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 Paul Girolami

Sir Paul was once a Partner at Coopers &Lybrand and moved to become Financial Controller, Finance Director, Chief Executive and finally Chairman of Glaxo. It was said that as he was being promoted to stellar heights, he never gave up any of the previous jobs. He always had a firm grip on the finances of Glaxo.

There was a time in my career that I completed many consulting projects at Glaxo, often working directly for Sir Paul.

Once, in the late 1970s, I was invited to lunch at the Mirabelle just a few hundred yards from the Glaxo Head Office in Clarges Street. By now he was CEO. We chatted, and he asked me what I knew about ‘electronic war rooms’ and how they could be used in business. Fortunately, it was something I had a little knowledge about – but not a lot.

‘Good,’ Sir Paul said, ‘I would like one. Will you send a proposal round this afternoon with an idea of the costs?’ And that is what we did. It was never going to be a competitive bidding process, but we knew better than to pad it out and, so we built the first electronic board room in the UK on the top floor of Clarges Street.

It was a challenge but an exciting challenge not least for the afternoon when we looked out of the window and saw the mass of aerials and other electronic equipment on the building across the road. We had put a great deal of effort to make sure that we were ‘tempest proof’, which meant that the electronic signals we were projecting couldn’t be read. What we hadn’t considered was that we might be impacting MI5 across the road on Curzon Street and the Company Secretary was sent to make discrete enquiries.

You could argue that Sir Paul’s reputation was based on the dramatic impact he had on Group profitability while he was at the helm. You might equally argue that he was fortunate to be in charge when a real block buster drug, Zantac, was in the pipeline. However, you can’t argue that Sir Paul changed the global drug industry forever.

Zantac was an anti-ulcer cure drug and had all previous protocols been followed it would have been priced at manufacturing cost plus some thing to recover development. Sir Paul changed that. He knew (then but not now) the alternative was surgery. He priced Zantac against the much greater cost of surgery which blew away all previous pricing strategies and made Glaxo rich. Much of Glaxo’s prosperity is attributable to that one stellar product, Zantac, which in 1986, accounted for 40 percent of the company’s sales and about half its profits.

It was an inspired insight, particularly from an accountant.

While building the electronic Board Room I had many meetings with Sir Paul. It wasn’t just about the technology and electronics but also the information to be collected and displayed. We had worked through company accounts, KPIs, lead indicators and all the other data which we envisaged being needed at a Board or Management meeting. I needed one more piece. What were Sir Paul’s personal performance measures? How did we measure his personal success?

This was insight at the highest level of business. Over a week we probably met for a total of three or four hours. Of course, he was accountable for the performance of the Group, but we were looking for something else. We were looking for something that reflected what he did.

It was walking down the corridor one day he stopped me to tell me he had worked it out.

His performance and possibly his job, he said,  was to hire and fire the right half dozen people each year. Glaxo was a large Group. He knew he couldn’t directly reach every person who worked for him, but he needed his will and voice to be communicated directly and right through the Group. He needed people who when faced with a problem would do exactly as he would.

As he said to me, ‘I need everyone to ask themselves: what would Paul do now? I need the right people in place.’

We were never able to identify a measure for that but at least we felt better that we had solved the problem. That was my inspirational moment.