Let’s imagine that we have been transported 20 years into the future. Someone is asking me to write a short autobiographical account of my entrepreneurial career, the journey I have taken. As the founder of Relocon the account is based on my own real background and the current situation I find myself in, but the story of ‘what happened next’ is completely open-ended, a flurry of imagination, hope and optimism.
The start has been a long time coming – my personal journey stemming from a family of business owners followed by a 30-year career in corporate life, and then finally a world built around education, start-ups and a personal learning journey. I was fortunate to be involved with industries undergoing significant dynamic shifts in direction, where innovation played a major part and I was given the opportunity, (earned the opportunity) to participate in full. Over the years I became a student of change, organisational and personal. Like the proverbial shark scenting micro drops of blood I kept my senses awake to an ever-shifting environment, agile in switching direction, always moving forwards and hunting out the next breakthrough. Later life enforced upon me personal change, manufactured by career choices, I opened the doors to new learning, different thinking and the development of my skills base.
Here I was, late fifties, looking at the next 20 years as a chance to build somethingthat could make a dent. A deep routed desire to be financially secure, yes, but also to be able to say yes to any choice I may wish to take. To have the opportunity of helping others secure the future they want and be involved in enterprises that can
make a sustainable difference to the lives of those who might otherwise be denied their opportunity. I was 30-years absent from my home region, a commuter who knew no one bar those who congregated on platform 5, so when the decision came to change, I had to reinvent to become relevant and grow my networks afresh.
Now, in my late 70’s I look back on those businesses that we have worked with. Those we helped to start, grow and flourish but also those that got away, learning opportunities each one; the outcomes we have helped secure, regional prosperity we added to, quality job creation and health and wellbeing projects that got delivered and changed lives. We are proud to have supported such a broad sector across this region. We have helped shape an entrepreneurial eco-system where businesseschose to reside not because of the economic availability of land but because that land has been made fertile, where talent can be harvested from the local Universities and schools, and where learning is a way of life not the means to an end. Our choices have been based upon the reinvestment of our wealth, talent and knowledge. To mentor and support each other, to foster an entrepreneurial spirit and a vibrancy of thinking that ignites a passion. Not only are my grandchildren happy to be here but happy to ‘live’ a life here, to have meaningful opportunity themselves in a region that is no longer abandoned daily by those who commute but enriched by the majority who stay.
Never stop learning, trying and testing has been our mantra. Never not look for the new ways or be shy of innovation, whether driven by tech or created through deep-seated humanistic needs, but always deliver service and quality. Never stop giving back, helping others up and reinvesting into the regional base. Think of the now, think, ‘how can we be better’, ‘how can we continue to build’and ‘how can we share in a culture of reciprocity’? There’s plenty of time to sleep, an eternity of it, instead think of the ways that we must develop and grow.
20-years on and the journey has been fun, we have built communities of practice, changed the mindset of scaling from seeking economies of scale to building on scaled learning and the desire for improvement. Businesses have flourished, the community has shared in this vibrancy, and those regions, 20-years on, that were once areas of deprivation have become communities of aliveness. The region has
grown but done so with sustainability at its core, houses yes but communities first and foremost.
This has been a team effort driven by local people with passion and a desire for diversity of opportunity. Whose core values stem from a belief that there is always a better way. Not self-serving but in service, helping to open the roof on the potential of people and getting them to live a life they love. To banish deprivation and a culture of dependency and replace it with a can-do mindset. By taking the binary notion of failure and success and reframing it into what is and what ought to be.
The analysis of the pre-mortem in understanding my entrepreneurial drivers
What are my entrepreneurial motivations? Relocon was not founded as a social enterprise in the sense of a company formed as a CIC but it has a solid social core bounded by clear ethics. It is an enterprise that does good, not as a bi-product but as an essential facet of doing business.
Did I see something that was missing, an incongruence that needed to be corrected? Yes, our institutions, world class and full of promise tended to work to their own agendas, political leadership was coloured and clouded leading to a sense of mistrust. The community of small business owners were fragmented and a little shy of confidence. As a group we were not sure of the value of learning, not wholly comfortable with the notion of a learning organisation, we were limited by a lack of vision. We chose to address this in a holistic manner using systems thinking to help people see the value of constant development, not as a driver for more pointless qualifications but an aspiration to more informed practice.
How did you define success or failure, both in personal terms and in relation to the venture(s) you created? Our measures of success stems not from a set of hard numbers of business started or jobs created, our success can only be measured in terms of optimism, vibrancy, creativity and attitude. We remain financially focused utilising surpluses for the creation of funding streams, vital for the perpetuation of an innovation culture. Our measures are about how we solve
problems as an entrepreneurial eco-system, how permeable our walls are and how readily we can learn. How quickly does the hand reach out to lift you up rather than push you away? It is a measure of cultural affability, but also commercial practicalities. Personal wealth is a key driver in that ‘skin in the game’ means a shared reward for advice, guidance and support. Revenue is the only real measure of sustainability, cash in the bank the only means to survive.
How did you operate as an entrepreneur? My role was to bring people together, to attract the resources and grow the networks. It was to share the learning and establish the forums and communities of practice that could further that learning. Additionally, I helped to expand the knowledge base, keep it relevant to 21st century thinking and worked towards building a world leading talent base, where graduates, internships and apprenticeships flourish. Our entrepreneurial approach is and always will be, team orientated, socially driven and social in nature built around communities.
In what ways did you draw on your personal background, context and resources to build your entrepreneurial career? After a long period of personal change, different careers, different business models and an investment in my education I have recognised two immediate strengths, an ability to bring people together, to find synergies and create connections of real value. Secondly, a passion for learning, the traditional and untraditional approaches that as learning systems, we can embed in our organisations. My life trajectory has certainly informed my behaviours, but they have not dictated them. My agile nature, flexibility and responsiveness to the fluidity of situations kept me alive in the corporate world, those same skills keep my entrepreneurial spirit alive today. A diversity of businesses means that our strengths were never sectorial our strengths were generic, bold and based in good practice. Family, friends and the wider community helped and benefited in the growth of the enterprise.