Inspirational Leaders: Bryan Richards

Goodbye, Mr Chips is a 1939 film about an inspirational teacher. Few of us had a Mr Chips in our lives but I was one of the lucky ones. Bryan Richards was my Mr Chips.

Bryan arrived at Dulwich College from a stellar rugby career and a degree from Cambridge. Even though he only won only one cap for Wales, he was recognised as a wizard of the playing fields. In any other era, he would have won many more caps, but then Wales had a factory turning out Number 10s and his path was blocked by one of the greatest of all times – Cliff Morgan.

Bryan arrived at Dulwich while I was in the junior teams and he quickly established us to have one of the best teams in the country. I was privileged to play for the first team for 3 years, the last as captain. During this period, we lost only 2 games.

He was an innovator with a deep understanding of the game. What is now commonplace he had thought through 20 years earlier.

He was also deeply competitive and we toured the country to beat all comers including a dark and wet afternoon in Wales when we beat Carwyn James’ then all-conquering Welsh team of Llandovery College.

To understand the importance of that for Bryan, a year later Carwyn coached the 1971 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, the only Lions side ever to win a series against the All Blacks. He was known as a visionary who proved adventurous, free-flowing rugby could be winning rugby. I still imagine the two of them sitting down after our game to plot the Blacks downfall.

My thoughts turned to Bryan last night as I read Gareth Southgate’s assessment of England’s football team’s performance at the World Cup. He is the English manager and his team had just beaten Panama 6-1. You would think he would be cock-a-hoop but all he said was that he didn’t particularly like his side’s performance.

After each weekend’s rugby game, we would meet at lunchtime in a classroom for an assessment of our performance. We had always won yet Bryan was never happy. He went from player to player with a short compliment and then a list of all the things we could have done better. Pleasing Bryan became as much a motivation as winning but it was not until the end of the season did he bestow any real or heartfelt compliments on us.

When you have just won a game as easily as England have the temptation is to believe all the hype and believe that all you have to do is turn up to win.

However unlikely it may be, England are in Russia to win the World Cup and one victory, even a 6-1 victory is just a milestone. It isn’t job done. Laugh, smile, sleep well, share an orange juice, joke with your teammates are natural reactions but Gareth has just delivered his Monday lunchtime message. Good result, six goals but you haven’t won anything yet.  I didn’t particularly like the side’s performance

Winning is never that easy. Winning consistently demands a continuing focus on hard work and hard miles. It means keeping focus.

It is a lesson taught to me by Bryan and one that has stayed forever. After every minor win, I always have my own Monday lunchtime meeting to remind myself that one victory is just another step to an unbeaten season.

Bryan lost his sight in 2000 but not his passion for competitive sport. For a proud Welshman came the unthinkable and he captained the English Blind Golf team against the Scots. Until his death a year or two ago he was still playing and scoring lower than his age.

Inspirational Leaders – Tony Bury

I first met Tony just over 10 years ago when I was invited to his home in Dorset to review the strategy for his business in Dubai. It was at Tony’s invitation that I first went to Dubai, and then stayed, working for him.

His career is stellar and varied and it is easier to let his resume talk for itself:

Tony was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, educated in the UK, but has spent most of his life living and working overseas, particularly in the Middle East. Tony is a serial entrepreneur and has established 18 start-ups.  Having exited from the majority of these businesses, he still maintains private equity shareholdings in a range of businesses including consultancy, energy, trading, engineering, and industrial services.

I worked for Tony at his business in Dubai and I think we had a good working relationship for the two or three years we were together. Not least our working hours dovetailed. There was a time when I was producing complex financial models of the business for Tony to review.

I have already mentioned my preference to work through the night and get up late. Tony is the total opposite. He was early to bed and wakes with the sun, or sometimes earlier, but normally just a couple of hours after I had sent him the latest drafts and updates. I knew when I woke there would be a response and new scenarios to evaluate. In a very busy period, it was almost continuous 24-hour progress.

Tony was a ferociously hard worker and I assume that hasn’t changed much.

The business I worked in, in Dubai centred all around Tony. It was his company, a company he had founded and developed. It was a company he owned and being the centre took its toll and was tiring. None of the 20 or 30 so people who worked for him could keep up with his pace.

This was the driver for the first of the metamorphoses I saw. That complex model I was working on was to distribute the shareholdings and power in the firm to the staff.

That business was in oil and gas project support. We should take the story forward again in his own resume.

In 2008, Tony founded Mowgli Mentoring (previously known as Mowgli Foundation) in response to the need for job creation, sustainable economic and leadership development, particularly in the MENA region and UK. Tony strongly credits his success to the mentoring that he has received throughout his personal and business life and believes that every entrepreneur should have access to this support.

In Mowgli, a not-for-profit organisation, he is giving back his own experiences to a wider but far less privileged group. I have no hesitation quoting directly from their website.

Established in 2008 to support the Middle East and North Africa region in reaching its ’80-100m jobs by 2020’ goal, Mowgli Mentoring was founded by Tony Bury, a serial entrepreneur who had spent over 40 years in the MENA region, to catalyse the support and development of successful and sustainable entrepreneurship in the region. Mowgli also focuses on the development of leadership and supporting entrepreneurship ecosystems as a critical solution to the region’s unemployment, poverty, and economic challenges.

I follow avidly the progress of Mowgli and before I move on, I encourage everyone to see what they do. Here is the link

We haven’t met again for a few years, but I am sure his capacity for hard work remains enormous, but this is not the source of inspiration. He has many business achievements that in themselves are noteworthy, but what inspires me most his capacity to keep reinventing himself.

I don’t know the full history of Mowgli, but I can guess what happened. Tony was probably reading and reading some more and became angry with the injustices he read about, and decided to do something about it.

We have all done that, but the difference between you, me and Tony is that he did something. I presume that he put in some seed capital, but I know that this isn’t a vanity project and will be properly funded and self-sustaining.

Tony has done this many time over his career and that is the real inspiration.

In a world where change is pervasive and young people will have multiple careers Tony is a role model. To reinvent yourself in a business career once is hard enough. To do it many times is an inspiration.

Inspirational Leaders: Sir Denys Henderson

Although I worked extensively around the ICI Group I had little contact with Sir Denys Henderson Chairman of both ICI and Zeneca, but he was a great leader and I have one quote which I need to share.

We were talking about the barriers that some executives put in place to protect themselves from staff and visitors and how difficult it was to get into see them.

‘Remember,’ he said, ‘it is only the people who think of themselves as important you can’t get to meet. Those that are really important always have time and some breaks in their diary’.

I have remembered that forever and is one way I always judge leaders!!