Me And My Partner: Different but definitely equal

Colin Shaw and David Ive, a finance specialist, formed the customer experience consultancy Beyond Philosophy in 2001. Last year, turnover was £4m
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Colin Shaw

I treated school as a social club and didn't work very hard. Consequently, I left with no qualifications. This has motivated me ever since to prove that I am not stupid.

It has driven me to work harder and to educate myself. I'm a great believer in self-improvement. I read a lot of business books and listen to audio tapes in the car. I'm one of those people who take a management tome on holiday with them.

My first job was at Mars as a distribution salesman. It was the first time I realised that I actually could have a career and be good at things.

I then moved to BT where I set my sights on becoming a general manager. I was realistic. I didn't expect to be chairman, but general manager looked achievable. I sat down and worked out a plan to achieve that; what I needed to do and when I needed to do it by. I spent a few years in various different parts of the business and ended up as director of customer experience.

Having that broad business experience enabled me to become an all-round business person. It means I can look at the market from all those different perspectives.

After 18 months, I began to realise that life is about the journey, not the destination. I reached a destination and thought, is this it? I began thinking about going it alone. I'd known David for several years so I went to speak to him about it.

David is critical to the company and it is the ideal marriage. Our target market is blue-chip companies. I understand how they work, the internal politics and structures, but what I don't understand is how to run a small business. It requires a different skill set. David's background is exactly that. He's run several small businesses over the past 30 years and advised many more. He's the classic entrepreneur with a practical, small company background.

David is very enthusiastic. The glass is always half full and he exudes confidence and knowledge. He is my wise old owl - although he probably won't like me using the word old!

We do different things in the office. David looks at all the finances, administration, human resource procedures, perhaps the less glamorous but no less critical areas. I tend to be the front man, talking to clients and establishing the relationships with the large companies.

We talk on the phone every day. We are constantly running ideas past one another and discussing projects.

We do sometimes disagree - I'd like to meet two business partners that don't. We will talk it through and we tend to defer to each other's areas of expertise. I will have a view on finances for example, but I am prepared to take a step back and accept that David knows more about it than I do. I believe that is right. You need people to express contrary views; you need that debate to make sure that the decision you are just about to make is robust. If you employ everybody in your own image, you end up with a team that has all the same weaknesses.

David Ive

I've always been very interested in harnessing ideas. Ideas create the opportunities, but they have to be managed and controlled. A lot of start-ups fail because although they have the ideas, the marketing skills and the product, they don't have the financial knowledge.

I've always said that I would not work for somebody else all my life. I set up a company in the early Eighties which ran successfully for about four years and then we sold it off. I was left with a reasonable amount of money but no job, so I set up my own financial consultancy. I've always been interested in the finance side and it has figured more in my life as the years have passed.

Colin and I have been friends for years. I knew he worked for BT and had done for a number of years, but I didn't know about his professional side in great depth.

The business side only came up about three years ago. He came to see me and told me about his idea for the business and wanted some advice on getting a business plan together. I thought his idea was fantastic - a clear winner.

The more we talked, the more we realised that it would be beneficial if I was formally involved. I had no hesitation in joining him. Officially, I'm not full-time as I still have some consultancy clients, but I am running those down. Looking at the hours I work, you wouldn't know that I wasn't full-time.

Colin is very good at what he does. He is totally focused and totally committed. If he has a task to achieve, no matter what it is, he will focus on it completely. He can even be too focused sometimes, to the potential detriment of other issues.

We don't agree on everything. It's not a perfect world, but we don't have stand-up arguments. We sometimes have long discussions as to the right course of action to take, but that's healthy as far as I'm concerned.

Colin comes from a large corporate environment, working alongside hundreds of people. In those types of business environments, you take a decision and then it is handed on to someone else.

I've been able to help him get to grips with starting a business where there isn't that facility. We can win all the customers in the world, but if we don't take full and personal responsibility for servicing them properly, invoicing them on time, getting our costs correct, we may as well not bother.

He brings with him the big corporate strategy, and there are good things to be learnt from that. I am bringing 30 years of very hands-on, practical experience.

I'm not just involved in the finance side. I have a much wider brief. I'm into human resources, health and safety, training, marketing. In a large corporation, they have whole departments devoted to those issues. I hope we will too, eventually. We are in daily contact with one another. We usually have a conversation at about 8am and then again in the evening, but in between we may just get on with our own projects. He doesn't need to ask me what jobs I'm working on or what bills I'm paying, the same way that I don't need to know precisely what he's doing at any given time. We've known each other for a long time, but we're not in each other's pockets. I've got a lot of admiration for him and our relationship has grown stronger since we began working together.