The luxury of choice

Sunday 28th August 2011 - Posted in Business
By Rob Wilmot, ex CTO of Fresserve and Director at BCS Digital.

A few evenings ago I helped unload a 747. We’ll come back to this.

I consider myself a lucky man. After exiting Freeserve, once the trade sale was done, I was suddenly given the luxury of choice. And I made what some people think was a rather odd one, I moved back to Doncaster, to the town where I was born. My rationale was very clear to me; I wanted to make a difference. Some people call it giving back, others social and civic responsibility. But I suppose it’s easy to say that with money in the bank.

This isn’t a blog listing the contributions I’ve made to the development and growth of Doncaster, but it’s about success. Real success – success that matters.

Nearly three years ago I was asked by the local authority to take a look to see if I could offer any advice on how to help Doncaster College. It was failing badly. Over a period of a few months I became chair of the college corporation; the grand name for a board of governors. After nearly three years, the college is now ‘satisfactory’- up from ‘inadequate’. With educational standards steadily and consistently rising, and with a much improved financial health, we’re now adding value to our customers.

Colleges are a business. We bid for teaching contracts and we get paid by results. Our customers are the learners we educate and the employers we service by helping them with their work force development -often in the shape of apprenticeships. But where the success really lies is in the transformational effect that colleges have on people’s lives. What’s wonderful about colleges is that you can enter them with virtually no literacy or numeracy skills or at any time in your life and choose the route that’s right for you. Whether you qualify as a plumber of attain a degree, all success is celebrated. Many graduates stay in Doncaster and contribute to its growing prosperity. I see it happen all the time, it’s called ‘progression’ and it is magnificent. Being able to contribute to this process is humbling, incredibly satisfying and highly rewarding.

Through my association with Doncaster College, some wonderful things have happened. By a chance remark I made on Twitter, we ended up hosting an international conference for social media in education, co-hosted by Chris Brogan. He’s one of the best know digital marketing experts in the world – and by virtue of our shared experience – a real friend of the college. When Chris tweeted that he was in Doncaster, people thought it was a hoax. Until he went on to talk about the town and the passion of its people and we suddenly got attendees arriving from all around the country – a very satisfying experience.

We invited businesses along to the conference to share with them the pros and cons of social media; this lead to my company, BCS, sponsoring the Entrepreneur of Year category at the chamber of commerce annual awards.

Judging the awards, for me, was a way to get under the skin of the growing economy in Doncaster. I really enjoyed spending three days getting to know and learn about some of the most passionate and driven people that I am ever likely to meet. Seven highly motivated entrepreneurs, all at different stages of their journeys, but all with one common goal – to build and grow their businesses in Doncaster, which brings us neatly back to unloading the 747.

Last night I was with Gary Winterman, last year’s winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year award. His logistics business, Anglo European Express, is based at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster and the cargo that was being unloaded was the set, equipment and rigging for the stage show ‘Glee’. They’ve just finished their run in New York and have chosen to fly into Doncaster from JFK rather than into Manchester – even though they’re starting their tour of Europe in Manchester. Why? Apparently, the service and customer experience is better here.

Enough said.

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