1. What do you consider to be the greatest feat in business and why?
“Business” covers a huge, varied and diverse range of definitions and the tendency is to think that large is always best. The North East economy is reliant on so many SMEs and frankly I believe that anyone who has the determination, the nerve and the skills to set up a business and develop it successfully is achieving a “great feat”. John Dance the founder and CEO of Vertem is the latest entrepreneur I am working with and progress so far is extremely impressive.
However, I won’t sit on the fence – the greatest feat I have come across (as opposed to have heard about or witnessed from afar) has to be Sage Group Plc. David Goldman and Graham Wylie set up Sage in 1981 when computers and systems were in such a state of infancy – I recall we didn’t even have one at my first stockbroking company! The steps taken from launch to flotation and then beyond were almost text book in delivery…I could say a lot more, but I’m sure most of you know the story by now.
2. What is the greatest physical feat you’ve witnessed by an individual and why?
My family applied for tickets to dozens of events at the London Olympics and were successful in getting seats for only one. It turned out to be what became known as “Super Saturday”, how lucky were we?
That night we saw an individual transform from potential to the real deal, an athlete able to deliver on the night, under all the pressure of the huge crowd, the nation and hope, as opposed to expectation. Mo Farrah hadn’t been built up as probable gold medal prospect, despite all he achieved afterwards.
We will never forget the noise when he hit the front two laps out. I will never forget the kick, right in front of me, as he opened a small lead from the pack. I couldn’t believe the speed after having already run 9000, fast, metres, I couldn’t believe the stamina to keep going, he even looked like he was getting faster by the end. Many people say his 5000 metre win a few days later was better. For me, because of the pressure, Mo Farrah’s 2012, Olympic 10000 metre Gold was the greatest – I for one had never personally witnessed anything like it.
3. What about by a group or team?
This may raise a few eyebrows, particularly bearing in mind their recent troubles, but I’m going to say Durham County Cricket Club. What I feel received little coverage outside of the region, and even within the Sport itself, was the fact that Durham only became a first-class County in 1992. Yet they built a Test Match standard stadium and then between 2007 and 2014 spectacularly won 5 major trophies including three County Championships. In such a short time scale this was totally unprecedented yet barely registered on the consciousness of the media or the nation. Not surprisingly their subsequent troubles and punishments garnered much greater coverage. Sometimes I do wonder what it is we have to do in the North East to get even a fleeting glimpse of credit and recognition!
4. Which demonstration of intelligence/mental strength has most impressed you?
When managing client investments, I frequently state that judgement and timing is everything. Judging an investment to be attractive is a skill one can pick up over time, but timing the purchase is more often a gift of intuition because so many factors have to be taken into account. Thirty plus years on and I’d like to think I’m getting there…ask me again in another ten years!
Yes, I have worked with some highly intelligent people as you would expect – yet have always been surprised how “intelligence” doesn’t always seem to be associated with common sense.
I prefer to use the word “wisdom” to measure people that I have really admired; people who have demonstrated that utopia of supreme intelligence and judgement, combined with the understanding of timing but also with an empathy for the people striving to help them achieve their goals.
I know of a North East businessman who demonstrates a close balance between the first two, not in terms of perfection but he has been pretty close. I am not going to reveal his name as he is very well known and frankly, when I did allude to how much I admired what he’d achieved some years ago, he implied that he didn’t really care for my opinion! They say you should you never meet your heroes, I could add – avoid managing their investments for them as well!
5. Which act of generosity has inspired you the most and why?
I have worked with a great number of North East based Charities and Foundations, primarily investing their funds in order to help them grow. Many were created through the generosity of single philanthropists, most of whom wanted to “give something back” after running hugely successful businesses. Laudable though that is, I do feel those people who set up charities without the backing of immediate wealth deserve even greater recognition.
Lesley Hanson who founded the hugely impressive Autism charity, Daisy Chain, in 2003 in Teesside, is a great example. Yes, funds did come in from wealthy backers in time, without whom the charity couldn’t be where it is today, helping over 2000 families a year, but, without that initial vision and determination the charity wouldn’t exist. There are many more similar examples across our region and each one should be heralded by our society rather more than they are.