‘A great business leader should surround themselves with able people’
Building a company is a difficult task. Whether starting their own or growing an established business, these leaders have made a name for themselves as some of the best of the best. So, what makes them tick and what are they aiming to achieve when all is said and done? We spoke to Horace McDonald, UK CEO of Scotwork about his journey in business.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenges have arisen when moving jobs and trying to understand new industries, new cultures, and different ways of working. I moved directly from a recorded music business to a music label within a radio station and later moved from a negotiation training and consulting business to a competitor (where I am now employed) with a five-year gap and both were extremely challenging. Despite being older and wiser in the second move, it took me some time to adjust.
As a leader, the key to managing these transitions is communication, having frequent dialogue with experienced and knowledgeable people in the new business, understanding the environment and culture, and working out which areas of the business can and should change, and which shouldn’t. There can be a tendency to try to fix too many things at once; I’ve learned that my dialogue, being flexible in my approach and using third-party experts are all very helpful.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you first started out?
Personally no. I was the first person in my family to go to university and when I started as a graduate trainee, I had the advantage that I’d worked in a number of companies as part of my degree when most of my peers hadn’t. Looking back at this through the eyes of my children, I realise that I had no one I could turn to for advice about any aspects of my career, as neither of my parents worked in professional jobs. In effect, I’ve had to figure out most things myself. There are pros and cons and I’m not so naïve to say that I wouldn’t change things if I could, but things have turned out OK.
Did you always want to be a business leader or did the desire develop over time?
This definitely developed over time. I had few real role models starting out and whilst I had mentors along the way, I had no real concept of what business leadership meant or entailed. All I wanted was to work in a professional company and have a career and make my parents proud of me (a key incentive of children of immigrants).
I suspect that those people who start out wanting to be a business leader are not successful, as you don’t really know until you’re on that journey. For example, I know a number of people who expected to have stellar careers who have achieved far less than this. I would encourage everyone to aim high but to recognise that as you go up the pyramid, the opportunities get tougher and scarcer.
What is your top tip for other business leaders?
To have a core group in the business you can trust and use as a sounding board and have a very clear picture of what you want to achieve and work out how you’re going to get there. Delegate on the basis that you believe in the people who work with you, and possibly the most important is to try to be in listening mode as much as possible, one thing I know I must work at constantly.
What are your plans for the future?
This will be my last job. I have a view on when I’ll stop, but one never knows what’s on the horizon. I am very fortunate that Scotwork is very respectful of age, which is often not the case in most UK businesses and a number of people have extended their careers often by being able to adopt more flexible working practices.
I am working with the team on two very exciting projects this year, which could have a transformative impact on the business in the next two to three years. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been given the chance to implement a number of new initiatives in the business and it will be important for me to see this through.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Someone people enjoyed working with and working for; who helped people develop their careers and sought to act as a guide and a mentor. Someone who was aware of the hierarchical nature of business, but never rammed it down people’s throats. A genuine sounding board, who was prepared to listen, who added value and was supportive of new ideas and initiatives. Someone who puts their people first and gave people the space to grow.
What makes a great business leader?
I am a strong believer in upside-down management. A great business leader should surround themselves with able people, who have different skills and are better than them in a number of areas. Being a leader should be about developing people through guidance, and helping and supporting them to thrive in their careers. Try to make it about them and not you, and make sure you have some fun.