Jonathan Marsden, MD of The Technology Group talks to BQ about how he got started in the telecoms industry, his advice to young entrepreneurs and his five-year plan.
What is it the company does?
The Technology Group are a managed communications provider. We specialise in helping businesses with their strategies and their landline, internet and mobile capabilities. Our experts are helping education and recruitment companies and legal and financial industries, but we have clients from all industries. We help some of the biggest institutions in the country such as Oxford college, Warner Bros and a lot of private and public-sector businesses. Where we differ to our competitors is that we are of a size of business where we have experts that help our clients have a brilliant service and experience but we’re not so big that all that gets lost in a huge corporate machine.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
My role is to have a vision for the business, to steer us in the right direction. I manage the senior leadership team and head up the strategic growth and vision for the business, working with our directors and managers, ensuring I help point people in the right direction and give them the advice and guidance to be able to succeed in their roles. I see my role as a lead by example where I inspire others with all the business culture and professionalism that I expect of them.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start; how did you move on?
I started out at 15 in the world of websites and graphic design. I made my first sale at 15 when I built a website and sold it to Persimmon Homes. I continued with that technology and dropped out of Sixth Form at the age of 17 to create a company called Jagged Media. As soon as I turned 18 we applied for it to be limited company. My Dad approached me and said why don’t you come work for me and you can run the sales and that’s how I got into the telecoms industry. At the age of 19 I started selling telecoms systems and learnt all about it to become a competent sales person. When I was 21 I did my first £100k+ deal with the AA. I subsequently went on to build and sell three businesses with the current business, five years old, called The Technology Group. Throughout that 17-year tenure in business - which at 32 is a relatively long time compared to most - any financial success I’ve enjoyed I have put into a property portfolio as well.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Knowing what you’re talking about – knowledge is power. I think it’s important to know all aspects of the business so that you can have a balanced and insightful opinion on strategy. Naturally, as a passionate and outwardly confident person, I think that it’s important that you inspire others with your passion because if you don’t believe and aren’t seen to believe in what you’re saying then others won’t believe you either. I think being a confident, passionate person and being able to get across your opinions well is very important.
I think negotiation techniques are important. It doesn’t matter what you do within a business, at some stage you will have to either sell your point of view, sell a concept or negotiate on a deal or contract. A great leader should be able to deal with crises behind the scenes and not let the momentum or the motivation of other people in the business be affected.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The biggest challenge is transitioning your business from almost a micro business into more of a small/medium sized business – a proper business as I would call it – with a multi-tiered management structure with business processes, HR facilities, marketing departments and sound finance. I think it takes a lot of time and effort to transition to a more developed business with the potential to scale upwards with the right management team in place.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
There’s a book I read once called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and one of the key principles of this book is that if you’re stressed about something, if it won’t matter in a year from now, it’s not worth getting stressed about. It’s essentially a temporary stress, so don’t allow it to consume you. There’s only so much stress at any one time that you can take on board and that simple lesson, allows you to frame stress and to think about what stress is and what actually is just noise. There’s always going to be stress in running a company and it’s not allowing yourself to get too absorbed in day to day stresses because if you do, it can overcome you. That’s how I think I’ve managed to alleviate it – that and Xbox, Call of Duty World at War 2.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
There was a long time when I was growing up that I wanted to be a footballer. I grew up in an era where Leeds United, my home team, were in their highest glory days since the 70s – they were in the champions league and we had three or four England players in our first team. I got into football in my early teens and within a quick period joined the Leeds School of Excellence for football and I had a few trials. At that age I thought, I like the sound of this, there’s a lot of wealth in our city and there were a lot of inspiring people like Rio Ferdinand and people like that who were brilliant footballers. I think if I wanted to do anything it would probably have been the sports side of it.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
One of my pet hates is messiness and untidiness. I just think if you cannot look after your own space, how are you going to look after our customers? When I see people, who’ve looked after their environment poorly, I see it as a direct reflection on themselves and what they think of the company.
I also don’t like how modern-day language has been affected by mass media. There’s too many people that are changing their language – it dumbs down language and it makes me think of less of them. I probably do it as well but it’s a pet hate.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We’ve modelled out the next five years and we’re about to launch an event called ‘TTG Vision 2022’ so we’ll have a very clear picture of where we’re going to be. We’re going to continue to be doing what we’re doing now but we’re also going to evolve the business into some quite exciting areas including voice AI and working with technologies that Google and Microsoft are pioneering in voice assistance but for use in a telephone system environment.
I see the company three times the size that it is now. The business will grow to 60+ employees, have over £10 million turnover and we’ll have grown via acquisition to be able to continue that forward momentum and to build value in the business.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Think beyond phase one. Think to how things could progress because there’s lots of businesses that I see that don’t set themselves up from day one to go to where they could quickly get to in years two three and four. For example, something that we did: we could have called the business ‘Marsden Telecom’ but instead we wanted a brand and a name that exuded commercial confidence and scale so The Technology Group was bought based on that brand perception being really important. This put us in good stead winning the NHS very quickly.
A leader should think about scaling the business up, employing financial and marketing experts. 85% of businesses fail in the first three years mainly down to finance and cash flow so clearly that’s one of the fundamental pillars of success. Our fourth employee was a finance manager so that’s a really important role for us.
There’s basically no shortcut to success – it has to be really hard work. When you go into it you need to be prepared to do the work – if you’re not, you’re going to spend a lot of money and you’re going to waste your time and other people’s time.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I wish someone had told me that you don’t need money to make money. I came from relatively humble beginnings and I always used to think that you needed money to make money and, you don’t. You don’t need money, you don’t need to come from the perfect background, you don’t need to go to university. I never went to university, I didn’t come from money, I wasn’t amazingly educated, I’ve not got one specific amazing talent but a combination of working hard on developing skills and a passion, a foresight and an unwavering desire to want to succeed is what you need. If someone had said that to me earlier, I’d have been able to succeed a lot quicker in the earlier years.
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