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Take a calculated risk

May 28th, 2015

Neil McArthur MBE Neil McArthur was the founder of national telecommunications operator, Opal Telecommunications, which was acquired by the Carphone Warehouse Group in 2002.

He’s a  chartered engineer by profession, but what I found interesting when I listened to him talk a couple of weeks ago, was his enthusiasm for business and his passion to help companies grow beyond that of a small business. He accepts that business life isn’t always straightforward and sometimes risks have to be taken, but not at any cost.

I thought his ‘down to earth’ approach was a good sign for the future of business. If we had more people who had seen some of the bends in the road of business life and talked about it, start-ups would have a better understanding of what lies ahead.

When ‘confidential business conversations’ are not at all confidential.

April 30th, 2015

1430318501621Last week I was sitting in a hotel lounge waiting for my visitor to arrive. In another part of the lounge, not too far from me, were two men having a business discussion. One (I assume the Sales Manager)was explaining to the other (I assume the salesman) that as his sales targets had not been met in the past three months (he went into great detail about his potential customers) he was in danger of losing his job. I felt quite uncomfortable at this point and was about to go over to them, when I realised they were finishing the conversation and about to leave the lounge.

This kind of conversation should not be happening in a public lounge of a hotel. Not only does it put the salesman in a difficult position but what is the impression given to anybody nearby, of the company and the way it discusses confidential issues.

Don’t loose a sale because you cannot keep confidential meetings, confidential. The impression is not good.

Alex Staniforth, young man on a mission, to climb a mountain.

March 17th, 2015

slide7We met up in a hotel to talk about his amazing achievements in such a short period of time and this year’s goal.

This 19 year old is going to climb Everest in a few weeks and I wanted to know why. Read my conversation with him, then check his web-site to fill in the gaps, because I could have continued that conversation with him a lot longer than our time allowed. If business is 10% innovation and 90% perspiration, then we learn from Alex.

How did your family react?

To be honest, I can’t really remember. There was never really a day where I sat at the dinner table and out of the blue made the announcement. I think I just got started instinctively and kept it to myself. I knew that one day, I would climb Mount Everest, and I do recall my mum telling me it would be too dangerous. She probably thought nothing of it- just a schoolboy pipe dream as I was beginning to discover the world- like wanting to be an Astronaut in my earlier years…

It wasn’t until November 2012 that I actually committed and set the date for 2014. Some family members dismissed it as ‘an expensive holiday’. If climbing and suffering for 2 arduous months, without a shower,  in an inhospitable environment was a ‘holiday’ then I’d be suing my travel agent!

I’ve been brought up to work hard for the things I want in life. Mum in particular, understands what it means to me and has been extremely supportive in allowing me to pursue this. She understands the wider benefits, rather than pressing me into University or work. Before he died suddenly, my granddad was incredibly proud of me. His spirit, along with my dogs Harley and Hooch, continue to drive me on.

How do you cope with, and overcome obstacles?

I’d say they’re the same thing. You overcome obstacles by carrying on going. Through expeditions and experiences, I have become more and more resilient to coping with the obstacles that life throws at me. Being at high altitude and at the end of physical or mental exhaustion, strips you down bare to who you really are as a person. When I was younger, the bullying, speech issues and Epilepsy were crippling and I didn’t have the resources to do much except struggle on. After all, that’s often the only answer to many of our struggles, we may have to change or adapt something, but in the end, you just keep going.

I found exercise and music helped me cope massively, but there were times such as my first depression where it didn’t and I spiralled downhill into a very dark place. It did toughen the ‘eggshell’ though, for next time. But with depression it can leave a weak link. My second bout was beaten by having a new goal, a new direction- that was Everest 2014. I’d been badly injured for about a year and couldn’t train so it was a huge risk but I was massively inspired by Bear Grylls’ story of how he broke his back just 18 months before he climbed Everest.

Having that new lease of life brought me back stronger than before with all guns blazing. Then, I’d done what a lot of people told me was impossible and got to Everest through corporate sponsorship last spring, to finally try and make my dream a reality.

The expedition unfortunately was abandoned following a huge avalanche which tragically killed 16 Climbing Sherpas. So I took it as an opportunity to return to Everest stronger than ever before and fundraise for the avalanche victims. I launched my EPIC7 project, a series of 7 ultra endurance challenges, with a twist designed to push my mental and physical limits and build momentum for Everest 2015 including a couple of record breakers.

What have you learnt from these experiences?

A lot more than I did at school that’s for sure! I think everything comes down to mindset. The more you go through, the less significant obstacles seem, and more it becomes a test of how much you want something- a piece in a jigsaw perhaps.

You have to learn to accept adversity as part of you- naturally and I make fun of my stammer in my speaking presentations. I believe you have truly overcome something when you have either found a solution or learnt something from it.

We have 3 choices; to get on with it, change it, or moan about it. Many of us get stuck on the last one for a long time until we can learn to accept obstacles as opportunities in disguise.

What advice would you give somebody who is struggling at the moment?

It’s amazing how simply going on a walk can untangle your mind! My advice won’t apply to everyone struggling, as problems are unique to the individual, but the bottom line is never give up.

Our minds will play all sorts of tricks with us but rather than thinking how life is mistreating us, we have to think “Why is this happening now and what may it lead to?” Speaking to people, especially those who’ve experienced something similar, can be difficult but it often gives you the external perspective that you hadn’t seen.

My friend Chris suggested the book, The Chimp Paradox, where you imagine a chimp on your shoulder- and ask yourself “What is he doing right now?” When you’re feeling hopeless and beating yourself up, you imagine the chimp whacking you in the back of the head. It wants you to fail. Simply doing this can help you take control of a problem or mindset that’s been caused by a simple trigger. Remember, you’re in control, not the chimp!

Without customers there is no business

February 20th, 2015

20141008_172502I was on one of the last passengers flying into Blackpool Airport a few months ago.

It was strange to be in an airport knowing that it was going to close a few days later. The atmosphere was happy and sad at the same time but it did make me think and remember a basic fact; that if there are no customers, then there isn’t a business. Blackpool suffered it’s ultimate fate, mainly because it had customers, just not enough of them. I know that it continues as an airfield, servicing some of the oil and gas rigs and also there is a flying school there, so there is still a little life continuing, but and airport no longer.(although I do hear that commercial flights may start again but not in the same volume and not to main international destinations.)

Companies need customers for all sorts of reasons, the main one is to stay in business.

 

What and where is work then

October 29th, 2014

20140526_154406I was involved with a group at a workshop the other day when the subject of what people do and where they work became an important discussion point.

Although the majority of people at that workshop did still have traditional offices, a large minority didn’t. Even the people who did have offices to go to, did not spend that much time in them and certainly not ‘9 to 5’.

The concept of ‘work’ is now, more than ever, about value created and not hours worked. The majority of people don’t need to be sat at a desk to create value; they can, with technology, work remotely from their desk, using a mobile ‘phone and a tablet computer and access to the ‘cloud’.

‘Coffice is a word I’m hearing quite frequently at the moment, working on something from a coffee shop, although I know people who are quite happy working in health clubs and wine bars. A friend of mine has for years, worked from a particular hotel lounge in London for years.

Adding value to a customer’s business can be achieved from almost anywhere. It’s the How, not the Where that is important.

Listening! Sorry, what did you say?

September 4th, 2014

20140620_122949Lara Morgan is Founder of Pacific Direct which she set up in 1991.

She talked a lot of sense and most of that was ‘common’ too.

As she mentioned, listening is a good skill to learn. Listen to your customers; listen to potential customers and listen to those that didn’t become customers!

Listen to your team; your suppliers; even your competitors. So much can be learnt from just listening. Then, of course, interpret it and turn it into action.

Ask questions that will encourage people to answer, then listen. If you don’t understand or the answer is not what you expected, than ask for clarification. People will give it.

Don’t leave without understanding. Your business will be better for it.   Just a Thought.

Think Big, Not Small

August 27th, 2014

20140620_115219Michelle Mone, Founder of Ultimo, grew up in the east end of Glasgow, left school with no qualifications but had a ‘can do’ attitude to life.

She had a paper round whilst still at school and ended up ’employing’ 17 other people to service the various paper rounds.

Her early career was modeling but at 19, she had a baby and thought that she should find a job although that prospect didn’t delight her.

Throughout her life, she has always had this positive attitude and believes that nobody should wait for the opportunities to appear; they should go out and find them.

Listening to her and the peaks and troughs that she has had in her life, just highlights how business life can be. Sometimes it’s good and other times, it’s tough but the one thing it never is, is boring.

The opportunity to grow the business is always there, just seize it.

Perfectly Imperfect

August 20th, 2014

20140620_105632Adam Shaw, Founder of the Ideas Company, has a view of how to grow a business.

His view is that we spend a lot of time fearing the destination; being concerned about what’s going to happen when we get there.

That is one reason why we never ‘arrive’. Instead of concentrating on the steps to get us to where we want to go, we sometimes think too far ahead.

His comment was that his mother kept asking ‘why not’ to his queries (I often ask that!). Why can’t you just be ‘perfectly imperfect’ and once he understood this, it gave him the freedom to go forward.

So why try to be perfect when ‘perfectly imperfect’ is ok!

 

 

This isn’t waste, it’s raw material

August 13th, 2014

20140620_104206Kresse Wesling is passionate about waste!

She looks at using household waste and creating something useful from it, like handbags! Not only does she use household waste but she collects old fire hoses and recycles the rubber into products that she can sell. She’s also now looking at industrial estates to see what they could offer in terms of raw material for her business.

‘Reclamation equals innovation, equals change’ was a thought that I took away from her. She also talked about something I’ve heard several times, to recognise the trends and try to be where the trends are going, not where they are now.

A fascinating talk on a not so unusual topic, that of re-using materials to ensure that we, as consumers, don’t waste too much. For companies such as Kresse’s ( it’s called Elvis and Kresse) a way of combining business with a passion.

As I sat there, I thought of what we already use again and again without thinking about it too much – water.

Passion is all you need?

August 6th, 2014

20140620_102422Wayne Hemingway,founder of Red or Dead, and now a driver for social change, challenged the audience to identify what makes an entrepreneur successful.

He believes that Passion plays a very important role when starting and building a business. That passion will take you to places and people that you never thought you would have access to,allowing your fledgling business to grow; but of course, you then have to deliver your promises to those people.

I’ve heard Wayne speak on several occasions and he is very passionate about the things he believes in and straight talking in his approach.

‘If you care, you will force change, because of your passion’

Now there’s a thought!

 



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