As regional director for the Academy for Chief Executives, Jon Ralph brings together groups of leaders from across the West Midlands to learn from each other. We caught up with him to find out what he thinks are the qualities of a great leader and what his biggest challenges are in his role.
What is it the company does?
The Academy for Chief Executives unlocks the potential of business leaders and in turn their businesses.
We deliver fast track learning with like minded groups of non competing business leaders, led by inspirational chairmen and women who have all led successful businesses.
The Academy meetings are a sanctuary for business leaders to dial out of the day to day hustle and bustle and zone in on themselves and their businesses. Our lives seem to get busier and busier, having quality time is becoming more rare and even more valuable, spending that time learning from expert speakers and the questions other members raise is valuable in itself.
Getting the chance to share opportunities, challenges and dilemmas that are current, with a group of experienced people with both similar and different businesses is invaluable. Many of our members tell us the issues they raise, be they business related or private, they cannot discuss anywhere else
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I was a member for 10 years and, for me, membership was life changing. My role now is to give every business leader in the West Midlands an opportunity to experience the benefits of the challenge, support and learning that a group of 12 positive business leaders and world class speakers can bring them.
My role is to inspire my group of members to get more from themselves and their business and find inspirational chairmen to grow new groups in our area and do the same for their members
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started as a chartered accountant progressing to finance director for Avis (Belgium/Lux) and then CEO for an Avis Europe business in 1999. My Academy group inspired me to start my own business in 2003 which we grew to a peak of £24m turnover, when I was ready for other challenges.
After a year as a Grant Thornton Growth 365 Advisor, I was offered the franchise for the Academy in the West Midlands and Mid Wales – I’ve always been passionate about the Academy and what it did for me. I grabbed the opportunity in 2014 and believe that all the ups and downs of my career have led me here to this.
It's about inspiring others and making a difference now – learn from my mistakes, not yours!
What do you believe makes a great leader?
It sounds obvious but if I have to identify one single attribute then it would be the ability to create followers. People follow those with clarity of vision, someone who gets the ‘why' we do rather than 'what' we do, someone with gravitas and presence who is always learning. Someone with the ability to make everyone around them feel important and the ability to get the best out of them.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
I think getting MDs and CEOs to stop working IN their business and take time out to work ON their business. We are all so busy doing the day job that we forget the bigger picture, and living in an era of exponential change, to not work ON your business is dangerous.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Along with the usual tenets of paying attention to my diet and activity levels, I use 'Headspace' for daily meditation - it really helps you keep your head when all around you are losing theirs!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An RAF pilot. I passed all the exams with flying colours except the medical - it was the days before contact lenses and myopia made me unsuitable for aircrew. Of course my brother, who didn’t know what he wanted to do, sailed through to aircrew, flying Phantoms and then being involved in Navigator development for the Eurofighter. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
People who believe that what they do is the best way to do it. I always attended induction presentations as MD to connect to the 'newbies'. From day 1 they knew that challenging what they did every single day was deep in our culture and to justify not doing so by “that’s the way we’ve always done it” was not good for their long term future.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
In five years time, The Academy for Chief Executives will be providing every business leader in the West Midlands with the opportunity to be part of an inspirational group of positive business leaders, at a price point and time commitment that fits for them and their business. Turnover, staffing and other considerations for the Academy will just be a function of that and, in the grand scheme of things, is of secondary importance.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Invest in your personal development and adopt a culture of always learning. Standing still in this day and age is going backwards.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Never point fingers at others when things don’t go to plan. There is always something you could have done to avoid or alleviate the situation. Understand, learn and don’t let it happen again.