My Biggest Mistake: Charles Nasser: I was too much of a loner

Charles Nasser, 29, studied engineering, worked as an IT contractor, took a finance diploma and a business MA and set up ClaraNET, an Internet service provider now with 150 staff, 160,000 customers and a pounds 12m turnover

I NEVER surrounded myself with people who would help me to achieve more, and that was probably my biggest mistake. I was pretty much a lone thinker, and I would only do things I thought I could do on my own. I didn't realise I needed good people, no matter how hard I worked. As a contractor, you are a hired gun, and you're paid to do something relatively simple. The last thing they want is to get to know you. I spent about three years doing almost nothing, travelling the world and living off contracts.

At ClaraNET, I always have an interest in my clients. When you go to business school you learn the dry, boring things about how to structure a team; but it doesn't talk about things such as, `Do you know what their sons' names are?' That has enormous importance, in my opinion. Getting to know your employees creates loyalty and a bond, which means you can work together more quickly. If they're in an environment where they feel confident exchanging ideas, they contribute more. It's now one of my biggest pleasures to see people who work with me succeed.

I always think, are we giving people enough importance? The company is very people-focused. Most of the people I work with have become my friends. When I did the interviews for the first two or three members of staff, I was naturally drawn to people who were more charismatic, and fun to exchange ideas with. The usual nervous candidate in a suit and tie, who's got the CV for it, didn't appeal to me. I now socialise three or four evenings a week with my staff: we are friends and we don't necessarily talk about work.

Our industry is very small and can be incestuous, but the Internet is creating a lot of value. There are a lot of egos, and I can't relate to this in any shape or form.

On the techie level that's not the case: all the techies respect each other because they have a common bond, and I can relate to that. They will become friends. But other people think you are being smart by being distant.

I have a dilemma: with the British and American model of being serious and professional, people assume we are going against it by being close on a personal level. Other companies don't work this way. There's too much at stake. But in a relationship that works like this, you will do something because you like me, because it's worth helping me out. In an acute case, we have had the problem that the person on the other end of the phone doesn't care. You are his customer and he doesn't care.

I feel it is not worth working with people with whom you are not going to have a good relationship.

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