Transcript: Tom Needs – Rackspace (Max#48)


Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.  Brought to you in association with the award winning recruitment group Jenrick.

Welcome back to Episode 48 of the Maximise Potential Podcast.  In this episode we’ve managed to catch up with a Senior International Manager responsible for over 700 customers in excess of 200 staff who are all spread throughout 135 countries. Tom Needs has enjoyed a progressive and extremely rewarding career and in our interview today openly shares his experiences of being a Manager, how he developed his management style, what has personally driven him to progress his career and the importance of finding a working culture that reflected his own personal values. It’s not too often that you have the opportunity to hear a Senior Executive discuss these issues in such depth so please enjoy.


Tom Needs welcome to the Maximise Potential Podcast.

Tom: Thank you it’s great to be here.

Kevin: Tom we are going to go on a career journey with you because you’ve had a great career, an interesting career, a diverse career but you’ve also had the opportunity as well to experience a lot of different work cultures and its helped you understand what cultures work best for you and how you can, I guess how you can bring out the best in you but also the team around you. Why don’t you help us understand what you do, who you work for and I think that will provide an natural starting point for where we are going to go today.

Tom: OK do I work for Rackspace. Rackspace is a, we call it the open Cloud company but we are a managed hosting provider. My responsibility is Director of Enterprise Client Services. What does that mean? It means that I am ultimately responsible for the customer experience of 700 international customers, enterprises effectively. In terms of responsibility it’s responsible for our service delivery teams. So the service managers, our lead technicians, our system admins, our net set teams. So anybody really that is touching from a support and service perspective our customers and helping to create a great experience for those customers. I’m responsible for keeping them loyal, for protecting them against churning and for ultimately kind of growing the revenue across our customer base. So we have 134 countries now with customers in outside of the US so many of those are under my responsibility. So for me it’s being very close to my customers. The closer you are to those customers the more you will understand about what you need to do inside your own business. so any opportunity I have to see the customers is something I grab basically and that does mean sometimes going to Norway or to Sweden or to France wherever it might be to go and see those customers.

Kevin: You just said 700 customers. How big is your team? Your internal team, just out of interest?

Tom: Of course there is 240 people in that team.

Kevin: So there is 240 people in that team again spread internationally. You have just said that from your perspective though you know how important it is to connect with those customers. I am going to ask a couple of things – one what does it give you and two how the heck do you juggle your time?

Tom: So what does it give me? It gives me insight you know it gives me insight into my customers and that’s essential really. If you don’t have customers you don’t have a business and they are the market that we are selling into so I need to understand them. I need to understand what is on their mind, what their concerns are, what their challenges are, understand the threats they are facing in the market and ultimately you know all of those questions lead to this which is how can we help you? What can we do to give you an advantage and.

Kevin: I’m just going to interrupt. I think there will be quite a few people who if they had a team your size would actually delegate that role possibly to them and yet you see that as a real focus for your role.

Tom: For me I like to have undiluted contact with my customers. I think I need to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Kevin: So that direct communication is really important.

Tom: I have a real passion for business. I am fascinated by meeting other people from companies and understanding how their business works. That for me is probably driving like 90% of my desire to be there if I am honest with you. It’s just a learning, understanding. And the more I understand the more I can help them and drive my team to help them.

Kevin: Do you find often that, because I am assuming that the clients who use your services come from a complete diversity of backgrounds. What has surprised you about listening to their needs? What has it taught you? What has it changed within you or within the services that you provide?

Tom: I guess across all of our customers we don’t necessarily target a particular industry or segment or type of customer. But we do have in common with all of them is that their brand and business critical applications that we are supporting for them. So what we are doing whether they are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds with us or tens of thousands of pounds with us, what we are doing for them is as critical as for the next customer. So it is absolutely essential that we keep the focus and maintain great service levels all the time. So that is the kind of common thing that I see that you know it doesn’t matter about the spend or the size of the company what we are doing for them is absolutely critical.

Kevin: I see yes so it doesn’t matter to each of those customers it’s the most important thing in the world.

Tom: Absolutely.

Kevin: Regardless of what they are in your bigger portfolio of customers to them this is critical.

Tom: Absolutely yeah you hit the nail on the head.

Kevin: Yeah and yet by having that contact with them it helps to remind you that they are actually a person with a business that relies entirely on your technology.

Tom: Yeah that’s exactly it. And we talked earlier about connecting with my job that is what it’s about. It is really about you know I need to feel like I have a purpose. You know purpose every day with my team you know serving my team and my customers but purpose in this world. Obviously I have a purpose for my wife and my kids but you know I need to think bigger than that and understand actually how much I’m benefiting the planet going really big. And I think about it in terms of by doing my best every day, by my team doing their best every day for their customers. We are basically ensuring that their applications, their businesses are running. They are able in turn to serve their customers. That means they can get money coming in which means they can employ people which means that those employed people can then put food on their table and have shelter. It’s those kind of basic things that I map back to my purpose every day. That’s what gets me up every morning basically.

Kevin: And we were even referring to hierarchy of new people.

Tom: Absolutely yeah it is those basic things. It is the lowest foundation that I feel like I am actually you know shelter and food basically that is what I feel I can do by giving my all every day. Is make sure people can actually have those basic things and hopefully some more of the unessential things as well.

Kevin: By keeping that understanding real how do you think it impacts you personally?

Tom: You know it connects it, it allows me to connect to my customers. I feel emotionally attached to them. When we talk about the Rackspace spirit of fanatical support it is about I think the most succinct way of putting it is it is about treating our customers businesses as if they are our own without understanding them, without connecting to them and without relating to them in some way, I don’t know how we can do that to the best of our abilities.

Kevin: Do you think it’s these subtleties that actually differentiate a great company from an average company?

Tom: Absolutely agree with that it is the small things that distinguish you. It’s good to be different and it’s about all of those little things that make you different. You know there are lots of other managed hosting companies out there. There really are. IT is not synonymous for great service so Rackspace we pride ourselves on being different, we pride ourselves on differentiating around fantastic fanatical customer support. That is the differentiate basically.

Kevin: While we are on this subject when I was doing my research for this I was astounded to find out that people in Rackspace call themselves Rackers.

Tom: Yeah we are all Rackers at Rackspace.

Kevin: What does that mean and where did all of that come from?

Tom: Well it’s the culture of the company so it’s not something that has been invented Rackspace culture. We’ve done it really because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about, I’ll try and start at the beginning so we believe that fanatical support which is what we go to market with, which is what we believe is differentiating us. That is created out of engaged Rackers. So engaged Rackers, I know it sounds crazy, but engaged Rackers it’s about actually hiring the right people to start with, hiring against our cultural values and for fit. We believe that we can actually give people the hard skills whether it is technical qualification or a project management qualification. We can do that. We actually have a university on site to be able to do these sorts of things and train people there. And many of the kind of management skills as well. But you can’t train people in attitude. You can’t train people in value so that is the starting point for everything.

It is then about actually creating an environment where people feel engaged and want to come to work and can be themselves. And can really you know they are not putting a different coat on as they come into the office they are actually you know their work life, their home life is kind of blurred they are the same person. They don’t have to put their own values under tension every day because this really is about kind of treating people like friends and family which sometimes means a bit of tough love as well but that is one of our core values is friends and family.

So it is about kind of creating an environment where people can come and work, feel themselves, dress how they want. We organise the office around the services and the customers we support so you have proximity to your customers. And we remove every opportunity for obstacles getting in the way with our customer interaction. So everyone feels they can do their best they don’t feel frustrated by things. We have systems that are central to everybody. So you can always get information on any customer at any given time regardless of who you are which is great. Which again means there are fewer obstacles in being able to help your customers. And we empower people so people can do their best for the customers. We don’t tell them where the line should be drawn necessarily. That is a very empowering thing you know people will go what more can I do for you and that’s something you don’t often hear when you are on the receiving end of an IT service.

Kevin: I was just going to, I hope you don’t mind me interrupting but that has touched on nicely because I wanted to know what does fanatical mean? You keep using it that is obviously a core value of? And for people who don’t realise why we are going down this route one thing I was very keen to understand from today’s interview is about how dynamic this culture because we can guarantee that there are an awful lot of companies trying desperately to create their own unique culture. To create something that is more than just physically the product or the service that they deliver. Over at Rackspace you are doing that. You guys are living it and the fact that the people in the company want to call themselves Rackers is you know the biggest label that you can ever imagine. Something is going right there and that’s why I think the more we can explore this the more we can all learn from it.

Tom: Absolutely. So we are super proud to call ourselves Rackers by the way. It is not something that we kind of.

Kevin: I hope you don’t mind but it just sounds strange from an outside perspective.

Tom: No I completely understand. When I came into Rackspace two years ago, actually two years ago to the day, I remember thinking wow this is something quite different actually.

Kevin: Fanatical.

Tom: It is fanatical. But what is fanatical? Well most succinctly put it is about treating your customers business like your own but it’s about a series of kind of attitudes that you display, it’s about being resourceful, it’s about going above and beyond at every opportunity. It’s about being responsive. It’s about being great at communicating to your customers as well, kind of keeping them informed. Its lots of different things. It’s difficult to put your finger on exactly.

Kevin: And the one thing I am going to say now is lots of companies say that but it sounds like you guys are delivering on it and this is why I am going to ask you because you even said earlier yeah we don’t recruit on a skill basis we recruit on an attitude basis. So how does that translate from being something written down saying you know what here it is here’s the bible go enjoy it, live by this, how does it actually happen? How do you think it happens? How does it happen for you?

Tom: So how do we actually get people to be fanatical?

Kevin: Yeah.

Tom: Okay so this is what you do. So we celebrate fanatical behaviour. So we call it out, we identify it, we recognise it. Every month we have which is the most kind of sought after trophy within Rackspace, we have the fanatic of the month nomination. But really what this is the Rackers have voted the weeks before on who they think is the fanatic of the month by displaying fanatical behaviour. That person, there is runners up, but that person ultimately wins the opportunity to put on the sacred fanatical straight jacket. So if you go to our website you will see people of pictures in a straight jacket saying ‘fanatic of the month’. And that is the best possible thing to create other fanatics because you are actually showing them what good looks like. They are reinforcing their behaviour, we are celebrating success and it comes with a huge amount of kudos.

Kevin: And where do people get the confidence to as you said, fanatical means something different to everybody, where do people get the confidence to be themselves with that, to express their own way of being fanatical?

Tom: Yeah it’s about personal empowerment really. If everyone feels value, everyone feels like they have a purpose, they feel empowered to do the best that they possibly can. Everyone wants to do their best. I mean very few people actually don’t want to do their best and then you are giving them the ability to do it and you are recognising them when they do do their best and go above and beyond to delight a particular customer. That is how it comes to be and how other people know what fanatical looks like and how to copy it. And also we hold each other to account as well.

Kevin: May I take you back. You haven’t always worked, where did it all start for you?

Tom: Went to school, went to a great school, went to Hampton Boys School. Left there at 16 thinking I knew best to what to do with my life and went to a sixth form college. So dropped out of a very, very privileged education actually and went to a sixth form college, local college. I had an amazing time there, met some of my best friends there. Admittedly didn’t do much work if I’m honest with you. And my A Level results were certainly evidence of the lack of work that I did. And then after sixth form college I remember my mum’s reaction when I gave her my A Level results she was just silence, absolute silence. Decided I was going to go travelling for a bit. And went round Thailand with a good mate of mine for a number of months and I remember coming back having had moments of clarity sitting on beaches, probably drinking Singer Beer with my friend that I was not going to go to university. And I remember telling my mum and dad pretty much the same day I got back I’m not going to go to university I’m actually instead going to make my money and my career by playing bass in a band. I had always played bass in bands, I was a reasonable bass player, I still play bass today. And my mum and dad brilliant, as a parent now I look at what they did and it was quite amazing they literally, they just completely got under my psyche and they said that’s fine Tom good decision well done. Just so you know the rent here for food and board is £65 a week and we need paying in advance and you know until you have a job and you can pay that you know it is going to be quite difficult you need to think about getting a job now. And this was probably I was 24 hours off a plane having spent 4 or 5 months travelling around never getting out of a pair of flip flops and I realised pretty much immediately that the prospect of going to university seemed a lot more appealing than going out getting a job and starting to pay some rent. It was brilliant. Yeah never looked back actually. I remember the first day actually at university in a room with my fellow students and being asked does anyone not really know much about computers. I was one of probably two people out of about 120 that stuck their hands up and said me. And yeah I genuinely you know I’d had a BBC Micro as a kid but hadn’t really thought about computers since that point. So that was the start of my career in IT effectively.

But what really, really pricks my interest was the particular module around human computer interaction. So actually understanding how humans interact with computers which kind of made me think a lot about interface design and the future of computers. And we talked then about the convergence of media which was really inspiring. You know basically the lecturer was talking about how one day everything would just come through one channel i.e. the television. You will be able to surf the internet on it, you’ll be able to do your shopping on it, all this stuff, buy movies. And he was absolutely right. This was back in 95, I mean the guys a visionary. So 18 years ago now. And that was really inspiring but also a module particularly on the business application of IT. So that’s when I realised that actually I really am interested in business. Really fascinated by business and understanding how IT, particularly because it was getting very interesting at that point with kind of the infancy of the internet that I realised the power of IT and how that could really enable businesses.

Kevin: Go on what did you see?

Tom: It was just how IT can allow companies to focus on their strategy; you know there is no point, why do you focus on IT when you are a manufacturing firm, focus on manufacturing. This should help your business not hinder your business. So I can’t say probably any more detailed than that it was just more generally that wow this was amazing.

Kevin: But actually seeing the impact of putting IT into business, what it can leverage a business to achieve.

Tom: Exactly that whether its making people’s lives easier giving them a competitive advantage, getting them to market quicker whatever it might be, that was fascinating.

Kevin: So took away the theory and actually said hang on this stuff is real, this stuff actually makes a difference and its things like that has very much flavoured your direction ever since.

Tom: Absolutely that yeah. So I’m probably more of a business person than I am an IT person because it’s the business that really interests me but the IT is what’s enabling that business. And even more so now. So we talked about my connection with my job and how I think about it almost like I’m putting food on people’s plates but by doing a good job every day I’m keeping people’s businesses running. Now with the Cloud coming about now you know this big buzz word everyone is talking about it, I think it’s even more meaningful to me now because I really feel that this is one of the most significant periods in our history of human beings. You know the industrial revolution for example probably the most previous kind of significant period where evidenced by the life expectancy of people going from about 30 – 40 years to about 80 years in the space of probably 100 years which is an amazing thing isn’t it. Cloud is of the same magnitude of importance to the human race I really believe so.

Kevin: And you are going to have to explain in what way because to a naive person like me all it is, is just saying I don’t need to have to worry about storage locally. But it sounds like there is an awful lot more to it.

Tom: Yeah I think there is and I would love to hear this recording in 10 years time and I’ll probably laugh at what I am saying now. But going forward 30 – 40 years grandchildren bouncing them on my knee I think I would talk proudly about being part of this period of our history. And being part of it in one of two companies that are leading it which is Amazon and Rackspace in terms of Cloud. I think what is really interesting for us as human beings is the advantage this will give us. But for me it is about actually thinking of the power of this and give you a couple of examples so the cost of researching the human geno was 98% cheaper in 2012 than it was the year before simply due to Cloud computing.

Kevin: 98%.

Tom: That’s what I hear, that’s what Lou Morman our President told us and he’s on the Board of a geno research company. And that’s really because these kind of research projects they need IT infrastructure to be set up to be bought, to be served and that’s very expensive. It’s very time consuming. With the Cloud you can speed things up exceptionally quickly. You can turn them off when you are not using them. You can take advantage of enormous compute power for minutes. You know if you wanted that compute power for minutes and it was your own business you would never be able to afford it. So for me it is about actually using that compute power to speed up innovation because you can turn things on very quickly, you can turn them off very quickly. That then in turn gives people business advantage because they can get to market quicker. It means that they are looking at multiple different ideas rather than just one idea. So they can back lots of different horses when they are thinking about the progression of their own business. It’s about, another example Sacern where they are actually shooting the atoms around the ether of the Swiss countryside to discover the makings of the planet. So they use openstack and they use it because they need that compute power and it’s allowing them to do the bigger, the faster calculations that they need to do to make sense of all of the data they are collecting. And that’s a really, really powerful thing. So for me I do think the Cloud could be critical to the success of us as human beings. I think it can really change the way we are. I think we could find the cure for Cancer, we could understand how the universe is made up and what we, we can advance individual businesses can advance their products; it can advance their services which is going to make the world a better place. We can use the compute power to think about how we design things more efficiently, how we can make better use of resources, how we can use less electricity for example. How to manage the National Grid in a more efficient way. That all takes compute power and the compute power is there today with mainframes, with physical infrastructure. Of course it is there but it is prohibitive because you need so much of it to actually get the same results as Cloud. You can just switch it on and switch it off. Burst into it if you need to, withdraw when you don’t. I think this is a critical period in our history. I am really proud to be part of that.

Kevin: Definitely I can tell that and that’s why I am actually going to turn this a bit more back to you. Tell me about when you started on your career journey how you went about shaping yourself, becoming who you are now. How did you, what were the, everybody has got key chapters, key stories that helped them learn more about who they were. What are some of yours?

Tom: For me there was a period of my career where I had left a very fast pace digital agency and I had moved into a Tender. A great company we talked about before but it was in a role that was comfortable. It was in a role that was reasonably back office. It was a role that didn’t really matter if what I got done tomorrow didn’t happen tomorrow. It was a kind of an internally focussed role. And it really made me itch all over. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I was just unsatisfied. And I realise what it is looking back now it was about completely being in my comfort zone and the reason I left the Tender was because I was back in the comfort zone and I needed to push myself out. I know that the more uncomfortable I feel the more I’m actually developing that’s kind of growing pains. That’s the way I look at it. When I’m feeling oh my god I don’t know quite what I am doing here or I don’t want to do something that is probably the time, and I recognise it now, that I need to seize it with both hands and take the opportunity to do it. And that’s I recon looking back is when I’m actually growing and developing the most.

Kevin: How do you feel when you have grabbed those reigns?

Tom: Terrified as I’m grabbing them and doing it but so good afterwards looking back feeling like gosh I’ve just done that, I’ve just done that. I know that happens on many different levels but no it’s a fantastic feeling.

Kevin: What else I guess are the key parts that have helped propel you down your career path and helped shape you in the direction you have gone in?

Tom: I’ve always been very driven there was a period when I was at college which we have talked about as well, I don’t think I was particularly driven, but I think I’ve always wanted to know what’s next. I’ve always wanted to progress in whatever role I’ve been in. And I’ve always looked at the next role and been aiming for that while I’ve been doing my current role. So I’ve always been very, very driven like that.

Kevin: Why is that?

Tom: I just think, well we use strengths finder at Rackspace which is a gallop owned product that basically looks at individuals and assesses their strengths. So I have achiever as my top one, strength. And what that means is that I am someone who writes lists of things down, I cross them off, I need to get things done day in day out. I sometimes even write things down that I’ve already done so that it’s on the pad just so I can cross it off. I know it sounds crazy but I get that sense of achievement from it. So for me it’s about being driven. I think also I’ve also had a fear that I, I think not doing as well as I should have done at A Levels I always have a fear that I’m catching up and that drives me forward, I have something to prove to myself. But also it’s about doing the best for my family. You know I want to provide for them in the best possible way. You know I’ve got two kids, I’ve got a lovely wife and I want to make sure that I’m not worrying about and they’re not worrying about things. So you know in terms of financial things or whatever it might be so it’s about pushing yourself ahead and doing the right thing for them. But it’s also day in day out driving to do the right thing for our customers and my team as well. So I’ve always believed that I am, it is a very American expression but in terms of servant leadership, so I believe that I am there to make my teams life easier basically. So whether that’s a blocker of things coming in, identifying things that will make their lives easier, facilitating things. So that’s the way I think about it. I am there to support my team rather than them being there to support me.

Kevin: I have to say to actually compliment that when obviously I was prepping for our interview today I was fascinated with the volume of feedback that you’d had from people you have worked with over the years. What I noticed was so many of them kept using the word motivation or motivated associated with you whether it was you personally or whether it was about how you motivate teams around you.

Tom: In terms of the team it is about understanding your team and understanding individually what motivates people I think. I wouldn’t suggest that I do this particularly well actually. I think it is something I would love to spend more time learning about but I think the only way you are going to harness the power of your team is by looking at them as a collective and looking at them individually at the same time. Some of my early learning’s in management is where I actually got that balance from. Which is where I treated everyone the same. You have to have standards and you have to have consistency but everybody is an individual so you need to adapt your method with people individually. But it’s an area I still know I can work on more.

Kevin: Just talk a bit more about when you took the standard approach and when it didn’t go right.

Tom: I mean it was, I can’t even remember the specifics but I remember it was certainly probably about seven or eight years ago in my career and I tried to apply one thing across everybody but you know everybody had different needs and thoughts about what we were trying to do. It really was a kind of eye opener for me in terms of kind of balancing the individual with the team. And getting that right is difficult, it is an art, I wouldn’t suggest that I do it right all the time. You can ask my team they will tell you I don’t do it right all the time. But it was kind of a real start of learning for me because actually I ended up upsetting all of the team, well most of them anyway because I tried to do it with a blanket approach and I should have tackled it individually.

Kevin: Well I’m going to guess and say I can see some logic for doing it that way because its one team with one clear purposes. You are assuming that the people in the team will pretty much have a similar skill set and a similar job to execute so I’m guessing that was probably the reasoning behind your treating them as a collective.

Tom: Yes.

Kevin: But it’s not as simple as that.

Tom: No it wasn’t not in terms of the messaging and getting people to buy into it. Absolutely that had to be done on an individual level so that everyone felt that they were party, they were part of that decision making process.

Kevin: And without getting into content, without getting into people, you’ve said about adapting messages. What have you learnt then in yourself to adapt your messages? Are you able to give an example of how you change your communication to help everybody?

Tom: I think as a leader of lots of people you need to be able to paint a picture of the future, of the vision. And that’s very, very high level but then you need to make sure that it means something to every individual. So if we’re heading in a certain direction everybody needs to know and you need to make it specific to those people whether that’s me doing it, whether it’s my managers doing it. You have to actually make it specifically about that person and so your part to play on this journey is this and this is what I’m expecting from you. So making it very tangible and real to them so that they can then understand their part, their purpose in the overall vision. So they can relate to it, they understand it, they understand what the importance of their role is in the overall bigger picture. Of course they need to up to a point need to understand what the other moving parts are in whatever we are doing and how they are going to be interacting but it’s about kind of making it very clear to people what their part is specifically. It’s a very, it’s a cliché isn’t it, well not a cliché I’m thinking of the Kennedy visit to Cape Canaveral and I think I am probably mangling this expression but when he asked this person cleaning the tarmac he said what are you doing? And he said I’m putting a man on the moon and that was the response from the person grooming the tarmac. It’s that sort of thing. It’s about kind of making sure that everyone understands their part, their role is critical and is part of a bigger picture.

Kevin: So it’s big, small but then feeding it back to big.

Tom: Exactly.

Kevin: So its here’s where we are going. Then this is what I need you to do as part of this and by doing this, this is what’s going to happen as a result.

Tom: Absolutely.

Kevin: How does that impact results both short term and long term by spending that extra bit of time?

Tom: I think it only ever impacts them positively. Short term and long term. I think sometimes you can take a little bit longer to get to decisions because you’re working with people to agree them and run things by consensus a little bit. Long term with everyone bought into a decision, everyone commenting in one direction, acting as one team that’s a massively powerful thing. It actually means there is a much more fighting chance of you actually achieving the outcome that you are looking for.

Kevin: You said earlier that you are very much a person who will write things down, tick them off looking for progression all the time. How do you breakdown your forward planning if you want to call it that, how does that work for purely you as an individual?

Tom: I’ve done career development planning and personal development planning whatever you want to call it and I’ve seen every different template under the sun. I’ve actually created my own template now which is really, really holistic way of looking at it and it’s about what outcomes do I want to achieve. And I look at it from a personal perspective and I look at it from a professional perspective. So what does success look like? And personally that could be I want a happy and healthy family, I want to have a lovely holiday once a year, I want to make sure I’ve got a secure future for my family, I want to make sure that I’m seeing my friends more, I’m playing my bass again even. So that is kind of on a personal thing. On a professional side it could be I want to achieve certain goals. I typically wont attach a title to it because I think that’s misleading but I will say I want a role that is doing this, this, this and this and actually get very descriptive about that role. So really kind of visualising the outcomes that you want. And then I kind of break it down another layer in terms of the things I need to be working on whether it’s kind of competencies, whether its industry knowledge. And I remember I’m trying to think of it now on the far right I actually have one box which is called being a better human. So it is kind of looking at it massively holistically. And then I try and break it down on a level below and actually try and put some time. What specific things should I be doing to become more industry aware, to become a better public speaker perhaps, to become a better coach, to become a better mentor and actually try and map those into specific objectives. And then I will put that in a time bound way so actually map it out over one to two years.

Kevin: How long have you taken this approach because I guess it would have been refined, redefined all the time, and is it ongoing or?

Tom: Actually I carry it around with me in my bag all the time.

Kevin: Really.

Tom: Yes I’ll show you afterwards if you like but I think it is something that I refer to a lot because there is no point planning and then just sticking it in the draw. It is something that is evolving all the time. It is something that hopefully I am making progress on all the time. And I think that even if I am not getting kind of the opportunities you know if it’s the next level, if it’s this, if it’s that, even if they are not happening I still feel like I’m progressing because I’m actually learning more because I’m ticking the things off in terms of I’m getting the coaching skills, getting the mentoring skills, getting the business knowledge all that sorts of stuff. So I feel like I’m progressing myself even if it hasn’t necessarily created rewards. So for me I know that I am then on the right path. I am definitely on the road to other things happening, better things happening.

Kevin: I mean you’ve said that it gives you a sense of progression. You can tick things off and you’ve said how that is so important for you ticking things off. But what else does having that we will call it a bible do for you?

Tom: It keeps me focussed holistically on my priorities. You know it really makes me, reminds me of what I hold dear. You know there are some things on that plan that will never change. You know it’s about having a loving, healthy, happy family to be honest. That is probably one of the key things I think and it’s such a cliché thing to say but it’s massively important. I have a very high pressured job that I could spend 25 hours a day in the office literally because there is more work to do, there are more customers to serve you know there is always stuff to do there is never a quiet period it is 24/7. But to me it keeps me anchored, it keeps me anchored in terms of you know this is what I’m about. These are the important things for me and that’s why I reflect on it a lot and do you know it is good to self reflect so I am not someone I don’t think who walks around with a big head in an arrogant fashion but I think self reflection is massively important because you need to understand where your gaps are. And actually sometimes it’s not worth filling the gaps it’s actually worth understanding where your strengths are and majoring on your strengths as well. It’s just a different way of looking at it I think. So I look at it regularly.

Kevin: I was just going to touch on that and say when do you find that time for self reflection is it a specific time that you give yourself or is it?

Tom: Interesting. Right so I reflect all the time. I always think I could have done that better, I wish I had done that differently. I’m far from being a finished article if I’m honest with you. That’s how I feel. I feel there is so much more that I can do to be better at everything that I do. So I snatch those moments, you know in the car etc. But for me actually I’m a keen runner so one of the few times I actually get to be alone with my thoughts is when I’m running. So you know I’ve run marathons and things like that and I find I get into a state of mind which is very healthy for me when I’m running in terms of not only feeling great once I’ve run but it’s almost like meditation for me. I feel like all I am is left alone with my thoughts and that’s really, really good for reflection. And actually kind of getting clarity on things as well.

Kevin: So it’s almost like just getting rid of the noise, the clutter of the daily to do list or?

Tom: Yeah I’ve done yoga before which is quite interesting I don’t know if you’ve ever done it, you have that ten minutes at the end of yoga where you unwind and you lie there and relax. In my mind I’m lying there doing my to do list. Running is different for me I literally my mind just disappears somewhere else and it’s in a higher place probably out of boredom because let’s face it running is pretty boring if you are doing it for any distance or any amount of time. And I think to combat that my mind just disappears off into much more philosophical reflective lucid state. I get my best moments of clarity when I’m running. I don’t always realise it at the time but then I can realise that I actually got a few things of actually being solved during that time. So I’m a big believer that the brain even if you are not consciously thinking is actually thinking and solving problems in the background. If you are going to sleep with a problem you quite often wake up with a solution. And I really believe that it is doing a lot more than you are actually consciously aware of.

Kevin: What sort of questions do you ask yourself?

Tom: Where can I do better that’s probably one of the biggest questions I ask myself, one of the most frequent questions I ask myself? You know what could I have done to have done that differently or to have changed the outcome. What do I want out of life? I think I ask that quite a bit in terms of you know, and that helps me then go back to my personal development plan, am I pushing it in the right direction. I mean Stephen Covy, I think it was Stephen Covy, I know it is easy to quote people but he talked about the kind of the funeral speech where basically you picture yourself at your funeral and you are hearing someone talk about you and I do that. And I think gosh am I, I don’t want to be known as someone who is never around always at work etc. So that keeps me very conscious about what is really important to me which is friends and family and doing my best every day for my team and for my customers. So I ask that question a lot. What I can do different, what do I want to be. So quite philosophical stuff.

Kevin: I’m going to start drawing this to a close.

Tom: Okay.

Kevin: What I do want to know is what do you find most fulfilling about your role?

Tom: Oh that’s a great question I think its people really. I love dealing with people every day whether its people in my customers, my teams. I absolutely love that I get the most joy from hearing about people’s success. So we recently had a guy who has been in the business probably about a year and a half and we have a mechanism where our colleagues, this is different from the fanatic of the month, but where our technical colleagues basically vote for tech of the quarter. And that tech of the quarter actually gets a bonus but it’s voted for by their peers. And this guy was appointed tech of the quarter yesterday and you know just to say to him I heard the news I’m really, really delighted for you absolutely thrilled for you in fact and just seeing his face, seeing how happy he was that made everything worthwhile. Everything worthwhile so seeing that success in people, seeing people thrive, seeing people enjoy themselves that’s really what it’s about.

Kevin: My final question today as regular listeners of the Podcast know I like to leave everybody with a takeaway, almost something central to you that they can put into their life. What would that piece of advice be that you would like to share with the audience?

Tom: Something I always come back and I think it’s probably my Gran told me or whatever it is but its treat people how you would want to be treated. And that’s so simple but it can drive some good behaviour I think as a manager. It can drive some great behaviour with customers. It’s just always put yourself in someone else’s shoes and I think that will keep you pretty much on the straight and narrow.

Kevin: Tom Needs I would like to thank you very much in deed for coming on the Maximise Potential Podcast today.

Tom: My pleasure it has been really great talking to you actually. Thank you.

Kevin: Thank you.


Kevin: As I mentioned at the beginning of our interview it is a rare opportunity to hear a senior executive talk so openly in such depth and with so much passion about their career, role and organisation. Instead of drawing on several points from Tom’s interview I’ve chosen just one – purpose. This was a word that Tom referred back to several times throughout the interview expressing how important it was for him to understand his own purpose and how that gave meaning to why he at the most basic level got up each day and gave his best. Out of interest I wonder how many of us have given much thought about our own purpose or the purpose of our role at work. It would be an interesting exercise to undertake and to even involve your team within. Tom Needs it was a pleasure to have you on the Podcast and thank you very much for sharing so much with us.

So a couple of brief updates before I finish today. Following on from our last episode which featured Vanessa Vallely in about a week from now on Wednesday March 20th Jenrick has organised an event called ‘Women in Business Step up and be Heard’ which is being co hosted between Vanessa and Kay White who you all remember from Episode 14 of the Podcast. The evening event starting at 6pm at the Tower Hotel in London has been specifically tailored to help women progress their careers in the corporate world. There are just a few places still remaining so please see the show notes for details on how to contact Jenrick and reserve your place. Also there is an excellent article on the Jenrick blog regarding job interviews – who’s interviewing who – which will give any hiring manager an alternative perspective on how to approach their job interviews.

Okay that is all for today I’m going to leave you all with a track from Xerxes music to finish with as I always do and this one is called ‘Cleopatra’.  Please enjoy and we will be back very soon with another episode from Maximise Your Potential. Thank you.


Interview transcription kindly provided by “AP Transcription” – for more details, please contact:

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!