Speaking at Preston’s College for National Apprenticeship Week
To mark National Apprenticeship Week, I was honoured to be asked to address business leaders and apprentices from across Lancashire, at an event hosted by Preston’s College.
I took our newest apprentices Conor Brown and Becky Tyson to the event, having asked them to contribute towards a question and answer session. Needless to say, they did tremendously well and I was incredibly proud of their answers, which were articulate, inciteful and inspiring.
Below is an excerpt from the speech:
“I am delighted to be invited by Preston’s College to talk at such an important event, I am incredibly passionate about business and whilst the principle aim of any business is to make profit we have to realize that business is about people.
“I shared a tweet this week by Richard Branson which echoes this point “If you aren’t making a difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business – its that simple”.
“I am the CEO of OBAS UK Ltd which employs about 45 people, we turnover in excess of £2.5 million with our efforts and achievements being recognized through a variety of awards and accreditations. We specialize in distributing over 17,000 products to the building and plumbing industry with in-house personalization of work wear.
“Our success and more importantly survival during the recession is testament to the hard work, support, enthusiasm and commitment of our workforce – the crucial point is that I have referred to everyone within our workforce and not discriminated – we value every member of our team equally regardless of age or experience.
“Often we refer to business being synonymous to roller coasters, where we refer to the ups and downs, twists and turns. But in reality, I believe roller coasters are about Courage, Confidence and Leadership. If you cast your mind back to the time you saw your first roller coaster there were two things that went through your mind – am I going to be sick or am I going to die?
“Many of us in the room will realise that these roller coasters are a metaphor for the challenges we tackle every day, our job is to find the confidence and courage to tackle our roller coasters, to then inspire and lead our teams. The truth is that the business world is a theme park full of different rides and experiences. But none is scarier and more exhilarating than the roller coaster.
“To the apprentices in the room, I urge you to jump on the roller coaster and trust your instincts, and the leadership of your peers who are keen to develop and support you, as you will bring the fresh ideas and innovation that the business world needs to be successful in the future.
“My professional career started over 30 years ago with a Youth Training Scheme in which I was paid £27 per week, I was fortunate to have had the fire in my belly and made the most of every opportunity to learn everything I could. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I knew what I liked, and genuinely was both nervous and confused in selecting which company or industry sector I should choose – the Youth Training scheme simplified this for me and through work placement I realized that every business has elements which are similar for example admin, finance, IT, sales and marketing.
“At 17 my apprenticeship ended with the company awarding me the position of European product manager responsible for three vertical market products within the marine industry for yacht design, sail design and course optimization. I started my first business at 19, returned employment to gain more experience as a Technical Director in charge of 80 people at the age of 21 in the city and then at the age of 23 returned to running my own business to end up here in front of you today – Saatchi and Saatchi’s have a slogan “Nothing is impossible”. I have made loads of mistakes during my career but have learnt from all of them, my only regret is not valuing the education I was given at an early age but rest assured I am making the most of it now as we are never too old to learn or share!
“The biggest thing I can share with you is that often your roller coasters may appear to be like brick walls, but the secret is that there is always an opportunity to get to the other side you just have to find it – I believe it is this ability that differentiates us as leaders.
“OBAS has tested challenged everything I have learnt in my career, I have a responsibility to continually adapt and develop to enable me to continue to lead and support my team – I achieve this by investing my time and energy into education and the community because the truth is that I didn’t realize how powerful and important my education would be today. Education and learning is available in many forms – you don’t have to look for it as its all around you, you simply have to keep an open mind and have the wisdom and experience to know how to apply it.
“Another thing I can share with you is that we shouldn’t be scared to try something or make a mistake – it is only by failing or making a mistake that we learn and adapt, again the secret is in how we apply our attitudes to failure. Kevin Roberts of Saatchi and Saatchi have a great attitude towards failure within their company – Fail fast, Learn fast, Fix Fast! I would add that failure doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it simply means that you haven’t succeeded yet – so pick yourself up and move on.
“I have been incredibly fortunate to work with some amazing people that have shared their experience and knowledge to mold me into what I have become today, but I mindful that I have an obligation to share my knowledge and experience with our next generation of workforce and business leaders.
“In chairing the Northwest Economics survey over the past 4 years, every quarter result shows that there is in-excess of 70% skills gap in industry, it is my opinion that the Apprenticeship scheme is essential to providing the skilled workforce of the future.
“I am incredibly excited and proud to be associated with Preston’s College, their commitment and success in educating our future generation has been recognized through OFSTED and more recently with the amazing success in securing £13m investment for the iSTEM centre which is vital for them to work with industry and employers to develop the most employable learners.
“The business world needs to embrace the apprenticeship model and work more closely with education, we must recognize the significant value to our business and not simply think of it as an opportunity to acquire cheap labour, we must realize the importance of investing our time, energy, patience, knowledge and experience into these apprentices as they will project our businesses forward – they will challenge, ask questions and test the rigors of our systems, I truly believe we have forgotten more than we remember – its not been lost forever, its just locked away somewhere and can resurface as a result of working with the apprentices.
“I often hear business complain that young people are not work ready, I believe that they simply need to experience that light bulb moment and it is our responsibility to help them to find the switch. The switch that motivates and captures their enthusiasm and energy for them to apply themselves and realize the importance of what they are doing and the opportunity.
“I would remind all of us in the room of the old saying – the more you put into something, the more you will get out, clearly I am not suggesting we should throw caution to the wind and invest every penny we have in speculative investments – but on a serious note I would always invest in people because someone invested in me!
“I am hopeful that I am living proof that the scheme works and that the investment made in me at an early age has paid dividends, it truly acted as a catalyst and impacted on so many people throughout my career, it continues to impact in my present business and everyone I come into contact with.
“And so in the words of Buddha I share a quote with you “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.” I would add that each one of those candles can go on to light many more candles – how many candles will you light?
“To conclude, I thank you all for your kind attention, to Preston’s College for inviting me to talk to you and a fabulous school dinner, to Rebecca and Connor who kindly allowed to be coerced into participating and leave you with some final thoughts, work isn’t really work, a problem isn’t really a problem, they are opportunities so lets make the most of them and enjoy our roller coasters, the only real barrier is in our own heads, we started with a quote from Richard Branson, so I would ask how will you make a difference tomorrow?”