Tim Rodber of The Instant Group
Former England rugby star and World Sevens Cup winner Tim Rodber tells BQ why he went into business after hanging up his boots and how he became MD of The Instant Group...
What is it the company does?
Instant is the flexible workspace specialist, providing an alternative to the traditional methods that firms use to procure and occupy office space. Our team comprises a mixture of workspace consultants, data analysts, property, procurement and outsourcing specialists. We use Instant’s proprietary data to create workspace solutions that save our client’s money and offer them business agility, whether they are SMEs or large international corporates.
What does your role involve?
I lead the company in its growth as a dynamic, innovative and client centric solutions provider. As the trend for businesses taking up more flexible workspace and the concept of co-working continues to grow, my job is to make sure that The Instant Group continues to lead the way in providing bespoke solutions to businesses of all shapes and sizes. We work with companies from large corporates looking for space for 25+ desks as well as small start up businesses. Nothing makes me happier than helping to get a young budding entrepreneur off the ground and seeing them grow.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started my career as an Army officer, then went on to play professional international rugby for the Northampton Saints between 1989 and 2001. I appeared 44 times for England, twice for the British and Irish Lions and was a Rugby World Sevens Cup Winner. In 1997, while still playing rugby, I set up Rodber Thorneycroft Ltd, a London based marketing and communications company. I was very lucky in that after retiring from rugby at 31 I pitched to Tim Griffiths who was CEO of business process outsourcing firm Williams Lea. Within a year of leaving rugby we won a big contract with Williams Lea and a year after that they acquired my business and I continued working for them.
After 10 years at Williams Lea working on outsourcing marketing services businesses, most of them outside of the UK, I was approached by Clive Williams, the chairman at Instant. Instant had just received an injection of funding from private equity group, MML and I was attracted to the idea of a business that was trying to do something new in a traditional market. There was an opportunity to make the offering more sophisticated for large businesses, take it global and really capitalise on the strength of the service industry and the understanding of outsourcing as a concept so I jumped at the opportunity to lead the business in its growth and haven’t looked back.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
You must do everything you can to understand your customers. Leadership is one thing, but being a good listener and paying attention to what is going on in front of you is another thing entirely. The user experience on our broking platform (www.instantoffices.com) is of significant importance to us, of course, but our overarching goal is to ensure an absolute understanding of all of our customers, from a business start-up through to a large corporate requiring a managed space solution or one of our operator clients. Intelligent analysis of our data gives us a genuine advantage in a rapidly growing market. This insight has allowed us to launch new products to the market; increase Instant’s global footprint, and expand our role as the global, flexible workspace specialist.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Getting businesses, particularly larger corporates, to recognise the benefits of serviced offices was a struggle at first and initially we were really seen as a sector that was trying its best to disrupt the property orthodoxy. We were! But the mindset has changed over the years and in the last 12 months especially we have seen a huge increase in enquiries from corporates (25+ desks) across the globe.
We are seeing more and more sectors and companies who are starting to recognise that flexible office space can help hedge against market uncertainty with shorter lease lengths and provides the ability to grow and contract space depending on the business need. As employers need to adapt to cater for a more flexible workforce, serviced offices also provide an agile solution to those who want to have satellite offices in less central locations to accommodate their workforce.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Since I joined three years ago, Instant has achieved 30% compound growth rates and evolved from what was once a predominantly UK platform into a global services business with significant operations in the key markets of EMEA, the Americas and Asia Pac. The rapid growth of the UK and EMEA businesses and the market potential for further expansion elsewhere around the world leads me to conclude that we can maintain that rate of growth, and, I hope, exceed it in many places. We now have an excellent international team in place and while I am proud about our accomplishments so far, we have nowhere near reached our potential as yet.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Put the hours in! Harvey Thorneycroft [former Northampton team-mate] and I set a business up in 1997 and hired some people to help run it. The latter part of my career I was juggling three things: time in the army, playing professional rugby and helping to run this business. Anyone who thinks one day you flick a switch and you move to get on with your business career is wrong. It’s all about sacrifice. I’d start my day at 6:30am with emails, go to training, head to the office after lunch then sometimes back to training and then spend my evenings in the office.
There have been lots of crossover characteristics for business and rugby. You need to be driven and you need a desire within you to tackle and solve problems. You need to want to win. I think that is an innate characteristic that you need. You need to have the right level of being smart, be able to think outside the box, be a problem solver, and recognise other peoples’ opinions whilst also being a good listener. Ultimately you have to make decisions, be brave, and take risks – make sure you win more than you lose.