What pivotal moments were there in the company’s development?
"For pivotal moments, it’s about how big you are, it’s about scale, so you start off with about four or five people and then you have 12 people and it’s pretty much the same. Then there’s a point when you get to twenty something and you think, the business is changing here – the dynamics change and everything else so it’s more about what happens when you get over a certain size. You need to have different roles and things become more specialised.
2008 was a bit of a pivotal moment because it was a big kind of pause really in many industries and we suddenly had quite a lot of customers decide not to do things. It was more of an opportunity for them to rationalise their operations than anything else so we had a bunch of orders cancelled and we had to make some redundancies so that was pretty tough, that was difficult… a low point. However, things recovered pretty quickly really and although we had to shrink in size, our books never looked bad that year and subsequently we grew and we kept on growing.
January 2016 was another pivotal point as I hired a CEO whose job was to sell the business and I stood back and became Chairman. We thought it would take three years, but it didn't, we sold it in December."
On a personal level, what are you aware of about yourself that could impact on your company?
"In terms of my own style, I always thought it’s important that we don’t run everything at a hundred percent intensity all the time. Some people have this business culture (it’s a bit of an American thing) where they expect a hundred percent all of the time and that means that you get in early and work late and you work weekends. I think you need that but only when you have to pull out all the stops. If you absolutely have the pedal to the metal all the time, it’s not only exhausting but it’s a false economy because you don’t really get more out of people. If you go the extra mile every day, they stop being extra miles, everything just slows down to a slower pace.
You realise when you step away, that there’s just an enormous amount of loyalty there. You take it for granted a little bit when you are there and when you step away you realise there are some people who are just super loyal. I don’t want to sound egotistical about it at all, but there’s definitely something about having a personality and being who you are and that’s what builds a team in the way in which it was built."
Why did you join MDHUB?
“I joined at the very beginning when it used to be called the HUB100, quite some years ago and it was one of those things where it just seemed like a good idea. I’d started my business with a partner and it didn’t work out so I had to buy him out of the business. I was running the business on my own and I thought… the opportunity to go and sit with other people who are in possibly quite different circumstances but they are all running businesses and to just be able to talk to them... that seemed like a really good idea and it was – the workgroup format was a great idea."
What do you enjoy most about your membership?
“It changed over the years. Initially it was just that opportunity to talk to other people who were running businesses and occasionally be able to say, I’ve got this problem… my sales director’s this or we’ve got this customer that. You could talk to people in a way that you couldn’t really talk to the rest of your team about. It was that confidential aspect of just being able to exchange the pain of running a business. However, after a while it became rather nice just to listen to other people’s stories and think, yes, okay, I’ve been there and to be able to say, have you thought of this, or look at it this way. It’s always nice to feel like you’ve got some experience and what you are doing is sharing it with the group.”
How might being a member of MDHUB have helped you personally and helped to shape the business?
“Different people get different things out of it. Some people find networking useful but that was never the top of the list for me. First of all, it was the opportunity to understand what the CEO job was because you run your own business but unless you benchmark that against other people that are running other businesses, you are very focussed on your own domain. Just being able to step back from that gave me a much better sense of what other businesses are doing and the dynamics. Could I put down what concrete benefits there are in terms of MDHUB… that’s a hard question… it’s more about helping an individual grow."
Now you’ve sold Semantico, what’s next?
"I’ve been looking at buying a vineyard in Sardinia because I like Sardinia and I quite like the idea of growing grapes and trying something completely different. I’m not looking for the kind of operation where you need to hire lots of staff, with lots of stress, but something much simpler.
I will probably want another intellectual challenge at some point because publishing is a complex industry... it takes years and years to learn because the market is not straightforward, particularly the way academic content is bought and sold and monetised. I quite like that industry so I might do something else in that line but I’m just biding my time at the moment."