John: My guest today is Mike Lander. Mike is an entrepreneur who has successfully bought, grown and sold multiple businesses in sectors like digital marketing, recruitment, education and more currently, Mike is the CEO of Piscari Limited and chairman of a digital agency Re-signal. Thanks for being on the show today Mike.
Mike: Thank you, pleasure… very good to see you.
John: I’m so excited to hear a little bit about your journey because you know, Re-signal I was able to speak to the owner and Mike Gibbons and he was a great guy so I’m excited to learn a little bit more yourself because he spoke highly of you.
Mike: So great, that’s very kind of you.
John: Can you just give all the audience members a little bit more insight about your journey, about who you are, what you do and a little bit back story about…like a little bio.
Mike: Yeah…yeah so should I give you the kind of like the back story first?
John: Yeah, definitely.
Mike: And then can I get to where I am and we can talk about what kind of what I’m doing now. If you go back in time I was adopted as a baby by a loving family which was great but the family I was adopted by we weren’t professionals as we call them now. They didn’t have degrees. They were clerks in companies and why I mentioned that is when I was 16 I was very shy you know, very retiring you know, didn’t really wasn’t very sociable and when I looked at doing a job although at 16 we didn’t have people that were doctors or lawyers or accountants or entrepreneurs we had people that were scrap merchants and people that ran garages and people that you know, were just hard-working people that just worked their way up so it was very hard for me at 16 to work out what I want to do with my life and so I actually left school at 16. I didn’t do qualifications at 16. I went off and I worked and something happened when I started to work and then I’ll kind of roll forward to where I am a little bit…I was applying for jobs in the UK and I was applying for engineering jobs and I applied for dozens of jobs and got none and I went to one interview and the guy said you’re not very clever, you’re not very capable. We might get you sweeping the floor but we’re not even sure there’s room for you doing that. That as a 16 year old, that kind of shapes you. It shapes your mind and you either accept it and go — That’s all I’m worth or you do something about it and I kind of chose to do something about it and if you look at that 16 year old insecure person and then you look at kind of where I am now 56. That 40-year journey, some things have happened which we can explore on this kind of conversation which completely changed my life outcomes you know? Built and sold a company for a very large seven figure sum. I built a special needs school from scratch from nothing into 50 pupils, 120 staff. I borrowed 7 million pound of debt from some big banks in the UK. I’ve done all sorts and when you look at that 16 year old boy you wouldn’t believe that 56 year old person could have done that and I think as a theme that’s really important — Where you are does not define where you will end up.
John: That’s amazing so obviously over the course of the years, fear brought a big component of where you didn’t want to become, right? So how did you overcome that like throughout the years of maybe rejection or people saying no and you know, surrounding yourself with people that were maybe supportive along the way like what triggered you to do these ultra successful things that along the way.
Mike: So…and so I was trained in selling for a number of years old school selling which was why were taught in fear, uncertainty and doubt and there’s a reason that old school selling used to work that way was because human beings. You asked about my story, we have fears, we are uncertain, we’re doubtful of what the future could be and so if I look at what changed that future I think part of it is personal resilience you know, no matter what happens if you don’t have that gene which is perseverance and you’re going to keep getting up. I’m not saying keep doing the same thing every day for the rest of your life but what I’m saying is you need to give things a fair crack of the kind of like of the you know, the process to see — Is it gonna work? You have to know when to kind of stop but you do need to keep persevering you can’t get knocked over once and think — Oh, well that doesn’t work and again you know, I could have just gone — Oh , well I’m not fit for a job. I’ll just go off and you know, draw the door in the UK, draw social benefit. I didn’t do that. I got knocked down and I got up and I’ve got that knocked down hundreds of times in my life, hundreds. My father, yeah although not a well-educated man, his perseverance and his will and determination is remarkable and I suspect I get quite a lot of it from him. You keep going. You keep getting up. You keep going to work. You keep earning a living and you support your family so that’s kind of like a thing that’s deep inside me so that’s kind of one. The second thing is I’ve been lucky to meet people that…Are they mentors? Yeah, maybe…yeah, certainly they’re certainly challenges. I think if we can meet people in life who can challenge our thinking without challenging us as human beings. They’re great people to meet because they inspire you. They make you think hard. They make you question your assumptions and I’ve had probably three or four of those in my life that are just good, kind people that they challenge your basic assumptions about how you see the world and that makes a huge difference. The ability to accept an alternative view and think it through. I think it is a massively important human trait, look at the world today you know, people are too quick to accept perceived wisdom or received wisdom and they just buy into what someone says. Well, that gets you nowhere apart from being a long-term follower. If you’re going to be a leader you’re going to have to…I was talking to Kevin about this for the other day actually, Kevin from from Re:signal and I recommended a book to him which was called The Innovator’s Dilemma by a guy called Clayton Christensen from Harvard and he wrote this probably 20 years ago and the reason I mention it is his theory was and it was proven through empirical evidence, the best innovations are not lightning strikes, they’re not out of the blue really wild ideas, they’re an aggregation of lots of the proven things reformatted in a new way that suddenly make things different and if you look at the way that I’ve developed as a human being I tend to like take lots of input. I’ll read lots of things. I think we’ve talked about that John. I’m a well, you can see I’m a reader as well. I like reading books and so I’m a reader. I’ll read blogs. I’ll read books. I’ll talk to lots of entrepreneurs and then I’ll aggregate that content together and I’ll work out what my point of view is and they normally produce more breakthrough moments so for example one of the companies that really accelerated my kind of personal career. I bought a company back in 2006 and I did it because I realized something pretty simple which was I could start companies from scratch. I’d started a few of my own companies with just me, really as you know, John really hard to get off the ground you know, a lot of perseverance required good opportunities, need to turn up, talented people need to be around you. All sorts of things can happen. Well, if I could shortcut that by buying a good company and making it great then I’d have like leapfrog that early stage and I happened to find a company that would already have, had about 50 people working for it was successful had just won a big contract and the two guys that ran it wanted to retire and move on with their life and I saw that was a huge opportunity and I you know, raised the money, made the investment and doubled its size as a company because I had the hunger and the passion to do that and that cut out an entire phase of my life of trying to find a company as a solopreneur that you can try and scale; very hard to scale a business if you’ve never scaled one before really hard if you’re a company of one and you’ve never done this before your chances of success are pretty slim.
John: That’s amazing. I mean I love hearing the thought behind and I guess you know, what reality is not books you read and what you watch and you listen to, right? Living it with real life experience going through the nitty gritty grind of not just working for someone else but starting a solopreneur or entrepreneur and growing and scaling a business like without that experience, I mean I would take experience over someone that is a Harvard graduate and with a Phd., lower MBA or whatever, right? Someone that’s gone through it with the years of experience that’s what life is about, right?
Mike: Every day absolutely definitely, John I think it’s really interesting look at what the big tech companies are doing now. They’re starting to say — I’m not advocating people don’t get qualifications because I think qualifications have their place but they’re saying we care less about what degree you’ve got. We care much more about your attitude and your aptitude and they’ll test for that and their big companies, their smart, they’ll build their own assessment centers and training programs the you know, if you’re the right fit you’ll do really well.
John: Yeah, I think that’s the most important thing like the personality, the values, the aptitude of the person, right? Perseverance and other motivational factors because that’s what we hire upon here at Local Seo Search too like we really focus on that individual as opposed to the skill set they have possessed it because you can train someone if you already have a system and process in place but if you don’t have the good, right mindset in a person. Whatever position you have for them, they’re never gonna be successful and do well.
Mike: So big lesson in life for me you know, you hire for attitude you train for skill.
John: Exactly so growing up I know back in when you were 16, how much…like did you have many jobs? Over the years like what kind of positions did you hold before you kind of started your own kind of business?
Mike: Yeah, so kind of interesting to reflect back on my life it kind of went into phases. I was pretty stable in jobs so left school at 16, did a job class 21 as an engineer so I was an apprentice and we have these apprenticeships in the UK you can leave school and at 16 get an apprenticeship and do you do like a day a week at college and four days a week in work so it’s on kind of on the job training and I love that. I really enjoyed it. Then at 21 went to university, did three years at University called Sheffield in the UK in engineering so that’s 24 and then 24 to 29 engineering company, five more years and then at 29 did an MBA. So left my company and self-financed an MBA at 30 and then went into banking so I went from kind of technology, project management into banking, marketing complete career change. One thing that’s interesting John and again your listeners might kind of that…this might resonate with a few is and you may have been through this yourself if you look at that kind of 16 to kind of 31 year old phase of my life in that time a number of people when I made those big changes like doing my degree so left worked a degree, left work, did my MBA. A number of friends said you’re crazy you’re mad. Why would you give up a good job? You’ve got a career you know, you could go on holiday with your savings or buy a car what are you doing and you have to listen to those people because they’re your friends but you mustn’t just accept what they say. You have to have I think two things, one other people around you with different views so balance the seesaw and second and I don’t know how I’ve got this but I seem to have it in my core. I know that’s the right thing to do. Really hard to understand how but I knew leaving work and doing a degree the first time is the right thing to do because in back in the day engineers then you couldn’t become a senior engineer or the head of RND if you didn’t have a degree so I knew if I wanted to progress in engineering I needed a degree so I did it. I then got to like 29 and I wanted to run a business. Well, I knew nothing about finance, I knew nothing about strategy, I knew nothing about marketing except what I’d read in books and to your point, John that doesn’t make me an expert of any kind and so I went — Okay, I’ll do an MBA and I’ll meet loads of people that have done these jobs and I’ll learn from them and they’ll learn from me and I’ll also put in place some foundation blocks of basic…I mean finance, John you would be astounded as how many entrepreneurs don’t understand basic finance. I can have a meeting with most finance directors of big companies and have a good conversation you know, I’m not going to get into the details of how tax works internationally but I can talk about the P&L, balance sheet and cash flow and the implications of a recession on what happens to your cash reserves and your kind of working capital stretch so if anyone out there is thinking — Well, what are the core skills I need to be an entrepreneur? Yeah, leadership, sales, strategy, absolutely. If you don’t get finance you’ll go bust.
John: Yeah, no that’s amazing and I love the fact that you’re mentioning like planning because and gut check, right? I always did pros and cons, strengths, weakness analysis, every career shift that I did and of course surround yourself with people that you actually trust, not just your friends, family, peers to give them an honest opinion on what your landscape and you know, projections are like what your main plan is after three, five, ten years and then figure out like I know how much employers want you to stay loyal to them but you also have to figure out like is this a right career move for yourself to stay put what kind of career advancements do you need within that organization to get to where you want to financially or just your aspiration, right? Definitely, very similar journey in similar to myself like every way was really to advance myself because look if you don’t take care of yourself who’s going to take care of you, right?
Mike: Exactly and you can’t expect people again I think another big lesson in life John, is people that expect others to take care of them as young people you know? I’ve heard it, it’s all right for you. You know, you were lucky. Yeah, it’s not fair. I didn’t get any lucky breaks and I’m like you know, luck to me is a very particular kind of definition you know, luck is –Yeah, I am lucky and luck is I show up every day, I work long hours. I have lots of connections. My network is really really really good, really strong and when an opportunity comes up because I’ve been persevering and I’ve been chiseling away at trying to find opportunities. I focus on shaping those opportunities into real pieces of business that are great testimonials of the work I do and that then will allow me to sell more . So yeah, I’m lucky.
John: Yeah and people don’t see it that way, right? They only look at you at that pinnacle of now you’re an entrepreneur or you’re a business owner but they don’t see that 10, 20, 30 years of struggle to get to where you are and this is exactly what every entrepreneur wants, right? They want to be at that pinnacle but how many actually get there, right? No one talks about all the failures or all the people that don’t make it.
Mike: And why you know…. and people that give up and I know it’s easy, that’s the beginning you know, I’m no advocate of just saying you just carry on in adding to an item with some passion project that you’ve got because eventually the market keeps telling you it’s not working after you’ve been adapting. You do need to kind of like adapt further and maybe pivot but you’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to keep on getting up, dusting yourself off and learning the lessons, John. I mean…Wow, there was a very famous moment in my life, famous to me you know? We have things in our minds that stick out and they never go away and it will never leave me and I can remember where I was, in the room I was in when this happened and that seven million pound of debt that I borrowed I’d paid it off in tranches, raised in tranches but at one point I got into trouble and I thought I was a genius, master of the universe. I’d raised this money and it had all gone really well. I’d made loads of money. It was brilliant and I raised some more money and invested in something else and it went horribly wrong and I found that out because the bank said in no uncertain terms if you don’t fix this problem in the next…Hell, I think at about 20 about 30 or 60 days to fix it. It’s like we will take the keys off you because we have the power and the authority and the legal right to seize your business if you don’t do what we need because you’ll have reached all your covenants several times and at that point you’ll be in a fire sale because we want to recover our debt for 50p and a pound and you’ll get nothing and in that moment when someone tells you that you could go from having this you know, quite impressive business to zero. It does something to you. Now I came out to the side of that and I paid back all the bank debt in full. I paid out the swap product that I had which was a hedging instrument. I paid out all my unsecured creditors and I generated cash myself in our family . Now that did nearly kill me but yeah, hence I’m great but it certainly formed me as a character.
John: Oh yeah, I mean these are things that you have to live and breathe and learn, right? And this is other people’s money you’re dealing with, right? And if it’s your own you can live and sleep and be okay with it but when it’s other people’s money especially banks money or other you know? And this is where I see like venture capitalist, angel investing and all the other you know, people want to raise money to fast track and expedite the business, right? And as a small medium-sized business owner everyone wants to get to that eight, nine digit business but really is it for you? You have to slow down and figure out like what’s in it for you and what is that person gonna look like when they start earning that much if they even do so, right? Like it’s not for everyone and what if and why do you want it in the first place, right? So again I always self-reflect. I always look back at like ultra successful and what does success mean to people and myself like slow and steady always wins the race and I’m okay with that and it’s more about like enjoying the entire process, right? Enjoying the whole momentum of doing everything your way without you know, making mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes, right? And slow and steady always wins the race so…
Mike: I mean interesting John you know, I think my view of my world now is that is slow and steady wins the race if you go back to when I bought that company back in 2006 you know, what was interesting was I kind of I didn’t do that I raised all this money and I bought this company and you know, if someone said to me would you do it again? Now no, I wouldn’t. You know taking on bank debt or taking on VC money until you’ve done it and you’ve experienced it comes with some pretty unpleasant difficult challenging stakeholders around you because before it was your business you know? And you kind of like you you do what you want with your business you take care of it and you look after it and you nurture and you grow. When you’ve got a bank breathing down your neck or a VC, it’s not just their money it’s their customers money because the bank’s got customers behind them that put money into the bank that they then use to lend out to make money and it’s a circle well, they’re not going to take kindly to you saying — Oh, it’s not worked out. Never mind. That’s why they have covenant checks in every quarter. You must report on your banking covenants if you start breaching your covenants they’re going to get pretty heavy-handed and not unreasonably because you’re risking their money and I think — Yeah, that slow and steady wins the race you know, my current company Piscari we are we’re debt free. It’s self-financed.I have no employees I work with a virtual team. I love doing what I do it’s growing slowly…slowly…slowly. I’m building a position as a thought leader in my area. Slowly, slowly, slowly it’ll take time. I have no intention of taking on bank debt. I have no intention of taking on VC money.
John: Exactly and this is the thing people don’t understand stress when you have other people’s money in play, right? And I know a ton of SaaS company business owners that raise a ton of money, VC money. They don’t sleep at night, their relationships, their family don’t even see them. You ruin your other pillars…are very important to you and why did you put yourself in that situation in the first place to get this you know, to grow and scale and grow you know, sell your business maybe hopefully at 10x or whatever. Is it worth it in the end because it’s gonna eat up your life for years not just days and weeks. It’s like sleepless nights and stress like you would never believe, right? So I totally get where you’re coming from.
Mike: And you might get fired. I mean VC if you don’t perform and they don’t believe you can make the journey. If you look at just…do the research online if you… if your audience just looks at the number of founders that get fired from their own companies and become strategic advisors or become you know, consultants and then just disappear. It’s a huge percentage because I’m also I mean back in the day there was a guy called I think Ken Blanchard. They wrote a book called Situational Leadership and it’s probably still true today which is people are often suited to a certain type of part of the journey of an entrepreneurial company. I don’t know. I only know one founder that got through from…she started it at her desk and it became a billion dollar company and that’s just recently happened and she stayed all the way through the journey. She’s the only one I know most people are good for a certain situation. The naught to half a million, the half million to two million, the two to ten, the ten to fifteen. Different people good at different stages of that journey and I think you have to get to know yourself about what part of the journey do you love? What are you good at?
John: Exactly and really like what are your main goals, right? Like are you planning on exiting, are you enjoying the whole process if so stay in it but if you start hating and dreading going into work every day like why even continue, right?
Mike: Exactly, right why continue? I mean you know you’re a long time dead. Why would you continue beating yourself up. I mean I was ex…I think I might have told you I was at kpmg so I was a consultant at kpmg for the years; brilliant training, amazing firm. I’m still an advocate of the work they do now. I think it’s an amazing brand. I’m really…brilliant training, talented partners but if you want to be a partner in a big five you know, multidisciplinary professional services firm you know, you’ve got to know what you’re letting yourself in for I mean I left the firm one below partner so I was told I you know, I could be on the partner track whether I was or I wasn’t…I don’t know but I could have been and I said — No, I’m resigning and they were quite shocked and they said why and I said it’s just not for me. This partner life because they work and they genuinely do work 14 hour days six days a week. They don’t see their families. They’re on a plane all round the world normally under normal times you’re at the back and call of the firm. I mean same thing working for Goldman Sachs or one of the big investment banks you know, your life isn’t your own but you get paid three, four, five hundred thousand dollars a year? Back to your point John, what’s your goal in life?
John: Exactly, so one of the things I always look at growing up or working at all these other companies is look at your managers or directors or your superior supervisors and really get to know them and get to know their structure, their day and their whole surrounding and if they’re respected and how is their balance in life and understanding is that a position you want to eventually become or get into because it fits your mode, right? And that’s so critical and a lot of people don’t look at it that way they only look at the dollar figure. Oh, I want a twenty thousand dollar raise or fifty thousand dollar rate. It would be nice to be a manager, director, VP, CEO whatever and they only care about the dollar figure but they don’t look at…
Mike: What comes with it?
John: What’s the bag..is behind it and if you look at you know? And I know a lot of like professional you know doctors and lawyers and dentists and all these professions. Yes, you go to school and you train…train for years, years, years but when you come out do they actually enjoy what they do and then yes as much as the money is it like do they even care about the the work they perform or is it the money that they’re really after because all those years of training I mean you’re equipped with knowledge and insight but you’re not really a business owner, right? So you don’t really understand the whole dynamics of running a business and so it’s like I look at people that I’ve grown up with I surround myself with and I’ve been able to work with hundreds and thousands of entrepreneurs and I’m always probing them to find out how is their happiness level? What does that mean to them, right? And just judge them by like is that someone I would like to be similar to, right? And if I do I want to mimic them. I want to ask them the right kind of questions to see how they got to where they got and you know, become friends with them, right?
Mike: I mean look at John you know, kind of my day now. — Okay, we’re going through coronavirus. It’s unusual time horrific time but which has changed our working patterns but before this happened you know, I work from home so I get to see my son who’s seven and a half goes to school in the morning. I get to take him to school some days. I get to pick him up some days so normally in a week you know, if there’s like 10 journeys five drop-offs five pickups. I’ll do probably between four and six and I get to play with him and we get to do fun things and if I need to take a day off to go and see him at sports day. I can it…that’s what ultimately when I’m gone and he’s still alive, he’s gonna reflect on his father and his mother and go what are they like as people? Did I have a relationship with them exactly were they nurturing because whatever affects them will affect their children. You’ve got this kind of responsibility in life to other human beings because how we behave impacts them and that will impact their children and so it goes on.
John: And I think before I was a parent like yourself it was all about you know, career and life you know business and trying to earn and whatever success, right? But then things change when you become a dad, right? Or a mother and your whole life perspective is you know, I want to be present, I want to spend more time with the people that you love the most and cherish moments, right? Micro moments and you know, these small little things about having fun and play and enjoying being present is so critical in one’s life especially now both of us are we have young kids, right? And it’s like I love the moment of tapping out turning off my phone and computer and just being present with my son, right? And just playing with him and I look forward to this stuff, right? Like you just have to have a balance and it’s different for everyone. I get it , right? And people might love their job more than spending time with kids. It’s their life that they’re living, right? And that’s totally okay with it but these are things that you have to understand about yourself and why you’re doing certain things and if you’re an entrepreneur like enjoy it, enjoy the process, right? Like don’t focus on all the negatives like focus on how you can progress and learn and make mistakes and be curious and you know, be inspired by people that you look up to, right? Like these are moments that you need to understand about business, right? Not everyone’s going to be successful and it’s okay maybe your first foray of a business journey is not going to be successful and whatever success means, right? Like does that mean you give up every time you know, fail like you know, you get up and try to do it all over again with the knowledge and insight that you’ve learned from the first failure, right? Exactly, when I think I’ve started about I think I counted about 12 businesses in the last for like you know, 30 years and of which one was well two were you know if success is scale and number of people and revenue and profit then if that’s the yardstick they were successful companies. But the rest were like kind of you know, they didn’t go up the ground or they didn’t make any money or there wasn’t a market for them or a bunch of things but you keep going as you say one thing I just want to just kind of touch on and get your view on as well, John is curiosity. I’m always saying to my son be curious, ask questions you know, think it through, work out why something’s happening just be curious and I think that’s taken me quite a long way in life. A curious mind, what’s your experience with that?
John: My son asks me 20,000 questions a day and it’s great, right? Because I understand that he’s always wanting to learn, right? Like he’s the type that is learning as much as he can and the more information I equip him with and insight and knowledge it’s gonna bode him well in the future, right? Like he’s gonna adapt and learn and make his own mistakes but at least he’s curious and I always tell him like ask questions. I tell everyone on my team actually like correct, be curious, ask questions if you don’t know ask and it’s great that you’re trying to do it yourself but it’ll save you time, right? Someone has already endured that same problem let’s see if we can all help each other out, right? So that’s like team building so in terms of advice. I know that you, we talked a lot about like your journey and whatnot can you think of some of the setbacks that you had to overcome some of the major issues and problems that I know there were that losing money and that venture that you were talking about but that’s a huge stress component but what kind of advice can you give some entrepreneurs in terms of their journey so that they become successful.
Mike: But I think so I’ve got one in my mind around Impostor Syndrome which is often talked about and like written about but again unless you’ve experienced it then it doesn’t mean anything. When I bought that company back in 2006, I was a consultant working for that company for about five years so the 50 odd consultants we had were all peers, friends, peers, people I worked with well, the next day I turned around when I owned the company and they were like — But you can’t and you’re one of us. So all of a sudden you go from being one of the team to now being the chief exec so the conversations you have are very different. The way that you lead the organization has to be very different, the consequences for people not doing what’s required are different and you’re accountable for ensuring that you know, there are consequences if clients don’t get what they need but they’ve paid for to get the outcomes they expect, then something has to happen. People work longer hours or something happens. All of a sudden you it’s you, no one else it’s you and that’s a big part of the Impostor Syndrome is you get put in this position either self-appointed or appointed and now you go from being a peer to being the leader and that transition I think if I could probably ask for anything back in time you know, what do I wish for? I wish I had a mentor at that point when I did that but that was kind of on my side. I had a couple of people but they weren’t really you know, driving my agenda I think if you can find a mentor to help you through that that genuinely wants you to succeed and it has to be a mentor not a coach and in my mind I’ve got a very clear distinction. A coach tends to ask questions and has a process and the idea is it gets you to find out what the answers are through a dialogue. Yeah, whereas a mentor has been there done that different companies, different size, different ways but they’ve got the experience and they are giving you access to that enormous experience. To allow you to shortcut or stop treading on landmines and that’s really critical when you face that quite big step.
John: Oh, that’s amazing. I think the challenge between peers and people that you know, equipping them with the hindsight of adapting and understanding like communication is key, right? And letting them in on like what if one day I’m your own manager. How would you feel, right? Like understanding that because you don’t know what the reaction was would have been if you kind of informed them earlier and understood how they would react so that you have a plan of action moving forward, right? Because without that like then they’re gonna start talking to
you differently, they’re reacting you completely different. When they see you they’re all afraid. There’s all these other perceptions because working at a big company I saw it firsthand, right? Like when you’re you know, someone that’s doing all the work versus a manager or supervisor VP or director like different tiers, different levels there’s a barrier behind everyone and people are afraid, right? Although there shouldn’t be but that’s how perception is and that’s how you’ve been trained from everyone else, right? Because all your peers talk amongst each other like friends, right? That’s right but then when you become a manager. There’s that barrier, there’s that should even tell them and then now you’re a CEO. Well, I’m not telling them anything. I’m just doing my work, right?
Mike: So this is a great point about not telling them anything so this was another big lesson learned for me and I think sort of there’s two little stories. I guess when I first became the chief exec and I owned the company and ran it. I was quite transparent with all sorts of things to all sorts of people. I quickly realized that’s a big mistake. You mustn’t be completely transparent with everyone about everything that’s in your mind wearing your heart on your sleeve as chief exec tends to not got that well on the whole but the second thing I learned was there are times when you must be transparent, you absolutely have to tell people what’s going on when I restructured the company I was really clear with everyone. It’s like we are in trouble, we have breached our covenants, we are going to restructure, there will be redundancies at some scale. We will get through this and we will make sure the bank is paid off in full but it will be very painful and they have to hear that quite a few times and then when you do have to make people
redundant which is horrific but you do. When they come back and say — Look but it’ll all be okay won’t it? It’ll be fine can’t I keep working here? I’ll change roles you have to keep saying remember what I said, We’re in deep trouble. We have to take action now entrepreneurs often…I think again we shouldn’t make denied statements about entrepreneurs in general but there are traits; I see people fail to act quickly enough so when things start to look bad a lot of entrepreneurs if they lack experience fail to put in place plans quickly which would be risk, kind of risk management plans that allow you to manage and mitigate that risk as it starts to transpire because they say — It’s okay, I’m an entrepreneur. We’ll grow our way out of this. Yeah, you might do sometimes but most of the time that’s not the root cause you know, what drives me mad often is someone advised. It’s quite a lot of companies is when action is taken but when you look at it the root causes have not been understood. I’m an engineer by training so I was taught the Ishikawa diagram, the fishbone diagram as it was called which is root you know, root cause and effect diagram. You work back from a symptom back to the root cause and the root cause is normally three to five steps away from where you think it is. If that thinking’s not been done the wrong action will be taken because people are too quick to act. You have to think it through, work it back then build your plan and then act.
John: Oh, that’s amazing. I mean I love your thought process behind it especially you’ve endured challenges over the years, right? So that experience is priceless, right? So in terms of like running your business today, I know you kind of stopped doing the larger kind of companies and then you pivoted to kind of build your own brand, your own company. How has it been going? Why are you doing it and what has changed over the years like why? What is motivating you today versus five, ten years ago?
Mike: So it’s a great question, John. I think a number of things there’s a number of reasons kind of why I do what I do now but one of the…kind of one….a there’s a life stage thing. I’m 56 I think I’ve probably got hopefully between 10 and 20 years of people wanting my advice and then maybe they’ll you know I’ll fed into the distance but I enjoy working, I enjoy business so I want to still be in business. I wanted to obviously have a business life that fits in with my family life so again another important criteria when I worked out what I was going to do important criteria and the other thing is I’ve been quite passionate in fact, really passionate about negotiation skills for probably 20 years now. I love the art of negotiation, the science of negotiation, the theater of negotiation I really enjoy it and I wanted to build something that had that as a kind of component and the second thing is something that my wife kind of brought to my attention. I’ve been a procurement director as a managed service we ran procurement as a service so I was called a procurement director so I’ve bought probably about four to five hundred million dollars worth of goods and services for clients over the years and negotiated hundreds of deals and I’ve done it on the buy side because I’ve been a buyer, I’ve been a procurement director and then Vicki said you know, all the suppliers out there the small companies if they had your insights into how you buy they’d probably be better companies, they’d grow more, they’d be more profitable and negotiations would be more balanced. Why don’t you advise them and so I’ve pulled together all of that buying knowledge as a procurement person, how do procurement work? With all of that negotiation knowledge. How do you negotiate great deals and I focused it on a couple of sectors marketing and recruitment and in that kind of overlapping circles, negotiation, procurement marketing or recruitment in that kind of venn diagram. That’s where I focus because that’s what I love because I fundamentally believe that one of the problems with negotiation skills training is there’s no context around it. I’ve been on some of the best courses in the world like really brilliant courses and they are foundation skills which are important but as you know, John when you negotiate with your clients, you’re negotiating the context of selling your company’s services. Well, every scenario is different so what you need is negotiation skills that are packaged in a way the industrial industry so for example in marketing services a big problem is you sign a contract with a client and it’s a 12-month contract and get to the end of the contract and what you really want John is you want that to be renewed for 12 months. Well, I’m in procurement and I go well — That’s interesting John, but actually I think we’re going to monthly at this stage so we’ll just keep going every month so monthly renewal. I can terminate up well on a month so now you’re sat there going — No, I need to deploy resources to deliver these services over a long period of time. I need some certainty and I’m going — Yeah, I know you do , John but you know, times are hard. I need flexibility so yeah I think if you can keep going month that’d be great and then before I go there’s just one more thing, John I needed a 10 percent less than we had it on your 12 month contract I’ll leave that with you and so all of that you need someone around you that can go — Okay, name the game what’s going on and what can you do to try and convince them get them to agree, entice them to a longer term contract. How do you construct the negotiation scenario?And that’s the kind of stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning that I enjoy doing because it’s interesting.
John: Yeah and every individual, every supplier, every vendor, every company is different, right? And they have their own different scenario different you know, everyone’s cost saving, everyone’s looking for bottom line and you as a vendor you’re always looking to grow your business, right? Increase revenue, sales, profitability so it’s always you know, a battle. Every contact you have with a prospect to every client meeting, renewal contract it’s fun. It is a battle but I’ve seen it all. I love that process but it’s also draining as well, right? Like it is…it comes, it’s not for everyone like you have to be equipped.
Mike: Yeah, you know back to what you said John being an entrepreneur is not for everyone because you as the owner of the business you’ll probably deal with most of those negotiations and if you don’t enjoy that and you don’t enjoy the…it is part of the…it’s a bit of a battle. It’s a game that you’re playing out if you don’t enjoy that then don’t be an entrepreneur because that’s why a lot of your job, problem solving coming up with answers immediately and just you know, just being quick at decisions, right? Because everyone’s looking for you for advice so you gotta just quick at your feet and just do it, right? One thing actually that a lot of people said to me was when I first took over that company years ago they I asked a few people you know, what’s kind of you know…what’s one of my enduring qualities and they said you’ll make a decision quickly, you’ll gather the evidence and you’ll make a decision quickly. It might not always be right, but nine times out of ten good enough to move us forward and that is an important trait.
John: Yeah and totally I mean I make mistakes daily and I own it, right? And that’s totally okay as long as you learn from it, come up with solutions so that you don’t make it again and just continue moving ahead, right? Because there’s so many things that you can improve on you just can’t do everything with the limited resources as a small business owner and just have fun with the process, right? Because it is a long journey.
Mike: It is a long journey and I have this little phrase which I call — Fo a little and learn a lot. So it’s a series of experiments you run an experiment and you try it out some of them work most of them don’t. You learn from it, you go onto the next one.
John: So I know it’s been a great conversation. I wanted to ask you a couple last questions because I know how passionate you are with business. It seems like your family is a huge component of your life at this moment. Moving forward, I know you probably have 10 to 20 more years. What other components are very strong pillars like learning what you’ve learned over the last 40 years I would say, where…what kind of advice would you give people who are either an entrepreneur starting or someone that kind of has some experience and doesn’t know where to go afterwards. What are you gonna do once you know, say success…what the success mean? And then what are the major pillars outside of family and business?
Mike: Okay, so for me there’s…and in fact, you’re looking at your bookshelf now. Yeah one of the pillars for me about when I do stop doing as much work as I do and I’m yeah I’m not running my business every day and let’s say that’s in 10 years time…Yeah, I’ll be 66 hopefully I’ll live until I’m say eight to six you know, 20 years is a long time to be alive if you’re not doing what you’ve done for 40 years. What do you do half your life again and to me a big, big pillar is lifelong learning. I enjoy the act of reading. I enjoy learning about subjects. I don’t enjoy learning about languages so I don’t learn new languages. It’s never really excited me but learning how chess, how to play chess. Yeah, that’s interesting because it’s a strategy game like. Well, I wonder how I could play chess better? Don’t know. So learning about topics that are interesting like negotiation, I’ll probably read about negotiation forever because it’s a fascinating topic and it’s endless in terms of the lessons you can learn by talking to other people so I think that’s one of the big pillars for me…is whatever happens as a lifelong learner a second one is I like making things, John so I at the weekend in the garden so as a family we’ll be like –Okay, we’ve got little animals eating our plants so Leo’s like I’m not having birds eating our strawberries so I’m like — Okay, Leo we’ll build something so I draw out a little plan and we buy some wood and some wire and some nails and I build a little cage with him and the birds stop eating the strawberries and he thinks — Wow, we built that from nothing so again building things. I like to build things so I can imagine in 10, 15 years time building a kit car. I’m like — I wonder how kit cars work? Well, maybe I could buy a kit car and build it and then drive it around because it’s fun and the third one for me is I’ve got a big…if you go back to when I was 16, younger 14. I’m a real kind of audiophile. I’m a hi-fi fan. It always happened and it stuck with me for like 40-45 years so I find listening to music at high quality sound… music that’s a real pleasure. I mean I was…we listened to music probably, I started say 7:30 probably 12 hours a day I’ll be listening to music. Yeah, it’s a constant part of my life finding new music. I’ve gone back to vinyl so I like vinyl so I’m now building my collection again of vinyl records. I love it so yeah, I won’t run out of things to do that’s for sure.
John: That’s amazing, I mean being true to yourself, right? And understanding what really pushes you and makes you who you are and what you’re happy doing, right? Like that’s very hard for a lot of people to uncover, right? But as you return as you grow and you make tons of mistake and you learn over these years, you kind of realize what’s important in life, right? Especially during this pandemic, right? A lot of people have a lot of time to really reflect on what ultimately is most important in their lives? Who is most important? What is the things that are really important to do with the people that you love, right?
Mike: So and how your wired, John you know, I think yeah outside of family putting that to one side as a kind of a because that is the core. We learn as we grow older how we’re wired and I think we learn to accept that you know, I don’t try and become the greatest marketer in the world. It’s not me, it’s not how I’m wired. I’ll find people who are much better.
John: And I try not to judge as much because everyone has their own space and they have their own idea of what success is and I let other people live how they want to live and if they want to ask me questions I’m here to support them and give them advice but I’m not going to push stuff at people, right? So I’ve learned to kind of grow and evolve myself too so it was great discussion, Mike. Let some of the listeners know how they can get a hold of you directly. This will be on the show notes as well.
Mike: Sure, yeah the easiest ways to email me so firstname.lastname@example.org PISCARI.COM so I’m always on that always or you can go onto my linkedin profile so just like type in Mike Lander onto linkedin in the UK you’ll probably find me and connect with me there but yeah that’d be great.
John: That’s amazing, I mean we had a great conversation and discussion. I learned a ton, you’re a great guy. It was a great referral from Mike and we had a lot of fun so ultimately that’s what life is about, right? Great community, relationships connections and getting to know good people so thanks a lot for being on our show, Mike hopefully, you had fun as well.
Mike: I really enjoyed it John and I really really enjoyed it. Thank you it’s great to talk to a like-minded person. Brilliant.
John: Amazing so please if you want to reach out to Mike connect with them everything will be on the show notes and have a great day.
Mike: Thanks John.