Why kindness is an entrepreneur’s greatest asset

I’ve been in business for a long time. Long enough to remember the bad old days. Entrepreneurs were seen as ruthless, money-crazed workaholics, who used the language of warfare to describe growing a business.

“We’re going to kill the competition”

“Take no prisoners”

“Here’s the battle plan”

These stereotypes were perpetuated by the likes of Lord Sugar on The Apprentice and the investors on Dragons’ Den. However, I’m glad to say that, in 2023, the language of leadership and entrepreneurship is very different.

These days, one of the greatest attributes of any entrepreneur is kindness, and the ability to listen and empathise. Great leaders don’t make unreasonable demands, they understand their people, engaging and motivating them to bring their best selves to work.

I was reminded of this recently, by my son Josh, when I was being… less than kind. I’m not perfect, and when life is stressful, I can have a short temper and make too many demands of people – most notably my wife Mandy. I must also remain mindful that my hearing issues also mean I need to try harder than most to be a good listener and understand the nuance in what I’m being told. Josh asked me to be kinder, and he was right. 

A century ago, fear could generate respect. Today I don’t believe that is the case. People respect those who respect them back, showing kindness and consideration.

Even a hard-nosed businessman can’t ignore the studies supporting the kind approach. This Harvard Study shows that acts of kindness make people happier and a happier workplace means greater staff retention, less friction, and ultimately happier customers. A recent survey by Gallup found that being recognised at work reduced burnout and absenteeism, and improved well-being.

But being a kind leader is about more than trying to improve productivity. We should be kind because it is right, because it sets a positive example to others, and because, as the Greek storyteller Aesop once wrote: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

When BigChange’s CEO, Richard Warley, joined the business, I saw in him a great entrepreneur who understood the value of listening. He has always treated people with respect and leads with kindness. We speak regularly and may not always agree on everything, but he always takes the time to hear and consider my point of view.

What does kindness look like in leadership? Here’s an example:

If someone is leaving the business, take the time to ask them why, and say how sorry you are that they have found a new position. Tell them the door is always open for them to come back and wish them well.

Entrepreneurs are busy people with a lot on their plate but that should never be an excuse for being unkind. As the Dalai Lama XIV once said: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. And be kinder than is necessary.”

Your company is a Premier League side

Your company is a Premier League side, and your salespeople are your strikers
I like to think of BigChange as a football team. We are top of the league, bringing new talent to the pitch, delighting the fans, and scoring more goals than any other side.
We are Manchester City.
Bear with me. This analogy is going somewhere…
Over the next few months, I want to shine a light on all the departments within BigChange that work so tirelessly to make our business and platform a success. Today, I want to start with sales.
To build a successful team, you need a balance of attacking and defensive players. This is the same in business: you need your goal scorers and your sweepers. The strikers are your salespeople. They are focused on hitting targets, driving growth, and maintaining momentum. Your defensive players are your customer service people.
Sales sometimes gets a bad rap. I posted about this a few years ago. We are always selling, whether we are leading a meeting, wowing a client, explaining an idea, or even trying to get a better deal on a purchase. I love this quote from Estee Lauder, the founder of the eponymous beauty empire: “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”
Great salespeople are extraordinary individuals. They are driven, tenacious and self-motivated. They refuse to lose. The traits are so valuable in business – and in life. I have always invested in a topflight sales team across every business I have founded. My advice to other entrepreneurs: make great salespeople your first priority, not your last.
You can have the best product in the world, but without salespeople, who is going to hear about it? Sales drive a business forward. Sales generate cash. Without sales, you don’t have a company at all.
I’m immensely proud of our sales aces here at BigChange. They are committed, smart, and proactive individuals. Led by our very own Pep Guardiola, Charlie Bartfield, this team is truly in the Premier League. They relentlessly practice their craft by reviewing performance – just like players who watch reruns of matches. They graduate the BigChange University as gurus, so they understand the platform and features inside out – just like top footballers know the game plan and tactics for a match.
We are very lucky to have extremely high retention in sales at BigChange. In 10 years, we have probably lost about three people. I like to think that says a lot about our culture, our remuneration strategy, our incentives, and the way we promote from within.
An example of how we do things differently is our generous holiday package, our commitment to the local community and supporting charities, and the fact that we don’t cap what salespeople can earn.
Thank you to my Manchester City strikers – you are Erling Haaland, Riyad Mahrez, Julián Álvarez, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gündogan.
#people #culture #growth #success

Attention! Je viens à Paris

Four years ago, we established an outpost of BigChange in France.

My ambitions for BigChange have always been global, and 2019 was the year that we began expanding across France, Greece and Cyprus. It was an important move for the company, showing our commitment to Europe, post-Brexit.

Now, I’m excited to announce that we are entering the second phase of our French expansion. We are investing in our team, and building out our marketing proposition. Within five years, we will grow the size of the French company 20 times – it could even become as large as our UK business. This year, we will be recruiting more brilliant salespeople, and bringing on partners and resellers to help spread the word.

France is a big country, more than double the size of the UK. This presents unique challenges and opportunities. The sheer size of the territory means that France is home to many small-to-medium-sized businesses, who can really benefit from our technology – especially now, as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.

French companies are innovative and very receptive to new technology. Recent studies have found that French leaders have surged ahead of British and German leaders in terms of digital adoption.

The BigChange platform helps companies of all sizes to eliminate paper and cut their carbon emissions. In France, this proposition hits the spot; 83% of French people think that climate change and its consequences are the biggest challenge for humanity in the 21st century.

As part of my role as chairman, I try to support the BigChange team in any way I can. Growing the French market will be my focus over the coming months. I’ll be spending time in Paris, meeting prospective customers, spreading the word, and driving growth.

I’ve been fortunate enough to do business in France before. I sold my last business, Masternaut, to France’s second largest airport group, Aeroports De Paris in 2009. And I founded the company with hardware bought from French firm Masternaut International. I am looking forward to connecting with old friends on my trips across the Channel – if you’re reading this “mes amies”, drop me a message!

I am a Francophile – I understand the culture and love the people. We have a lot of French people working for us. That’s important when you are hoping to make inroads internationally. You always need local boots on the ground.

I’m looking forward to this next chapter in our French adventure. Who knows – maybe this is the year I finally learn to speak French? Tout est possible!

Be passionate. Be honest. But don’t be a bully

Bullying. It’s a word that’s rarely out of the headlines these days. From Whitehall to the racetrack to our emergency services, it seems that many leaders have a problem with abusive behaviour within their organisations.

I count myself lucky that in all the years I have been in business, I’ve never had to deal with this cultural phenomenon within my team. My businesses have all won awards for being great places to work.

It’s not all luck, however. I pride myself in being very clear about the kind of behaviour I find unacceptable in the workplace. I am a spiritual man, who lives by a set of unshakable principles. I try and avoid extremes of emotion, for example – I am very rarely angry or frustrated. If I do lose my temper, I know to take a beat and remove myself from the situation rather than say something I might regret later. I try to lead with empathy, putting myself into other people’s shoes whenever I can.

I also try and emphasise the positive contributions that people make, taking them on the journey with me. If you make your colleagues feel valued and supported, they bring their best selves to work and there are fewer disagreements.

Of course, you can’t control every variable. There will always be people within your organisation that don’t get on, or rub each other up the wrong way. But the key is to create a workplace culture that makes it clear bullying will not be tolerated and sets out a process for diffusing troubling situations between members of the team.

The world has changed a lot in the time that I’ve been an entrepreneur. It used to be totally acceptable for company bosses to rant and rave at their people (not that I ever did). Leaders didn’t think of team members as equals, but as workers – only one step up from servants really. Bosses were never called by their first names. Humiliation and fury were used to discipline people, creating a toxic environment for many.

These days, it’s all about leading with empathy. You have to adjust your tone and style of leadership for each individual, understanding what might motivate one person will leave another colleague in tears. It’s a lot more complex to be a leader today but the workplace is much better off because of this evolution.

If you want to make sure you eradicate bullying from your organisation, or ensure it never rears its ugly head in the first place, follow these five rules:

Click on the image to read my blog #entrepreneur#leaders#work#empathy#culture#teamBigChange

Are you trying to destroy your business?

Sometimes, I speak to founders and leaders about their businesses, and I’m left wondering: do you really want to succeed?

“I don’t like getting up early.”

“We lost the contract and there’s nothing I can do.”

“We only have two people in customer service, so they are overwhelmed.”

Honestly, what are you thinking?

To be successful in business – and in life – you need to push yourself way beyond your perceived limits. I’m talking about effort, endurance and determination, here.

If you’re the kind of person that isn’t willing to get up at 5am or work late into the night to meet a vital deadline, you might as well shut up shop right now and get a 9-5 job.

If you are someone who takes “no” for an answer and slinks off with your tail between your legs every time a door is slammed in your face, then entrepreneurship is not for you.

And if you aren’t willing to invest in customer service, if you’re anything less than obsessed with making sure that everyone who buys from you feels special, then your company’s days are numbered.

Times are tough right now for many business owners. Costs are high, and we are all battling challenging economic headwinds here in the UK. But so what? During the lifetime of any company, there will be ups and downs. I’ve survived three recessions during my time as an entrepreneur. I’ve seen stagflation, credit crunches, you name it. You can’t control the economy; you can only control your reaction.

Here’s what I’ve learned from running businesses through tough times:

–      You have to work twice as hard

To get through the bad times, you need to put in twice the hours. You have to throw yourself into selling, constantly looking for ways to delight and serve your customers. Even in the deepest recessions, organisations still need to spend money – how can you secure some of that spend?

–      Refuse to lose

If you lose a contract or a deal, don’t think that’s the end of the story. It’s just the beginning. There’s always a way to come back from failure – tweak the package, find new and clever ways to get in front of decision-makers. The important thing is that you don’t quit, and that you truly believe that your product or service is the best solution on the market.

–      Set an example to your people

If you want your team to give their all, you need to be visible, present and engaging. Get down into the trenches, explain what needs to be done, make sure everyone knows what role they have to play, and then make sure you are there to support them.

–      Let technology bear some of the weight

Technology is amazing! There are some incredible platforms out there that can help drive efficiency and help your company survive tough times. I built one of them! BigChange not only helps thousands of businesses across the globe to be more successful, it’s also the platform we use ourselves. We have 400 licences, and use every single feature, from invoicing to job planning.

–      Double your customer service department

In good times and bad, customer service can be the difference between success and failure. In every business I’ve started, I’ve created customer service teams that are double the average size. Put your arms around the customer, make them feel valued and supported, and you’ll never lose a contract.

–      Don’t cut corners

When times are tough, it can be tempting to forget about compliance. That is a big mistake. Don’t avoid compliance, embrace it. Even when your to-do list feels impossible, prioritise health and safety and regulatory compliance. You won’t regret it.

–      Don’t watch the competition

Too many business owners waste time watching rivals. It’s a waste of time! Focus on your product and your customers. Anything else is just a distraction, and you may end up copying a bad strategy, following the competition down a blind alley. You are your own competition. Try and beat your own personal best, every day.

Strong start to 2023 for BigChange

It’s a tough trading environment out there for many business leaders. The UK has successfully dodged recession. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there, which is having an impact on wider business confidence. Among BigChange customers, however, I’m glad to say that the mood is positive. They are continuing to grow, create jobs and innovate.

This is one of the best things about being part of a company like BigChange. While we are acutely mindful of the economic pressures, we can be confident our technology helps companies and leaders to thrive despite them.

This is why, over the past three months, we have continued to boast extraordinary growth, welcoming more new customers than ever before. We have become the trusted partner for ambitious businesses across the UK and beyond, helping them to navigate these testing economic times. Here are some of the highlights from Q1 2023. 

The secret is out

New customers are joining us in droves. New contract wins in the first quarter of 2023 are up by a third on the previous year. We won £9.65m-worth in new contracts during the period, welcoming 120 new customers. We are now on course to hit a new customer acquisition record in 2023, forecasting 500 new customer wins across the year.

A technology for all

The BigChange platform is sector and size agnostic – whatever the business, we can help drive efficiencies and provide a springboard for growth. This has become even more evident this year as we welcome a diverse portfolio of customers to BigChange. From Mobile Mini, the UK’s number one supplier of storage containers and site accommodation, to leading maintenance firms GEM Environmental and H20 Nationwide, to French electrical specialist J2 Group France, we give leaders across multiple industries the edge they need to grow in turbulent times.

Growing the team

We are now a team of 269 colleagues based in the UK, France, Poland, and Ukraine. This first-rate team is helping us to grow our footprint across the world and we are now a leading player in France, Cyprus, Australia, New Zealand the US, and Canada.

Staying relevant

As our customer portfolio grows, we continue to invest into our product. I’m delighted that Release 23.02, which landed in March, has been very well received. We are rolling out our new business intelligence dashboards across all our customers right now. The new and enhanced group job functionality is already adding value and we are looking forward to delivering a new overview page for group jobs. All of our high-priority product development ideas were gleaned directly from our customers, and we are proud that we can quickly and efficiently turn their dreams for the platform into reality.

Your success is our success

We only do well if our customers do well; it’s a virtuous cycle. That’s why we are so invested in customer success. Over the last three months, we have conducted three BigChange Success Forums, bringing customers together with our executive team, product managers and customer success team to check out our latest product roadmap. These interactive working sessions really help to drive value for our customers, and inform our next move.

To make sure that customers are taking advantage of the full complement of BigChange features, we have completed nine live customer webinars across topics ranging from our new business intelligence dashboards to the new-time-and-money-saving route optimiser.

Keeping in touch

Communication is everything to us here at BigChange, which is why we launched our revamped monthly newsletter in January. This fact-packed mail-out helps customers stay up-to-date on all the latest news around our product, events, and people.

The team here has completed over 250 face-to-face customer visits so far this year, and it has been brilliant to get out and about, bringing additional value to the BigChange community.

BigChange held its latest Success Forum at the Select Car Leasing Stadium in Reading a few weeks ago. A big thank you to all the amazing customers who joined us at the event – your feedback is so valuable. These events are a fantastic opportunity to hear all about BigChange’s vision and plans for 2023 and meet us in person.

We’re really looking forward to hosting you again over the coming months. Join the BigChange community and come to an event near you.

📆 11th May at Etihad Stadium, Manchester

📆 7th June at Villa Park Stadium, Birmingham

📆 5th July at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh

Alternatively, we are hitting exhibitions all over the UK this year. In April, we’ll be at HVAC Live, the Fire Safety Event, and ELEXSHOW, so come and visit our stand if you’re attending any of these. 

I’m really proud of everything we have achieved so far this year and the whole team is focused on maintaining this incredible growth trajectory across 2023. As we grow, we never lose sight of the customer – our service levels remain best in class. This is exemplified by the performance of our RoadCrew Customer Service team, which retains a Customer Satisfaction score of 4.5 out of 5! There are many challenges out there right now but we pride ourselves on championing the entrepreneur. You can read a bit more about the impact we have made in our customers’ lives here: https://www.bigchange.com/platform/case-studies/

Here’s to a bumper Q2 and the best year yet for BigChange and our customers.

The rise of the machines does not mean the downfall of man

As an entrepreneur, I firmly believe that the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an asset to the UK workforce.

Not only does it allow for greater efficiency and accuracy in completing low-value repetitive tasks, but it also provides employees with more time and energy to focus on more creative and innovative endeavours. At my company, BigChange, we understand the importance of investing in AI and leveraging tools like ChatGPT to enhance our workforce’s productivity and creativity.

Yes, you guessed it. That introduction was written by ChatGPT.

Everyone’s at it, so I thought I’d have a go.

I’ve read a lot of articles recently claiming that ChatGPT and its ilk are “coming for our jobs”. “Here are the top 10 professions that will be destroyed by AI” etc etc. But the reality is far more nuanced. 

I’m excited about the potential for AI to change the business landscape. I believe in the power of automation to eradicate repetitive and time-consuming processes. This is, after all, why I founded BigChange.

But I do believe AI can replace people? Absolutely not.

Instead, AI has the power to free human beings to concentrate on higher value activities and more creative outputs.

Let me give you an example. A recent poll of Amazon employees who used ChatGPT to dealing with customer support questions found that it did a “very good job” of finding answers.

It would be easy to surmise that Amazon’s customer service personnel could be out of a job. But, firstly, there are always questions that an AI will be unable to answer – things beyond the normal, ‘Where’s my parcel?’ And while that might require only half the bodies that it does now, what will the other people do? They will move into the far more rewarding and exciting field of customer excellence.

How to go beyond just sending a product from A to B, making it a genuinely wonderful experience. Some people may move into marketing, or product, or warehousing – all departments that benefit from insider knowledge of customer service.

Is this a bad thing?

Do people (and forgive me if I offend) really want to reply to “My parcel is late” or “I ordered red but I got green” enquiries all day? Or would they prefer to leave that to the bots and AIs of this world while they find the errant package that ended up in Swaziland instead of Swansea/customise each delivery for ultimate customer joy/connect customers more directly to the small businesses behind the Amazon marketplace by sharing their stories?

At BigChange, we are always looking for ways to help customers save time and money so they can focus on what they do best. I believe ChatGPT is another tool that helps do this. According to the research by Goldman Sachs, breakthroughs in AI could lead to the automation of a quarter of the work done in the US and eurozone .

When I read that, I was delighted – that will help us move one step closer to our goal of having a four-day working week. If the AI can take care of some of the more basic tasks, my colleagues can spend that time with their families, and their pay doesn’t need to change.

Change can be frightening – the unknown always is. But I really think that the AI revolution is an overwhelmingly positive development. We are moving towards the Epicurean ideal – a life that isn’t defined by struggle, but by taking pleasure in our working activities, because they are fulfilling.

It takes 10 years to build an overnight success

This quote has been attributed to many people over the years, from the novelist Tom Clancy to Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos. Whoever said it first, it remains an undeniable truth.

Almost no one comes up with a winning business idea all at once. Most of us have the germ of an idea, we start building a start-up, we realise we should do more of one thing and less of another, and slowly we refine that original idea.

In the end, the company we are left with may look very different from the venture we launched on day one.

If you think about it, this makes sense. You want to keep honing your proposition as you learn more about the market you operate in, your customers, your team, and your own strengths and weaknesses. It is nearly impossible to have every data point at your fingertips at the outset. They must be gleaned over time – often by making mistakes!

The reason I’m talking about this is because, in my experience, many entrepreneurs think they need to get it right straight away. They believe that their value proposition and vision need to be set in stone as soon as the ink is dry on their company formation paperwork.

We need to dispel this myth.

BigChange was no eureka moment. I didn’t get struck by entrepreneurial lightning. It was the result of spending a decade building Masternaut, the telematics business I founded in 2002. Through Masternaut, I learned a lot about the challenges facing the mobile workforce. We provided vehicle tracking, which was useful – but it was just one part of the puzzle. Over time, I began to imagine a platform that could automate and simplify every single process that was slowing down mobile engineers and hampering the growth of these service companies.

All the best businesspeople are open to making major changes to their model or route to market. Regular readers will remember my Chairman’s Spotlight on Graham Nixon of Nixon Hire. That business started life simply renting out tools and machinery. Then Graham saw a gap in the market for welfare cabins – an all-in-one product offering a generator, cabin and toilet in a single unit. This is now the fastest-growing area of his business.

Michael Taylor, founder and CEO of Contego, is another entrepreneur who isn’t afraid of change. His business initially offered falconry for bird prevention, but now it is a comprehensive pest prevention firm operating nationwide. He never stops modernising his business model, using technology and risk prevention in place of old-fashioned poisons and traps. He’s a true innovator. But none of this happened overnight. He started the business in 2004 and it’s taken almost 20 years to achieve this clarity of vision and purpose.

And here is another fundamental truth: you must never stop resetting the vision. Even when you think that your model and approach are perfect, you must develop your entrepreneurial mindset to stay curious, and look for incremental improvements – even tiny ones, or you could find that business opportunities pass you by and suddenly your product or service is redundant.

Whatever sector you operate in, whatever your purpose or vision, the overarching credo should be: to never stand still. You want to focus on growth and evolution, never retrenchment and stagnation. But don’t worry if change takes time – after all, there’s no such thing as an overnight success.

Our future is net zero

When I think about my long-term goals for BigChange, sustainability plays a big part. I want us to be as green as we can be, helping customers around the world to meet their carbon goals too. That’s the big vision. 

We have an exceptional and committed team here that is coming up with ideas and making changes every day that help us move closer to that goal. Our CEO, Richard Warley, has written sustainability into our core values and it has become one of the five pillars that underpin our purpose: Big on Sustainability – Protect our Planet.

The sustainability challenge has been taken up by BigChange’s gifted chief operating officer Jo Godsmark, our product marketing manager Jonathan Isaacs, and our head of sustainability Fatima Fellah, who represents us in Park Life, a group of businesses that are based here in Thorpe Park. I caught up with them to find out about our progress, our setbacks, and our ambitions for a more sustainable future.

Jo Godsmark: “We are now carbon neutral but we have a long way to go”

“When I took this challenge on, Martin, I knew it would take time. We started off by taking steps to become carbon neutral by offsetting. We have now achieved that, offsetting for both our company and our entire supply chain, but the next big goal is to eliminate more of those emissions in the first place. 

“We are a paperless office. Our data centres run off green energy. We have now implemented a green travel scheme, incentivising employees to walk, cycle, use public transport or car share to work. And we are looking into the installation of EV charging points at the office, creating a pool of electric vehicles for colleagues to use.

“The technology we have built is a catalyst for positive change for our customers. It eliminates paper, and gets engineers to the job faster, burning less petrol, with fewer wasted journeys. Our updated Route Optimiser and our Scheduling Assistant tool both help customers actively see many miles they can save through better routing.

“We are not alone on this journey. The country wants to achieve Net Zero and all our customers must go electric by 2030, so we need to support them. I’m delighted we are now carbon neutral, but our sustainability journey has only just begun’.”

Jonathan Isaacs: “We make it easy to save the planet”

“There’s a limit to how much one company can achieve on its own – it’s by helping our thousands of customers to make greener decisions that BigChange will make a significant impact. That’s what we are trying to do with our updated route optimiser and emissions reports.

“In the two months since we relaunched the route optimiser feature, it has been used 54,000 times, saving 250 customers some 830,000 miles – that puts an estimated £430,000 back into their pockets. Our vehicle consumption and emissions report allows our customers to view the emissions of their whole fleet and can be set to send an alert when engines are left idling for too long.

“We are still in the early stages of monitoring usage and results but eventually I would like to be in a position where I can claim that BigChange is effectively free, because customers make such significant savings from our sustainability features.”

Fatima Fellah: “Our internal sustainability schemes come with great incentives”

“I’m really proud of the way that BigChange has developed sustainable solutions that really work for the team. Take our car sharing scheme. People were worried about what would happen if they needed to work late or leave early, and missed their ride, so we implemented a “Get Home Safe” scheme whereby the company will pay for a taxi – this ensures no one gets stranded. There is a lot of competition for parking places at the office, and we have allocated two solely for car sharers, which is another big plus.”

I’m really excited by all the projects and campaigns that are making BigChange more sustainable – and giving our customers a helping hand too. Right now, we are improving the CO2 reporting on our platform, giving customers visibility of how much carbon they are creating and the cost-savings if they reduce those emissions. 

We are on the road to net zero, and I’m confident we have the enthusiasm and ambition to take us there.

Chairman’s spotlight on… Paul Clark, Founder & MD of Paul Clark Services

What does it take to build a successful business? It takes ambition, the ability to spot an opportunity, and the presence of mind to keep investing back into your people, product, and customer success.

When I met Paul Clark, I saw an entrepreneur who ticked all three boxes. His company, Paul Clark Services, has become the go-to partner for the UK’s biggest coach and bus companies, from Stagecoach to First Group and Arriva, maintaining and repairing these hard-wearing vehicles 364 days a year.

Last year, PCS celebrated 25 years in business – a testament to the enduring appeal and continued growth of this company.

When Paul started out, it was just him in a second-hand van. Today, PCS manages 125 engineers. “I come from a humble background and, if I’m honest, I never dreamed my company would become so successful,” he tells me. “It’s taken a lot of hard graft to get us here.”

He created the business when he was 29, after working in the industry for over a decade. “I started working on buses through an apprenticeship,” he explains. “First, I worked for a local bus and coach company. When I was 21 and had finished that apprenticeship, I started working at Thamesdown Transport, the local municipal bus company – I was their youngest skilled engineer.” 

But Paul had big dreams. He rose to become assistant engineer manager but that’s where his prospects ended – “I couldn’t go any higher because there were no more openings,” he says. “That’s when I decided to give it a go on my own. I was single and had a small mortgage. If I was ever going to give it a shot, I knew that was my chance.”

Paul spotted a gap in the market for a self-employed engineer specialising in the bus and coach industry. There was a talent shortage in this sector and, if you had the experience and were happy to travel, the work was there. “The minute I started working for myself, the phone started to ring,” he says. “There were no websites back then, just word of mouth recommendations, but I was always busy.”

When the workload became too much for one man, Paul persuaded an old colleague, Michael Kerslake, to leave Thamesdown and join him as an equal partner in PCS. The business thrived, and more engineers came on board.

Over the years, Paul has deftly adapted the business to stay relevant to the modern trading environment. Whether it was diversifying into ambulances or moving into electric and hydrogen vehicles ahead of the market, he has consistently reinvested into PCS.

One of his smartest investments, he tells me, was BigChange. “We wanted to move away from our paper scheduling system,” he says. “BigChange has transformed the business. When our schedules were ready, we used to call and text every single engineer. Now that’s all automated, which saves so much time.

“Our customers love it too. We track all the information for each job, and I’ve been told we stand out from our competitors because of the detailed reporting we offer.”

There have been tough times over the years. “The biggest challenges arise when customers have financial difficulties,” he explains. “One company owed us £50,000 and went into administration – we never saw a penny.” The pandemic also took its toll: “For 12 weeks, buses stopped running,” he says. “Our engineers are mostly self-employed, so my job was to keep the guys from starving.”

The very talent shortage that helped Paul establish PCS has also become a challenge. “We bring on one apprentice a year and pay the highest rates to tempt engineers in.”

Paul has the three entrepreneurial qualities – ambition, vision, and resilience – in spades. Now, like me, he’s thinking about legacy, and helping create new leaders within his business.

“I’m 56 now, and my son is a second-year apprentice in the workshop,” he says. “I’ve started talking to the managers here about the future – perhaps a management buyout? My ambitions have shifted and evolved. It’s all about having a healthy business for my ambitious management team.”