Corporate Wellness? It’s more than a Bowl of Fruit


First of all I should enter a plea for leniency. I’m away on holiday this week, so I started writing this post on Wednesday of last week. So the world may have moved on by the time you read this, with another storm due to strike the UK – hopefully not doing the damage it did in Scotland – Coronavirus threatening to make us all work from home and HS2 apparently going through our back gardens by the end of the month…

But let’s assume the world keeps turning. And as we’ve discussed many times on this blog, as the world turns so technology marches forward at an ever faster pace. 

But does that really matter? 

I was hugely heartened to read the results of a recent survey: someone sent me a link to an article in HR News. The headline was simple: ‘Staff twice as important as technology to UK’s high growth small businesses.’ 

Well, we’ve plenty of rapidly growing SMEs among the members of TAB UK but I can emphatically say that in every case the reason for that growth is the great people they employ. Irrespective of how good the technology – and in many cases that is very good indeed – it’s the people, the team (how I hate the word ‘staff…’) that drive the business forward. 

According to the survey 60% of the small businesses cited ‘great staff’ as the most important factor contributing to their success. That was followed by 53% who said, ‘we had a great idea or product’ followed by a significant gap to the other top factors: technology, marketing via the internet and securing funding at the right time. 

I would take great people over great tech any day of the week. How can I not say that, given that I’m surrounded by the best, most talented and hard-working people I’ve ever worked with? If you want the very definition of a ‘people business,’ look no further than TAB UK. 

So you have great staff. The question is, what do your increasingly millennial and Generation Z staff want? If there are two words that should be right at the top of every business owner’s list they are ‘wellness’ and ‘ethics.’ 

I doubt that many of us had heard the word ‘wellness’ five years ago. It is now front and centre.  

What does ‘corporate (or workplace) wellness’ mean? Wiki defines it simply as any workplace health promotion activity or organisational policy designed to support healthy behaviour in the workplace and to improve health outcomes. It comprises activities such as health education, medical screenings, weight management programmes and on-site fitness programmes or facilities.

So that’s all the boxes ticked. Or is it? 

My own view is that really looking after the ‘wellness’ of your team goes a lot further than a bowl of fruit, a flu jab and ‘we might put an exercise bike in that office no-one’s using…’ 

Real ‘corporate wellness’ isn’t about policies and initiatives, it’s about knowing your team as well. Really knowing them – recognising that they all have a life outside the office which is every bit as important as what happens between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday. 

It’s about understanding their need for flexible working and recognising that work/life balance applies to everyone in the team – not just the person sitting round the TAB table. 

It’s also about ethics. Bluntly, I don’t see much difference between corporate wellness and corporate ethics: they’re two sides of the same coin. 

There was a recent story in City AM suggesting that companies would soon need a CEO – a Chief Ethics Officer

Why? 

If you’re the owner or director of an SME you’re already the Chief Ethics Officer – or you should be. 

Your millennial/Generation Z team not only want flexible working, they want to work for a company they believe in, that makes a difference in the world, that has ethical values they share. And if you don’t have ethical values, it doesn’t matter how many bowls of fruit there are in the office. 

One of the very first – and still one of the best – business books I read was Robert Townsend’s Up the Organization. I can’t remember the exact words but Bob Townsend made a very simple point in that book. Don’t lie, he wrote, not to your spouse, not to your staff, not to your shareholders. Except for poker on Friday night, don’t lie. 

Writing in the late 1960s he would have barely recognised the term ‘Chief Ethics Officer.’ But that simple quote absolutely nails business ethics for me. You do the right thing, and you always do the right thing. 

Add that to a clear vision and recognising what the members of your team really want – and that’s corporate wellness. 

Born or Made?


It’s a perennial question, whether it’s sport or business. 

Many of you will have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, and come across his 10,000 hour rule: that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any discipline is – to a large extent – practising in the correct way for 10,000 hours. 

So let’s forget business, management and The Alternative Board for a minute and instead focus on sport – specifically, golf. After all, golf is a sport where you do the same thing time after time – and where there’s no opponent trying to block, tackle or foul you. 

If any sport lends itself to 10,000 hours of practice, it must be golf and – as most people know – I’m a golfer (said he, using the word in its broadest possible sense). 

Could I, with 10,000 hours of practice, become a world class golfer? Let’s leave aside the maths and the marriage. 10,000 hours is 20 hours a week for 10 years: Dav might not be too impressed. Would that amount of practice make me into a top class golfer? After all, I only need to hit my 7-iron 150 yards to the centre of the green. Surely 200 hours will take care of that – leaving me 9,800 hours to perfect the rest of my game…

Let’s leave it there. The ball is heading inexorably towards the pin. Time to consider the broader question of leadership. 

January brought us the World Economic Forum in Davos, the annual meeting of business and political leaders from around the world. An article in City AM posed an interesting question: how many of those who met in Davos are actually trained and competent leaders? 

We’ve all come across the Peter Principle – people in an organisation rise to their ‘level of incompetence.’ Is it the same in the top echelons of business and politics? 

The article made the point that training almost always starts far too late. Someone reaches a senior position and they or their company suddenly recognise that they need some executive training. 

But by that time it’s too late. The article quotes Elke Edwards, founder of a corporate training provider: ‘If we leave it [training leaders] until they’re 35 or 45 it’s too late,’ she says. ‘They already have a whole load of neural pathways that are fully formed, based on what we’ve already role-modelled for them.’ 

So are leaders born or made? You won’t be surprised to hear that Ms Edwards thinks it’s the latter. ‘We all have a leader within us. Leaders are made.’ 

…Which brings me back to my golf ball. 

It was heading straight towards the pin. It really was. But at the last minute it faded to the right. Caught the lip of the bunker. And you know the rest…

I remember reading about Greg Norman and his dedication to practice. He would go to the driving range and hit 600 balls. He’d hit golf balls until his hands were bleeding. Somewhere along the line he must have sailed past 10,000 hours of practice. 

Which is why I think people who reach the top are born and made. Those hours and hours of practice obviously helped Greg Norman. But it was something innate – and unteachable – inside him that made him carry on practising, long after most of us would have decided that bleeding all over our 7-iron wasn’t such a good idea…

It’s the same in business. My own view is that we don’t all have a leader within us. That may be unfashionable but the best leaders I’ve seen have something innate. An instinctive understanding of the organisation they lead: the empathy to bring the very best out of people: the insight to see that if they help everyone achieve their potential, then the only thing the company can do is succeed. 

Whatever Ms Edwards says, we don’t all push our breakfast round the plate in Newport Pagnell service station and decide something has to change. The vast majority of people decide that they’ll stick with it. The kids, the mortgage, not that many years to retirement…

That’s why I believe in born and made. Once someone is sitting round a TAB table then it’s our commitment – backed by the input of their fellow Board members – to help them achieve everything they want to achieve personally and professionally. But we cannot drag them to the TAB table. The drive to start your own business, the courage to accept the risks, the willingness to be responsible for someone else’s mortgage: that comes from deep within…

So no, I may not believe that ‘we all have a leader within us.’ But I absolutely do believe that we all have the ability – with the right support and coaching – to reach our potential and achieve all our goals. And that is a promise TAB UK will always keep: that we will do everything in our power to bring the very best out of all our members.  

Counsel of the North


Another week, another raft of stories about unicorns – companies that didn’t exist a few years ago and are now worth a billion dollars. 

(And Duolingo is one of them! Seriously, whatever happened to four years’ hard work at university?)

We do not – as yet – have a unicorn among the members of TAB UK. What we do have is a lot of members who’ve been in business for a lot of years. And that’s the point I want to make this week. 

Open the business pages and it’s the unicorns – the Duolingos and Starling Banks of this world – that grab the headlines. That’s understandable: companies and entrepreneurs who go from zero to hero sell newspapers and generate clicks. 

‘I thought I could do it better. I thought I owed it to myself to find out. I’m not in it for the short term.’ Those three sentences are not a news story. And yet they’re the story behind so many members of TAB – not just in the UK, but around the world. 

In my last post I mentioned the one TAB board I still run, which has now passed its 7th anniversary. The members of that Board illustrate my point perfectly. Why did they start their businesses? Not for money, but because they owed it to themselves. They had to find out if they could do it better. 

They accepted they were in it for the long haul. They did not have the fashionable business maxim – start it, scale it, sell it – anywhere near their to-do list. 

Part of that long haul is meeting challenges. And as Wednesday morning brought the boss of Lloyds warning of the importance of mental health issues, let’s spare a thought for the support the entrepreneur needs. 

Entrepreneurs face mental and physical challenges. They need stamina – and they need support. 

Yes, you started your business for all the right reasons. Yes, you accepted you were in it for the long haul – but nothing prepares you for being responsible for 20 mortgages. Nothing prepares you for telling Bill that the company has outgrown him. And nothing prepares you for the physical and emotional stress of running a business: of being the person who makes the final decision every time.  

That’s why I think TAB UK is so important. When I’m talking to a potential new member it’s very easy to outline the ‘obvious’ benefits of TAB – accountability, peer support, experienced entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off.

It’s much more difficult to explain those ‘hidden’ benefits – the support, empathy and understanding that are there when you really need them. I’m breaking no confidences when I say that every single member of my original Board has drawn on that support over the last seven years. 

And now to wider matters…

My blog post on January 10th was the first of the year, and the first of a new decade. I made a simple point: the pace of change over the next ten years is only going to accelerate.  

So it obviously makes sense to discuss the events of 1472. 

That was the year Edward IV set up the Council of the North: its aim was simple – to improve government control and economic prosperity and benefit all of Northern England. 

The Council was based in Yorkshire, first at Sheriff Hutton Castle, then at Sandal Castle and finally at King’s Manor in York. Henry VIII re-established the Council after the Reformation (when the North was identified with Roman Catholicism) and it was only abolished in the run-up to the Civil War. 

Could Boris I now be following in Edward IV’s footsteps? Much was made in the election campaign of the Conservatives’ commitment to spread opportunity and investment evenly throughout the UK. But was it just warm words, designed to make the ‘red wall’ crumble, or would we see some positive action? 

“Absolutely fine,” a friend said to me. “But let’s see the evidence. What they need to do is persuade Amazon or Google or Facebook to move their HQ out of London. Hartlepool maybe…” 

Well, it may not be Amazon, Google or Facebook and it may not be Hartlepool. But as I started writing this post (on Sunday evening) there was a story in the Sunday Times: ‘Boris Johnson sends the House of Lords up North.’ York is the rumoured destination, with the city apparently having moved ahead of Birmingham in the race. 

What a coup that would be – and a clear signal that the Government really does intend to make good on its promises. 

Whether the House of Lords moves to York or not it reinforces my original point. The next decade will be one of rapid change. With technological change and a workforce with a new set of demands, it will present entrepreneurs with new and ever more complex challenges. 

And that’s before we factor in Brexit…

This is my last post before the UK leaves the EU. Whichever way you voted, the negotiations with the EU – now not due to begin until March – will bring yet more uncertainty. We’re all going to face challenges we’ve never faced before: a support network like TAB UK is going to be essential for long-term success. 

…And talking of challenges, I’d better do it now. Time to book a table for lunch. Before it’s full of overweight blokes in ermine…

Polls, Publishing and Plans for Next Year


What was it Jane Austen said? “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who has to publish a blog on Friday 13th does not want a General Election on Thursday 12th…” 

Something like that – but you have to press publish at a certain time. And, very clearly, you can’t press publish without commenting on the result of the Election. But when do you start writing? When you see the BBC exit poll? When the first result comes in from Newcastle? 

Or do you decide that the polls are going to be right for once, and get your introduction written on Tuesday afternoon? 

In the event, I did a bit of all three – and then hastily revised my estimate of the Conservative majority as the BBC exit poll and the early results confirmed a very clear win for Boris Johnson. While the final numbers are not yet in, it looks as though we are on course for a Conservative majority of 70-80 seats. 

Dodging the scrutiny  of Andrew Neil appears to have done Boris no harm at all. Not having a policy on the most important issue to face the country in the last 70 years unquestionably did Jeremy Corbyn a great deal of harm – as anyone who runs a business could have told him. You are the leader. Your job is to lead, not sit on the fence. 

Labour recorded its lowest number of seats since 1935, as large sections of the ‘red wall’ turned blue. ‘Workington Man’ – this election’s version of the mythical ‘Worcester woman’ – has swung decisively behind Boris Johnson and his simple, endlessly-repeated mantra: ‘Get Brexit Done.’ 

So, sometime around mid-afternoon today, Boris Johnson will emerge from 10 Downing Street and tell us his plans. With all 635 Conservative candidates having pledged to back his deal with the EU, we’ll be leaving the European Union on or before January 31st. Negotiations on a future trade deal will follow, and Sajid Javid will present a Budget some time in February. 

Well, I didn’t want to leave the EU, but neither did I – or any business owner I know – want to be locked in a spiral of never-ending uncertainty. We may not have the certainty I wanted, but at least we have somecertainty. There will not be another referendum this year: neither will there be another referendum on Scottish independence. 

And the next General Election won’t be until 2024 – and even then, there’s only a 50% chance of it coinciding with ‘blog Friday.’ You can relax, Ed…

…And look back on what has been a great year for TAB UK. There are now more than 50 people working with and for TAB UK. That was a significant milestone to reach and – as I have said many times – it’s a privilege to work with every single one of them. 

Our franchisees cover the UK from Rick in the South West to Helen, Chris and Jonathan in Aberdeen. Yes, there are still some gaps on the map – but we’ll fill them. 

The head office team has also grown this year – and let me use this last blog of the year to thank them all for everything they’ve done in the last 12 months. A special word, though, to Lydia and Tracey who joined this year. They’ve fitted in seamlessly and are already making a great contribution to TAB. 

There was also a personal highlight for me this year. I still run one TAB board, and this month it turns seven years old. That’s more than 80 meetings with the same small group of people. Over the seven years their businesses have grown (so have one or two waistlines…) and I hope TAB has played its part in helping to preserve the sanity of the relevant MDs. Last time I checked none of them was an alcoholic. Well, not confirmed…

Looking ahead to 2020 

So what of the coming year? 2020 sounds like an auspicious year, and there are two TAB developments I’m particularly excited about. 

First of all there’s TAB Connect, a global platform connecting all our 4,000 members worldwide. It’s live now, and 2020 is the year when it will really come to life, allowing a TAB member in North Yorkshire to connect with a TAB member in North Carolina. If you want to use a shorthand term, it’s LinkedIn just for TAB members – but it’s a lot more than that and I’m certain that it will lead not just to sharing ideas and expertise, but to business partnerships that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. 

Closer to home, 2020 will see TAB UK roll out StratPro. This will allow us to work with the owners of bigger companies and those companies’ directors and senior managers, to ensure decisions made at the top flow down through the company as efficiently and as effectively as possible. It’s a really exciting initiative, and I’ll write a specific blog post on it early in the New Year. 

2020 will be an interesting year on a personal level as well. Around this time next year Dan, my eldest son, will be home from his first term at university. How did that happen? It’s only two months since I held his hand and took him into the reception class…

But it has happened, the time has passed and – hopefully – I’ve put it to good use. I couldn’t, though, have done it without a lot of help. To everyone who has been part of my journey this year – thank you. Have a wonderful Christmas, may 2020 bring everything you would wish for and the blog will be back – no doubt vowing to do more exercise – on Friday 10th January. 

Learning from an Old Greek


Ah, politicians. Don’t you just love them? 

First they give us 3½ years of uncertainty and inactivity, then they force me to re-write the introduction to the blog. 

Whichever way you voted in the Referendum I doubt that any of us – reflecting on the morning of June 24th 2016 – could have imagined that the issue would still be unresolved nearly 3½ years later. And it looked set to continue…

So I wrote my introduction for this week along those lines. More uncertainty for business, nothing settled until January 31st at the earliest, no business could operate in such a way…

Damn it, I even used a couple of quotes from Shakespeare! 

‘Your own fault for writing early in the week, Ed,’ you’ll say – and you’re probably right. But at least now there is some certainty on the horizon. The General Election will be held on December 12th. Whatever anyone claims, the Election will be about Brexit, the battle lines are drawn and I suspect, and hope, that it will produce a clear result – and finally, some certainty for our businesses. 

And now let me – if only for the sake of my own sanity – turn to something much more uplifting. Sunday, in case you missed it, was National Mentoring Day. 

Mentor was originally the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. Today we all instinctively understand the term – someone who shares his knowledge and advice with a younger colleague. 

As well as mentoring each other at the monthly meetings, one of the things that gives me the most satisfaction in business is how often I see TAB members sharing their knowledge and experience. That doesn’t just happen in TAB UK – I see it wherever I go, in Europe and the US, and I’m absolutely certain it happens in every other country in the TAB family. 

Credit where credit is due. It was an article in City AM that brought National Mentoring Day to my attention. In the article the author shared his ‘top tips’ for mentoring. Let me highlight three that are always relevant. 

“Just do stuff. Sometimes, to get momentum into your business or your life you should stop thinking too deeply and just get on with it.” 

We all know the phrase ‘paralysis by analysis.’ We’ve all heard Tony Soprano say ‘the wrong decision is better than indecision.’ Your plans will never be perfect: it will never go exactly as you forecast. You need to make a start and adapt as you go along. As I’ve written many times on this blog, we’re living in the age of ‘Ready, fire, aim’ – not ‘Ready, aim, fire.’ 

As I have also written many times (‘countless’ is probably a more accurate word) never forget the KPIs. “Failing to focus on the numbers and key business metrics when times are good.” 

Business would be so easy without human nature. The orders are coming in, the bank balance is moving in the right direction. It is all too easy to think that the KPIs can be skipped this month, that they’re no longer as important as they once were. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Even in the good times the KPIs are crucial. Even if your bank balance is moving inexorably upwards, is that wholly down to one client or customer? Things can change very, very quickly.

Let me choose just one more. “Not unlocking the incredible potential in people. Not asking for help.” 

It’s cited in the article as a mistake that people keep repeating. And it’s right – we all go through stages in our business careers where, for whatever reason, we don’t simply say, ‘I could do with some help.’ But I think it goes further than that. As you build your business the team around you will be your most valuable asset. 

Set them free. And you will find that they are incredibly talented. So delegate, delegate, delegate and – as I wrote a few weeks ago – do everything you can to make sure they are working in the areas where they are the most productive. 

One final comment – possibly from my personal soapbox! Mentoring is absolutely about sharing experiences and advice. What it’s not about is being all-knowing and all-powerful. 

It’s tempting, when someone is hanging on your every word, to believe you know everything there is to know about everything. (As all parents realise, the only people who really do know everything about everything are teenagers…)

The best mentors – and I’m pleased to include my TAB colleagues in this – know  their limits. They’re not afraid to say, ‘This is my area of expertise. But if you want to know about X then I’m not the person to speak to. But I can introduce you to someone…’ 

If a mentor does stray outside his area of expertise, the person being mentored won’t know that. They’ll still rely on the mentor’s judgement: that’s why the best mentors are honest about the limits of their knowledge. 

That’s it for this week – and where did the year go? Here we are at November 1st which – as many of you will know – is All Saints’ Day. But just as Sunday was National Mentoring Day, November 1st has a few other ‘days’ going for it. 

November 1st is Cook for your Pets Day. It’s World Vegan Day. My 900 words may not be a major contribution to literature but it’s also Authors’ Day. And November 1st is Love your Lawyer Day – so I should have at least two or three happy readers…

“You Can’t Pay too Much for Great People…”


Good morning – and do you by any chance have a spare £145,000 lying around? 

Why? Because – according to a recent article in City AM – that’s how much a shortage of skilled employees will cost each UK SME next year. 

It is a frightening figure. But, say the recruitment firm who carried out the relevant research, it is an inevitable consequence of a shrinking talent pool and ‘increased digitalisation’ of the workforce. 

This ‘skills gap’ is manifesting itself in the UK’s productivity crisis – still well below the level of its major competitors – and all of us running businesses are going to pay the price. 

As most of you know, I still run a TAB board. We had our regular monthly meeting last week and the ‘battle for talent’ was a phrase on everyone’s lips. 

“You can’t pay too much for great people,” one of the board members said – as you’ll see from the title, I immediately stole it – and six sage heads nodded their approval. 

I was thinking about the phrase as I headed home. There’s always been a battle for talent, especially for senior people who help to steer the business – but right now that ‘battle’ feels like it is being fought more keenly then ever. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that one of the reasons cited for the shrinking talent pool was Brexit – and here a note on timings might be appropriate. Commitments dictate that most of this post was written early in the week commencing October 14th. In between writing and publication there will be the EU summit and – I suspect – plenty of late-night negotiation. My apologies in advance if the post has been overtaken by events come publication day. 

But whatever happens in Brussels, Dublin and London the fundamental point remains the same. There is a shrinking pool of talent, and if your business is going to prosper in the medium to long term you need to get your hands on some of that talent. 

So what are the key skills and characteristics we’ll all be looking for as we hire new people?

As it says in the City AM article, “At a time when change is the only constant, adaptability and resilience will be the key soft skills to develop.” 

Resilience was something we discussed at that TAB board meeting. Looking around the table – at people who had been round the block a couple of times – resilience could be taken for granted. But resilience is a going to be a precious commodity in the next few months especially if – as seems entirely possible – we see a recession. 

What about the new people you’re going to recruit? The chances are that they won’t have been round the block a couple of times. Statistically they’re far more likely to be from the millennial generation. 

It’s too easy to use a pejorative term like ‘snowflake.’ But there’s no doubt that there is a generational difference. Millennial employees want to feel that they belong, that they’re making a difference and that the company they work for shares their values. And as I intimated in the last post on climate change, that feeling is only going to increase. 

Fortunately, the millennial generation does come with one advantage. By and large they have grown up with – and embrace – the idea that they are not going to have a ‘job for life.’ They’re open to different career paths and – if you choose the right person – they like to learn. 

I have no idea how our MPs are going to vote on Saturday morning when they’re faced with what looks like a ‘deal or no deal’ scenario – but whichever way they vote, it will herald a period of significant change. 

That may be in markets, it may be in legislation or in the labour supply – or quite possibly all three. So members of your team who are open-minded, adapt quickly and who very definitely see the glass as half-full are going to be worth their weight in gold. 

One final comment: let me reinforce the point I made a month ago. Going forward it will be absolutely essential that your key people are doing what they are best at – and that everything else is delegated. 

You’re paying a lot for those ‘great people’ – so they need to be working where they’re making the most difference. Which means that everyone’s ‘not to do’ list will be every bit as important as their tried and trusted ‘to do’ list. 

If you haven’t done yours yet you need to make a start…

Your NOT-To-Do List


The children have gone back to school, the nights are drawing in, there’s only a month until the clocks go back. Christmas has appeared on the horizon, you’ve spotted a 2020 diary in the shops…

Which means that for many of us thoughts are already turning towards plans for next year. For what you want to achieve in the year – and, by implication, what you need to do in the first quarter and first month of 2020. 

No question about it, you’ll march confidently into your office on Thursday 2nd January, pull that brand new pad towards you and – knowing exactly what you’re going to achieve – confidently write ‘To Do’ at the top.

But there’s another list you need to write. Not just for 2020, but starting now. And in my view, it’s even more important than your ‘to do’ list. 

Your ‘Not To Do’ list. 

I can still remember the shock I got the first few weeks I used Toggl and realised how much of my time wasn’t being used effectively – and how many things I was doing very definitely belonged on a not to do list. 

Despite the technological advances of modern life virtually all of us are leading busier and busier lives: perhaps because of those advances. How many of us check our e-mails just before we fall asleep? 

Add in family commitments – and for many people reading this blog, taking care of ageing parents is now starting to become a major commitment – and all of us have a seemingly endless to-do list. 

At work you need to delegate: at home you need to decide what’s really important. 

Let’s start in the office. Delegation is one of the hardest skills to learn. It is all too easy to sigh and think, ‘It’s quicker to do it myself.’ But you cannot build a business without delegation. Sometimes ‘done’ is more important than ‘perfect.’ 

And as I have written many times, it is not your job to be the best engineer, coder or salesman. It is your job to lead a team of outstanding engineers, coders and salesmen – and to help them go on improving. 

So as you contemplate your plans and targets for 2020 ask yourself – or get someone else to ask – why should YOU be doing that? And delegate what you can delegate, whether it’s to your own team, or to an outsourced specialist. Even starting a ‘not to do’ list will be a valuable exercise: it will unquestionably challenge some of your long-held assumptions about what your job really is. 

Time to come home – where exactly the same principle applies. Let me give you just one example. One of the best decisions Dav and I ever made was to hire a gardener. Andy comes for three hours a week, he cuts the grass and generally keeps the garden under control. We pay him £60 and it is a superb investment. It gives me three hours – longer, really, as I’m not as good a gardener as Andy – which I can spend with my family or simply de-stressing myself. Or yes, as has recently been pointed out to me, hacking out of the rough…

There is one final, and very important, point about your ‘not to do’ list. It doesn’t just apply to you. 

Take a look around you. Is everyone in your team seriously making the very best use of their time? Or are they doing jobs that really could be delegated, allowing them to do much more important work? 

We were guilty of this at TAB head office. Members of the team were doing admin tasks that they really shouldn’t have been doing. That wasn’t a failing: we’d simply reached one of those moments every business reaches from time to time. We’d expanded, there were new challenges, the team needed to focus their attentions elsewhere. 

So Tracey has joined us, she’s immediately picked up a whole range of admin for us and that has helped the existing members of the team to focus on what’s really important. It’s also given them some time to think – to stand back and look at the business. 

I’ve often talked on the blog about working on your business not in your business. A ‘not to do’ list helps you do that. Equally importantly, making sure all the members of your team have a ‘not to do’ list means they can sometimes work on their part of the business not – as Stephen Covey put it – constantly be ‘in the thick of thin things.’ 

And now, with exactly 13 weeks to go until we all abandon the office for Christmas, time for me to make a list…

It’s Fine to Fail


Every board in TAB UK has a proud record of failure. 

What do I mean by that? Simply that the vast majority of TAB members have – at some point in their business careers – failed. It may have been a new idea, a new direction for the company, an acquisition, a new market… 

It may even have been the whole company. 

Whatever it was, it failed. It hurt – and it probably cost a lot of money. 

But the authors of those ‘failures’ now sit around the TAB UK tables, successful by any conventional definition of the word. Why? Because they realised that it was fine to fail. They realised that failure was simply a learning experience – as Churchill famously said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ 

But we all know that lesson. Failure isn’t failure, it’s just a learning experience: we’ve all heard it before. 

So let’s try and widen the debate a little. Last week I read an article in City AM about young entrepreneurs – or, more correctly, potential entrepreneurs. 

It’s not just the proverbial policeman: there’s no question that entrepreneurs in the UK are getting younger. The traditional path that most of us followed – graduate, work your way up the corporate ladder and then have your light bulb moment – is becoming less relevant. 

Today it’s graduate, start a business (or don’t-even-bother-graduating, start a business). That ‘career path’ is becoming more and more common. And unsurprisingly, the UK is attracting record amounts of tech investment, especially from the US and Asia. 

But it could be even better.

The article in City AM quotes the Entrepreneurs Network, and the attitude of British 14 to 25 year olds to starting their own business. 

85% said they had thought about starting a business, had started one already or would be open to the idea. But more than two-thirds cited fear of failure as a barrier that would stop them moving forward with their entrepreneurial ambitions. 

Two-thirds? That is a depressingly high number by any measure. 

Now we all know that being an entrepreneur is hard. There are plenty of long hours, plenty of worries and – above all – the loneliness that comes with knowing that it’s you that makes the final decision. 

But would a single member of TAB UK change that? Would a single member of TAB anywhere in the world say, ‘I’ve had enough’ and go back to the corporate world? I very much doubt it. 

Because hard as being an entrepreneur is, it is also exhilarating, exciting, challenging and immensely rewarding. 

And that’s a message we need to spread. Maybe it’s because my two sons are now both within the age-range of that survey, but I increasingly find myself thinking that older entrepreneurs need to get out there and tell their story. As it says in the article: 

If more young people were aware of business owners in their own neighbourhoods, or if more entrepreneurs visited schools and colleges, the next generation could find themselves being inspired by examples that are closer to home. 

…And a key part of telling those stories will be saying, ‘This didn’t work. We tried it, we thought it would work, but we were wrong. But we learned from our mistakes and the second time we got it right.’ 

The problem is, our education system doesn’t encourage making mistakes. I see Dan and Rory approaching important exams – followed by very important exams – and the whole focus is ‘whatever you do, get the grades.’ Now of course I want my children to do well. All parents do. But I do worry that we have a 20th Century education system preparing our kids for a 21st Century business world. 

After all, the model for many start-ups is now not ‘ready, aim, fire’ but ‘ready, fire, aim.’ The vast majority of start-ups do not need a factory, plant and investment in machinery. Laptops, a collaborative working app and regular supplies of coffee will do just fine. 

The financial cost of getting it wrong is much less than it was – but it seems that the psychological cost is still the same. 

That, I think, is where companies like TAB UK – and our members – can make a real contribution. 

Let’s get out into the world and tell our stories of failure – especially to young people. Let’s make them aware that failure is very definitely not fatal. That it’s fine to fail – and that very often, failure is just a stepping stone on the road to success. Let’s make sure we give young entrepreneurs the ‘courage to continue…’ 

A Fortnite is a Long Time in Politics


I seem to do it every year. Write half the blog before I go on holiday and half as soon as I come back. This year it seemed to make extra sense to do that, given that our politicians could very easily have rendered anything I’d written at the end of July wholly irrelevant by the middle of August…

As you know I have two boys, Dan and Rory. They’re both teenagers now but we’ve never had any problems with them. They’re hard-working, dedicated and committed. Yep, even in the summer holidays. They broke up from school and immediately went straight to their bedrooms, completely focused on their future careers. 

What was that? Doctor? Solicitor? Accountant? 

Have a word with yourself. This is 2019 – and there’s only one possible career for a self-respecting teenager. 

Professional Fortnite player. Call of Duty at a pinch…

I remember reading an article maybe ten years ago. ‘Video games will take the place of traditional sport’ it boldly prophesied. Right, I thought, as if anything could replace the experience of live sport. An afternoon at St James’s Park: England vs. Scotland at Murrayfield…

And at the end of July the future arrived, as US teenager Kyle Geirsdorf won $3m (£2.49m €2.68m) as he became world champion of the computer game Fortnite. And no, I’m not insulting your intelligence. I converted it to pounds and euros simply to help me get my head round the figures. 

The total prize pool for the event was $30m – easily putting the Fortnite World Championship on a par with some of the biggest ‘traditional’ sports events. 

If you want absolute proof that the world is changing – and changing in ways we barely contemplated a few years ago – look no further than your teenager’s bedroom. 

Of course, you might well argue that the future arrived in more ways than one in that week as – to no-one’s surprise – Boris Johnson easily beat Jeremy Hunt and became our new Prime Minister. 

Johnson undoubtedly epitomises something that has been a running theme of this blog from Day 1: the job of a leader is to lead. He’s unquestionably saying, ‘That’s the direction we’re going in. Follow me.’ 

As the Spectator put it, ‘His mission, as leader, is to project confidence and optimism from the top. After three years of Mrs Dithers we need a bit of courage and guts in Number 10, a sense of purpose and a relish for attack.’ 

But – and this is a very big ‘but’ – Johnson used to be the editor of the Spectator. The magazine has not changed its political stance since and broadly reflects his views. 

I am rather less optimistic. 

Both the UK and Europe now seem to accept that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the most likely outcome. Everyone who knows me is aware that I think that would be a disaster. 

So while Boris Johnson may be demonstrating leadership, it is surely factional leadership. He may be consistent in his message, but that message has no hope of uniting the country. 

Neither am I an expert on parliamentary law and precedent: but again, it seems that even democracy is going to play second fiddle to delivering an outcome whose sole concern is how it plays in a General Election.

Boris Johnson may well find himself spending Christmas in Downing Street with an increased majority, but the way that majority is achieved will, I think, do lasting damage to the political and social fabric of our country. 

Some of you, I’m sure, will disagree with me. But a blog like this has to be a reflection of the writer’s personal views. And I think there are real business lessons to be drawn from these two seemingly unrelated stories. 

What does the success of Fortnite tell us? That things are changing: they’re changing quickly and they’re changing in ways we never imagined even a few years ago. And because of that leadership is going to be more important than ever. But leadership is about more than gestures and personal popularity. It is about taking people with you and keeping the country – or your company – united in a common purpose. 

So here I am back at my desk after a week in Portugal. We’re now less than 11 weeks away from October 31stand there’ll be 4½ months left of the year. We know only two things for certain: all of us running businesses are going to face unprecedented challenges – and you’re much better equipped to meet those challenges as a member of TAB UK.

[One note of housekeeping: this post is late because of being in Portugal. I’ll be publishing the next one on August 30th, as I’m shortly off to the TAB conference in Denver. The normal fortnightly cycle will resume from September 6th.] 

Want to Grow your Business? Do Less


The blog speaks, Wall Street trembles! And maybe profit does matter after all…

Two weeks ago I discussed Uber’s forthcoming IPO: 

Early estimates of $120bn have been scaled back to $90bn. But that’s £70bn – or more than 15 times the value of Marks and Spencer’s which, despite its recent problems, still made a significant profit in its last six months’ trading. 

But now Uber says it ‘may not achieve profitability.’ The company says that annual sales rose to $11.2bn and losses narrowed to $3bn. But, it warned, it expects operating expenses to “increase significantly.” 

In the event, even that lower estimate was reduced. With Uber drivers going on strike a few days before the IPO the company was initially valued at $82bn – only for the shares to fall 7% on the opening day. They have subsequently fallen even further – although that might have rather more to do with the sudden re-escalation of the US/China trade dispute than a blog written in Harrogate…

These are turbulent times, both in the UK and the wider world. Yet these are the times in which we have to build our businesses – but at the same time, keep our work/life balance well and truly balanced. 

One man who has unquestionably built a successful business is Jack Ma, the co-founder of China’s Alibaba group and estimated to be worth $40bn. 

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Jack Ma seems to have been unemployable: he was rejected by the police and was the only one of 24 applicants to be turned down by KFC. So he started his own business…

That’s great – but recently Jack Ma has been espousing the benefits of what’s termed ‘996.’ If you haven’t heard of it, 996 is simple – it’s China’s culture of working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week

“If you want to build a great company,” he says, “You have to work very hard. You have to suffer terrible things before you become a hero.” It is, apparently, a ‘blessing’ for his staff to work 72 hours a week. And he’s not alone: excessive working hours are also championed by Elon Musk of Tesla. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that they’re not championed by Ed Reid of TAB UK. Working 72 hours a week can never be a ‘blessing’ for you, your family or your staff. Throwing hours at a problem is almost never the way to solve it. Thinking ‘if I just spend more time…’ is nearly always one of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make. 

Rather than Jack Ma, I prefer to look at a different example. Oscar Pierre set up a small shopping service in Barcelona in 2015. Now the company, Glovo, operates in 124 cities, employs 1,000 staff and has 1.5m shoppers. A shopping service was hardly a ground-breaking idea, even in 2015 – but by anyone’s standards that is a highly impressive growth rate. How has Oscar done it? Simple: as you’ll see in this short clip, he’s a firm believer in delegating. 

In fact, Oscar believes in delegating everything. As he says right at the start of the clip, “Make sure you walk out of all the meetings without anything assigned to you.” 

He makes a great point. If you don’t delegate you end up with such a long list of tasks and to-do’s that you become what he describes as ‘the bottleneck of your company.’ Rather than speeding things up, by taking on too much you slow things down. 

Now he says, he does the things which only a CEO can do. Everything else is done more effectively and more efficiently, while he has time to think about medium and long term strategies. The absolute opposite of ‘throwing hours at the problem.’ 

As you’ll all know, that exactly mirrors the TAB philosophy – and it’s put Oscar Pierre on Forbes’ list of 30 under 30 for Europe. 

So how do I measure up? Apart from being just a tad over 30…

With a team of six at head office it would be impossible for me to delegate everything except the ‘only I can do that’ stuff. Clearly, the boss has to be seen to be working – but I do make sure that the ‘only Ed’ stuff is right at the top of my list. And as the team grows, so I will steadily delegate more and more. 

Speaking of which, the team is growing. We’re increasing our numbers from six to eight, with one of the new people handling our every-increasing admin. Part of defining the role was to say to everyone ‘what things are you doing that aren’t core to your role, and can you delegate them?’ That effectively wrote the job description: he or she can look forward to an interesting and varied workload…

When you’re starting out, delegation is hard. You can almost certainly do whatever-it-is-you’re-delegating better and quicker yourself. But you have to let go: you have to give your team the chance to grow and – as Oscar Pierre says – ultimately your job is to do the things that only the CEO can do. 

In the long term you’ll do more by doing less. Delegation is an absolutely essential part of building your business…