Meeting the challenges of a whole new world of business

EVEN when times are good and the economy is ticking along nicely, businesses have to go that extra mile if they are to remain competitive and grow: standing still is never an option.

But when times are tough – and nobody can deny that they have been getting progressively tougher since the words Covid-19 and lockdown entered our consciousness in late March – that extra mile may not be enough.

In such adverse circumstances it can pay to know where to turn for much-needed help; and Royston Guest could be just the success coach to provide it.

Mr Guest, who was born and educated in Liverpool, is the chief executive officer of Pathways Global and the author of two books: Built To Grow and Rise. Both books open up routes to attaining personal and commercial success and they fizz with the enthusiasm for life and business that is evident in the man himself. In short, he has been tapping into a power source of energy since first stepping into the world of work.

‘I left school at 16 and entered the construction industry on a rotating apprenticeship programme, gaining experience in the various aspects of the business. I literally started from the ground up. I remember that my first salary was £4,200.

‘I took charge of my first construction project at the age of 20. This was a £1.2 million fit-out for Abbey National in Manchester. Working for Balfour Beatty, I was also the project manager for the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, which was set up by Paul McCartney.’

At the age of 25, Mr Guest headed for America, where he spent two years working on prestigious contracts such as the construction of the $100 million West Palm Beach High School. On his return to the UK, he became involved in the privatisation of the rail industry and major private finance initiatives with Jarvis, before joining the Dutch company Hoogovens and becoming involved in mergers and acquisitions.

Mr Guest’s first business was a consultancy and training operation which he set up in the Midlands the best part of 20 years ago. But it was when he came to Jersey to carry out some work for Abbey National in the Island that his life changed.

‘I met Jane, the lady who would become my wife. She was working for Abbey National. We got married 12 years ago and I moved to Jersey to be with her. It was the best move that I ever made. I was also lucky because, as it was my own business, I could be more flexible in my work and travel back and forth as necessary.

‘I have cut my ties with the UK now and my businesses are registered in Jersey.’

Those business concerns are Royston Guest Ltd – which handles his books, executive coaching and conference speaking – and Pathways Global, a technology or SAAS (software as a service) operation.

‘I set up Pathways Global 18 months ago because no personality tool existed for businesses at the time,’ he explained. ‘The question was: how do we assess a business through an algorithm platform?’

Clients of what is a complete subscription-based online product begin by answering a series of questionnaires.

‘This shows them where they are on their business journey and what they need to do in future to progress further,’ said Mr Guest. ‘It gives them both the content and the tools that will help them to accelerate their business growth.

‘They are able to learn at their own pace. I have been able to build up a good business following because of my books and conference-leading. At the moment we have subscribers to the platform based in Australia, the USA, India, China and Europe. It all went live on 2 July this year.

‘Whether you are running a big company or a small one, the principles of business growth are universal, so the platform works for any kind of firm, from a nail bar to a hairdresser to a trust company; the client base is very diverse.

‘Banks, estate agencies, distribution businesses all have the same requirements: they need to attract clients and want customers to keep coming through the door and then to keep on coming. A gym wants you to be a member for life, while a restaurant wants you to love its food and the ambience of the place – it’s all about attracting the client and then keeping that client. There are so many moving parts to running a business.’

In his book, Built To Grow, Mr Guest considers the employee who has a high level of technical expertise and believes that they could capitalise on those skills and start an enterprise of their own.

‘I call it the specialist with an entrepreneurial seizure,’ said Mr Guest. ‘The taxi driver, waitress or hairdresser who suddenly asks themselves a fundamental question: “Why am I working to make money for others when I could set up my own business and make money for myself instead?” But there is a difference between being a great hairdresser or accountant or whatever and running a business. The world of business and the application of technical skills are very different things.

‘They have to ask the question: “How do I run my business?” The skills required are not the same as those needed to do the job for which you have been trained. The objective of self-employment may be to have more freedom but you can end up with less if you are so busy doing everything rather than building the business up.

‘Even for big businesses, the number of years trading they may have behind them does not necessarily mean they have attained maturity.’

It is also very clear, Mr Guest believes, that the business world will never return fully to where it was before Covid-19 struck.

‘I think that the year 2020 will in the future be studied in business schools because of the structural change that it resulted in. For instance, how we use office space will change, new technology and video-conferencing will be opened up – there will be more opportunities than ever before.

‘I also think that there are three basic questions that every one in business should be asking themselves today: how relevant am I as a leader and how relevant are we as a business to our customers? How agile are we? And how resilient are we?

‘The pandemic has been very revealing. It scares me, to be honest, to see just how much some people are living hand to mouth. Businesses should have a minimum of three to six months of reserves. I was taught that principle at the age of 16. Whether it is prompted by Covid-19 or any other of the peaks and troughs that can affect trading, every business leader should ask themselves those three questions every single day.’

It is also the case that the last few months have provided an opportunity for people to take stock and consider whether the imposition of new ways of working, ushered in as a result of attempts to diminish the risks of the virus, might be worth salvaging and keeping for the future.

‘Covid-19 has certainly accelerated our thinking,’ Mr Guest said. ‘It’s no longer a work/life balance but more a work/life blend. People are beginning to move away from the towns and cities and setting up home in the country. They want gardens and home offices now.

‘It’s very much about becoming better, smarter and quicker at what we do and, most importantly, questioning how we do things and why.

‘Clients are no longer travelling every other week; they have seen a different way of living and redefining success and are reshaping what they do and considering the trade-offs.’

A whole new world seems to be emerging but Mr Guest is meeting it head on with an air of confidence.

‘I like to describe myself as a pragmatic optimist,’ he said. ‘Some businesses, through no fault of their own, are falling away but some were already struggling before Covid-19. But with change comes opportunity; and we are going through a profound period of change like never before.

‘The media also have to play their part because if you talk the economy down, then that is how it will be. Talk it up, though, and there will be opportunity.’

It all comes back to achieving that acceptable blend of work and life.

‘Personal and professional success do not have to come at the expense of one another. I am a parent of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old and I want to spend as much time with them as possible, creating the best environment for them. They are only children for a short space of time and I don’t want to miss it.

‘But you have to manage it with conscious, deliberate intention to be the architect of your own destiny.’

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