Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
I work with the board to make sure that the company strategy is continually being tested to be right for the business in the current climate. I then spent the rest of the time ensuring that the business is the best place for the team members to work. We work to the principle that it's people first, product second and profits third so it’s important to me to ensure that we deliver on those principles.
What is it the company does?
We make finding good quality employees easier and more cost effective for businesses and we make finding and landing a job easier and less frustrating for candidates. We do this through the use of high levels of automation, advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence and great user experience. We have helped over 30m people apply for a job in over 125 countries in 17 different languages.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I’m a late starter. I travelled a lot in my late teens and early twenties before going to study for a degree, masters and then a PhD. To pay my way I did everything from dustman to toilet cleaner to bus driver and everything in between. It gave me a great perspective on what hard work really is.
I then joined a startup called PlusNet which become one of the largest broadband providers in the UK. I started on a three month contract and rewrote the back-end CRM / billing platform that ran the business. I was supposed to then go travelling again but I enjoyed it so much and they needed me to do more so I stayed on.
Within nine months I was the CTO of the business and we were growing like mad. We grew headcount from the low teens to 700+ and went through an IPO and then a failed MBO before a trade sale to BT in 2007. It was a roller coaster of a ride for sure. Once it was sold I took a couple of weeks off and then started TribePad which I’m still involved with today.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone with honesty and integrity. Leaders don’t always get it right but they have to be honest enough to say when something isn’t working and make the necessary changes to take on a new course. People that like to rewrite history so that they’re always right don’t inspire people for long, I've found in my experience.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
We bootstrapped TribePad. We never took a penny in funding or overdraft and I didn’t get paid for the first four years of building the business. I made a conscious effort to do it that way as I didn’t want shareholders looking for profit before the people.
Starting a business is tough and when you have young children and you have to tell them you can’t go on holiday again this year as you need to employ more people or buy more equipment to get the contracts fulfilled it’s doubly tough. So the biggest challenge was trying to make sure everything worked.
It’s a balancing act between family life, work life and trying to grow a business. Anyone who ever tells you that that’s easy is lying as far as I can tell.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
TaeKwonDo. I find it’s great on so many levels. (1) It gets you fit, especially if you sit at a desk a lot (2) the people are very friendly and not at all aggressive (3) it keeps any ego in check. It’s a great leveller when you’re getting your backside handed to you on a plate every single week by the smallest and youngest members of the class!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A roman soldier but apparently I was too late.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Not any more. I used to hate people not working to the same level of commitment and drive that I used to work to, but then I had children and worked out there are more important things in life than work. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own reasons for doing the work they do. So now I just try to find smarter people than me and hire them. If they are playing pool or reading the newspaper then I’m more likely to think they have completed everything they need to and are on top of things. It worries me more seeing people run around in a state of panic like I used to in my early career.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
We fully expect the business to continue to offer unprecedented levels of opportunity to everyone who works here. We believe that the business should train people to not only retain them but to allow them to leave and start their own businesses if they so wish with the full backing of everyone else in the business. We are our Alumni.
We also have some amazing technology that we are bringing out over the next couple of months and years which leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence in many new and interesting ways. Virtual reality (VR) will also be big and we expect to be at the forefront of that within the HR space.
And finally, we expect to double turnover every 12-18 months to enable the two items above.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
People far smarter than me have come up with some great quotes which I’ve picked up over the years. My favourite three that have worked well for me are:
(1) The war time poster from the British Gov. says it all really. Keep calm and don’t panic. Running a business is tough, sometimes really tough. But nothing ever came good from panicking and making rash decisions. Someone somewhere has had the same issues or problems that you are now facing and they come up with a solution just like you will if you are rational and logical.
(2) The quote I saw some years ago from Henry Rollins. “There is no such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time, no such thing as down time. All you’ve got is life time. Go.” So obvious when you read it like that but most people never think like that. Don’t sit around panicking or sulking or hoping. Spend the time making it happen.
(3) The Albert Einstein quote: "Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it...he who doesn't, pays it." I read it to be not just financially related, which is important to understand, but also about the concept of work. Do the hard work now so you can take it easier for longer, later.