Part one of the great interview with Roger Harrop a motivational business growth speaker.  

Roger has vast experience in corporate as an executive as well as experience being an entrepreneur.


Here follows a transcription of the interview word for word as talked….


WD:       Roger good afternoon, and thank you so much  for being in this interview with me today.

RH:         Willmien, it’s lovely being with you.

WD: So Roger, what would you like to tell us about you? A quick introduction from your side on who you are.

RH:         Oh gosh, I’m a professional speaker. I travel the world, I’m in this very privileged position I feel of being able to go where I want to go, and do what I want to do, but what I talk about is business. So, my audience are people running business or involved in running business. From the very smallest one person start up, all the way through to the biggest corporate in the world. I have, I am told, an ability to make business simple, and to be able to map out the route through to business success for any business, in any sector, any time. I just love business. So, that’s what I do. I love people too, and I’m increasingly these days working a lot in the developing world. I work a lot with smaller medium enterprise businesses as well, because you know, they just have  this ability to move really quickly and I just love that, and just get on with stuff.

WD:       That sounds incredible, and my ears are going to be wide and big open for all the wisdom that you are going to share.

RH:         My background is that I had years of burning ambition. Ended up running a PLC, quoted on the London Stock Exchange. With 14 companies around the world and 3500 employees and all that good stuff, which as we were chatting about, you and I Willmien, ahead of this podcast. Which actually puts you in a great position. In terms of learning a lot of things to do and not to do perhaps in business as a result.

Wd:        No, that’s so true Roger because the corporate world is a tough place to be, but you never know all the things that you have there as soon as you go out on your own being an entrepreneur, what you do not have. Interesting thing, when I started with my own thing as well, just internet and access, and computer stuff. All has been sorted out in a corporate, and you never realised how wonderful an advantage it was. Trying to do all of this on your own, but as soon as you figure it out you’ve done that.

RH:         Indeed.

Wd:        Yes, you are based in the UK, but I hear you travel all over the world.

RH:         Yeah, it’s a bit sad I keep count, but I’ve now spoken in 49 countries. So I need to make it 50 this year, which I’m sure I will.

WD:       So which country will that be?

RH:         I think probably Australia. We’ve got a new grandson in Melbourne, and my wife and I are there  August/September, and to get away from the baby talk a little bit, I’m planning on doing a couple of gigs there.

WD:       Fantastic, so we will celebrate the big 50. Even though it’s not a birthday, it’s a country celebration.

RH:         I hope so.

Wd:        So you have been in corporate. You’ve done very well in corporate, and then you jumped out of corporate to start also being an entrepreneur. Doing what you are doing now. So, what has been your biggest challenge, jumping from corporate to becoming an entrepreneur?

RH:         That’s a really good question. I mean it’s partly what you alluded to. Which is that suddenly you realise there is just you, and you need to know how to do everything as it were. I suppose that can be a bit of a shock. I have to say inevitably for all of us, in the early days whether you’re starting out, I don’t know as a plumber or any sort of entrepreneur. Actually 90% of what you’re doing has to be marketing. It’s no good saying, I don’t like it, I can’t do it whatever. You’ve got to be able to do it because you’re never going to appear on anybodies radar. No matter how good you are at what you do unless, you market yourself. You’ve got to be proactive. You cannot just assume people are going to find you, because they won’t. You know, it’s too dangerous frankly. I guess that’s one thing. On the other side though, there were positives too. Which is very interesting. As you will know Willmien, in the corporate world when you’re sending out a proposal to do some work for something, often it’s judged by the weight of the proposal it seems. And at the back you put everyone’s CV’s who’s going to work on it and all that stuff. I guess I’ve been working on my own for some time. Both as a speaker, business adviser, consultant and indeed as a non-exec director. Before it suddenly dawned on me and it’s still true today. So now it’s coming up for 14, 15 years, since I set out on my own. I have never, ever, once, been asked about my qualifications or experience by anybody. They judge you, based upon you. You know what, that’s so refreshing.

Wd:        Yes, yes.

RH:         Because let’s be honest. I find lots of people who, they’ll mention their PHD or their whatever, we can all do that if we want to. All that’s really saying to people is, you stop learning when you are about 26. Isn’t it. So I find that really refreshing that people judge you on you, and what they see and hear from you and whether they then want to work with you or not. And I like that I have to say, if I’m honest.

WD:       Yes, that’s very interesting, and they judge you on the value you can currently add. For me that was such a journey. When I was still in the corporate that I realised my identity has been so linked to what they say about me, to the position that I have there, to the qualifications, because most corporates are quite critical about your qualifications and where you are going.

RH:         Yeah yeah.

Wd:        And that is a sad place to link your identity to. I think we are so much more than our qualifications and acreditations. That has built up to where we are now.

RH: Indeed. I promised myself 2 things when I left the corporate world. I promised myself, I would try and enjoy every day, because if you’re working for yourself, why not. The second thing I promised myself, was that I wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone, because in the corporate world you sort of have to. You do get clients who are a pain in the back side, frankly. I mean to be honest in 15 years it’s only happened a couple of times, where I’ve said to a client, you know what, no thank you.  And it’s so empowering Willmien. It’s wonderful! I remember going outside and going yes! Because why should you? You’re running your own business, you get to choose, and that’s one of the benefits of being an entrepreneur. You get to choose, how you run your life and how you run your business.

WD:       I love that perspective, because it’s difficult enough to be an entrepreneur, but the benefits is so big. And one of the benfits are that I don’t have to surround myself with what’s toxic to me. I can bind to the right type of clients. What the interesting thing is the marketing part for me as well. I’ve also picked up one of your qualifications, and I did look at your qualifications and acreditation. You come from a mechanical engineering background, but that’s probably years and years ago.

RH:         That’s right.

Wd:        I come from a chemical engineering background. During my studies, and I’m not sure about during your studies, but they never teach you how to market yourself

RH:         I won’t hold that against you..

Wd:        The same. There’s a saying… Oh, I can’t remember that saying  between the engineers, but there’s quite fun between the different …

RH:         There is one isn’t there, but I can’t remember it, but mechanical is best…

WD:       But during that studies they never teach us how to do marketing. Then you go in the corporate world, and if you are not in a marketing position, work will come your way. They will always tell you what to do. You never need to go and search for something to do. You might one day manage the marketing department, but you never have to go and market yourself. All of a sudden you step out in to this entrepreneurial world, having no skills, no  knowledge, no experience, but you are expected to market yourself. So, what advice can you give us around that?

RH:         I think perhaps South Africans and Brits are a lot similar in as far as we sort of see being modest as being an asset. We don’t like pushing ourselves forward. But you know what, if you’ve got your own business you have to. You have to be immodest. I recall, once I was in a limo travelling to Los Angeles airport, one of these big stretch limos taking me to the airport and there was a few people in the car. I was sitting on the jump seat and I could hear there was a driver, and next to her was this guy. I could just hear him speaking. She said where are you from? And he said I’m from Germany. And she said oh Lufthansa that’s the German airline isn’t it? He said, well yes it is. She said is it any good? And he said Lufthansa is the best airline in the whole world.

WD: Because it’s made by a German…

RH:         Now, that’s right, now even if British Airways was the best airline in the whole world, no Brit would ever say that. But a Japanese would, an American would and a German would. I think there’s a lesson for the rest of us there. You have got to be immodest. You’ve got to shout your praises. You’ve got to say, I am flaming good at this, and this is how I’m different and this is what I can do for you and all this stuff. I think that’s something that perhaps, if I’m right, in both our cultures is something. I’ve worked a lot in Sweden recently, and if you like They’re even, in inverted commas worse, than the 2 of us. They never ever push themselves forward, it’s very much part of their culture. It’s really hard for them when they’re entrepreneurs, to actually sort of do that. But you’ve got to.

WD:       It’s amazing how we grew up and the impact it has on us. I can tell you that with many of the South Africans that I’m coaching, most of them struggle to tell me what they are good at. They will first tell me all the things where they failed and struggle. I hear you, we need to be immodest and it’s within this context, because it’s almost a false modesty to say oh, I’m not so good but then eventually when you realise you’re like, why did you hide this from me? It’s not authentic to tell people only what you’re bad at and not what you’re good as well.

RH:         Exactly.

WD:       It must be honest in both ways.

RH:         Indeed, I hear people particularly here, who have been very successful, and their interviewer asked, and they say, I was very lucky. No you weren’t. You weren’t very lucky, you were flaming good at what you did. It doesn’t help anyone to say I was just lucky. I’m afraid it doesn’t. One thing I would say to absolutely anyone starting out on their own, no matter what they’re doing, is one of the things you’ve got to do very early doors, is to get yourself an elevator pitch. Now for those who don’t know, it’s an American expression, but the whole idea is you join a lift and someone there says so what do you do then? And you’ve got 3 floors, 30 seconds or whatever to tell them. I know you’ve heard this story before Willmien, but I’d been asked to speak at an event in a deprived area of London a little while back. This was for unemployed people, it was to try persuade  them to set up in business. I’d been asked to give a little 10 minute talk on elevator pitch. There was a guy in the audience who I had met earlier, so I stood up and actually pointed to him and said, so what do you do then? And he did exactly what he’d done to me previously. Which was to shrug his shoulders and say, I’m just a plumber. I said to him, don’t you ever say that again. The next time you’re asked, what you say is, I am the best plumber in Brent, which was the area I was in, because I give a 24/7 and I won’t mess you around, here’s my business card. Because I don’t need a plumber at the moment, when I do I’m going to say to my other half, I met the best plumber in Brent, there’s his card on with the fridge magnet. Now in a sense that’s what we all need to do. We need to be able to sell ourselves in 30 seconds of exactly what we do for you. No matter what business we’re in. And as we grow, we need everyone in our company to do that. I’m always staggered by Apple. Whenever I go in to an Apple store, talking to these techies, who you think can’t even spell the word customer. They are full of Apple, they are  full of giving you the absolute maximum to make sure that you think the best of Apple. Now, I don’t know how Apple do it, but it’s very impressive. In a way, that’s what we need to do. If you’re an entrepreneur starting out, now’s the time to get that culture in there as you grow to 2 people, 3 people, 4 people, 300 people.  

WD:       That’s very true. I just remember in my own life as well, where someone asks you and you’re like do you really want to know? Why must I care if someone really wants to know, they asked me and now they need to take what I’m giving them. To feel still authentic within that I would imagine that if you can believe what you are saying I think is important. Therefore, not to be too generic but be specific enough what you really know you are good at. Don’t try to sell yourself where you’re not sure, because then it’s also going to bite you in the face.

RH:         That’s right, I absolutely agree with you Willmien. You know what, something else, maybe our cultures are similar, it’s ever so easy to leave your passion at home. People want to hear and see your passion and enthusiasm for what you do. They will believe what you are saying about your product, you’re company, you’re service, whatever it is that you do. If they can hear that you believe in it.

WD:       Yes absolutely. I think why many people are so scared of marketing, or so negative about marketing is, all the wrong ways that we’ve been exposed to it. We sometimes forget about the good ways, why does so many people have Apple? It’s not because someone has an Apple product, it’s not because someone has told them nonsense  and lied about it. It’s because someone told the truth about a feature that’s really good and therefore, you went out to buy that. And that was actually good marketing then. It was not someone knocking at your door and trying to sell you a holiday or something else.

RH:         Exactly

WD:       For us to realise there is marketing and Marketing, and there’s a different way as an entrepreneur to market yourself.

RH:         Absolutely, and it’s exactly the same with Amazon, you know. Everytime I go online to buy something from somebody other than Amazon, I’m reminded just how wonderful and how good Amazon is, and how easy it is to do business with them. Um, and to do all the other things, send things back if you don’t want it and all the other. You know, they are brilliant at it.

WD:       Great stuff, but Roger even though we talked about the positions you had and stuff, where did you start off in life? Years and years ago, how did your journey look like? To be now where you are travelling the countries, travelling the world and having the world at your feet.

RH:         So I was the youngest of 3 brothers, and my 2 brothers were much older than me. I guess I always had, from an early age had an interest in engineering, particularly in cars, I still have that today. I’ve got a classic car that I work on. And I just love, I love cars and automobiles. So I at school I, what did I do? Physics, maths, chemistry, those subjects, the science subjects, wanted to be an engineer. And actually wanted to be an automobile engineer, but was sort of persuaded otherwise. Which looking back was good. So I actually joined a company that doesn’t exist now, the English Electric Company. I wanted to be on the commercial side. I got in to project management. Oh, I was seen as a bit of a young wiz kid at the time. I was project manager of a power station project in South Africa. And basically…

WD:       Oh, which one?

RH:         It was called Kipevu power station in Mombasa. And I and my family moved there. It had never happened before, but I just said to the directors, I said look you know that’s where the center of gravity is, so that’s where I ought to be.

WD:       Wow.

RH:         So I went over there, fantastic experience. You know, my son spoke Swahili before he spoke English, because he hhad a …  My eldest daughter she started school there. It was a third African, a third Arab and a third European at that time. An amazing experience. And again here we are, me being immodest. At the end of 3 and a half years, it was the first project , in the history of the company, that was finished ahead of time and ahead of budget.

WD:       And that doesn’t happen in the engineering circles.

RH:         It doesn’t, it doesn’t. So that what, what set me going, really I then wanted to get in to general management, and as I said earlier you know this burning ambition. About every 3 years I move forward, you know from a general manager, to a managing director and then to a CEO. Always doing stuff. You know I love getting inside the business culture of other countries, so always did lots of overseas. I mean the PLc that I ran, when I joined we were doing 12% export. By the time  that came to an end we were doing 85% export. So, you know, that was me but I guess the theme all the way through this is just I don’t see the point in making things complex when they don’t need to be.

WD:       Yes, yes.

RH:         Make them simple, and that’s sort of what I  did with this project management all those years ago. And I just challenged the traditional ways of doing things. I suppose this other word… which I was asked I was recently, Rolls-Royce had asked me to just talk to a group of their graduates, or maybe 3 years on from being graduates. The thing I said to them is please take initiative. I see a lot of young people these days not necessarily taking initiative. You know no one is going to get your career sorted for you. You’ve got to do it yourself. Take initiative. Say, why don’t I do that. In my case I said, why don’t I go live in Africa. No one had ever done it before. And I think that applies to all of us. Take initiative, I think all of us when we’re recruting, you know for me it’s not, of course you need appropriate qualifications, but it’s about a sparkle in the eye and fire in the belly. And what comes through that is taking initiative, and I would never hav any problem with someone kicking my door open and saying, why don’t we do this? How about this? It’s so much better than people just being passive.

WD:       So currently you have this whole programme talking about helicopters, what is that all about Roger?

RH:         Well, I guess that came you know, from when I was in the corporate world I was forever saying to my people, let’s get in the helicopter. In other words, let’s get up there and look at the big picture. Because, you know, just talking business now, when you do get up there from 30 thousand feet things, you know, things get a lot clearer. Mountains become molehills, they really do. And you map your course so much easier. You know, it’s just something about this human beast that we are that it’s very easy to get sucked in to the detail. In to the mud and the bullets, means that you are not seeing the big picture. And If you are running a business, whether there’s just you running the business, or you know there’s loads of people, you have got to get up there in the helicopter cause if you don’t nobody else will. And I would argue that these days more than ever. You know, things are moving so quickly now. Nothing’s a given anymore. You know there’s no loyalty from customers anymore. Technology is moving at eye watering speed.

WD: Yes.

RH:         You know there’s new markets appearing, there’s new customers appearing. Things are moving so quickly, you have got to get up in that helicopter in my opinion. And be looking over the horizon, anticipating what’s coming. And the second thing you’ve got to be, is what’s called an adaptive leader, which is, you’ve got to assume change is about to happen not the reverse. You know, you should not be able to spell the word status quo I don’t think. Because that’s the world we’re in, and I actually say to business leaders now, you have got, one way or another, you have got to find 20% of your time to spend on this stuff. Call it what you like, call it strategy if you want. But 20% of your time, is a day a week. And they all say to me, oh, where am I going to find that from. And I said well, you know you can go on a time management course if you like, but fundamentally, you’ve got to delegate more. You’ve got to trust people more. You’ve got to trust. Even if people are young and inexperienced, trust them. Don’t micromanage them. Make sure there’s a safety net



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