in touch. When he moved to Verbier a few years later, he inspired me to go and buy a hotel. It was his skepticism that we could acquire the Farinet that spurred us into doing the deal. And over the last three years, he has done a fantastic job managing and building the team over there.

Don’t try to be perfect!

So with the snow falling heavily in Verbier this weekend and the lifts opening I am quietly excited about the ski season ahead and the difference this team are going to make. The Farinet is somewhere where we are able to take our teammates from UKFast. We have made some great friends and lasting relationships along the way.

I will always say team building is the single most important thing when building a business. It is essential when motivating a group of people. The older I get and the further I step away handing the reigns over to my leaders, the more I find myself in the mountains seeing how they cope.  But there is one other invaluable lesson as a leader that you should never forget and that’s don’t try to be too perfect. And, when you do mess up, remember to have fun in the situation.

Heading back to Manchester I am resigned to the fact that there will be many people dining out on the car key story for some time.

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