What has been the biggest challenge for you since the beginning of the pandemic?
We have been very fortunate as a business and have continued to grow very rapidly, as we have done for the last nine years. We have had to adapt to lots of new things such as working from home, which we have never done before, but as a business we’ve coped very well. We recruit on values and make sure that everyone is really bought into what we are doing.
As an individual, I’ve struggled a little bit as I’m quite an extrovert person so being sat in a room on my own is not how I like to work. I’m constantly trying to learn, and as Sir Clive Woodward would call it, “I’m a sponge, not a rock,” and I find that much harder when I can’t just walk around, bump into people and hear how they’ve done things.
Going back to the beginning of the pandemic, what was your reaction?
I probably spent 12 hours in meetings with the leadership team and the board of directors working through what we were going to do and what the plan was. Our business model was effectively worthless at that point as we were a business that makes it money from going to congresses and then writing a review. But all of a sudden, they’re cancelled, or they’ve gone virtual.
We were looking at expanding into the US last year, but we put all growth plans on hold and instead launched webinars, podcasts and anything we thought we could do. In April, we made more money from the new products we launched than we made in the whole of March.
What early working life and early experience helped shape where you are today?
I’m dyslexic and I’ve always struggled to learn in a traditional school environment, so I left after a year of A Levels and worked in an insurance broker, but decided it wasn’t for me as I knew I had more to offer. I went back to school and got into university, where I took full advantage of the sporting set up there. In my third year, I was overseeing all of the sports teams, with a budget of one million pounds, so it was a great learning curve to have that responsibility.
It’s important to have the destination in mind and how you get there doesn’t matter too much. You’ve got to make sure that you enjoy the journey and know what you’re aiming for. It’s hard when you’re that age – not many people know what they want.
What’s important to you in the hiring process?
We recruit on values, so you have to possess the competencies or the ability to learn those skills, but more importantly to us is that you have values that are aligned to what we’re trying to achieve.
Some roles need certain degrees, so there’s no way around that but there are not many jobs in this day and age where you can’t train people if they have the ability to learn. If you’re the sort of person who is going to thrive in our company and prepared to commit to being a gold medal winner, then we’ll provide a support network for you, and give you that journey and personal development plan. There’s a lot of people in the business who have had a tough upbringing, so they’re trying to prove themselves and that really drives them. I think they’re the people that with a bit of polishing you can turn into diamonds.
How different is your business now compared to a year ago?
Fundamentally, from a revenue point of view very different. Last year was the first year we made more money from non-Congress related products than we did from Congress related products. We saved a fortune in travel costs because we normally send four or five people all across the world to go to these congresses. I think webinars were our third biggest selling product last year which was a new revenue.
How do you stay focused on your businesses vision with so many different distractions?
Years ago, one of our advisors taught me ‘WTF’ and asked me, what does it stand for? I gave the obvious response and he said no, it’s ‘where’s the focus?’
Surrounding ourselves with a team of advisors that keep an eye on us and say, ‘is this really going to help you achieve what you want to achieve?’ is helpful. They’ll question it multiple times and if eventually, they buy into it then we do it, but if they don’t then we leave it.
How regularly do you see coaches and advisors, and what kind of structure do you put in place for that?
Football teams or any elite sports person don’t do it on their own. If it’s good enough for elite athletes to go and be the absolute best, why wouldn’t we think that we can’t learn from anyone else? I’ve worked with Andy Sleep for nearly 10 years who I see religiously pretty much every week, even between Christmas and New Year. Our senior leadership team go for two days every quarter with him to go through their plans for the next 90 days. Then I’ve got people like Steve Clark and our Chief Medical Officer who I have a weekly catchup with.
What does great leadership look like to you?
Richard Branson personifies a great leader to me as he’s willing to take risks, be disruptive but also has a really strong team around to help. You need to be surrounded by great people, and what I think I’m good at is getting everyone to work together and putting the right pieces in the right place, to make their journey as productive as possible, and set them on the path to becoming a gold medal winner. Don’t spend your time with negative people, I try and spend as many moments and opportunities with people that have got to where I want to get to.
Any podcast or book that you have recently listened to or read that stuck with you?
A book that always sticks in my mind is Sir Clive Woodward ‘Winning!’ as it’s not really a business book but it was recommended to me and that’s what really got me into my obsession with reading books