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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

Legacy Not Lip Service…

The LEEA community should approach today’s challenges with the steadfastness of its founding fathers, says David Mullard, business development manager at Straightpoint.

I was honoured to be among guests as the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) celebrated 75 years at a parliamentary reception, held at the Terrace Pavilion, Houses of Parliament in mid-July.

As attendees heard, the origins of LEEA can be traced back to wartime Britain in 1944, when a small group of competing companies came together to address what they perceived as a serious threat to their livelihoods. On 3 June, nine people representing eight chain testing houses met at the Great Eastern Hotel, near Liverpool Street Station, and the idea to form an association was conceived. Several weeks later, a draft set of rules and regulations was drawn up and a decision was made that, regardless of size, all members should be considered equal, both in terms of influence and financial contribution.

We owe a lot to those founding members for encapsulating a set of core values that we still adhere to today. The reception epitomised that with individuals from all types of businesses, many of whom compete for the same customers every day of the week, coming together to celebrate an association that continues to campaign for its shared goals and combats common threats. Even in the years I’ve been around the association’s work, I’ve detected vast growth in terms of membership numbers, profile, and transformation of the Huntingdon, UK headquarters.

However, without resolute commitment, the London Chain Testers Association (the original name) wouldn’t have lasted a single year. It’s important to be mindful of that after LEEA used the event in one of the world’s most famous buildings as a launch platform for its 75th year initiatives, including the 75:75 Military Transition project; the Think Lifting schools engagement initiative; and the Apprenticeship Standard.

LEEA celebrated 75 years at a parliamentary reception at the Houses of Parliament.

LEEA celebrated 75 years at a parliamentary reception at the Houses of Parliament.

All were well pitched to attendees and designed to get wholesale buy-in. It’s notable, for example, that a great number of LEEA employees are formerly of the military, as are many representatives of member companies. I’ve lost count of connections I’ve made with lifting professionals who were once in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), the division of the British Army that maintains the equipment it uses. Meanwhile, the Think Lifting and Apprenticeship Standard campaigns are entwined in the lifting industry’s battle against an ageing workforce.

I want to emphasise that reality.

Challenge of the century

There remains an overwhelming sense that engaging the next generation is the biggest challenge the association has had to face in its 75-year history, and one it has got to overcome long before the centenary celebrations in 2044. It is no coincidence that two of the ‘big three’ endeavours attached to the latest milestone revolve around young people (and folks leave the military still relatively youthful too). Thus, there were a number of occasions when that generation was referenced in parliamentary reception speeches, and the reaction of the room was interesting; it crackled at times, nervously.

There was forced laughter at one point when a presenter suggested that attendees exemplified an ageing workforce on the day. True enough, look over either shoulder and there were a lot of ageing, white men in the room. The industry is becoming more diverse—a number of young people and women were also in attendance—but it’s got a long way to go. I wonder if in the Great Eastern Hotel back in 1944 they stared at a precipice quite so daunting.

Another speaker tackled prejudices and stereotypes head-on. I paraphrase, but the comments were something along the lines of, we’ve all eye-rolled at the supposed shortcomings of our teenaged relatives. I detected a guilty look or two in the Terrace Pavilion, as though our own attitudes as an industry to younger people could be improved. A lot of LEEA’s initiatives are about making lifting more attractive to them, but we’ve also got to be more attracted to the assets of young professionals too. Paying lip service to this crisis won’t do. Yes, a young person would be lucky to find the lifting industry but we’d be fortunate to have them too.

I read with interest a recent article by Baz Trewhella, LEEA’s learning and development projects specialist, about establishing an apprenticeship standard for the lifting industry. As he discussed, a draft proposal to develop an occupational standard for the provisionally titled ‘Lifting Equipment Technician’ apprenticeship has now been devised, following a meeting of the Trailblazer Working Group (TWG) convened by the association. I welcomed comments that this apprenticeship will have a breadth of scope that ‘taps the shoulder’, as he put it, of the many sectors where lifting is involved. That ubiquity and diversity of lifting gear is a great selling point.

LEEA encouraged attendees to pledge their support to recently launched campaigns

LEEA encouraged attendees to pledge their support to recently launched campaigns

Building bricks

Other trades, such as brick-laying; carpentry; and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) seem to do a better job of presenting themselves to young people; yet, they’re arguably less diverse and challenging. We’ve got to make sure that we promote ourselves better by driving Think Lifting and the Apprenticeship Standard (and the 75:75 Military Transition project) but also tick the boxes other industries do in terms of pay, mentorship, training, career progression, etc.

I was encouraged by LEEA’s comments that the new apprenticeship scheme will be 95% provisioned, meaning small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can’t so readily reach for the excuse that they are unable to afford apprentices. Once an apprentice begins their time at a company, it’s then up to the employer to show the lifting industry for what it is. They can only do that by exposing them to the best parts of the industry and not limit their learning to mundane tasks. LEEA’s marketing campaigns and buzzwords, however worthy, will be futile if industry doesn’t better do its bit to present the lifting industry as a profession that reaches places other jobs cannot access.

It’s a sector that has taken me to some fascinating places over the years: shipyards, construction sites, railways, nuclear plants, dams, power plants, telecom towers, go-ape courses, wind turbine construction plants…even a tiny offshore oil platform. It’s like a VIP backstage pass where you get to see how stuff is built, maintained, upgraded, and dismantled. What other careers can the same be said about? Some jobs only expose an individual to a tiny part of a shipyard, construction site, or railway project. Grumpy cynics would point to the ‘butterfly minds’ of young people. I think a thirst for diversity and variation is only natural. And we can offer it as an industry.

It’s technologically advancing too, which is something we can better portray. Tell someone I work ‘below-the-hook’ and they might not be inspired, but explain that my company’s handheld display unit has a range of up to 700m (2,300ft.), and its software package displays and logs data from up to 100 wireless load cells simultaneously, and all of a sudden it competes with some of the most state-of-the-art markets around. Our ‘traditional’ sector is evolving too. My company’s new single capacity load cell, for example, introduces Bluetooth technology to existing and prospective customers still utilising outdated mechanical force measurement products.

Ongoing feedback suggests we’re at the dawn of the most exciting era in the lifting industry’s history. But it’s also going to be the most challenging.

Dave Mullard
Business Development Manager, Straightpoint

David Ayling (left), aka Mr. Loadlink, was, of course, among attendees at the parliamentary reception.

David Ayling (left), aka Mr. Loadlink, was, of course, among attendees at the parliamentary reception.