The new senior vice president, European operations for FedEx Express gave up a burgeoning football career for a life in business. He told Director what he’s learnt so far about managing teams, hiring top talent and finding the head space to generate new ideas
My childhood inspiration was George Best. My father had mapped out a career for me in professional football. At 14 I was picked by Everton, but I was dropped at 16 due to injury. After that I played at youth and reserve level for Oldham, then Rochdale. But when I didn’t make the under-19 England squad, I rethought my career plans.
My parents have always been very supportive. When I was playing football, they took me everywhere and I couldn’t have had more support when I decided to study at the University of Huddersfield.
Always treat others as you would like to be treated. My father was a union representative for Royal Mail before moving up to director level, and this was the first piece of business advice he gave me. The second was that a manager is only as important as each of their team members.
I studied business law and intended to go into HR. After my degree I got a place on the graduate programme at [educational supplier firm] Hestair Hope, and discovered the world of logistics. I have fond memories of learning to drive forklift trucks. I was made junior manager in the logistics arm– it was a great entrance into the sector.
The ability to listen is a key competency a manager must employ. I quickly learnt this in my first senior role, at 26, as contract general manager for Hestair. It also became evident that common sense is an essential characteristic for successful managers.
I’ve only been in my current role for a few weeks but I’ve been working for FedEx for seven years and have really enjoyed seeing the company develop. In December 2006 we purchased a company called ANC Holdings and I was asked to lead the acquisition. It was hugely rewarding to play a part in this.
I’ve adapted my entrepreneurial streak since working at FedEx to fit within a more structured environment. Both approaches have their strengths and I feel that I am now more agile as a result of the change.
I’m extremely results-orientated and it is important for me and my team to be ‘number one’. The older I get, the more I appreciate the success of others and I see it as my role to enable that to happen.
The secret to hiring talent is finding people with a healthy mixture of common sense and keen intelligence. In terms of my own team, I always look for people who offer complementary skills – because a unit is stronger than the sum of its parts.
The best book on business I’ve read is Making it Happen: Reflections on Leadership by [Sir] John Harvey-Jones. It’s a great treatise on how to fire up an organisation for success, from the bottom up and the top down.
[Sir] Richard Branson encapsulates many crucial business attributes – not just entrepreneurialism, but a willingness to be the face of the [Virgin Group] brand. It’s incredible that someone so successful can still get people to relate to him on a personal level.
Britain has a fantastic history of innovation and remains world class in a number of sectors. From our point of view, an integrated logistics transport infrastructure linking different industries to each other, domestically and internationally, has never been more important to furthering this success.
Finding inspiration can be difficult if you’re trying too hard.My ideas normally come to me when I am outside walking my two dogs – a labrador and a sprocker spaniel.
I’m an avid coffee drinker. If I wasn’t at FedEx I would really love to own a small consultancy above a coffee shop run by my daughter-in-law, who is a wonderful baker. The thought of working in a family environment and benefiting from expert catering, while using my knowledge and experience, is very appealing.
In some ways, I feel that I’ve already achieved what I set out to do, which was to become the chief executive of a successful company [Holt was chief executive before taking up his current position]. FedEx UK has posted record profits for the last four years and I intend for this legacy to continue.
What have I learnt about myself so far? That I have a resilience that I wouldn’t have believed when I was younger.