Listen to the podcast episode on Spotify, Apple or Amazon Music.

For this week’s episode, we decided to begin with the end in mind (a reference to the book The Seven habits of highly effective people).

Malcolm interviewed someone who has done the whole journey – from start up to growing their business to being the best in their industry in the UK to selling it on.

That person is Richard Marshall.

Richard Marshall has been a client and friend of Malcolm’s for 17 years. Over this time he has witnessed all sorts of challenges and ups and downs as he built his company, Timberwolf, into the biggest manufacturer of woodchippers in the UK.

In the episode, Richard shares his experiences and insights on how delegating and trusting others with responsibilities played a pivotal role in his journey from business growth to making the business less dependent on him.

Richard emphasises that as business owners, we cannot do everything. We have our limitations, and there are people who can fill those gaps.

As Richard said in the podcast:

“The first thing you’re going to need to do to actually start running the company, rather than being a part of it. You need to see you are the problem.

Ultimately you start this little thing off. It starts to grow. It turns into a monster and then you get trapped in this cycle that you can’t get out of.

And a lot of that is, in my opinion, is sort of, you put it on yourself.

And if you can’t let go of some of that control, and to let go of control, you need to put some processes in place, then you can’t get beyond that.”

Takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Focus on what’s best for the company rather than individual egos
  • Recognise when you’re becoming stale and in need of change
  • Create a work-life balance to avoid burnout
  • Recruit a successor to ensure the company’s growth and

Listen to the podcast episode on Spotify, Apple or Amazon Music.

If you’d prefer… Watch the podcast on YouTube 

Transcript

Malcolm Palmer (00:04.588)
Welcome everybody to the latest in our series of podcasts on making your business less dependent on you. Sponsored by A4G Chartered Accountants and Durban Offshoring. This week, I’ve got really interesting guest with me, Richard Marshall. I noticed the raised eyebrows there, Richard. Very interesting guest. Richard Marshall.

has been a client and friend of mine for 17 years. I worked out, I think it’ll be 18 this year. And I’ve been his accountant and witnessed all sorts of challenges and ups and downs over that period as he built his company, Timber Wolf, into the biggest manufacturer of woodchippers in the UK.

so first thing I was just going to say to Richard really was, it’s an interesting journey this one, because it had very small beginnings with his father, I believe repairing lawnmowers in the garage. Is that right, Richard, how it began?

Richard (01:14.486)
That is correct, Malcolm. Yes, my father started repairing lawnmowers in 1969, is when he did it as a sort of a part-time weekend job to supplement his income. so, and then by chance, one of his neighbors had a hardware store and it was overwhelmed with lawnmowers. so he started doing them at the weekend and that man ended up sort of handing

my father was actually doing the lawn mowers in his garage at the side of the house. And that slowly grew so by 1971 he had a railway arch under the railway bridge at Rochester and he started doing the lawn mowers in there and that very slowly grew so that he then had a shop in Rochester High Street and then he started doing not just repairs but he was also selling lawn mowers.

and that was 1978 by that time. And in 78, he then moved into the industrial estate up at Rochester Airport, still repairing and selling the lawn mowers. It was up at the Rochester Airport that one of his customers came to him in 1985 and said to him, I’d like to buy a wood chipping machine.

to use. I’ve been and had a look and I can’t find what I want.” And he was very clear in the sort of machine that he wanted. And my father said, well, I’m the expert, I’ll go out and find you one. so he went and did all his research, obviously this is way before internet and everything. so it took several weeks. And he came back and said, no, I can’t find one either of what you want, but I think I can make you one.

And and the guy said well Okay, if you can make me one I’ll buy that I’ll buy the prototype if you if you have a play see what we can do And that’s what happened and that turned into a machine That they first sold in 1986 and the reason that’s important in that one person that happened to be the Southeast Electricity Board and And so that was quite a big customer

Richard (03:39.786)
and they ended up over a period of years buying about 80 machines from him. so, and that was a very, very foundation of what was to become eventually Timberwolf.

Malcolm Palmer (03:52.456)
And so along the way, we’ve had two very distinct journeys here because obviously you joined the business and that enabled your dad to be able to ease his way out and retire and then you’ve grown it for about 20 years. And now you’ve come out the other side because in the last couple of years, you’ve sold the business and are able to do the things that you wanna do in life.

Richard (04:22.918)
Yeah, that’s right. I have. Yes, it’s been quite a journey. We had it first started off with just my dad, my mom and myself and used to say my dad built them, I sold them and my mom counted them. And that was the very beginnings of the business. And we grew that. We moved up to Suffolk in 1991

Richard (04:51.818)
And basically my father was a very good engineer and you have to sort of problem-solve, but he wasn’t a very good salesman so when I got when I got involved in the business in 91, although he’d sold lots of chippers he’d only actually ever sold one to a tree surgeon and all the others were to electricity boards so I asked him I think hand me the database of all your customers and I’ll and I’ll sell to them

so he gave me four scraps of paper in the back of his drawer. And we thought we could make the database, yes. And then I started building a database slowly from there. And it evolved and we slowly took off basically. And it grew, like I said, we moved up to an old pig farm in Suffolk. We had about 4,000 square feet up there. And we grew that till we had about…

Malcolm Palmer (05:23.992)
The database, yep.

Richard (05:48.686)
30 people were in the building, so it was very crammed, very full up. We used to have to empty the building of all the stuff to make room to be able to build a chipper and then put it all back in at night again. so it was also a very hand-to-mouth type of exercise. And eventually we moved down to the factory that you know in Stone Market in 2002.

Malcolm Palmer (06:10.606)
Yeah, yeah.

so for those people that are listening to the podcast who are right in the middle of running a business that is really sort of highly dependent on them, I’m hoping that you’re gonna be able to give them a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel by talking about when you were at that stage of your business. And so my first question really is just about any times on that journey when

you know, the stress levels were through the roof and maybe you felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility that was on your shoulders.

Richard (06:52.234)
Yeah, well, I think you’ve got to get the first thing if you’re going to get over that hump that you’re talking about where you can actually get to run the company rather than be part of it then you’ve got to get over yourself in the first part of it’s the first part of the problem because if you can’t see that you are a lot of the problem because you are Ultimately you start this little thing off it starts to grow it turns into a monster

and then you get trapped in this cycle that you can’t get out of. And a lot of that is, in my opinion, is sort of, you put it on yourself. And if you can’t let go of some of that control, and to let go of control, you need to put some processes in place, then you can’t get beyond that. And yeah, you do. Part of the problem solving is feeling all of that pressure that you said about is…

you either accept the pressure and you normalise it and you say, if you are, or you go, I don’t like this, and you work your way out the other side of it by having other people and then putting in the processes that enable them to do their job so that you’re not micromanaging the whole thing. Because that just gives you more stress.

Malcolm Palmer (08:09.684)
Was there a bit of a moment when you perhaps realized that you needed to get over yourself, as you put it, release a bit of control, or did you always have a clear vision that was how the company would need to grow?

Richard (08:28.506)
I think I, yeah, it’s quite early on is that I realized that I was useless. Um, I couldn’t, I didn’t, I wasn’t very good at anything. so, uh, so I knew that I was always, I needed to find people that were better than me because I can do something to an extent, but, um, a lot of people are blessed with a talent, if you like, or a specialism, but it, it traps you. Whereas I found that I wasn’t very good at anything. so I just needed to, so what I needed to do.

become good at finding people to recognise the problem and then to fill the gap with someone other than me. so whenever I, whenever as the business grew, I basically had more and more hats that I had to wear in the company. so I’d be, I’d have to service my van, make sure the van was good. Then I’d have to get the chipper ready for a week for, for sale. And then I’d have to go and deliver the chipper and then I’d have to invoice the chipper. And then I, you know, all those jobs for me.

and every single job I said I don’t want every job I’ve got I don’t want so my job was to get rid of my job.

Malcolm Palmer (09:33.04)
Right, so, yeah, so useless, but very good at delegating and finding people to delegate to is what you’re saying.

Richard (09:44.436)
Yes, delegation is important, definitely. And then you’ve got to tune it to having the right people. Because that’s not easy either.

Malcolm Palmer (09:55.368)
Did you ever get to a point where you were sort of doing stupid hours before you were starting to be able to delegate?

Richard (10:02.446)
Um, yeah, you go. Yeah, so from 92 to 99, I was averaging 80 hours a week. But my Yeah, yeah, and that was for about seven years. so Basically my 30s when I had the energy to do that sort of thing

Malcolm Palmer (10:09.287)
80 hours a week.

Malcolm Palmer (10:26.752)
Okay, I mean, just looking back, do you think that you needed to work as hard as that? Was that just a time that you had to get through and do those things?

Richard (10:40.518)
I think it was an exciting period. so I’ve motivated to do it if you like, because I could see there was this sort of inkling that this thing was actually gonna go somewhere and I could turn it into something. It wasn’t every, not, it didn’t grow every single year, but in that period, it probably had two down years, which were not down dramatically, but relatively flat. But the point is, is that it was a growing business.

I’ve got some real funny feedback going on there.

so it was a growing business and it needed quite a lot of control because I didn’t have enough people, I was filling in the people, but you had to do it in a way that the company could survive.

Malcolm Palmer (11:28.321)
Yeah.

Yeah, I mean, this is interesting you saying this, because obviously, you know, we, a lot of our clients come to us in their 30s. You know, we often say our aim is to be people second and last accountant. And so we don’t really get that many startup businesses, people, you know, often start up from their spare room, you know, with Auntie Beryl doing their bookkeeping or something. And then somewhere along the line, you know, they’ve achieved the early stages of success.

and then realise there’s a bit more to it, and they know they need a bit more advice. And it’s that classic line of what got you here won’t get you there. And all that energy they’ve got in their 30s, suddenly sort of in their late 30s, they’re starting to feel a little bit of burnout, but difficult to step away from what’s made a success up to that point, isn’t it?

Richard (12:28.746)
Yeah, so for me, I was trying to, so I was sort of in an MD role by 1999. so with around 28 to 30 people and you just sort of, but that still wasn’t enough for the amount of activity that was going on. so it was still very heavily reliant on me for the sales side of things. And I needed to put more people into place to sort of try and get that.

bit, the more people you get in, if you get them doing the right job, then you start to get that sort of helicopter view, I think they call it, so you can get out of the company and start looking at to the future. so that’s what I always used to do, is try and look to what, if we do X, then what problems are we going to create? What problems is the company gonna have as we move towards that problem? And then I try and sort of alleviate that before we got there.

Malcolm Palmer (13:04.909)
Yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (13:28.08)
Yeah, it’s interesting you mention sales staff in this context, because what I see is that is the hardest position for any of our clients to fill. And the number of times when a client of mine who might be struggling a bit has told me they’ve taken on this wonderful salesperson, and this is going to transform the company. That’s what they’re implying.

six months later, it’s all gone disastrously wrong and massive acrimony, because this person massively oversold themselves and their own ability, really. so, you know, you appear to have got past that along the way. Was that a smooth journey to get in the business’ sales to not be as reliant on you?

Richard (14:23.15)
Um, it was a process that I went through so when the when the company started, um, I was basically 100 of the sales of the company and I was selling um About 50 chippers a year. so it’s one week for me. so that was my work which is to do one a week And I sat there and I thought well, how am I going to do 100 because I can’t i’m working quite hard to do 50 so how do you get how do you get to 100?

so I just sort of did the math and thought, well, how many people am I contacting? I’ve got to do double the contact. I’ve got to double the size of the database. You just do the mathematics of what you’ve got to do to have the same result on a bigger scale. And so what I realized is that I needed to, so what was happening is I was getting an inquiry, convincing them to see the chipper, going out, showing them the machine, coming back, phoning them up, saying, what do you think?

they’re saying, yes, I’ll have it. I then go and deliver the machine and come back again. so it was a huge process. so I thought, well, if I could, if I, my first step was to go, I’ll do the demonstration because I know I can sell the chipper. And then, but what I’ll do is I’ll get a man in the business to deliver the chipper for me. so just having that man deliver the chipper, suddenly I’ve got this huge amount of time because delivering a chipper is a day’s work. so now I’ve paid myself a day and I could do that. so then,

And then slowly I created some We were called N tech and tech UK and I created some N tech UK dealers so I had about four or five dealers that were also able to sell the machines and I gave them areas and then they took over about they were Contributed about 20% of the sales on an annual basis were them And so I could see that dealers was the way forwards because people

wanted to buy locally. so I then got a salesman in that knew about dealers, if you like, to go out and just find these dealers. That was the first time I saw what I would call a pure salesman. He was very good at his job, but he never looked like he was doing anything, which is typical of salesmen. so my dad used to…

Richard (16:49.718)
I remember my dad coming up to me once and said, he said, oh, I don’t know, that man over there, he said, does he do, is he doing anything? He said, I just see him going outside and smoking all day. I said, I said, oh no, I said, leave him alone. I said, he’s doing a really good job. I said, I can’t exploit, I can’t give you all the ins and outs of it, but he’s bringing us the results that I couldn’t bring to the table, so.

so it was a really good, it was good to have, it showed me that having the right person was very powerful. It was a very powerful part and that’s what I started to concentrate on is trying to get the right people in the right place.

Malcolm Palmer (17:25.293)
Yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (17:31.012)
so you must have been pretty good at trusting other people, which you might not consider that to be a really important characteristic, but I see a lot that with clients sort of hit this plateau, and often it’s just their inability to trust other senior people within their organization, but you seem to have sort of sailed through that.

Richard.

Richard (18:01.974)
didn’t have any option. I wasn’t, like I said, I didn’t have the talent. I can’t, I can’t do everything. I’m not, I’m only, I sort of skin the surface of everything. I’m not, I’m not an expert in any field. so, uh, I didn’t have any option. I was just a trust.

Malcolm Palmer (18:16.2)
Well, the option would have been to stand still, of course. That would have been the other alternative, to stay at the same size of business and carry on for years, squirreling a few quid away in a pension.

Richard (18:30.563)
I was young, ambitious and four children. so everything was expensive. so no, I was driven to, no, I don’t think the thing for me is whatever I get hold of, I just like to make it better. so that’s my natural inclination for something, is to make it bigger and to make it more efficient. That’s my…

Malcolm Palmer (18:53.228)
Yeah, so didn’t have an option if you wanted to grow, is what you’re saying. Yeah, absolutely, yeah, yeah. And that’s a key fork in the road for many, many businesses. There are a lot of businesses that get to that certain size and the choice is to trust others or stay as you are and often they choose to stay as they are. so, yeah.

Richard (18:58.87)
Right, yes. Yeah.

Richard (19:19.954)
Yeah, as long as you accept that will, to me, the thing I see a lot of people that have got a talent, let’s say someone that’s a plumber, for example, you’re highly skilled at the job, you do it for 20 or 30 years, but the problem is that you get old, and because you’re stuck, you haven’t made that decision to grow the company so that you remain on the tools the whole time, and suddenly you get all,

your bones give up on you and your muscles and everything, and you become this old person and you don’t really want to be doing it. so you need a long-term view as to how you want to retire, what you want to be doing and how soon you want to retire, as to what speed you want to set your company. Yeah, I agree, you can have a nice life with a small business, you can keep it simple, but you have to accept that you’re not gonna sell it for two million pounds when you’re finished with it because it’s…

Malcolm Palmer (20:06.348)
Yeah, absolutely.

Richard (20:18.362)
Steve Wright plumbing and they can’t buy you because you’re the bit that wants to leave. so it has no value.

Malcolm Palmer (20:26.344)
Yeah. Apologies if there is a Steve Wright Plumbing out there listening to this podcast. I think that was just a random name. Yeah. so apart from taking on chain smoking salesmen, what’s, you know, what do you think is the biggest risk that you’ve taken over the years?

Richard (20:34.546)
a lot of random. But if it wasn’t, please sort it out.

Richard (20:55.846)
Biggest risk? I suppose buying my parents out would have been considered a big risk at the time. Having that decision where the company was starting to become successful and I was still ambitious and my father was at an age, so where are we, 2007, so he would have been

Richard (21:26.59)
so he’s wanting to have, he’s going this is quite nice, I like this, so he’s gone low risk and I’m wanting to take risk in the business to still grow it. so it became hard for us to work together because he thought I was a madman and he just wanted things to be the same. so and for me I didn’t want that, I felt there was more in the company and he didn’t understand why I wanted to risk it.

so it was spent, I spent 18 months convincing him that it was the right thing to do. And he spent 18 months telling me why I wasn’t ready to do it.

Malcolm Palmer (22:03.629)
Right.

Right. But he enjoyed himself after you released him from the business, didn’t he? He had a very good retirement.

Richard (22:15.286)
He had a very nice retirement, but he saw it as rejection. Because you’re saying to someone, you’re in my way. so it’s a rejection for him to see in the, he got over it, but he didn’t understand, he was very upset that I didn’t feel that I wanted to move on without him.

Malcolm Palmer (22:21.068)
Bye.

Malcolm Palmer (22:36.92)
Right.

Richard (22:38.862)
so.

Malcolm Palmer (22:40.512)
I’m sure there’s a few people listening to this, we’ll be struggling with one or two of those family dynamics as well. It’s something we see all the time really.

Richard (22:51.274)
Yeah, I was definitely not ready when we, so I joined him when I was 25 and definitely wasn’t ready and then sort of grew by the time I’m in my mid thirties and I feel I’m ready for it.

Malcolm Palmer (23:06.36)
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you can never be completely ready, can you? Because you’ve never, whatever, you know, whatever it is you’ve got to do in that position, you’ve never done it until you do it. so, yeah. Good. so, a few challenges over the years. I might be able to guess the answer to this one, but we’ll see. What do you think is the biggest setback

Richard (23:18.551)
No.

Malcolm Palmer (23:36.652)
that you had to overcome.

Richard (23:39.818)
Um, yeah, you guessed right. Probably. Uh, it was two things at once happening. Really. It was the, um, the worldwide recession thing hitting it in 2008, nine, um, combined with what I call the murder of my business partner.

Malcolm Palmer (23:57.912)
Yeah.

Richard (23:59.998)
that was not scheduled to be happening. And two of those events happening at the same time was quite a lot to contend with.

Malcolm Palmer (24:11.84)
I did guess that would be the time. Yeah, and how do you feel that personally you were able to deal with those things? Did that kick you into action, or was there any periods when you thought that you struggled to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Richard (24:37.206)
All of that, it was difficult at the beginning because it felt like economically the taps had been turned off. The business just went from roaring to virtually zero at the same time as Alex was not there anymore and he was like the kingpin for me that we worked together.

so having that person missing right at the key point was incredibly difficult. But by the same token, because of the seriousness of the situation, I found it was one of those times where the whole business pulled together and everyone sort of gathered around and said what do you need sort of thing. And that was incredibly motivating, if you like, because we were in survival mode. At that point, you’re not quite sure.

that you’ve got a company that’s going to pull through the whole thing. so it was nice that everyone pulled together and we did what was necessary. It took until about, we basically stabilized the company so we just sort of got our overheads low enough that we could sustain a very low level of sales. And then we just said that our main objective was to get to those sales and then anything over that was a bonus.

And we just, so until, so from 2009 to 2011, we’re basically, it used to be what we used to call Groundhog Day, so you just come in and keep just doing exactly the same thing to just get to those results. so the company was in a position that it was, that it was definitely surviving, even if it was boring. so we stopped all the plans to grow. We just went into a sustainability mode, which was boring from.

my world of wanting it to move but it was nice and safe for it.

Malcolm Palmer (26:34.924)
Yeah. Were there people within the organisation that sort of, you know, surprised you in terms of how well they responded to those difficult times? Anybody that sort of excelled beyond what you thought they might have been capable of before?

Richard (26:53.334)
I don’t know if I can answer it that way. I think the thing is that you can have anyone that you think is key employee, they’re not going to be key forever. so the people are always in a cycle and they have highs and lows. so there’s points in your company where you look around and you go, whatever we do, we mustn’t lose Kevin. And then three years time, Kevin’s a pain.

he’s gone off the rails. so it’s an ever-changing cycle. People ebb and flow in their importance in a company depending on what problems are around. so I couldn’t single out anyone in particular, but I think that everyone did step the game up and that was what was needed at the time.

Malcolm Palmer (32:29.08)
so you sort of alluded to being a fairly good delegator along the way, Richard. What’s your best tip on delegation?

Richard (32:43.673)
Yeah, I’d say give them enough space to do to do their work if you’re going to delegate then Delegate and let them let them do their let them set off Let them make mistakes I’m afraid Because without the mistakes they don’t get to see They don’t get to do the learning side of it And if you’re going to watch over their shoulders, then you’re going to just sit there thinking I could have done it quicker myself

And that’s not the point because eventually you’ve got to get them to a position where you don’t have to look at them But you’ve got to go through that pain barrier To get there so that you can then concentrate on other things

Malcolm Palmer (33:23.044)
Yeah, essentially, you know, I work in an office full of accountants. And, you know, I think generally speaking, we’re all perfectionists. And, you know, we share that characteristic with quite a lot of our clients, really. And that whole thing about, oh, it’s quicker for me to do it myself. In, you know, in the short term feels like a good decision. In the long term, it’s a terrible decision because it just means you’ll be doing it yourself forever, really.

Richard (33:49.393)
It’s a horrible one.

Yeah, no, it’s a horrible thing to do. That’s what I’m saying. You’ve got to have a very clear objective of what you want as the final outcome for your business. If you’re very happy doing what you do and you enjoy it, and you accept that it’s going to constrict on how much you’re going to actually earn, then fine. But if you’ve got sort of a point chance for shiny objects and things like that, then you have to put in the effort and get the infrastructures to enable you to get to those shiny objects.

Malcolm Palmer (34:28.876)
Yeah. so to tell me, you know, we’ve talked about a few people that you’ve had work in your organisation, but how did you go about recruiting the right people for Timber Wolf?

Richard (34:44.578)
I delegated it. I’m out.

Malcolm Palmer (34:48.584)
Right.

Richard (34:50.121)
so once you get to, so yeah, for me, I’m not a people person. so I had to get rid of that job as quickly as I could, because, and I actually gave the responsibility. so if you can think of a company growing, and as I said, I used to have all these different hats that I wore, then basically what those hats do is they slowly become departments. And so I used to make the department person responsible for the person that they needed.

so I would help them in the process with the paperwork side of things. And I may have attended interviews in the early days. so just depending on your skill sets. I’m a relatively good people reader, but I’m also not a people person. so I had to be careful. Yeah, I delegated it and let them get on. And eventually it becomes a HR department.

even more distanced from it so yeah it was best I’m not a people person definitely

Malcolm Palmer (35:55.96)
Well, obviously in a business that is manufacturing something, there’s a high degree of precision that is required, not just in the manufacturing process, but in quite a few of the admin processes around it. so you must have had some really good systems for dealing with a lot of this as well. It kind of just been down to bringing people on board

giving them the freedom to get on and do the best they could.

Richard (36:34.458)
Yeah, so if you’re doing anything that’s got a process to it, what I always say for the witch of it, I say we’re trying to build a McDonald’s hamburger so that every single one must look and taste the same. And that’s a really, really hard thing to do in manufacturing because you’ve got to really dig into the processes to make sure that you can do it.

do a repeatable event on something that’s got hundreds of components. so without having that system in place, you’ve got no chance because every chip will turn out unique and you need them all to turn out the same so that everyone behind that comes behind after the chip and to support it knows what you’ve done to it because obviously you’ve got to send the right part out for a machine that’s made.

Malcolm Palmer (37:16.236)
Yeah.

Richard (37:29.529)
in 2005, the part of components that’s going to change between 2005 and 2007, you’ve got to know when it changed and why it changed and if it’s compatible, back compatible, or does it need to look good, or is it a component that completely changed its part number and became something new. so if you haven’t got all of that written down and logged, then what happens is in some companies you get the

specialist in the back of the stock room that knows every machine is all in his head and when he retires your company’s in real trouble. so another tip for me is never let anything sit in people’s heads, get it out into the company.

Malcolm Palmer (38:11.524)
Yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (38:14.868)
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, that’s every, every business has systems, every person has systems, even if it’s just how they get out of bed and get to work in the morning. But it’s, it’s whether it’s written down, isn’t it? Whether it’s accessible to other people is key.

Richard (38:32.249)
Yeah, and that’s what we did. We actually ended up creating our own program for it. so when we first started when we first started like I say, my dad was sort of we were building 50 machines a year and my dad would wander around the warehouse with his clipboard and go ooh, I need some of those I need some of those and that and it was as easy as that and then And then when Jeff came in and we started to have a few people building them we built at a faster rate

And you couldn’t afford for the bits not to be there. so this is before Computers were just at the beginning of computers 1998. so we had an excel sheet that used to run the stock system for us and then that became too difficult Became too cumbersome to use and I went out and tried to buy a database system that could do It’s called multi relational databases with

two parts of the database can speak together. And the first system that I bought, it used to do this process to check if I had enough components to build the machine. It would sit there worrying around for a couple of hours and then it would come up with the answer, not enough components to build the machine, but it wouldn’t tell me what I was short of.

so I used to find that I could, by the time I’d gone through the system and found all the errors in it, to say that we could build a machine, Jeff had actually built it and it had been shipped. so the computer was behind real life. so that system went back and we actually ended up building our own system with a very clever man. And that system ran us from 1999 up until…

2000 and 11 or 12 And we ended up running the whole it ran the whole of our production and everything except accounts Accounts was the only thing that we’ve never tried to do because you can buy that off the shelf But everything else was so complex that we couldn’t afford to buy at the time in 1998 a Manufacturing database

Malcolm Palmer (40:42.944)
Yeah.

Richard (40:55.333)
Relational database system was about 120,000 which was like Almost same as my turnover. so It was just a it was just a complete At the time. Yeah. Yes

Malcolm Palmer (41:03.212)
Right. At the time. Right. And I think it’s probably worth me mentioning for the people listening that, whilst you had certain machines that were your big sellers and your bread and butter, if you like, there were some of the machines that you made were a little bit more specialist and were fairly small production runs really, weren’t they? so quite a lot of…

time would have gone into the systems and the processes for those machines for what would be a relatively small proportion of the company’s turnover.

Richard (41:46.401)
Yeah, but you don’t know that at the time when you’re No one can tell me what the number one chipper is going to be and no one can tell me what the next The next one is going to be so without so what you have is you have a basic process so it doesn’t matter whether it’s going to be low volume or not You’ve got to put it through the process to take your capturing of the information The fact that you end up not selling very many of them is another part of the learning process

Malcolm Palmer (41:57.613)
Yeah.

Richard (42:16.121)
where you not read the market right or the market is too small for too small an interest in that area and unfortunately you just don’t know which ones are going to fly and which ones are going to be specialists

Malcolm Palmer (42:32.524)
Yeah, so you’ve got to put the work in on the processes for all of them.

Richard (42:37.969)
Yeah, that’s why businesses, you don’t get an overnight success in the business do you? You just, you beaver away and then you look back and you go, oh that was 30 years. And it just went because you’re just trying to find, you know, you don’t get success at everything that you do.

Malcolm Palmer (42:45.825)
Yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (42:55.245)
Yeah. so, obviously, you know, it’s important to have good systems, but the people concerned, particularly those in the factory, you know, or for any of our service businesses that are listening, you know, the people that do the thing that generates the income, you know, they all need training on those processes. You’re going to tell me you delegated all the training, aren’t you?

Richard (43:19.705)
Absolutely. Yeah. Training is not something that comes day one. When you’ve got the business, most of the time the guys are trying to just survive the week and get everything done. It’s only when you’ve got the processes in place and the right people that you get the space that you can start to look at going to you. You can relook at the process and start to sort of record what you’re doing and make sure that everyone is doing it.

in the same manner. And a lot of people don’t see the importance of that side of it, but it’s actually key if you’re gonna get the business over the hurdles, because it means that you’ve got people in the business that then know how the business is meant to behave, and when someone new comes in, they’re telling them and not you, so that you’re running all the people through the process without you being involved in it. Otherwise, you just get buried in HR.

and retraining people all the time. so, yeah, it’s not something you can do from day one, but you definitely strive towards it.

Malcolm Palmer (44:20.206)
Yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (44:26.104)
Yeah. I mean, you’re almost talking about a culture of precision within the organisation, so that every new person that comes in is aware of that culture the day they join.

Richard (44:30.758)
Yes.

Richard (44:39.765)
Definitely there’s a culture and definitely you’re trying to attract certain types of people. so it’s quite interesting watching some of the people start. You give someone the responsibility to write, you’re now going to employ the people that you need. And you watch them go off and they… Examples. You get, yes, I’ve chosen the right man. Brilliant. Excellent.

and you go back in two weeks later, you go, there’s your man. He was in prison over the weekend and he’s moving. Yeah. No, and it’s like, they have to go through that learning process of, you’ve got to get the people to be a fit to the people that are there, otherwise it creates pandemonium.

Malcolm Palmer (45:18.116)
Is this a true story? Right, okay, okay. Don’t name any names.

Malcolm Palmer (45:36.557)
Yeah.

Richard (45:37.649)
And yeah, so you’ve got to make sure that everyone that’s coming in, if you have a certain culture, then obviously you don’t want to just, if that culture works for the company, then you don’t want to disrupt that. so you get the culture, you get the people to fit it, and then you train them to sort of do what’s required to keep that culture alive if you like.

Malcolm Palmer (45:58.464)
Yeah. so there’s a subtle change that happens for a business owner when it gets to that certain size, when, you know, perhaps you don’t know everybody in your organization, even if you know their names, you don’t really know who they are or everything they do. And, you know, that’s when you’re shifting from being the most senior manager in the organization to being the leader. Did you feel comfortable when you got to that point?

Richard (46:32.457)
The first time I realised that I’d got there is when a staff member asked if they could help me when they saw me wandering around. so yeah, I did want to get to that point. Like I say, I always wanted to get people into place so that the company could perform at its best. And I felt that ultimately I would be a restriction on the company. so I was always prepared to, unlike my dad.

Malcolm Palmer (46:40.273)
Thank you.

Richard (47:02.509)
I was prepared, I wanted to step away from it so that it could fly. so that’s how I saw it.

Malcolm Palmer (47:12.228)
so in terms of leadership style, would it be fair to say that your leadership style, you used the word facilitator before and it feels like your leadership style was to facilitate the relationships between the senior people in your organisation so that collectively the business was all going in the right direction?

Richard (47:36.925)
Yes, yes, absolutely. Yeah, so I told myself as I, when I was involved, I was the visionary. This is where I sort of set out the big picture of where it wanted to go. And then I would try and discuss it with them, make sure that, you know, you’ve taken all your, when I do my visionary thing, it’s not that I haven’t sat in a dark room on my own. You’ve taken all of the sort of inputs that you’ve had over that year or.

however many years it is that gives you that idea, and you piece it all together, and you come up with the direction that you think you should be heading based on all the market activity that’s going on, and then you sort of get their inputs, and you piece it all together, and you come up with something that everyone is nodding to, and then you give them enough space to achieve that.

Malcolm Palmer (48:31.66)
And did that ever involve dealing with, I don’t know if conflict is too strong a word, but challenging relationships between some of those senior managers, perhaps? Did you have to help some of those relationships become more?

Richard (48:55.214)
I don’t think, well…

about here Timber Wolf, because of the people that we’ve got in the company, because of that culture, if you like, conflict isn’t a massive one for us. You’ve got characters, you’ve got characters that have a more forthright view than others, but that character also can be

Richard (49:26.441)
you can tell them to pull their horns in without upsetting them because you’ve already told them that they’re characters instead of that. Because you can have those conversations with people, you can control whether they’re a bully in a china shop, which sometimes you need them to be, or you tell them that today you’re going to be behaving yourself and you’re going to hear what other people have got to say. so yeah, there was a little bit.

It was it was there’s a bit of manipulation as it always is with trying to get people to work together so yeah, you’re dealing with you having two conversations and then coming into a room With everyone sort of knowing what’s expected of them Because you’re just trying to do the best for what the company needs to achieve not the ego of one person over another You’re gonna get you go get the ego out of the room and just go for the company

Malcolm Palmer (50:21.944)
And so, talking of egos, you managed to do something that very few business owners ever do, which was you got over yourself completely by recruiting your replacement as managing director, which I suspect would come as a real difficulty for most people, even if they could afford to do so.

Richard (50:35.399)
Yeah.

Richard (50:47.917)
Yeah, I think that was a recognition that I was starting to get tired of. There was quite a lot through the business, you know, with Alex and, well, going back by my father out and Alex and divorce and all those sort of things. They all have it. They all take a toll. And, yeah, I think I’ve become a little bit stale.

really and I didn’t want but the company wasn’t stale it was just me so I wanted to um

How can I say it? Basically, what happened is…

Richard (51:32.245)
I’m just trying to work it out. What started is that I don’t like Mondays. I used to hate going into work on Mondays and so I sort of made this decision that I wasn’t going to do Mondays anymore. What I did is I set up a home office. Although I was working from home, I just couldn’t stand all the hassles and everything that happened on the Monday.

and that slowly turned into me quite liking going in on Mondays and then I thought this is so good I’m not going on Friday either but that didn’t work because the company needed me more than I thought so I liked having my four-day weekend but the company was suffering for it so I had to

then came up with the bright idea that if I had an ND, then I could sort of, I don’t know if I’d call it the chairman’s role or whatever, but I didn’t really, I don’t care what title I have. And yeah, so that was the evolution of the thought process is that we were even put someone in there that had the energy to take the whole thing on and grow it. And that was really important for us.

for the company to get those sort of people in place because it suddenly gives you a whole different world of freedom because it is not relying on you. I was never able to, through the growing phases of the business, I was never able to take a holiday of more than about 17 days because the whole thing used to sort of… You leave on holiday and then it very slowly starts to couple over and you have to come back and pick it all up before it’s…

Malcolm Palmer (53:24.834)
Yeah.

Richard (53:28.093)
it’s become a car park or something. so yeah, so suddenly having that, it doesn’t need me. Some people could see that as a terrible rejection of you and I saw it as an achievement.

Malcolm Palmer (53:42.028)
Yeah, fantastic. Richard, I could ask you loads of questions about the how you went about selling the business, but perhaps we’ll leave that for a different podcast because you’ve perfectly summed up that journey from when everything’s dependent on you to the point when you have the freedom. And so I think that’s just a perfect point to leave the podcast. so thank you so much for all your time.

this morning. I hope that’s proved really interesting to everybody listening. And we will be back in a couple of weeks with the next episode of the podcast.

Richard (54:23.837)
Thank you.

Share this article