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BOOM — I’m back!

Mr. Loadlink announced his return from a three-month sabbatical with typical effervescence, but he explains why a dimming light is a warning sign we should all heed.

Search for the ‘Explosion’ emoji. It might be called ‘Collision’ on some devices but, however apt that could turn out to be, the name isn’t important. That’s the emoji I used either side of the heading ‘BOOM — I’m back!’ on a LinkedIn post announcing my return from an extended summer break. It was an emphatic and positive way to put my Crosby-Straightpoint (SP) hat back on and report for duty. Bang, here I am, team, “refreshed, recharged and brimming with ideas,” as I wrote.

This was all true but I missed out an important detail, which is what led to me taking a proper time-out for the first time in my career. Here’s what people think happened:

I bought SP on 15 April 2002.

I sold it to The Crosby Group on 2 January 2019.

We celebrated.

I was named global business development director for load monitoring solutions.

The business completed successful transition.

I reported to Robert Desel, now CEO at Crosby.

Robert gave me his full support in taking a deserved break.

But that’s a skeletal version, which refers only to points in time. The full story is one of learning the importance of listening to mind, body and soul. Look at that Explosion emoji again—that was my mind. In fact, I’d gone from (and you can search your emojis for these as well), Beaming Face With Smiling Eyes to Woozy Face to Exploding Head. I was emotionally and physically worn out, my health was suffering, and I needed to take a break.

I feared what might come next if I didn’t stop and take some time to relax.

I feared what might come next if I didn’t stop and take some time to relax.

The point of writing this article is to share some of what I was experiencing at the time and encourage others in a similar state of mind to consider the benefits of stepping back. Don’t be mistaken and feel that this is reserved only for people who’ve sold, or are planning to sell, a business. I really don’t think it matters what the driving factors are. It can be a high-level job, loss, greater responsibility, a health scare, an overwhelming fitness regime… it’s about an individual’s reaction to change and / or pressure that puts him or her at the brink of burnout.

I want to get two things straight at this point:

  • One, Crosby and its management had nothing to do with draining my resources. The company was there, of course, but I stress that the moments in time, as above, are essentially insignificant. Robert and his team have been hugely supportive from the very first time we met through to today.
  • Two, I want to keep things in perspective. This is just my story about reaching my limit, which I’m happy to share. I haven’t chosen mental health as a new specialised subject and I don’t claim to be equipped to advise on the matter generally.

Running on empty

What I can talk about is a two-pronged sense of anguish—tiredness that could no longer be cured by a night’s sleep, and an emptiness that couldn’t be filled by a friend or good action movie.

Running a business isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. As I described it before, imagine your favourite car, best holiday, dream house, first romance, neighbourhood, friends, career… all in a box. That’s what SP was (and still is) to me. My new role was exciting, challenging and consuming—everything I wanted it to be—but I just couldn’t apply myself to it with the vigour required. I was running on empty. Further, I think I was missing the gut-instinct decisions, the pace, and the strategic stuff that ownership represented. I’ve never been a lover of small print but I had to zoom in on it closer than ever before. Even then it was blurry and the letters jumbled.

During my break, I actually caught up with Gary Mullins, master coach at Action Coach, which helps entrepreneurs and owners overcome the challenges in maintaining a company. He was a major factor in taking SP to the point of sale, but I challenged him in return to fill the dearth in coaching content that surrounds post-sale blues, burnout, and overdrive. He agreed that more could be done in this area so it’s a case of watching this space. After all, it’s not easy to diagnose a state of mind or prescribe a remedy. Is it just a bad day, stressful time of year, inevitable hot-headedness, or something bigger?

I was running on empty.

I was running on empty.

I realise now that I had become like a lot of people I’ve met and known well over the years that have pushed and continue to push too hard. I hope they’re reading this. It’s like a type of mania that can be seen in a person’s demeanour or actions. There’s a feverish energy that has stopped powering anything meaningful. It’s a hamster-wheel scenario where all the running in the world can no longer result in progress. Of course, alerting someone to this is difficult and, reality is, such workaholism is worn as a badge of honour, particularly in some parts of the world, like the states, where a person’s professional life is shown such high priority.

Smashin’ time

If you’ve arrived at a point in time where a break is required, and you’ve been brave enough to take it, it’s important to make it count. And don’t call it a holiday; that conjures up images of stressing about money, flights, hotels, sun-loungers and theme parks. Think of it as a sabbatical or timeout. Consider the goal to recharge and rejuvenate. If something doesn’t help to that end, cancel it. Emails—turn ‘em off. Business calls—don’t answer ‘em. Alarm clocks—smash ‘em. Ok, I understand the need to be realistic, especially if a family is involved, but this has got to be a selfish retreat for it to work. An employer has got to play their part too; don’t fall into the, “I know you’re on a break, but…” trap.

I warn you, initially, there is a sense of nothingness that must be overcome. Remove from your mind business, email, telephone, colleagues, trade shows, and everything else that work involves, even for just a second. It leaves a space, right? I admit to being panic stricken in the first few days, wondering what on earth I was going to do for another 11-and-a-half weeks. There are only so many times the lawn can be mowed, the window frames painted, and the motorbike engine stripped. Don’t give in to temptation though; it’s amazing how the body-clock can slow to a new pace and frightening the extent to which it had to quicken to keep up with the previous lifestyle.

Everybody will approach his or her own sabbatical differently. Once I’d settled into a new rhythm, I called some friends based overseas and planned a bit of a globe trot. Not the kind that business takes you on, but a slower-paced trip that didn’t involve a flight-case of load cells or a bunch of polo shirts with Crosby-SP on the chest. This was a bathing shorts and Hawaiian shirts kind of journey. First stop was Spain, where I enjoyed some motorcycling with the sun on my back. Next was Los Angeles, where deep-sea fishing and shopping filled a lot of days. Then I went to Hawaii, where an old acquaintance has now relocated, for more sun, sea, surf, fine food and relaxation.

Fishing proved an enjoyable way to pass the time during my break.

Fishing proved an enjoyable way to pass the time during my break.

Aloha, new me!

I recommend keeping such a trip to a sensible length and I was keen to return home in enough time to top up the batteries that little bit more before refocussing on work. It was no coincidence that I returned in the days ahead of Glorious Goodwood at my favourite racecourse. There, and around town, news started to reach me about how things were going back at SP HQ. I was ready for it by then; it didn’t offend my ears or send the heart racing like it had started to do. It was great to hear success stories and tales of team members stepping up—in many cases the by-product of me not being at the helm. I thought David Mullard captured this theme perfectly in his latest blog—and did an even better job of deputising.

With about two weeks of the 12 remaining, I put a call into Robert to start planning my return. I was buzzing again and realise now what an important part it was of transitioning properly into the role of global business development director for load monitoring solutions, and integrating myself into the Crosby family. In fact, I don’t think I could’ve really committed to the task without a short break, and I’m sure that would be the same for others who find themselves in a similar position.

Finally, I’d like to thank my former business partner, Peter McGreal, who was financial director at SP and recently left us after 18 years with the company. Peter was my right-hand man throughout the journey and someone else without whom we couldn’t have achieved half of what we have. The fact that Crosby wanted to buy us is a huge testament to his vision and financial acumen. I’m grateful too to the whole SP team, who have been supportive, patient and professional as I’ve prioritised my recovery programme and new ownership has settled in. I’m excited about continuing to provide guidance as they individually and collectively achieve short- and long-term goals.

What a pleasure it’s been working alongside Peter McGreal (centre) over so many successful years. Alfie Lee joined me for the leaving presentation.

What a pleasure it’s been working alongside Peter McGreal (centre) over so many successful years. Alfie Lee joined me for the leaving presentation.

Japan beckons for me now and I’m packing with a level of excitement and anticipation that I haven’t had for a long time.

There’s probably an emoji for that.

Mr. Loadlink

David Ayling is global business development director for load monitoring solutions at SP

Wolf Pup…

All the training in the world can’t replicate game time, says David Mullard, business development manager at Straightpoint.

In cricket they call it time in the middle. To use a more international sporting analogy, in football (soccer) they refer to it as match fitness. In other sports, coaches and players talk about game time. Regardless, it all means the same thing: it’s an acceptance that the only way to really sharpen skills and reach your potential is to put yourself to the test and dive into the deep end. Practice, training, rehearsals, etc. are important—that’s how skills are acquired—but they’ll never stand up to pressure until there’s something on the line. It’s also the acid test of recovery following injury or illness.

I don’t want to overdo the soccer references because I support Wolverhampton Wanderers (our nickname is Wolves) and I’ve got two left feet when it comes to striking the ball, but the beautiful game (cue eye-rolls from many a friend across the pond) serves as a great example to emphasise the main point of this article. In fact, the type of sport is interchangeable. Whatever the shape of ball or size of bat, every great player was once a rookie, novice, youth-team prospect or school kid with talent. How do they one day win individual prizes like the Ballon d’Or or team trophies such as the Jules Rimet or Premier League? Answer: a manager, coach, teacher or mentor encourages them to step up. In other words, they get an opportunity.

Only facing the hardest tackler, fastest pitcher, tallest baller, or biggest puncher can someone learning his or her trade really appreciate what it takes at the highest level. It’s one thing to watch television or create drills in training but it never fully replicates the real thing. That’s why levels are so important in sport; someone excels at school, regional then national level but can’t hack it on the international scene. Or they take the county game by storm but can’t handle the speed or strength of southern area players. For the same reason, so many players come back from long injury lay-offs but break down again when the calf, knee, ankle or glute can’t withstand the extra strain of a match scenario.

Punch bags don’t punch back, as boxers know. (This isn’t me, by the way!)
Punch bags don’t punch back, as boxers know. (This isn’t me, by the way!)

No. 10 shirt

It’s remarkable therefore that in business, where the same theories can be applied, we don’t more readily give opportunities to people, especially those on the up-curve of their careers, to experience managerial or senior positions. In fact, there’s a tendency to do the opposite. A CEO is on holiday or a CFO has to take enforced leave due to sickness and people look around the boardroom or C-suite or, worse, source a senior person from outside to cover for them. Whether it is as cover or to oversee specific projects, responsibility should be given to young professionals. It can be demotivating if someone hoping to one day lead a department or regional office, for example, is overlooked when an opportunity arises to give them a taste of more seniority. Conversely, it can be extremely uplifting and rewarding if a company gives an individual a chance to be playmaker—as I can testify.

David Ayling, global business development director for load monitoring solutions and former owner of Straightpoint (SP), aka Mr. Loadlink, recently took something of a sabbatical, which meant more responsibility and burden of leadership was placed upon my shoulders. Alas, I’m too old to be considered a young prospect, and I’ve been around the SP boardroom for a while, but the case study remains valid. Not only did the summer months give him a chance to take a much-needed break but the team—and me—got a taste of what life would be like without Mr. Loadlink at the helm, which was incredibly enlightening. It takes a good leader to create a company that can thrive in their absence but, truth is, it had never before been put to the test. Ok, we’re now in the capable hands of Crosby ownership, but the Havant, Hampshire facility is a centre of excellence in its own right and we kept a lid on it. We scored some goals too. Phew!

Businesses should more readily give people a chance to be playmaker.
Businesses should more readily give people a chance to be playmaker.

I’ll be honest, there were things I could have done differently but I only know that because it was a real experience. Only by seeing the consequences of decisions was it possible to learn and hone my leadership skills. It’s a big deal when the buck stops with you, and it takes practice. There are so many people in this industry and other sectors who’ve stepped into such roles upon retirement of business owners and managers, without the experience to make a success of it. Could some of these short tenures we hear about have been more fruitful had that individual had a better taste of seniority throughout their career? I certainly think so.

Synchronised swimming

Maybe my earlier “deep end” comment might have been misleading as it implies someone is left alone to sink or swim. In reality, only when a team duly supports someone stepping into a leadership position can they make it work. We all know the practice of setting a person up to fail and that would be true of anyone left in a CEO’s office with the door slammed behind them. You might as well grease the bottom of their shoes and ask them to walk down a carpeted staircase. I’m indebted to a number of individuals and departments, which I’ll come to, without whom the game would’ve passed me by. I’d have been a passenger. In soccer terms, I’d have been taking up good positions outside the box but nobody would’ve passed me the ball.

“So much for Magic Mullard,” the fans would scoff.

I enjoyed working with the marketing and inside sales teams in particular. I admire the creativity of these departments, who constantly need to generate fresh, exciting content to support Crosby external sales teams and engage target audiences. I’d encourage all businesses to look carefully at how closely aligned sales and marketing are especially in a climate where the latter is becoming more and more important as prospective clients conduct more research than ever, before even encountering a salesperson. There was a time when the phone ringing or door knocking was the first point of contact between supplier and consumer. That’s changed, principally because of the internet, meaning isolated sales teams are swimming against the tide.

(Perhaps sales-marketing alignment can be a project for an interim leader at your company.)

Leaders must continue to learn. While they might be more frequently looked to as professor or teacher, it’s important that an aspiring manager maintains a sponge-like state, where they take information and knowledge from those around them. To think, “Ok, I’m the boss now, forget about listening to other people,” would be foolhardy. Peter McGreal, former financial director at SP, recently left us after 18 years with the business and I’m grateful for the expertise he shared with me recently and historically about his wheelhouse. He’s done a huge amount of work behind the scenes and has shaped some game-changing strategies. Peter was the yang to Mr. Loadlink’s yin in a great example of business savvy and dualism.

Mr. Loadlink (left) and Alfie Lee (right) helped give Peter McGreal a fitting send off.
Mr. Loadlink (left) and Alfie Lee (right) helped give Peter McGreal a fitting send off.

Showboating

As another conference and events season gets underway, I write from Offshore Europe here in Aberdeen, where August had barely finished and we were setting up the exhibit for the 3-6 September show. It’s appreciable how much change SP has been through since the last edition of the event; now part of the Crosby Group, we attended alongside Gunnebo Industries, which was also recently acquired by the largest lifting and rigging hardware company in the world. We stay offshore in Amsterdam, Holland next month, where Offshore Energy takes place 7-9 October. The Speedy Expo follows and that’s all without flicking too many pages forward in my diary.

I’m honoured to represent the company at this year’s Heavy Lift Awards, where SP has been shortlisted in the innovation category. Winners will be named by Heavy Lift & Project Forwarding International (HLPFI) magazine at the Hilton Old Town in Antwerp, Belgium on 15 October. Evolution is evident in our Bluetooth-enabled load cell range and accompanying app, which have been highlighted as the products that separated us from other entrants. In closing therefore another SP team worth referencing is our highly active and progressive research and development department; those guys can take much of the credit for such recognition by one of the industry’s leading magazines.

We’re hoping to get our hands on a Heavy Lift Award next month.
We’re hoping to get our hands on a Heavy Lift Award next month.

Mr. Loadlink’s return has surely given everyone a lift, as though a star player has returned but, as my time in his seat proved, we’re not a one-man team. I don’t think any winning side ever was.

Dave Mullard
Business Development Manager, Straightpoint
dmullard@straightpoint.com

Ok, Dave, don’t rub it in!
Ok, Mr Loadlink (aka Dave Ayling), don’t rub it in!