The unusual quirks of ten top channel entrepreneurs

Doug Woodburn
clock • 19 min read

Softcat's Martin Hellawell shook hands with all his employees, while QuantIQ's Stuart Fenton listens to music most of the day. We caught up with this duo, as well as eight other channel entrepreneurs, to find out what idiosyncrasies they feel are - or were - crucial to the success of their businesses

‘Every time I arrived at a Softcat office I shook everyone's hand'

Entrepreneur: Martin Hellawell

Credentials: Softcat CEO from 2006 to 2018 (and current non-executive chairman)

Quirks: Question conventional wisdom; shake all employees by the hand

"I'll give you one strategic and one tactical one - both have made a difference.

"I'm a great believer in reading and listening to everything that's going on in the industry and what the trends are.

"But I'm also a believer in often not listening to conventional wisdom and going in the opposite direction. Because the problem with conventional wisdom is everybody goes towards that same place and they leave behind another place that is less fashionable. That's often where the money is, because everyone is going in the opposite direction.

"So, listen to conventional wisdom, but often go the other way. That's definitely something that has served me well. When everyone was trying to get out of reselling, I very much - and I hate this phrase - doubled down on reselling; when everyone was trying to get into enterprise accounts, I very much went the opposite way into SMB accounts, and it served us well as you find less competition in those areas that are less fashionable but are required and the conventional wisdom is often overhyped.

"The second one is a combination of something I've always done myself and something I inherited from [Softcat founder] Peter Kelly. When I visited the Softcat branches, which I tried to do on a regular basis, every time I arrived in an office I went around and shook everyone's hands. Obviously we have a lot of people, so it takes a fair amount of time. I picked that up from working in France for quite a while. It's a normal thing for a businessperson in France to go around and shake everyone's hands. And it gave me time to say hello to people, make a personal contact with them, and pick up a vibe of what is happening in the office. I think that made me much more connected to those people.

"The thing I picked up from Peter Kelly, which I think [current Softcat CEO] Graeme [Watt] picked up from me, is we have a tradition that once a week in the head office the senior person goes around with a massive bucket of sweets - although now more healthy snacks have been added to our bucket. It's nothing to do with the sweets. It's just an icebreaker to talk to everyone in the organisation and have a personal connection. You learn an awful lot and create that personal connection. It takes a lot of time - two hours a week maybe - but it's well worth the investment."

Click onto the next page for Distology's Hayley Roberts' quirks...

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