My story is one of resilience in the face of great business adversity which I am keen to tell with a view to helping others who find themselves at some stage in a commercial career in similar difficulty. Trust me, if you believe in yourself and stick to your own core beliefs, then you too can emerge stronger and more determined to succeed than ever.
The narrative of my challenges began just over ten years ago when I set up a training company based on my own ideas with a £2,000 loan I had borrowed from a friend. Within two years I had grown the business from this very low initial base to one valued at £11 million, employing 70 staff and which had (at this very early stage of its existence) been voted fifth in the Sunday Times’ ‘Best 100 Companies to Work For’ list. Then, through no fault of my own as has subsequently been independently proven, disaster struck. This came from a very unexpected direction, a lesson I encourage all of those reading this page to comprehend. Be prepared for anything!
My troubles started when a single unhappy customer attempted I believe to cause my business harm (at the same time as I was having separate issues with a competitor). I have no idea why, or what this former customer’s motivations were. Completely unbeknownst to me the individual contacted a national newspaper alleging that the training we were delivering at my business, now operating nationally, was sub-standard. Prior to this event the NCFE (originally the Northern Council for Further Education), the industry body responsible for monitoring our training practices, had told us that our work was ‘exemplary’ and ‘outstanding’ in all of their regular monitoring visits. Even after this initial complaint to the media, the NCFE stood by my business and we thought no more of it.
However, not happy with NCFE’s decision that they were confident in our ability to continue delivering the training, the same unhappy customer then went to the press again, this time with a made-up story about a forged signature (again I have no idea why this individual thought it was forged or why they alleged this). This of course wasn’t true, but it didn’t matter, the damage was done and things began to unravel.
Rather than help me deal with this challenging situation, which I believed we could overcome given I knew we were in the right, two of my board members whom I had hired for their expertise resigned. Then the NCFE also turned their back on us, I believe because they believed it would serve them better rather than see out a difficult situation. Finally, and a cause of great personal distress as the negative media built up based on the original, untrue allegations, people I considered my best friends turned their back on me.
Things got worse. Even though, despite the adversity, I continued to believe in my abilities and the business, by the time independent investigators (including the police, trading standards, company investigations, the Skills Funding Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the Insolvency Service) found that I had done absolutely nothing wrong it was too late and the damage was done. I had lost everything I had worked so hard to build up. Matters then continued to deteriorate as more so called friends and former staff went to the press about me and created false social media profiles, something I still don’t understand to this day.
However, I remained resolute. What kept me going throughout what, on reflection after the event, was the worst period of my life, was my absolute belief that the truth would always come out in the end. I had a burning desire to clear my name. The good news now is that after nearly three years my good name has finally been cleared by all authorities and the NCFE are themselves under investigation.
Successful business people say that you are not a true entrepreneur until you have survived failure, no matter how adverse, having learned from your mistakes and come through the other side. That is where I feel I am now, with the experiences detailed above having given me a wealth of knowledge that I am keen to pass onto other entrepreneurs in a mentoring capacity so as to help them avoid or similarly survive such situations.
I’m thankful to my wonderful family, extremely loyal friends and staff that have stood by me through this traumatic process. The whole experience has shaped me into the person I am today, stronger, wiser and more experienced, and with broader shoulders. A true entrepreneur is not so easily defeated and I am now working on some really exciting and successful projects which are keeping me very busy!