Inspired Business with Richard Gerver video transcript


Just a quick note before we start: this entire first season of Inspired Business was recorded before the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, hence there being no mention of it in the interviews. Thanks, enjoy the podcast.


Toby Bradford: Hello and welcome to Inspired Business, the business podcast from the University of Derby.


Toby: During this series we are bringing you inspiring stories from across the business landscape in Derby, Derbyshire and beyond. We discussed the issues affecting your business and provide key insights from our guests for you to take away. I'm Toby Bradford, your host for the series. I'm joined by my co-host, business expert Angela Tooley, who will offer you valuable analysis on the topics we cover.


Toby: This week we look at leadership through the eyes of Richard Gerver, who started out in education and who now gives advice to a wide range of businesses in all sectors - from Olympic cycling to the music industry. He talks about how inspiration can come from all sectors and all people. So Angela – how did he inspire you with his talk of leadership?

Angela Tooley: Hi Toby. Isn’t it a great story? I sit here as a 40-something-year-old, being inspired by Richard’s journey. But thinking about my 20-something self, what an inspiration to other people, that someone who started out as a local primary school teacher has ended up being a globally recognised speaker to big companies, is an author and, actually, what a transition, in his own career, by taking something that he has developed as a unique skill in terms of his own leadership capabilities. He’s learning from that and he’s been able to translate it to the business world in a way where, actually, he’s got leaders of big global corporations wanting to come to listen to him and get his advice. And I think, what you can do with the skills you develop over your career and where it can take you – it is just such a great story to inspire so many young people.

Toby: And it’s interesting how he’s got there, because acting was his first love, and then he moved into teaching, and then he’s moved through all that into leadership. So it’s not been one thing, it’s using the skills that you have and finding out where best they can work.

Angela: Yes and this is an interesting thing about leadership - is that what Richard’s journey, and I’m sure many other people’s journey when they reflect on it having heard this interview, is that leadership is something that is learned. You don’t get it from a textbook, it’s about life’s experiences inside and outside of work. And actually you learn from the challenges probably more than you do from doing things right.

Toby: It’s interesting isn’t it because being really good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a great leader - it’s that ability to motivate, it’s that ability to inspire.

Angela: Which is interesting actually because I think many businesses, particularly large businesses, fall into the trap that they promote people into leadership positions because they’re good managers, they’ve got good technical skills, and they excel at the role that they’re in. And just because you are maybe an exceptional technical manager, doesn’t necessarily make you an exceptional leader.

Toby: Difference between leadership and management, which we will come into later on. But for now Angela will be back later when we analyse Richard’s interview, but let’s go and see what Richard has to say.



Toby: And I’d like to welcome Richard Gerver to our Inspired Business Podcast. Hello Richard! Would you like to introduce yourself?

Richard Gerver: Hello, yeah, so I am Richard Gerver as it says on the tin. I am a former teacher, former head teacher, a career I had for the best part of 20 years. I am a very proud alumni of the University of Derby. And, for the last, well just over a decade now, I’ve worked as a speaker, and an author, and adviser – specialising in elements of leadership, learning cultures, change and my mantra is ‘simple thinking’.

Toby: Simple thinking. So when you say you’re a ‘speaker’ – what exactly do you do?

Richard: Well I guess I’m a bit of a hired gun really. You know, companies all over the world hold major conventions and conferences and I get hired to go along and do an hour’s keynote speech. Some people would describe it as ‘motivational’ but they’re the ones that haven’t been in my speeches! But you know my job is I guess to be a catalyst, is to get an audience from a company – companies from all kinds of different global settings – to think about different elements of leadership and learning and development. And so, I sometimes describe myself a bit like a grandparent. You know, when the parents drop the kids off you fill them up with E numbers, send them whappy, and then leave and leave the mess to the leadership of the company to sort out.

Toby: Yes. Until you’d said that, I was just about to say I’ve heard you described as a ‘thought leader’ – so you give people ideas and then they can start using that –

Richard: Yeah. I mean I … you know the problem is, it’s so hard I think sometimes to – we’re a culture where we’re obsessed with trying to put people in boxes and define them. You know, so sometimes I get labelled as a ‘motivational speaker’. I hate that term because then an audience sits there with their arms folded going, “we’ve had a crappy week Richard, go on then, do your best, son”. And a ‘thought leader’ and I’m not entirely sure what that means either but people then people expect you to come up with big ‘thinks’ that nobody has ever ‘thunk’ about. And you know I just am passionate about human development and leadership and learning. And I’m very fortunate that, when I get the opportunity to have a platform or a stage, or a book that I’m writing, that I just get a chance to share those thoughts with other people and, hopefully, catalyse the way they think, some of their experiences to help them create strategies and ways forward for their own organisations and their own methodologies.

Toby: So this is, so you talk at conferences, business conferences?

Richard: A whole assortment yeah, I mean I still do a bit of work in and around education globally. I talk to major corporations, whether it’s in the financial sector, whether it’s in other business sectors. I’ve done some work with the music industry. Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of work in elite sport with the British Olympic and Paralympic teams.

Toby: Could you describe how what you do helps, for instance, the music industry?

Richard: Yeah sure! I mean the music industry is a really interesting one and a lot of the work I did with them was based around my book, Change – Learn to Love it, Learn to Lead it. And they are a classic example of an industry that were in denial about technological evolution. You know traditionally the music industry, and particularly music labels, have seen themselves as the curators of music. Therefore that was very much their substantive role to moderate the quality of music, bring music to the audience, and ensure quality and of course profitability because they were the link in from musician to audience. The music industry for many years were in denial about the impact of digital technology, not just in terms of the digital formats for music, but social media and formats like Facebook, and Twitter, and YouTube - all of those elements which actually allowed musicians to cut out the middleman. And so what was a hugely complex and massive global industry, suddenly found itself –

Toby: Being circumvented –

Richard: Yeah, completely! And having to play a massive level of catch-up as they were trying to reinvent themselves. Now, I have no expertise in the music industry, but what that meant was you had people who had become really, really good at being efficient in their industry, and they didn’t have the mind-set to understand how they might want to go about owning change and transformation. And, of course, what tends to happen in traditional businesses when you start to feel that lag is you go into survival mode. And that’s what the music industry had done. Which is perverse, given that it’s – if you like – in the creative arts sector where everything should be about innovation and creativity. But a lot of the people working in that sector were very good at monetising a traditional product coming out of a traditional industry. And so, the work that I did with some of the leadership in those organisations was help them understand why some of their staff were adverse to even contemplating change, why they found the process difficult, and what they could do to be better at it. Very interesting work and it got me the opportunity to meet some really fascinating people that I know have on my list of famous people that I throw at-

Toby: OK, I won’t ask you to list them –

Richard: No, no, no.

Toby: - because that would be mildly embarrassing for me, as much as anything else. And sports as well, is that a similar idea?

Richard: Very interesting yeah! I got involved with the British Olympic – I mean the best example is the British Olympic and Paralympic Association. And I got involved with them just after the 2012 London Olympics. And I was asked, on the back actually of a couple of the senior people at UK Sport reading, again, my book, asked me to go and do a session for the coaches – the Olympic and Paralympic coaches. Because the challenge for them was they’d just had the most successful Olympics in British sporting history. The London Olympics, forget just the quality of the event, was our most successful Olympics as a group of athletes and therefore our results were unbelievable. And one of the really interesting challenges for them was, if you looked at the pattern of data and history, every host nation had peaked in their home Olympics and then dropped off dramatically.

Toby: Is that additional motivation?

Richard: Yeah absolutely! And also there is something which is profoundly, I think, transferable around success in any industry. Which is: on the way up, you’ve gpt not much to lose. Once you’ve reached the pinnacle, and we can come back to this, once you’ve reached the pinnacle suddenly the stakes are much higher and you tend to protect what you have. Again it’s human nature. And so the fear with the British Olympic team after 2012 was how do we ensure that, in the next four-year cycle, leading up to Rio in 2016, that we don’t fall into that trap? And that we a) don’t become complacent but, more importantly, that we don’t just become protective of – “well these were the systems and structures that got us to be brilliant in 2012”. And, actually, how do we go back and tell our Olympic cohorts that are going to be preparing for 2016 that we now have to change the rules and start again? When a whole group of that cohort were coming back as gold, silver, and bronze medal winning Olympians – how do you then say, “well actually all of our training structures and systems now have to evolve”. Because what the British Olympic Committee knew was, particularly in sports like rowing and cycling where we had – to put no finer point on it – kicked the arses of the Australians and the Americans and the others, that they weren’t going to go back, lick their wounds and go on with it. That those organisations were going to go back to their countries – particularly the Australians and cycling – and use the Australian Institute of Sport to completely reinvent themselves so that they took the sport on. And, actually, the challenge was how do you get that group of successful British athletes and coaches to do the same thing rather than just sit there and go “but we’re gold medal winners – it must work”.

Toby: Yes. So it’s always looking to the future.

Richard: Yeah and it’s that human thing, which is, as I said, the really interesting thing about … in a business environment, you know, you come up with an idea you’re passionate about, you build your business small. Your business – if you get it right and the conditions are right, and what you’re doing is good quality – you grow. Right? Now, during that process, the company is innovative, it’s flexible, it’s fast moving, there’s a culture of excitement. And then you suddenly get to a point where you’ve really become profoundly successful. You might have shareholders, you’ll have a board of professionals who are now holding you to account, you’ve got staff who are relying on the business's success for their jobs and their pensions and all the rest of it. And suddenly that ability to be instinctive and to be flexible sort of fades away because then its about protectionism and maintenance. And the really interesting thing is how do you create that culture in succeeding businesses that allows them to become sustainably able to change and develop? It’s a very interesting challenge that a lot of the big tech companies in the world have encountered over the years. You know, places like Microsoft who 50 years ago ripped up the rulebook and basically owned technology. And then over the last 20 or so years have put all of their resources, I suppose arguably rightly, into the development of the new technologies and have forgotten entirely about the money making arm of the Microsoft business, which is licensing. Right? And so whilst they were doing really innovative things with new technologies, they hadn’t created the capacity for the accountants, and the lawyers, and the compliance people in their licensing teams, to also think differently and develop their side of the product. And, as a result, Microsoft were still producing quite cool product, but they were still trying to sell them in very traditional ways, which allowed new kids on the block to overtake them - like Google, who came along suddenly with subscription models which were totally different and much more flexible and modern.

Toby: So, it’s keeping that almost entrepreneurship idea, as you get successful, as you get more successful and you become a big company you need to keep that idea in your head – “well we’ve got to see what the next thing is, what’s the next thing”.

Richard: Absolutely! You know, and one of the things that we’re really here to discuss today is this whole art of leadership. And one of the really interesting things about leadership – and you see it all the time particularly in small businesses or family start-ups/family run businesses through generations – is that ability to … you know, you start up a business, it takes a huge amount of courage to start up a business really. And when you start up that business you’re galvanised by your courage, your absolute passionate belief in what it is you’re seeking to achieve. You have a passion for the vision and values of what it is you want to seek to create. And as that business grows, and by its nature you have to start to employ more and more people to support you and help you build that business, it becomes very hard a) to transfer that passion and that commitment because your employees, to an extent, can just be that. They’ll rock up, do their jobs, get paid, and go home, thank you very much. And so, on one level, it’s how do you transfer and communicate that passion, sense of purpose, and vision? On another, and I think this is really challenging for small and medium-sized businesses who have owner/founders, is how do you know when to let go? And how do you know how and when to let others take the reins and take the lead of what was your baby, you know? It’s almost as emotionally difficult as when you have children of your own and the day comes for you to drop them at nursery or school for the first time. And you have to trust other people with their care and development. And I think, for some business owners and leaders, it’s a very similar emotional reflex and challenge.

Toby: Come back to trust, that’s something that’s very important in the way you advise people about leadership. Trust, communication, empowerment, and impact are the words that sort of spring to mind when I look at the work that you’ve done. How important is it for leaders to trust their workers?

Richard: Hugely, hugely important, because there has to be authenticity in that leadership. You know, and again, so much of what I’ve learned around leadership comes from my time, perversely, of teaching young kids. You know, because it’s the same with your children. If you turn round to your teenage kids and you say look I trust you to go out, come home at the right time, you know, not do anything stupid while you're out, you can go out with your mates, that’s absolutely fine. And then, as they’re half-way up the high street, they see you stalking them in the car 15 metres behind them. That’s going to fracture that trust completely. And to an extent it’s very difficult to let go and allow that trust to thrive, but it is that two-way process. And in a business it’s exactly the same thing. I see a lot of leaders and managers who desperately want to empower their staff and other people in the organisation to do stuff – but still quadruple check every move and every action. And of course what that then leads to is a real sense of suspicion and people going “well, you know, they talk a good game but they don’t actually let us do the stuff we want to do”. There isn't real empowerment. And that can be really dangerous because then you create not just a culture of mistrust but cynicism in an organisation. And cynicism amongst a staff is one of the most dangerous poisons when it comes to the ability to truly lead and empower people.

Toby: I’ve written a sentence down here, which has resonated with me – “Great leadership is, first and foremost, about serving the needs of the people who work for you”.

Richard: Yeah. I mean, I’ve always believed that one of the great responsibilities and tests of the quality of a person’s leadership, is perversely to get to a point where you do yourself out of a job. Because, for me, you know, management is all about compliance. I believe anyone can manage – and this might be a controversial thing to say – I think anyone can manage. Because, if you have power over somebody, you have control over that person’s salary or bonus, or professional development programme, or targets, or whatever else it is, or even the power to hire and fire people, right? Ultimately people will be subservient and do what you tell them to do. So that to me is management. Leadership isn’t about compliance and control, it’s about empowerment. Leadership is about identifying the talents and abilities in others, inspiring them, giving them a sense of purpose, and then letting them off the leash and letting them run with stuff. To a point where ultimately, yeah, you want to be able to do yourself out of a job, because you want to be able to sit there one day and go “oh my goodness me, I know I want to feel unbelievable valuable and irreplaceable to these people but they’re actually getting on with the job and making this company evolve and develop better than I ever could”. And it’s a really difficult thing again on a human emotional basis. I remember, as a head teacher, knowing that my time had come, when I was looking around at the school and realising that these incredibly talented, passionate, and committed people, you know, the staff, the parents, and most importantly the children, were running this place better than I ever could, with vision and values and sustainable innovation and development. And sitting there in my office one day, thinking – actually, if I’m now going to impose my will, and my kind of level of control, I’m probably going to get in people’s way. But I think it was a very profound time and, at the end of it, I came out with huge pride and thought: “You know what? It’s OK now to feel like my job here is done. It is probably time for me to move on and for a different kind of leader/manager to come into this environment.” Because the danger would have been that I would have started to innovate and take control for my own self-interests, not necessarily for what was right for the community that I served. And, you know, I suppose it’s my teacher instinct in me that I absolutely believe that my role as a teacher was not to create a culture where the children relied on me but, actually, to create a culture where the children were capable of learning on their own and for themselves and with each other, and that I was there to support them. Now to some that might sound a little kooky. But the truth is, if you want to create a culture of proper sustainable development, that transference of control and power is absolutely vital – because if you don’t do it, you’ll end up burning yourself out, you’ll end up coming up with, you know … you’ll die of ideas, you’ll end up in a high level of stress because you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. And I think it’s one of the easiest things to talk about but one of the most difficult things to enact.
Toby: Wow. It’s quite empowering to listen to you speak in that way. Trust is such an enormous, enormous gift to give to somebody – “I trust you to do this job.” But you got there through a route to leadership, through education. As you’ve just mentioned. But how did you get to that point? Where did you come from? How did you get to…

Richard: It’s a, I mean, it’s a …

Toby: Because you came to university to …

Richard: Yeah, well it’s a … yeah. So I came to Derby, actually, if I haven’t mentioned it already I’ll mention it again as a proud Alumni! I came here before it was a university. I came to the Derby College of Higher Education in 1989. Really, if I’m honest, with no clue about what I wanted to do with my life. Because, up until that point, and I was a late student actually – as many of the students at Derby are. I think one of the things we should be proudest of is that we’re a place that attracts a number of mature students from a whole range of backgrounds. And even then, as a College of Higher Education, it had a reputation for being somewhere for mature students. And I wasn’t that mature but I was still two years out of school and my dream in my final years of school, and then going out into the big wide world, had actually been to become an actor. And I very quickly realised that there was a big flaw in my plan which was essentially I was rubbish [laughter]. And so I had to have a plan B. But the problem was that, when I did my A-levels, I was already given a place in rep [repertory theatre] in London. So, as a 17-year-old, I thought I was going to be Olivier because I was in rep in London and actually blew my A-levels pretty much, because I was arrogant.

Toby: Don’t need those! I’m going to –

Richard: No, exactly! I’m going to be a superstar, I’m going to be an actor! I’m going to be Olivier. And then, of course, when it all fell around my feet, looked at my A-level results and thought – “I’ve got a bit of a problem here.” I’d passed them but only just and not what the sort of grades that students these days accrue. I’m not entirely sure where I would have ended up in the modern university round of applications. But anyway, and also I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. And in those days Derby College of Higher Education ran what they called – it was one of the very first I think, we were innovative even back then – one of the very first modular-style degrees. Where you could pick from a kind of smorgasbord, a menu, of different themes over the three years and pick a module here and a module there and you accrued the points and the points then gave you a degree. And it was one of those, on the smorgasbord, was Performance, so I was able to do theatre and acting, Writing for Publication, which I did, Visual Communications, which was a kind of posh term for Graphic Design. So those were the modules I picked, they were all the things that I loved, you know? It was like having a box of Quality Street without the peanut cracknel. Everything I wanted to eat. And so that’s what I did. I came here. But towards the end of my first year my master plan of just enjoying and immersing myself was kind of disrupted – which is often the way for many people – because I fell in love.

Toby: Oh, right.

Richard: Yeah, I know! And, you know, really just not opportune at all! But anyway, I fell in love with a young woman who was also a student here, who was a couple of years ahead of me because she’d got the grades day one and didn’t want to be an actress and knew she wanted to be a teacher, which was handy. She was coming to the end of her degree. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, in order to blag a date with her I told her that teaching was the greatest thing on earth, because she was training to be a teacher at the college at the time. And she held me to that. We were still together when I finished my degree two and a half years later. And she said, “right, I think you should become a teacher now”. And she enrolled me on the postgraduate teacher training course here at Derby. Became a teacher, loved it, and thought that was my career. It was honestly a priv- [privilege]. You know, very few people, I think, are lucky enough to roll in on day one of the job that they’ve trained for and genuinely believe that they are in heaven, that they are absolutely in that right … and getting up in the morning is easy when that happens.

Toby: And did you teach in Derby?

Richard: Yeah I did. I taught initially at Chaddesden Park Junior School, and then I got promoted after a few years and got a Deputy Headship in Ripley at St John’s, opposite the police – just down the road from the police headquarters in Ripley. Then I got seconded to Derbyshire local authority to do some work there, was enjoying that – was only a couple of months in – and actually I’d been seconded to work for the local authority to try and create projects to re-motivate de-motivated boys, particularly in reading and writing. Anyway, one of the schools they wanted me to try and entice onto the programme that we were developing was a primary school in Long Eaton called Grange. And I walked in there to have a meeting with the acting head teacher. I found out when I was there that the substantive head had been off on stress for about 18 months and they were waiting to take him through the process of ill-health capability. He’d had a – very sadly – a breakdown. And it was a struggling school, very, in very serious trouble, actually. And I fell in love with the place. And, you know, it’s a bit like, I describe it to people a bit like, you know, you go house hunting and you can see 15 houses which all have the same floor plan and look identical on the details, but there was something about the soul of the place. You know, I walked in, in the same way that when you’re house hunting, and just fell in love. And I cant tell you what it was, it’s just I remember standing there about an hour into my visit thinking, “I love this place and I would love to be able to work here”.

Toby: Was it the people who were there?

Richard: I think it was the people. I think it was the building, which was quite unique - it looked a bit like Hogwarts, fantastic building. The kids were just … you could feel the energy bouncing off the walls. And remember this was a school that was being labelled as one of the worst in the whole of Derbyshire. There are over 400 schools in Derbyshire and this one was pretty much near the bottom of the pile. And, I don’t know ... Anyway, I left my meeting and I couldn’t get it out of my head. So the next day, because I knew the headship was coming up, I went to see the Director of Education in Matlock and I said: “Look, when that job comes up, I’d love to apply for it.” And he said, “Well, okay. Good luck!” Anyway, again to cut a very long story short, I got the job, which was an extraordinary thing. I got the job! Big primary school, nearly 500 kids, in a really challenging state, and that’s where the journey began for me. Right? So then I just used the … really interesting going back to something we said earlier – it was really easy to be innovative because the school had nothing to lose. Right? If it had been a school that was high performing or been graded as ‘outstanding’ by the inspectorate or whatever, or the exam results were through the roof, and parents were queueing up to get their kids into that school, it would have been far more challenging to go on and do what we did.

Toby: Because they would have said – “oh, we’ve always done this, this had worked”.

Richard: Yeah. Why would we change it? Right? And it’s working. So just shush, Richard, just simmer down. But, of course, it was a school that was at completely the other end of the spectrum. And, in hindsight, one of the really interesting things I’ve said ever since that day is, if I was back in education and in the market for a headship now, I would never want to take on a successful school, because the joy is taking on a place with nothing to lose. And I would say it’s the same in business. As I said before, it’s much easier to be in charge of a start-up or a business that you happen to buy or take over that is struggling, because you can be innovative, because there aren’t people there going: “Well, hold on, it works, so let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done.”

Toby: But … the music industry worked, the elite sports, the Olympics, worked. But you’ve got to keep looking for what’s –

Richard: Exactly right! You’ve got to keep evolving. And so that’s what we did, you know, we had an amazing journey, which maybe we’ll talk on –

Toby: Yeah well - how long were you there?

Richard: I was there for just over seven years. If people want to – I mean I’m not plugging it because it would sell books – if people want to go into the detail of the story, my very first book, Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, tells the story of what we did. But suffice it to say that when I took over the school was bottom in Derbyshire, one of the lowest performing schools in the country, and within 18 months our exam results were in the top 5% of the entire country. And we won the UNESCO Education Award.

Toby: Yeah, I was going to say, you attracted interest from all over the world.

Richard: Yeah. And we’d done things dramatically differently, and that was because … it’s very interesting. I’d describe myself - looking back now to when I took over the job - as a naïve leader, which is a great danger because you are naïve enough to not know what could happen to you if it goes wrong, and arrogant enough to believe you’re right. Which is a really interesting mix, right? And I went in there with just absolute belief in the art of the possible. And said to the community: come on, let’s rebuild this in a whole different way. Let’s not focus on being obsessed with the inspectorate or the exam results, let’s be obsessed with our kids and have the belief that, if we focus on creating amazing individuals, they’ll cope with whatever is thrown at them, be it an exam or anything else.

Toby: And how popular was that outside of that environment?

Richard: Well it was hugely popular in the community because it was unbelievably empowering. A lot of the teachers in that school when I started had been there all their careers. The three other members of the Senior Leadership Team had been there, between them, at that school, for over 100 years. But this was very empowering, because they’d been oppressed by targets and outcomes, and outcomes and targets. And I said: “Come on, let’s just go back to the purpose and passion of what we believe in.” So it was very attractive for the community. Because for the first time in many years a lot of those teachers, who when they’d gone into the profession were deeply passionate and committed people, I’d given them the licence to be deeply passionate and committed again rather than focused on just doing whatever it takes to hit outcomes. And as a result, of course, what you create is an incredibly persuasive, positive and dynamic culture, where everybody feels that they can develop their ideas and processes, they re-engage with their passion, their skill - because they were all highly trained professionals - and what they achieved was truly remarkable. And, of course, that passion transfers to the children. And so, over that seven-year period, we created an extraordinary environment that flourished on every single indicator and level. And that’s where it began for me and where I started, because a lot of what I did in the early years was purely instinctive. I wasn’t trying to be a superstar or to eventually become an author or a speaker, I just wanted to do a good job for the kids in my community. And it’s only in the years since, with the benefit of hindsight, that you start to understand, actually, why those successes scored. And you start to then look at the generics of those issues to see how they could be applied in other contexts.

Toby: You mentioned earlier about getting to the end of a journey and realising you have to move on: you got to the end of that journey and realised you had to move on. You went into public speaking.

Richard: Yeah.

Toby: So how did that change come about?

Richard: Wow. So I was about five years in to my tenure at Grange when, inevitably, because our reputation had started to inhabit all kinds of environments – political, education, not just in the UK but globally – inevitably I was increasingly being asked to go and speak at events or talk to other leaders in education and policy makers. And so I was doing that a lot increasingly actually towards the end of my tenure. And there were a number of things that were buzzing round my head. One was, as I’d described already, I was getting to that point where I knew that my time in that school was probably coming to an end because the evolution had reached a point where they needed a different kind of leader. You know, I’m very … I’ve got a very low boredom threshold, I’m ignited by innovation and challenge and change and that kind of stuff. And I knew the school now needed a period of kind of reflective stability and just time to embed and truly develop the culture. So I knew that my time was coming to an end because the danger would be that I would have just carried on innovating for my own self-interest. And also, Pandora’s box had been opened. Because I have to confess that this world I didn’t even know existed of travelling, and shooting your mouth off, and meeting incredible people in different environments, had suddenly been opened up to me. So, I got to that point after seven years for a whole variety of reasons. One - that I was never at home because I was travelling so much and, if I wasn’t travelling, I was trying to catch up on the job I was actually supposed to be doing. Two - Pandora’s box. I got to a point where I thought, “well do I give this a go?”. And it was an incredibly challenging time in our lives as a family because, you know, by that time I had a great salary as a good head teacher, I was leading a school which had a global reputation and frankly had the capacity to continue to be fabulous –

Toby: You talk about global reputation: you had people visiting from all over the world.

Richard: Yeah. My final year we had visitors from over 130 countries. You know, I didn’t even know there were that many countries, which was just unbelievable. And so, I got to a point where I thought – well, I have two options at this point in the road: one is I stick with the job I know I can do and I can sit it out and just enjoy the fruits of the labours and being in this community, which I loved by the way, don’t get me wrong. I was very fortunate, I’m not one of those people that left education because I’d become cynical or exhausted or bored or -

Toby: Just to interrupt you there. If you’d found a school like Grange, in a similar position to Grange, would you have gone back in and done it all over again?

Richard: I don’t know. Because my fear was that our experience had been so unique that it was a kind of once in a … I knew even then it was a once in a lifetime. Now, yeah, there could have been a civic responsibility on me to have done that. But I’m not sure that my heart and soul and drive would have been in it - because to me what had ended up … it had been a once in a lifetime experience.
Toby: And you weren’t the same person because you were five years further on.

Richard: Exactly. And wiser, and no longer ignorant and arrogant as a young leader. And so, it was a different phase for me. So there were two options: one was to stay and the other was to come out and to give this opportunity that I’d been presented with, blessed with really, of travelling around the world speaking and also by then I knew people were interested in me writing a book. And, actually, you know, I was procrastinating as many of us do. Saying, well hold on, on the one hand I’ve got a really good salary, a fantastic cast-iron pension plan, and a pretty good life. And on the other hand, for the first time in my life as I was approaching 40, thinking … or, I give up a salary, a pension, and all that security. We had two young kids at home, I had a family. And you know you sit there procrastinating – we all do it! We all do it, and we always look for the reasons why we shouldn’t do something, right? And, actually, it was my wife who turned round to me, and she’s a remarkable woman, so we’re still together – that young girl that I’d met at collage – and she’s a head teacher and a phenomenal educator in her own right. She sat me down one night over a meal and a glass of wine and she said: “Right, let’s look at it this way, you’ve spent nearly 20 years telling kids to seize opportunity and take risks.” She said: “Now you can either be a hypocrite and stick with the safe, or you could go out there and try doing what you’ve told them to do for two decades.” And that was the kick up the backside I needed. And so, yeah, that was the … that was the moment at which I decided to give it a go and, at that time, selfishly, I thought: “Well, you know, I’ll give this a shot because, in the next couple of years, if it doesn’t work out, I can always go back to the job I loved.”

Toby: So you started talking, was it, initially, you were speaking about education?

Richard: Yeah, so what happened was, in the first couple of years I managed to get myself an agent actually – through my mentor and friend who’s a hugely renowned global speaker, has been for many decades, a man called Sir Ken Robinson. And, if people are interested, just get them to look up Sir Ken Robinson TED and they’ll know what I’m talking about. And he introduced me to his agent, and he said, “look, this team will help you a little bit – rationalise”… cause I didn’t know where to start! And so initially I thought, well you know I’ll talk about what I know which is education. And, actually, Brendan - who’s now become a dear friend - who’s my manager and agent, said to me very early on he said: “Actually, when you tell your story, what you don’t realise is so much of the leadership stuff and the stuff around change and your experience, is deeply generic.” And you’ve got to remember that I was coming out to do this full time at around the time of the global financial crisis, when companies all over the world were starting to question everything about their practice and the way they were working, and particularly around the human impact on - and change and leadership and all of those things. And I guess, you know, my approach was fresh and different. I wasn’t one of these speakers that had won an Olympic gold medal and stood there showing a video of me winning a gold medal, and then was inspirational for 45 minutes and everyone in the audience going: “That was amazing but we’ve got no idea how that relates to us.” Or, you’ve got a Dragon’s Den superstar multi-millionaire telling everyone in the audience how they became a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. And, again, you know ... I was different. I was a primary school teacher going: “Let me tell you how I would lead a group of arsey 10-year-olds on a cold, wet Thursday afternoon.” And what was really interesting was, at that time, it captured the imagination of the business community. So very, very quickly, I started to have the confidence and courage to realise some of the generics of what I was talking about. And the more I did it, and the more I would talk with the businesses I was working with, I realised how the stories connected. And having been in a world, and I think most people are guilty of this to be honest, you believe whatever industry you’re in – that your issues and problems are unique to your business sector, your industry. And that, actually, you only ever seek advice and learning from other people who have done what you’ve done. And what I realised very quickly was how much of this was generic and how exciting it was to hear the examples from other contexts which related back to your own experience. So that’s how I started to evolve my speaking career. And, at the same time, I was very fortunate because my first book – Creating Tomorrow’s Schools ... – had done really well as an education book, and other publishers started knocking on my door saying, “we’ve seen the numbers for this little education book, have you got anything else in your locker that could be more generic”. And I was beginning to discover for myself at the time, the stuff around leadership and change, and learning environments. So that’s where the more generic books started to happen and Change in particular – Change: Learn to Love it, Learn to Lead it. Which changed everything for me, perversely, because, when it was published, it went to number one in the business book charts and was all over WHSmiths at airports and train stations. And people were picking up off the shelves, reading it, and hiring me as a speaker. So that’s really how it evolved. I was very lucky: right place, right time. I suppose a little bit of courage, a tiny bit of skill and knowledge, and then an awful lot of chutzpah to be able to go out there and [laughs] have the confidence to blag it!

Toby: So, moving on thoroughly to leadership, what are the key themes in what you feel are important in leadership?

Richard: For me, there are a number. The first is: authenticity. I think it’s really important as a leader to not believe your role is to know everything, do everything, be in control of everything. But genuinely to be passionate about other people and passionate about the organisation you’re leading. To have the confidence to share your own frailty as well as your own strength. To be committed to the belief that your job is to create a culture of assumed excellence rather than assumed incompetence. And what I mean by that is not be tempted because of your lack of trust in your people, to just create a controlling environment where everything is measured by set targets and set outcomes. But actually to believe in your people or at least create a culture where they feel you believe in them. And you give them space and opportunity to develop their ideas and to collaborate with one another. And, occasionally, to take a strategy off in a direction that you hadn’t thought about. I think those things are extremely important. I think what’s also vital as a leader is to give yourself the space and time to constantly reinvest in your own imagination. And what I mean by that is again, as leaders, particularly in SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], we tend to believe that we have to spend every minute of every day inside our organisations so people can see us working really hard. And actually what we do then is we, to the detriment of our own professional development, we don’t give ourselves the space and time to just go out and just talk to other people, to have the opportunity to look at other businesses, to experience other environments. Because, actually, the greatest point of being a leader is to be the stimulus for constant imagination and curiosity. And you can only do that if your curiosity and imagination is constantly being fired. So you’ve got to spend time networking and stepping outside the organisation and, of course, that does two things: one, it allows you to refresh and to stimulate; and, two, it gives the people left inside your business the space and time to lead and manage for themselves.

Toby: And what do you see as the antithesis of that? What you’re trying to teach – things that people should be wary of, I mean.

Richard: I think that the biggest challenge for people as I’ve kind of intimated a couple of times already is that they feel that they are the business and everything relies on them, and every decision has to go through them. And this culture of control, and assuming that everyone around you is incompetent and nobody else gets it. The belief that you actually have to work 27 hours a day, and you know I was never a mathematician, but you know what I mean. That people are working so hard all the time just to keep up, and believe that that’s their responsibility and that’s how they show their staff and their employers how much they care and how passionate they are. They actually – the danger is that you get locked into I suppose the Taylorist cycle – that everything has to end with efficiency. And, actually, that’s the danger, that pretty much all of us have been educated and trained to believe the Taylorist Cycle of Efficiency, which is: if you focus on efficiency you increase productivity, if you increase productivity you increase profitability, if you increase profitability you invest that back into efficiency, right? Now that’s fine in a culture where actually you keep making and delivering on exactly the same thing, month after month, week after week –

Toby: And people always want that?

Richard: Well, that’s the idea. And that’s where the music industry was for example, right? But the truth is that, in order to survive – and particularly in the modern world we’re living in – you have to be able to constantly evolve. It needs to be more ‘kaizen’, you need to be constantly making incremental developments and changes and shifts, no matter how successful you are, no matter how busy you are. I remember, a number of years ago, talking to, having the opportunity to talk to Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, about Apple’s development. And he said: “You know, one of the greatest challenges for us when we started out was we were working out of Steve Jobs’s stepdad’s garage, we were tinkering with stuff, we had our friends around us and very quickly we started to have major investment and major expectation. And we were going to have to recruit people, right?” And they went out for a beer one night, Jobs and Wozniak, and Jobs turned round to Woz and said: “If we’re going to make this company last, Woz, we can’t be a company that makes stuff, because if all we do is once we’ve designed it we just make it and sell the same thing – we’ll be dead in this valley in five years.” You know, they were in Silicon Valley. And he said: “We have to be a company that keeps giving the world stuff it doesn’t know it needs yet, that’s our only chance of survival.” And the reason that, once they’d had that conversation, they had a secondary conversation which led to – so what kind of people are we looking to hire and populate our business with? And again, what they meant by that was they knew they were in Silicon Valley at the heart of gold rush, right? And they were – they could have clicked their fingers and hired the smarted, cleverest people in tech and science and maths, from anywhere in the world because they were all heading to Silicon Valley at the time. But what they knew was they needed something different. So that night they came up with a mantra, a promise to each other, about the kind of people they were going to hire. And when I got the chance to meet with Wozniak, he said: “You know Richard, it must work, because Apple still use it today as a core philosophy around there hiring process.” And like all things that Apple have developed, particularly during Jobs’s tenure and life, on the surface these things look incredibly elegant and simple but you scratch underneath and the complexity is vast. And I ask people listening to this to consider this mantra because I think it could well be – if you can find the answer to it – it’s the challenge to everything. Because the mantra they came up with was: “At Apple we will never employ anyone who needs managing.” And I think that is the great challenge for leadership. And the trap we end up in is we over-manage and we don’t allow people the space, time, and trust to manage themselves. And that’s the answer to creating, for me, a sustainably evolving business.

Toby: So, how do companies, businesses, change the way their managers, their leaders, work? How do you invest in your leaders?

Richard: This is the million-dollar question. And I think the first thing is not just to promote people because they’re next in line, or promote them because they happen to be particularly good at the job they are doing, and the reward is you promote them into management. I think it’s a profound understanding that leadership in its own sense is an art form, that it needs investing in. That you need people who are hugely confident in themselves, who are emotionally intelligent, that have the confidence and courage to genuinely promote the ideas and behaviours of others, they almost have to be selfless. So the first stage is making sure you know what you’re looking for in the leaders in your company. You know that, if you have a culture, a vision, a sense of purpose and values, that the people you’re looking to promote are those kind of people. That we don’t just have to promote people into leadership or develop them or invest in them as leaders because they’ve served their time and their time is now. But, actually, the last person you hired who walked through the door could be the next Chief Executive or CFO or whatever else it is. And if you identify the traits and behaviours young and early in their tenure then work on them then and there. But, for me, it’s about a constant belief that the job is to develop those people as human beings, to get them immersed as quickly as possible in your passion, your sense of purpose, your vision - and also to throw them out the door and give them opportunities to develop outside of your company.

Toby: So doing exactly the same thing that you want them to do with the people under them, you know?

Richard: Exactly!

Toby: Give them space to create, to think –

Richard: Model. Model the behaviour. Because, you know, it’s not rocket science, if you model that behaviour and immerse people in it, then that’s how they’ll evolve and how they’ll develop that behaviour and culture too. You know, for me, the whole thing is about a cultural evolution. And, by the way, this is not something you can just do overnight. You know, you have to have – as a leader – the courage to know that cultural transformation takes years not weeks or months. So don’t believe you can throw quick-fix initiatives at stuff because all that’ll do is build the cynicism inside the organisation and it won’t actually result in a long-term sustainable culture of change and transformation.

Toby: And this is just as important with small businesses as large?

Richard: Hugely so. And, as I said before, you know, often more challenging because the people who are running those small businesses are founder owners who have passion and belief and commitment to the baby they’ve born and bred. And, actually, the real challenge is to know when your time is right to bring in other people to create new stimulus and development, because otherwise what tends to happen is your idea runs out of steam and, because you care so much, you haven’t ever trusted anybody else to take it on. And you see it so often in the pattern of small business development, that what was a really thriving small business ends up dying, because no-one’s ever allowed it to evolve, because you’ve never had the courage and confidence to allow others to take on the reins.

Toby: It’s a difficult thing to do isn’t it?

Richard: Massive.

Toby: That… changing the way you think is just…

Richard: Massive. And that’s why, you know, I think that businesses shouldn’t wait till they’re successful to develop that culture. Every new business should have as part of its business action plan: how am I going to constantly create a stimulating environment where I am both stimulated and challenged by other people and by other experiences? And how do I make sure I don’t just hire people who worship the ground I walk on and do what I ask them to do, but who will actually charge into my office on a daily basis and challenge me? Because the only way you evolve as a business is to ensure that you yourself are prepared to step out of your comfort zone. You know, one of the things I learnt when I was a teacher was that you learn nothing new by getting something right – you only ever learn something new from the point of a mistake, or the realisation you don’t know something, or you can’t do something. And the danger when you’re leading a small business is you just isolate yourself in an environment of things you’re comfortable with and know you understand.
Toby: Right, we’re coming to the end of our podcast today. I’m going to ask you: what do you consider to be your greatest achievement? What’s given you the most satisfaction, out of everything you’ve done?

Richard: Wow. Well, I mean obviously outside of my personal life and marrying the right human being and having a wonderful set of kids because, if they’re listening to this, they’d expect me to say that. I think, for me, it had to be taking on the tenure as the headship at Grange. And seeing a community reignite and flourish, you know. And all these years later, to hear the stories of some of the children that we had in those early days, and it is one of the profound luxuries and joys of a former career in education that you suddenly bump into people who are now in their mid-30s who you were teaching when they were young kids. And to see how they’ve flourished and they’ve taken on that sense of courage, and innovation, and can-do, and entrepreneurship, and opportunity. And seeing how they’ve used that in their own lives - and you know those moments, which are spectacular as a former teacher, when they come up and to you and say: “You know, that’s where that attitude came from.” And so, for me, yeah, every child I’ve ever taught is a special moment in my career.

Toby: Wow. OK, now this is the big question: the single most important piece of business advice you can give to our podcast listeners.

Richard: I think the most important piece of business advice I can give you is: turn off the podcast, get on your contacts list, arrange a meeting with somebody that you’ve not seen for a very long time who’s in your network, who does something that’s completely outside the scope of your business or professional development, go find a really cosy coffee shop, buy a big long frothy coffee, and just chat to one another. And you will be amazed at how stimulating that is, and what you can take back to your business in terms of innovation and development.

Toby: So, go out and learn something new, basically.

Richard: Absolutely. Absolutely. And commit yourself to doing that every single week.

Toby: So, well thank you very much for joining us, Richard. Now where can people find you? You’ve got your own website?

Richard: I have, yeah, they can find me on Amazon if they type me in there there’s four books there, two which are about education and two which aren’t – Change and Simple Thinking. They can find me on my website, which is just, on Twitter, which is @RichardGerver. And Facebook and all sorts of other places as well. And also they will find me regularly trawling the halls of the University of Derby, which is somewhere I’m still profoundly connected to and proud of.

Toby: Well, thank you very much. It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.

Richard: And likewise, thank you so much for having me.



Toby: And now I’m joined by my co-host Angela Tooley again. And we’ve heard from Richard – a very interesting story he’s got, and how he’s started out as an educator and talking about cross pollination with other businesses, he now gives advice to other businesses from the things he’s learnt within education.

Angela: Yes, quite definitely. I mean if you want a great example to demonstrate how ideas and inspiration can come from anyone in any sort of sector, then Richard’s interview certainly demonstrates that.

Toby: So, Richard’s main theme is the ‘Art of Leadership’. This is something that he has learned for himself as he’s gone along. And he talks about the art of leadership is very different to management.

Angela: It’s interesting because I sat and listened to his interview and I kind of reflected on my journey as a leader. And I think a lot of people who’ve evolved into that role probably have some sort of similar sorts of experiences and things like that, in terms of you do feel your way quite a lot, there is no textbook that teaches you how to be a leader. And this perhaps explains one of his first concepts that he picks up on is the difference between leadership and management. And, for me, management I think is probably much more transactional. It’s more, perhaps, process, out-put driven and things like that. It is a lot more teachable and things like that – versus leadership is not something you could give someone a textbook to do as I said earlier. You kind of feel your way, it isn’t about intelligence or age or social standing, and for me it’s trust is an integral part of leadership. Because actually that’s the bit that allows people to have the confidence to explore and be inspired, and have something that is beyond a job and is something that gives them a reason for being in their career. I always think leading a team of people is very much like being a parent. And you almost think about what you do when your children are growing up – and mine are 16 and ten – is that you give them so much, you set some boundaries around which you want them to work. And they work to that and you let them explore within those boundaries. It’s that sort of manage that just sort of, allows them to explore but also ensures that they deliver and are focused on what is required.

Toby: It’s about moving into new territories, it’s about having ideas to take it further, but you need a conversation about that.

Angela: You need a conversation – it’s more about making sure that what they’re doing is aligned to the company’s vision, deliverables and targets that are set. Because ideas are great but ultimately you kind of need to sort of help them think about, “well actually, which are the ones that relate to our ultimate goals and our ultimate vision” and are they going to help contribute to that? And they’re the ones that you perhaps prioritise first and you take forward first – because otherwise you can just become busy fools and just busy tinkering without any purpose.

Toby: So leadership in essence is to have a good overview so you know what’s going on and you know what’s coming next because things do change, things don’t stay the same. And it’s being able to say, and Richard makes a good point about this, with some of the companies he’s worked with, with some of industries he’s worked within is: don’t sit with what you’re doing. Whether it’s successful or not, always look to see where the change is coming.

Angela: Absolutely. And I think, some people find it quite hard to explain what good leadership is, but actually everyone can tell you a story of someone who they worked for, or who they’ve observed, who was a poor leader. And it’s those sorts of things. Someone who micro-manages and who doesn’t look beyond next week, next month and things like that. So, you know, as a leader you need to be future-focused, leave the day to day and the operational stuff to the trusted team that you have around you. And, once you’ve built that, that allows you to look beyond and you can see what’s coming and you can start then preparing people for that, communicating that to your team so they can start thinking, “well, what’s next?”

Toby: Does it surprise you that Richard’s been brought in to work with people within huge industries, very successful companies, that haven’t been doing that? And suddenly find themselves going: “Ah! What happened there? It’s all changed, we didn’t see that coming.”

Angela: Yeah and it’s for, I was going to say for different reasons large businesses have those sorts of challenges as well as small businesses. I think within large businesses one of the biggest challenges is that people are very functionally based. So you’re there to do a specific role within a specific department within a specific part of an organisation. We see it in the University, we’re collegiate. I work in the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences. It’s hard enough, sometimes, for me to keep up with what’s happening in my own college without, you know, having the time to necessarily understand what’s happening everywhere else and how what I’m doing fits in with what’s happening on a broader spectrum. I make sure in my role, because of the nature of my role that I have to take time out, and I spend time doing that, but it is quite difficult to be able to do that in a large business. In a small business, it’s a different sort of challenge in the fact that you are spread very thin. And, actually, you are quite often at the call of the latest customer phone call, at the latest operational challenge, the fact that perhaps a co-worker’s not turned in so you’re having to cover their job as well. So you get caught up in the day-to-day sort of challenges and things like that. So you don’t get the time to look outside to see what’s coming, to see what your competitors are doing, what’s happening in the market and things like that. And it is really important to take that time out, even if it’s just half an hour over breakfast, which is what I quite often do. Just catching up in terms of what’s happening in the market place, what’s happening on the news, the business news. You can get a plethora of e-shots sent to you about what’s happening in business in your local region, or in your sector or thing. And just to scan that, sometimes, is good enough information and it certainly is better than nothing. Because it does sort of flag what others are doing and maybe makes you think about – “well actually I perhaps need to take some time out and explore something a little bit further based on what I’ve just scanned this morning” and things like that.

Toby: People struggle to make that time though. It’s difficult when it’s, particularly in the small business, to be able to create that new motivation. So how important is it to…?

Angela: It is and it’s important … it’s important you do, firstly for your own self as a leader and for your own personal development. But also as a role model to show what your employees should be doing, and encourage your employees to do that as well. What you tend to see is that the best ideas come from within an organisation, not necessarily from the top, they’re the ones doing the job day in and day out, they’re the ones meeting and greeting the customers and the suppliers and things like that. So actually it’s really important that you act as that role model and allow them to spend that time to do it as well. Richard made an interesting point that – and I think he based it on his experience of when he was the head teacher in Long Eaton – that it’s kind of easy to be successful and make big steps when you’re in a failing company or when you’re starting out or things like that. Because there’s always something to do, there’s some fairly low-hanging fruit that you can do, there are some quick wins. And, actually, innovation is fairly easy to do. But, as your company grows, as what you do becomes business as usual, then it does become more difficult.

Toby: And he made a point that, further on down the line, he’s changed as well.

Angela: Yeah.

Toby: So somebody new coming in would maybe have more of those original ideas.

Angela: Exactly, and I reflect back again and I, you know, I look at the times when I was less motivated in my career and it was those times when, actually, I’d done all the exciting stuff. And I recognised that I was perhaps ready to do on. I think Richard and I are probably quite similar in character, we like that excitement and the cut and thrust at the start of something and things like that. But, actually, once it becomes business as usual and becomes mundane, I’m on to the next thing. It’s interesting, because you see that quite often in football. So, I’ve got boys, we talk about football all the time. And, actually, you think about when you get to the end of the season and you’re watching a mid-table club, which is quite often where we are with our local team. And you sit there and you think: this is absolute drivel. And it’s the same. How do you motivate people who are mid-table, in football? How do you motivate those players? And it’s very similar, in terms of: how do you keep that motivation going as your crew? And some of it is about the sort of people you take on. So really very early on you need to be identifying what your culture is, what your values are, and making sure that you bring people in who are … not necessarily similar to you, but who fit and will buy into your vision and things like that. So at least you’ve got people around you who can keep being motivated because they buy in to where you want to take the company.

Toby: Is it good to have a mix of people and a mix of personalities? Who can inspire each other?

Angela: It’s good to have a mix of people, yes. Definitely. Certainly. It’s great to have that mix, it’s great to have people who work together well as a team. So actually it’s not just about the individual, it’s about team fit sometimes. So, I have interviewed some fantastic people, but one of the biggest reasons why I’ve never appointed them is because I don’t feel they would fit in with the team. There’s a risk that they perhaps might cause some conflicts. They would disrupt the culture of the team and the organisation and things like that. So you need to sort of consider, almost, what are those sorts of differences that you want around that table? I think you also need to have that mind as well that – you need people who … going to go back to trust – you can trust and you can rely on. But ultimately, these may be the people who you hand over the reins to whether because you as a leader in a company are going to be promoted or move on or, if it’s your own business, there gets to a point where actually you might say: I need to transfer the power over and actually I’ve built this business, this will always be my business, I’m always the owner of this business – but actually in terms of the day-to-day running of it, I feel there are other people in this business who are now better placed, who have come in with new fresh ideas, who are more vibrant, who are younger, who will appeal more to our future customers, our future shareholders, and things like that.

Toby: It’s that brave choice isn’t it? It’s a big step for some people, I’m sure.

Angela: It’s a very brave choice, particularly if it’s a business that you started yourself. You invest 24/7 into it, you invest your money into it. So actually letting go is very difficult. And we - one of my project teams - works a lot with family-owned businesses, and they run fairly regular strategy workshops with business owners. And one of the things that they quite often talk in that workshop about is exactly that. Because you don’t have a plan. When you start a business, you think about: well how am I going to get that first product developed? How am I going to get that first customer? How am I going to get that second customer? How am I going to be able to start producing 1,000 a week instead of ten a week? And things like that. But, actually, you never really think about what’s the end game? What’s my exit plan? And, actually, those things are really important to think about very early on in a business.

Toby: Because it depends on how you grow the company.

Angela: Otherwise it becomes a burden, and sadly sometimes that’s what it is, it becomes a burden. And that’s quite often what you see, particularly in family businesses, is that it’s something you can’t get rid of. And then you – quite often you see if you open the local business papers, you see it of businesses that have shut - not because they are not financially viable, but simply because the owner has just decided that he no longer wants to be in that business and therefore he’s had to sell it. Because he’s done no succession planning, he’s put no thought in terms of how it transitions, how he might be able to sell it, or things like that. And sometimes, sadly, the only answer is the business is shut.

Toby: So, Angela, what’s resonated with you more than anything else, from what Richard’s been saying?

Angela: I think there’s probably two things. I think on a personal level it’s made me reflect and reminded me of some of the important things that I need to do as a leader. Particularly the one about sort of giving yourself time and space and things like that. I think I do that very well with my team but sometimes at my own cost. So I think I need to be better in terms of doing that. And that is something that I personally am going to remind myself to do and make sure I put these things in my diary and go and have a coffee and things like that. I think on a professional, business level, I think, you know, this important aspect of the need to constantly evolve and change and innovate and things like that. And I think people find that very scary sometimes and I think people kind of feel that the pressure to innovate and constantly come up with something new. And actually you don’t need to be constantly coming up with great new ideas. Sometimes it’s about making those incremental step changes, not just to your products or your services, but sometimes to your own internal processes or the way that you work as a team or things like that. Because all those things, however small, can just help bring an element of freshness back into the team and to the working environment, and just sort of keep people motivated and re-invigorate them.

Toby: Thank you. Well I’d like to thank Richard Gerver again for joining us on our Inspired Business podcast. And, of course, I’d like to thank Angela Tooley who helps me navigate around the world of business. Thanks Angela.

Angela: Pleasure as always.


Toby: Next time we’ll be joined by Nicole Yeomans, who is a Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Specialist, and a University of Derby graduate. You’ve been listening to Inspired Business, a podcast from the University of Derby telling amazing and inspirational stories from businesses in Derby, Derbyshire, and beyond. Please subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Leave us a rating or review and tell a friend who might also like to listen. Also, if you’d like to be a guest on a future episode of the show please get in touch. You can find contact details and more information about the series at Thanks so much for listening, we’ll catch up with you again very soon.

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