What does a typical day look like for the boss of the near-£700m reseller?
How do you typically start a working day?
The alarm goes off at 6am unless I'm going somewhere other than our Marlow HQ or our London office. Then a quick shower, except if I'm going for a pre-work swim which I do two or three times a week. I'll let the dogs out for a sniff around the garden and then I'm off. I get breakfast at our office, which is also an opportunity to chew the fat with some of our employees and find out what they're up to. It's a nice relaxed start to the day.
How long is your commute and what do you do during it?
The drive to Marlow takes about 50 minutes. I mainly have BBC 6 Music on the radio, with a light smattering of talkSPORT for the football news. Inevitably I'm thinking about the day ahead. The day's schedule is already in my mind, so I'll have a ponder about what we hope to get done, what the current priorities are, and anything new that needs to be addressed or kicked off.
Where do you sit in the office?
Nobody at Softcat has an office, so Martin and Graham (CFO) and I all sit on the main sales or business operations floor. If we're in another Softcat office we'll hotdesk like everyone else. This level of accessibility has fantastic benefits that work for everyone in the company, and I don't think I could work any other way.
What is your firm's attitude to flexible working?
Our company thrives on great people working collaboratively to produce great results for our customers and partners, and we like to ensure that there's a sense of energy in our offices every day. Everyone who visits a Softcat office enthuses about the buzz. So I'd say that flexible working has its uses when applied appropriately. Like most things.
What do you do for the bulk of a typical day?
A mixture of scheduled meetings with Softcat staff and vendors, informal catch-ups, reactive stuff on anything from specific customer opportunities to off-the-cuff ideas and discussions. I set myself a target of having at least three customer meetings a week which take precedence over everything else. I also check Twitter now and then, and the CRN website (yes, really!), for news.
What would your colleagues say is your worst habit?
A fixation with spelling and grammar errors, especially in candidate letters and CVs. I get disproportionately outraged by a "hope your well Colin" email. Other than that, in hay fever season it would be my constant sneezing and sniffing.
If there was one thing you could change about your business, what would it be?
I'm tempted to say something like ‘guaranteed results', but then where would the fun be? So it's probably - as we have over 1,000 employees now - the ability to remember every single person's name. Failing that, a quick way for me to digest the constantly changing technology world just enough to sound credible in conversations with customers and partners.
How do you unwind at the end of the day?
I generally have about 20 minutes at my desk after most people have gone home just to tidy things up so I can forget about specific work tasks on the way home. Then I get in my car and stick the radio on again. I'll have a quick call with Mrs B just to catch up on the day at some stage of the journey, then spend the rest of the time thinking about nothing in particular. Which is often when the best ideas come!
Do you ever have a proper day or week off with no contact with the office?
Not really, but that's my choice, not an obligation.
What quotation best sums up your approach to business?
There isn't one quotation, but I'm still very much taken with phrases and approaches I learned many years ago from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Jim Collins' Good to Great books. I've read hundreds of business books since, but these two are the best by some distance. Begin with the end in mind...
Colin Brown is managing director of Softcat