Where the hell has my life gone?
Here I am at the tender age of 59, standing in the departure lounge of the business I founded with Chris Bruce back in 2000.
Yes, almost a year after Mercer acquired us, I am leaving Thomsons. No one has made me, I don’t feel compelled, and there has been no Damascene moment. It is just the right time.
Having made this decision back in October, I have had the thinking time, uncluttered by the heady world of benefits technology, and the business of Thomsons that I love so much, to reflect about what this means for me, and to decide what I want to do next.
There are two key questions I have been asked: why now and what’s next?
Primarily, I will be 60 next year and, having burnt the candle at every possible end over the years, I am astonished to have made it this far!
When you realise that you are probably two thirds through your life you don’t really need any other excuse to get on with what’s left! There are, of course, other things I have seen in my tea leaves that make it the right time now.
Most businesses struggle in the year post-acquisition. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, between 70% and 90% fail - some spectacularly. Do you remember Microsoft buying Nokia or HP buying Autonomy? However, Thomsons, now owned by Mercer, has done the polar opposite, with some truly fantastic new business wins in 2017, and there is a great plan in place for 2018 and well beyond.
Stephen Read, who has been with Thomsons for three years, succeeded me as CEO in July and is doing a cracking job of leading Thomsons, and keeping us a strong, shining Pink beacon of light within the Mercer family.
At Thomsons, Chris Bruce and I have often talked about the janitor who was sweeping the floor at NASA when JFK asked him what he did there, to which he replied “Well Mr President, I am helping put a man on the moon”. I feel like that man now, proud as Punch of the people I do and have worked at Thomsons, helping Thomsons launch their pink rocket ship to the moon.
It has been a privilege leading Thomsons over the last 17 years, seeing the talent that we have grown now ready to take the business on the next phase of its journey. I am content now to look up into the night sky, admire the flight of the Thomsons’ Pink rocket ship from afar, with a beaming smile on my face, knowing that I have helped it get so far.
That is why now. Now it is time for me to look forward, and head into the next phase of my life, whilst Thomsons continues on a rocket ship to the moon.
So, what is next?
People have reacted in a predictably conventional way to my news.
Firstly, there is the automatic assumption that I am retiring. This feels like a really negative phrase to me: “It’s time for you to slow down old man, take it easy, let your body and mind shut down gradually and then you can die”. That makes my toes curl!
Secondly, some people have looked at me as they would a sick animal and asked: “how do you feel?” as though I have some incurable illness suddenly.
So, I am not retiring, this is not me being in denial, and nor am I fazed by the magnitude of my decision. It is just the right time to use my abundant passion and energy, and invest my time differently - in me, my lovely family, and in others less fortunate than I am.
This will be my ‘benevolent’ phase, and here are some of the things I will be doing in it:
I have often had good intentions of losing a lot of weight, but I always manage to come up with convenient excuses not to! Now with more time to be disciplined about going the gym, walking and getting out on my bike, and drinking less beer and not having countless business dinners to go to, I feel confident that I can lose the 20 kgs I need to lose if I want to achieve my next personal challenge, which is to climb to Everest Base Camp in May 2020 - a daunting 17,598 feet high!
My family have missed me a lot over the years, more accurately, I have missed out on them. Whilst you have to be selfish sometimes to achieve your dreams, it is now payback time! My long-suffering wife, five children and very new first grandchild, all deserve better from me. And now they are going to get it!
Over the last few years I have become much more engaged in various charities, and these are the six charities that I want to work closely with from now on:
- Jason Leonard’s Atlas Foundation - www.theatlasfoundation.org.uk
- Lawrence Dallaglio’s Rugby Works - www.dallagliorugbyworks.com
- Try for Change (a new charity created between the RFU and Sport/Comic Relief) - http://www.englandrugby.com/about-the-rfu/rfu-charities/try-for-change/
- Opera a charity passionately led by Esther O’Callaghan www.weareopera.org.uk
- #RememberingRhinos - http://www.bornfree.org.uk/get-involved/events/remembering-rhinos
- Barnes RFC - my beloved rugby club, is also a charity. I am in my 11th season as Chairman of Barnes Rugby, having joined them as a player in 1990, and I still have lots to do there too, like rebuild our clubhouse and put in central heating!
I have already invested, and will continue to invest in, exciting new technology businesses with founders/CEOs that I can connect with on a personal level, allowing me to share the knowledge and experience I have built over the years. None of these investments are, nor will ever be, in competitor businesses to Mercer or Thomsons.
Those who know me well will already know that there is only one team for me in the technology benefits space - and that is Team Thomsons #ForeverPink
And, if all of this wasn’t enough, I would like to write a book too! I want to tell the Thomsons story, how Chris and I took an idea, an idea that no one else believed in, and made it into the successful global enterprise that it is today. I want to prove the importance of having a strong culture and clear values in helping achieve business success. And finally, I want to inspire new entrepreneurs that you don’t need a university degree and lots of cash to achieve your dream, you just need to have 100% belief in what you are doing, be passionate about it 24 hours a day and work harder than your competitors.
As you can see, I appear to have a lot on! As a zestful and energetic man who will turn sixty next year, I am so looking forward to the next phase, there is so much to do, I just don’t know where I have found the time to work!
I have always, and will always, be a very proud advocate and ambassador for Thomsons, and Thomsons People. They are brilliant humans and I love them all.
I am very excited about the future of Thomsons.
I am very excited for my future too.
On my school reports it frequently used to say things like “Michael is disruptive in class”.
Looking back now, I guess that was not such a bad thing! Now it is time for me to disrupt in a whole new way - watch out conventional retirees, watch out sedentary sixty-plus people - I am on my way and I going to rock your world too!