Don’t Join the Navy. Be a Pirate!


Of course we are always going to shop on the high street. Of course there will always be bank branches in town centres. Marks and Spencer closing branches? Don’t be ridiculous.

Suddenly, so many things that seemed absolute cornerstones of our life are – to use the modern phrase – being ‘disrupted.’

In fact, if you want to predict the future, there’s a very easy way to do it. Think the previously unthinkable.

If I look back to when I started TAB York and started writing this blog, the changes – in a relatively short space of time – have been remarkable. But I am prepared to wager a hefty sum that the pace of change over the next seven years will be far faster than it has been over the last seven.

So if you’re running a business – or planning to start one – then ‘innovate’ and ‘think differently’ have to be right there at the top of your list. As Steve Jobs put it, if you want to be successful, you can’t join the navy: you have to be a pirate.

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So everything is changing.

Or is it? Because according to the hot new business book, 300 years ago things were, well, pretty much the same…

Three centuries ago, the world was surprisingly similar. The establishment was broken, there was a backdrop of international interconnected conflict and millennials of the day worried the rise of technology would crush employment as they knew it. So they left town and created new societies aboard ships – societies that pilfered and raped, yes, but that also included the systems we operate and abide by today.

The book is Be More Pirate, by entrepreneur-turned-author Sam Conniff Allende – you can read more of his views in City AM here.

I’ll take issue with some of his points – I’m fairly certain that it was the Roman legions, not pirates, who first came up with pension schemes and workplace compensation, for example – but he’s absolutely right in suggesting that the old ways of looking at things simply don’t work any more.

Much of what we have taken for granted for so long – as the high streets and the banks will testify – is starting to break.

So where does that leave mentoring and peer group coaching at a time when innovation is more important than ever? Where does that leave The Alternative Board UK?

Mentors, surely, are part of the established order? It will be a fairly safe bet that the mentor will have more grey hair – or less hair – than the person being mentored. It’s easy to think that the mentor will simply say, “Aye well, ’appen it were done this way when I were a lad and there’s nowt new tha’ knows…” Or words to that effect.

And you could very easily make the accusation that a peer board doesn’t encourage innovation. People are drawing on their own tried and trusted experience and – with a board of six or seven – there must be an inclination to find the common ground in the middle.

In my experience, exactly the reverse is true. The one thing a good mentor knows is that there’s a great deal he doesn’t know. He knows that there is plenty that’s new – and keeps up to date with social and technological changes.

And I am constantly amazed by the cutting edge knowledge of TAB members: yes, even the ones with grey (or very little) hair. In fact, far from a TAB board producing a consensus of ‘safe’ advice, exactly the opposite is true. There is a real willingness to think outside the box and look for innovative solutions when you are discussing a different business to your own. To use a pirate analogy, the shackles are off.

It is then the job of the TAB coach – a job they do superbly well – to make sure that nothing is off the table. That the brave, innovative and outright hard questions get asked – and that they are taken seriously and answered.

So yes, the world is changing at an ever-faster pace. But watching a TAB board meet the challenges of that change is an exhilarating and very, very rewarding experience.

The Board members may be a rum bunch, but none of them parrot the company line.

I’m here all week…

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Carillion: Incompetence on an Industrial Scale


Well, I’ve been through the post three times – yes, home and work. Checked my e-mails. Facebook, obviously… And it’s not arrived. Clearly an administrative oversight. Can’t get the staff I expect. So for yet another year I won’t be going to the World Economic Forum, the annual meeting of the great and good in the Swiss resort of Davos.

But tempting as it is to write about it instead – to spend the next 800 words with Theresa May, Donald Trump and Elton John’s speech on ‘5 Leadership Lessons from my Darkest Hours’ the real story right now is the collapse of Carillion.

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Like all big companies, Carillion had a strap line: ‘Making tomorrow a better place.’ As everyone now knows, the company went into liquidation last Monday with debts of £1.5bn and a pension shortfall of at least £600m – so for Carillion, there is no tomorrow. For the handful of hedge fund managers who made millions out of betting against the company tomorrow may not be a better place but it will certainly be a richer place.

But for the thousands of Carillion staff, and many, many small businesses, tomorrow looks anything but a better place. I have absolute sympathy for every single member of Carillion’s staff – with the exception of the directors – but in this article I want to concentrate on the 30,000 small businesses that will be impacted by Carillion’s collapse.

Carillion was created in July 1999 by a demerger from Tarmac (which was originally founded in 1903). With the Governments of David Cameron and Theresa May continuing the Blair/Brown practice of using the private sector as the supplier of services to the public sector, Carillion was effectively the Government’s ‘go-to’ contractor.

And yet there was plenty of hard – and anecdotal – evidence that the company was in deep trouble. In 2017 it issued three profit warnings: there was also plenty of gossip.

I have not previously used the comments column of the Daily Mail as a source, but two replies to a recent piece on Carillion are worth repeating:

Carillion have been shaky for ages. We were asked if we would undertake a multimillion pound project [for them] as a sub-contractor. Based on some reliable info we said no – thankfully, or their crash and non-payment would have taken us down too.

[They] have been using ‘dodgy’ business practices for years. Undercutting on quotes to the point where competitors know the figure is unsustainable. Writing that piece Mail City Editor Alex Brummer called Carillion a ‘giant Ponzi scheme…’

Effectively Carillion was using the cash flow from their latest contract to paper over the cracks – or fill the black hole, choose your metaphor – from the previous contract. Ultimately – like Mr Ponzi’s investment scheme – that was unsustainable.

Did anyone pay attention to the profit warnings and the dark mutterings? Yes, the hedge funds did. Carillion was ‘the most heavily bet-against company on the stock market’ and the hedge funds will apparently profit to the tune of £300m from the company’s collapse.

Sadly, Her Majesty’s Government did not pay any attention. Despite the profit warnings and the gossip the Government continued to award contracts to Carillion. For example, a week after the first profits warning the Department of Transport announced that Carillion would partner another construction company on a £1.4bn contract as part of HS2.

There was another profits warning in September of last year – swiftly followed by another key infrastructure contract, awarded at a time when Carillion’s CEO and finance director were both leaving. The Government may not be to blame for Carillion’s collapse but it has left senior ministers looking at best naïve and at worst incompetent.

It has also left them with the lot of explaining to do to the owners of small businesses. ‘It’s got 450 Government contracts, the company must be alright’ is a not unreasonable deduction to make.

But now one industry group estimates that up to 30,000 firms are owed money by Carillion, with the firm having spent £952m with local suppliers in 2016. Clearly many small companies will face uncertain futures and/or will need to consider laying off staff to reduce costs. Carillion may have employed 20,000 people in the UK but the 30,000 firms owed money will have employed considerably more. There are real fears of a ‘domino effect’ among smaller companies, with liquidators PricewaterhouseCoopers saying they will not pay any bills for goods or services supplied before the liquidation date of Monday January 15th. Carillion’s creditors have already been warned in court documents that they are likely to receive less than 1p for every pound owed to them.

Bluntly, that is a disgraceful state of affairs. I am trying to keep calm about this but Carillion captures so much of what is wrong with British business – and which the Government could so easily put right. It’s not just the continuing award of contracts, there is also the small matter of Carillion’s terms of business – 120 days.

I’ve used this line before but it bears repeating. When the boys were little they’d occasionally do something and we’d say, “No, you can’t do that. It is just plain wrong.”

That’s how I feel about 120 day payment terms. It is just plain wrong. At best it is asking small business to finance big business and at worst it is pure and simple exploitation. ‘Do the work in January, send the invoice at the end of that month and we’ll pay you at the end of May.’

Back in September 2016 I took Liam Fox – the Secretary of State for International Trade – to task for his description of small business owners: ‘fat, lazy and off to play golf.’ No, Mr Fox, they are anything but ‘fat, lazy and off to play golf.’ They are trying to plug a hole in their cash flow that your Government could fix with one simple piece of legislation. And some of them are wondering how they’re going to save the business they’ve built from the effects of a corporate crash: one that could have been avoided by a Government with an ounce of business acumen.

Some of the smaller companies affected by the debacle will be TAB members. Carillion will unquestionably be one of the problems brought to future Board meetings.

But amid the rubble there is a silver lining – and that silver lining is the meetings of The Alternative Board, and the accumulated wisdom of your colleagues round the table. ‘We’re thinking of signing a contract with X’ is a phrase I’ve heard any number of times. And on a few occasions I’ve also heard that intake of breath and seen the slow shake of the head – the one the garage mechanic used when you asked if your first car could be fixed – and every time it has proved invaluable.

You’ll never be able to take out insurance against the greed of big business and the incompetence of the Government, but your colleagues around the TAB table are the next best thing.

The Valley of Clouds


You know how it is on a long flight: you read anything and everything. A history of the sword making industry in Toledo? What could be more fascinating?

So it was that somewhere at 30,000 feet I came across an article that included this quote: it’s from an author – and a bonus prize to anyone who guesses the author before the end of the post…

There’s a phrase I use called ‘The Valley Full of Clouds.’ Writing a novel is as if you are going on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree. At this stage in the book, I know a little about how I want to start, I know some of the things I want to do on the way. I think I know how I want it to end. And this is enough…

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That may well be a description of how the author wrote his books. Isn’t it also an exact analogy for the entrepreneur’s journey – the journey we’re all on?

The long flight took me to Denver, for TAB’s annual conference – as many of you know, one of my favourite weeks of the year. It was great to meet so many old friends and (as always with TAB) make plenty of new ones. The best part of it for me? It was simply going back to basics. After the whirlwind of becoming the MD of TAB UK – after spending so many hours with solicitors, bankers and accountants – it was wonderful to be reminded of the simple truth of why we do what we do.

That’s why the quotation chimed so exactly with me: all of us start our journey with a lot of faith and not much in the way of a ‘map.’ As the quote says, we know where we want to get to, we can see a few staging posts along the way: but the rest we’re going to discover on the journey – and we accept that there’ll be plenty of wrong turns.

So when we start the valley is full of mist – but we can emphatically see the other side. Most importantly, we can see the people we love on the other side of the valley, financially secure and happy. We can see our future selves as well – not just financially secure, but fulfilled because we have achieved what we set out to achieve and realised our full potential.

I know some of the things I want to do on the way. Yes, when we start our entrepreneur’s journey we do know some of the things we want to do: in my experience we want to do things differently, ethically.

And sure, we can see the top of one or two trees – but none of us can see down into the mist. We can’t see the route we’re going to take.

And that might be just as well, because if the mist cleared and we saw all the late nights and missed weekends, the deadlines and the stress, we might decide that the journey across the valley isn’t worth it.

Trust me, it is.

Some members of TAB UK have just reached the first tree. Some of them are a long way across the valley and plenty have reached the other side. Building a business is exactly like walking through the mist – but if you have a guide, someone who can say ‘I was here a year ago. This is the path I took’ then you are going to cross the valley much more quickly, with far fewer wrong turns.

Let me finish with another reflection on Denver. It was absolutely inspiring: TAB is now in 16 countries and is becoming a truly international organisation. The latest country to launch is India – along with China one of the two fastest growing major economies in the world and a country almost synonymous with the entrepreneurial spirit.

As always it will take me about a month to process everything that went on and everything I learned in the week. But I came away with one key reflection: the strength of our team here in the UK. The calibre of the people involved is both humbling and inspiring. Truly, if you are at any stage on the entrepreneur’s journey – just starting or halfway across the author’s Valley Full of Clouds – you could not wish for better guides than the TAB UK team.

The author? The late Terry Pratchett.

If it Ain’t Broke…


You’re the one who had the idea.

You’re the one who persuaded the bank. Convinced your wife to put your house on the line.

You’re the one who went in early. Stayed late. Made sacrifices.

You’re the one who took the difficult decisions. Sat down with Bill and explained – as gently as you could – that his future wasn’t with the business.

You’re the one whose energy, drive, commitment – and sometimes your sheer force of will – has taken the company to where it is now.

And now, Sir or Madam, I am telling you to do nothing. Play golf. Have another day at York races. Walk the Pilgrim Way.

“What?” you splutter. “That’s ridiculous advice. I need to be there. Hands-on, constantly fine-tuning the business, ever-present.”

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No, you don’t. Let me explain…

Several times over the last few years I’ve had conversations with entrepreneurs along these lines: “I’ve got nothing to do, Ed. Everything’s under control. I could walk out for a day. For a week, a month even. Things would still run smoothly.”

Are the entrepreneurs happy about that? No, they see it as a sign of failure.

But it’s not failure. It’s exactly the opposite: a sign of success.

I’ve written about this before, but if you haven’t built a business you can walk away from then you haven’t built a business. Because one day you’re going to sell the business and if it is entirely dependent on you – if you are the business – then you have nothing to sell.

Entrepreneurs are driven, passionate, committed people. They love working and they love working hard. Secretly, they’re never happier than when they have to set the alarm for 4:30.

But businesses are constantly evolving. No business goes upwards in a straight line. There are always steps and plateaus. And one of those plateaus might suddenly see you with nothing to do. Trust me, it won’t last. Every time an entrepreneur has said, “Ed, I’ve nothing to do,” it’s been followed one, three or six months later by, “Ed, I’ve never been busier.”

In the short term, though, the hiatus can be a real problem for the entrepreneur. They’re conditioned to see doing nothing – not constantly running at 100mph, not being there all the time – as a sign of failure.

They start to feel guilty, start to think they’ve missed something. And sooner or later they start to make changes for the sake of making changes.

Tap ‘entrepreneur doing nothing’ into Google and the search engine doesn’t believe you. By the third listing it has defaulted to the norm: ‘Why nothing less than 100% can ever be enough.’

Once you’ve built your business to a certain size, your job changes. It’s another topic I’ve covered previously – and I’ll be writing about it again next week – but your job is no longer to work in your business, it is to work on your business. Clients and customers still need to see you, but they do not need to see you behind the counter – or whatever you equivalent of a counter is.

Working on your business means a lot more thinking time and a lot less ‘doing’ time. Initially, it can be a difficult transition – but let me repeat: resist the urge to meddle, to look for problems where none exist.

And if you do find yourself with nothing to do, remember it’s not a sign that your business is broken. It is not a reason for you to feel guilty. It’s a sign of success. So enjoy it. Take time off and re-charge your batteries. Spend time with your family. Give something back to your local community. You deserve the break – and don’t worry: you’ll soon be smiling quietly to yourself and re-setting the alarm clock…

The Best Bargaining Chips


It’s now nine days since Theresa May formally triggered Brexit, beginning two years of long and complex negotiations with the remaining 27 members of the EU. Whichever way you voted last June there’ll be days when you’re elated and days when you despair. Right now, only one thing is certain – the word ‘negotiation’ is never going to be far from the headlines…

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It’s certainly played a central part in my life of late, with the lengthy negotiations to buy TAB UK – and what I suspect may be even lengthier negotiations as my sons go through their teenage years. So you’ll be in for ten? I was thinking more like midnight, Dad…

While I await the grey hair and the whispered ‘was that the front door?’ conversation with my wife, let’s take a look at some of the basic principles of negotiation – and then next week I’ll build on those principles by discussing the rather more thorny question of negotiating with a friend – exactly what I was doing when I bought TAB UK.

First things first: unless you’re in a Moroccan bazaar, negotiation is very rarely about the short term. It’s an area where you really need to think ‘win/win’ because nine times out ten you’re going to have an ongoing relationship with the person across the table. So don’t set out to ‘screw’ someone: in the long run that attitude is unlikely to be profitable.

I’ve always tried to go into any negotiations with three positions: my optimum (sell the car for £20,000); desirable (happy with £19,000) and my essential, bottom line price (I can’t accept less than £17,500).

Your ‘opposition’ – I don’t like to use the word but you know what I mean – will have those three in the reverse order. They’d be very happy to buy your car for £16,500, prepared to pay £18,000 and the maximum they’d pay before walking away would be £19,000.

In the scenario above it’s likely that the car would be sold for around £18,000 – assuming both negotiators are equally skilled.

So what do I mean by a ‘skilled negotiator?’ Looking back over my time in business there are probably four principles I’ve seen that work effectively and consistently: in my view, anyone applying these principles is a skilled negotiator.

  • The first thing is to keep the big picture in mind – and leave your ego at the door. I’ve seen too many negotiations fail because people got bogged down in petty details or tried to score points. It’s not just about demanding, “What’s your bottom line?” It’s also about discovering the other person’s ODE – optimum, desirable, essential. If you can operate within those parameters then you have scope to build – or strengthen – a long term relationship.
  • Sooner or later we all have to negotiate with someone we don’t like: someone who changes his mind, can’t make a decision, can’t remember what decision he did make – or all three. The answer is simple: concentrate on the issues, not the personalities. Stick to what you want, and be patient. It may well happen – as happened to me two or three times – that you sigh, mentally prepare yourself for another frustrating day, sit down at the table – and find a new face opposite you. All the problems vanish and the negotiations are wrapped up in a couple of hours. ‘Keep the main thing the main thing’ applies just as much in negotiation as it does in building your business: and the ‘main thing’ is what you want, not the failings of the person opposite you.
  • And don’t get emotional. At least, not for real. Any emotion is fine as long as you are in control of it. But don’t let yourself get angry, frustrated or sarcastic. And don’t get bored: we’re not talking about smoke-filled committee rooms where the old style politicos turned up with flask and sandwiches and simply bored their opponents into submission – but sometimes you do need to settle in for the long haul.
  • Finally, if you’re talking money, think in real money. We all know the traditional approach of breaking it down into ‘silly money:’ Look, you’re going to have this car for three years. £1,000 is 91p a day: two trips to Starbucks a week. Are you going to let that stand between you and a four year old Fiat Punto in Canary Yellow? A £1,000 is £1,000 however you break it down – which brings me back to my original point about optimum/desirable/essential price points. There has to be a point at which you walk away. If you cannot accept less than £17,500 for your car then you cannot sell it for £17,499 – if nothing else determines that, your self-respect should.

With that have a lovely weekend in the (forecast) sunshine and I’ll be back next week with the more personal side of negotiation. And my apologies to anyone who does own a four year old Fiat Punto in Canary Yellow…

Survival of the Happiest


Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano

Those of you with a classical education will recognise the words of Juvenal. ‘You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.’

But was the Roman poet satirising those things unwisely sought from the gods – wealth, power, beauty – or was he dispensing business advice a good 2,000 years before Messrs Carnegie, Covey and Robbins?

So why ‘healthy mind’ and – specifically this week – ‘healthy body?’ It’s because I spent a large part of last week reading about the great and good gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos – the annual gathering of business leaders, politicians and gurus, sprinkled with the odd dash of celebrity. Last year the delegates listened to Leonardo di Caprio attack corporate greed – and then went off to drink Cheval Blanc at £290 a bottle.

Tuesday January 3rd – the first working day of the year – was the day when the vast majority of the British population must have said, “Right, this it” and, along with quite a few people I know, I’m doing my best to have a ‘dry January.’ Yes, it’s a wrench to give up my Friday night bottle of Cheval Blanc, but sacrifices have to be made…

…And dry January – plus increased visits to the squash court – mean I’m feeling fantastic, as the resting heart rate on my Fitbit testifies. I can’t think I’ve ever reached the end of what’s supposedly a depressing month and felt so fit or so focused.

There’s no doubt about it: exercising and eating well – having a healthy body – is a fundamental building block of happiness. It’s also a key part of your business success, as evidenced by this report from Davos: as it says, the kind of drive, discipline and determination needed to push yourself to work out and compete are exactly the same skills needed to get to the top.

I might quibble with the BBC’s wording: I might replace ‘skills’ with ‘mindset,’ but the sentiment is spot-on. The determination you need to maintain an exercise regime is the same determination you need in business: it’s consistent effort that counts, not the results on a single day.

After all, any of us who play golf/play squash/go running know there are days when it just doesn’t ‘click.’ But – like business – there are other days when it magically comes together. The skill is to trust yourself: to know that if you consistently do the right thing the results will come.

So exercise is good – and it follows that the more exercise you do the better it must be. After all, look at the story of Chip Bergh, CEO of Levis who – along with rescuing the 163 year old jeans brand – does a mixture of swimming, running and weights every morning from 5:30 to 7:00. “No-one is as intense as me,” the BBC quote Chip as saying.

As an updated version of Animal Farm might have it, thirty minutes good, ninety minutes better: so should we all increase the time we spend working out?

I’m not so sure.

I look round the tables at TAB York and I see a group of people who are almost certainly fitter than the average entrepreneur. There aren’t many members who don’t do some form of physical exercise.

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But I also see a group of people who are happier than the average entrepreneur. They may have spent January re-thinking their fitness regime, but the people round the TAB York table also know that it’s about balance: not just work/life balance, but keeping every aspect of your life balanced. And if you’re committed to an exercise regime that consumes you from 5:30 to 7:00 and ‘no-one is as intense’ as you, then somewhere down the road something has to give.

There’s a fine line between dedication and addiction – as I suspect one of my new followers on Twitter knows: she’s called LycraWidow…

Christmas, a Speech and a Chocolate Teacake


Well, here we are at post no. 49 of 2017. 12 months and around 35,000 words after I started the year by considering some of your worst clients – Messrs Sceptic, Indecisive and Over-Thinker – we come to the end of the year.

But not to the end of my wife’s shopping list. I’m certain that you’ve also got plenty to do – that business fripperies like ‘cash flow,’ ‘finalise plans’ and ‘chase debtors’ have rightly been pushed to one side – so I’ll crack on…

Let me start the final post of the year with some thanks, beginning with the members of TAB York. As always they’ve been committed, focused, ambitious, challenging – and at the right moments, irreverent. Thank you also to the stellar TAB team at the Harrogate head office and my equally Stella colleagues around the country…

…And my thanks to everyone who has read, commented on, and hopefully enjoyed the blog. The post that brought the most reaction – by some distance – was A Conversation with my Wife: thank you for some of the very personal, reflective and supportive comments. Post that generated the most vitriol? Oh, easy. I’m Fat, I’m Lazy and I’m off to Play Golf, as International Trade Minister Liam Fox revealed he knew nothing at all about the people who run small businesses.

My biggest thanks, of course, go to my wife, Dav, who has been endlessly supportive. It’s now 23 years, 10 months and 29 days since I tiptoed into a phone box in Wingrove Road, Fenham NE4, screwed my courage to the sticking place and nervously asked her if she’d like to see Sneakers. I could live to 1,000 and never do a better day’s work. And to my boys, Dan and Rory who never fail to remind me what’s really important.

It’s normal at this time of year to hand out awards. Given the amount I’ve drunk, ‘Takeaway Coffee of the Year’ is a possibility, but let me go with just one: ‘Moment of the Year.’ It came at a Board meeting not much more than a month ago: as many of you know, there’s plenty of hard-headed business analysis at a TAB meeting: there’s a healthy dusting of good-natured banter as well. And just occasionally, there’s a moment like this: I’ve tried to convey the sentiment, whilst protecting the identity of the individual member:

Hang on, he said. Just let me say something. This – TAB – the seven of you round the table, you’ve changed my life. When I joined – not that long ago – I had no direction: bluntly, I’d fallen out of love my business. Something I’d never have thought possible. It was impacting me, my health and my family. And now it’s totally changed. I know what I’m doing, I know where I’m going, I’m in love with the business again and that’s benefitting the business in spades. I couldn’t be happier, my wife couldn’t be happier. And I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks, guys.

That single moment made the year for me. Two or three of us round the table suddenly seemed to have something in our eye. The individual member will almost certainly recognise himself, and I simply want to say thank you. A hundred words: a 50 second speech and that’s The Alternative Board – and why I do what I do – in a nutshell.

With that memory still warming my heart, I’m off now to spend some serious time with the family: so let me formally wish you all a very happy Christmas and the absolute best for the coming year.

Christmas for us will start with the now vaguely-famous Reid Xmas Eve party for friends and their families.

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Five years ago the average age of the children was about six: I wandered into the room where they’d all been watching TV, gasped in horror at the mess and watched a chocolate teacake slide gracefully down our wall. Not long now and the average age will be approaching sixteen: I suspect I may have rather more than chocolate teacakes to worry about…

It’ll Never be Time for the Pipe and Slippers…


Friday September 23rd. And after today, only 11 weeks of the year left. So yes, any minute now I’m going to start looking round the TAB boardroom table and suggest you start making plans for next year.

The time of year for looking ahead is approaching – but for some TAB members, ‘looking ahead’ is starting to take on a slightly different meaning. And it’s no surprise…

It’s more than six years since I started TAB York. As I check the boardroom tables, I see plenty of people who’ve become lifelong friends – but I also see rather more grey hair: or – in some cases – significantly less hair…

Yes, the thoughts of some members are turning towards exit strategies, what they’ll do when they’re not building a business and – ultimately – their legacy.

Well, maybe we should take a leaf out of Charles Eugster’s book…

Charles is 97, and holds the indoor and outdoor 200m and 400m world records for men over 95. He worked as a dentist until he was 75 and – despite a small pause in his 80s – has never stopped working. He still goes to the office in Zurich every day, before training in the afternoon. And Charles comfortably wins my ‘Positive Thinker of the Year’ award:

Even at 87 I wanted an Adonis body, in order to turn the heads of the sexy, young 70-year-old girls on the beach.

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Dr Charles Eugster (87) who has become one of the worlds oldest wakeboarders today when he was given his first lesson at the Ten-80 Wakeboarding School in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Credit: Shaun Fellows / newsteam.co.uk 25/5/2007

More seriously Charles Eugster says that he is “not chasing youthfulness. I’m chasing health.” Retirement, he says, “is a financial disaster and a health catastrophe.”

In many ways this was one of the most interesting articles I’d read all year – and I’d add ‘psychological’ to ‘financial’ and ‘health.’

The sentiments chime with what so many of my friends and clients are saying, and echo an underlying theme from the TAB Conference in Denver.

“I’m not intending to retire any time soon, Ed, if at all,” is a phrase I hear over and over again. No-one, it seems, is thinking of their pipe, slippers and Bake Off.

“I’m going to do a lot less in the business and a lot of other things,” is the consensus – with ‘other things’ covering charitable work, non-executive directorships, and mentoring students and start-ups.

I’ve just finished reading Finish Big by Bo Burlingham: ‘how great entrepreneurs exit their companies on top.’

Burlingham talks about entrepreneurs being defined by their place in the world: specifically by how they see themselves in the community. Unsurprisingly, 66% of entrepreneurs who exit their business “experience profound regret afterwards” – and a large part of that is the feeling that they’re no longer making a contribution.

Back to Charles Eugster and his Adonis body. He’s not ashamed to admit that he’s using his vanity as a motivating factor. And why not? Feeling that you’re valued and appreciated is an integral part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

It’s no wonder that 66% of entrepreneurs experience profound regret. They’ve built a business, they’ve a wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge and now suddenly – unless they plan for it – nobody wants to talk to them. Despite all they’ve achieved, they’re no longer defined by their business, they no longer feel valued.

So TAB York is not only about you and your business, or your work/life balance as you’re building the business. It’s not just about immediate problems and next year’s plans – it’s about what comes afterwards as well. It’s about leaving a legacy – for yourself and for the community.

PS I’m sorry, I had to check. Charles Eugster’s time for the 200m is 55.48 seconds. That’s three times longer than Usain Bolt’s time – but it’s roughly 8 minute mile pace. Well, well, there’s a challenge and an interesting ice-breaker for a few TAB meetings. Bring your shorts, ladies and gentlemen; let’s see who’s slower than a 97 year old…

Time to Dump the Hairdryer?


Anyone who’s ever watched a game of football will have heard of ‘the hairdryer’ – the phrase coined by Mark Hughes to describe the dressing room rages of former Manchester United manger, Sir Alex Ferguson.

As Wayne Rooney said in his book, ‘My Decade,’ There’s nothing worse than getting the hairdryer. The manager stands in the middle of the room and loses it at me. He gets right up in my face and shouts. It feels like I’ve put my head in front of a BaByliss Turbo Power 2200 … It’s hard for me to take and sometime I shout back. I tell him he’s wrong and I’m right.

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Well, let me have a pound on who won that particular argument – but top marks to Wazza for getting the product endorsement in there…

So why am I writing about football in England when I’m still out here in Denver? Especially when the Broncos have started their pre-season games and anyone with any sense is at Sports Authority Field

Simply because a day old copy of the Times reached me, that’s why. And once I’d read about Newcastle’s latest victory and inevitable return to the top flight (being in the USA breeds confidence…) I turned my attention to an article by Matthew Syed.

I’ve written previously about Syed’s book Bounce – the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice. I didn’t agree with the central thesis of that book, so as I started to read his article in the Times I was getting ready to take the opposite view again.

But I think he was spot-on: and I think there are valuable business lessons in what he had to say.

The title of Syed’s article was, ‘Why a manager’s touchline rantings could be doing more harm than good.’ He’s writing about conventional wisdom and yes, the accepted wisdom is that football managers have to rant – and get the hairdryer out. ‘What’s he doing? We’re two down and he’s just sitting in his seat!’ ‘Well, whatever he said at half-time has certainly worked. They’re a different team in this half…’

But all the evidence shows that ranting from the sidelines doesn’t work. Syed cites children’s sport – where the coach often barks a stream of instructions, ‘despite the empirical finding that this undermines the ability of [the] children to think for themselves and slows learning.’

According to Syed, the conventional wisdom in football is almost all wrong – and he contrasts it with Formula One, a sport which – in the words of Paddy Lowe, Mercedes technical director – there is no conventional wisdom and “standing still is tantamount to extinction.”

Like football, business is riddled with conventional thinking and accepted practices. Why are we doing it this way? Because we’ve always done it this way.

I’ve been so busy in Denver that I’ve had to push my ‘key things I’ve learned’ post back to next week. But there’s been one theme running through every conversation I’ve had and every presentation I’ve attended: with the business world constantly changing, ‘because we’ve always done it this way’ is just about the most dangerous belief there is.

Out here in Denver you can almost feel the ‘wind of change’ blowing from Silicon Valley. The Denver/Boulder region has even been talked of as the next Silicon Valley. There’s a palpable start-up buzz in the air and no business will be able to rely on ‘we’ve always done it this way.’

Matthew Syed ends his article with a compelling phrase; ‘It is innovation, not convention, that holds the key to success.’

He’s absolutely right. ‘If you always do what you’ve always done…’ is more true than it’s ever been. And now it appears that the result will be the same if you always do what everyone else has done as well.

Two words are on everyone’s lips in Denver: ‘Why not?’

Why can’t it be done a different way, a better way?

Whether it’s sport or business the old beliefs and the accepted wisdom are being challenged and rejected. So don’t be afraid to ask yourself ‘why not’ over the coming months – and expect the phrase to echo round the TAB York boardroom tables.

Thoughts from a Mile High


As you read this I’m in Denver: the end of August, and time once again for the annual Alternative Board conference.

This year there are more of us than ever from the UK, and we’re joined by TAB colleagues from Germany, Austria, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Canada and the US. It feels truly international and I’m absolutely loving it.

I won’t say the conference is the highlight of my year – just in case my wife pops Ed Reid York into Google – but when I sit down in November to plan the following year the last week in August is at the front of my thoughts. I simply love mixing with colleagues from other countries and the exchange of ideas.

In many ways it takes me back to my days at Northumbria University, when I was Chairman of the sexily-named ‘Polyglot,’ the society for foreign language students. These days Polyglot has matured into ‘EU Students at Northumbria:’ it’s clearly sobered up since the days when my definition of ‘international collaboration’ relied heavily on Sangria…

Not that alcohol won’t make a fleeting appearance in Denver. So far the ‘Brit evening’ has featured Pimms, gins, an Irish pub, cocktails, real ale and bowler hats. Despite the best efforts of US counter-intelligence our plans for this week remain a closely guarded secret…

A lot of my American colleagues are old friends now. I first went to Denver in 2009. At the time Dan was seven and Rory four. So mixed in with the views on Brexit – and the unappetising choice between Trump and Clinton – there’ll be a fair amount of catching up with family news as well. And the issues are always the same…

Yep, whether you’re in Denver or Dringhouses, Colorado or Clifton Moor one of your children is having problems at school: your daughter is refusing to eat her vegetables and your teenage son has just come home two hours after he promised to be home.

And isn’t that exactly the same with business?

The conference in Denver will bring TAB franchisees from eight or nine countries together: without exception, their members will have the same problems.

Yes, local legislation may alter the fine detail, but the wider principles – and the worries – are the same the world over.

• How do I achieve what I’m capable of achieving?
• How do I stay in control of the business and make sure the business doesn’t control me?
• And how do I keep my work/life balance truly balanced?

And so on… The more time I spend working with entrepreneurs the more the common threads emerge – wherever the entrepreneur is based. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose needs a business equivalent.

I’ll be back in the UK after the Bank Holiday and next week’s post will be dated September. Is that a sign of me getting older? This year seems to have flown past. Then again I’ve a friend who’s now into his eighties. “Make the most of it, Ed,” he always says to me. “By the time you’re my age you’re having breakfast every half hour.”

I certainly do intend to ‘make the most of it’ – starting with the last four months of 2016. In many ways the September to December period is the most important part of the year. It’s the four months that’ll see you hit your targets for the full year, and it’s the time to lay all the groundwork for the following year – which I’m absolutely certain will be helped by the insights, wisdom and experience of my TAB colleagues from around the world.

Have a great bank holiday weekend.