Ambition and entrepreneurship in a changing world

23 November 2016

At the start of November I was in San Francisco for Cisco's Partner Summit. Cisco knows as well as we all do that in 2016, the IT industry is long embarked on its journey away from hardware sales - the so-called 'box-shifting' days - towards a model where hardware is commoditised, and the value is in unlocking performance through software, delivery and service.

That's a fundamental change which has presented a strategic challenge for a network hardware company like Cisco: its response has been, through acquisitions and investment in software expertise, to differentiate itself through an extremely high baseline for performance, and by the addition of high-end software functions. The end results are brilliant products and management platforms, offering a software-enabled level of security, performance, management and ease of deployment and configuration that is market leading.

But the change is relentless, and accelerating - indeed, the summit theme was 'Full Speed'. Cisco's messaging is that the way both it and its partners must adapt and thrive is to embrace change with the versatility and courage of entrepreneurs. And to underline its point it hired one of the most inspiring speakers I've ever seen.

With a vengeance

John Maclean is an Australian who, triathlon training in 1988, was struck by a truck and left with serious injuries and, ultimately, paraplegia. Speaking at Partner Summit, he shared how - faced with a sudden and seemingly insurmountable change in his life circumstances - he could have given up, or fought simply to maintain a normal daily life. Instead he decided he would become stronger and more focused than before the accident, setting himself the challenge of tackling the world's toughest sporting events. He showed video footage and shared stories of how he took on the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon three times - finally, in 1997, completing the course before the cut-off time for able-bodied competitors.

Dogged perseverance and support from his friends drove him to achieve this success, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house when he shared how relationships with his friends and family had inspired him to keep pushing. John's message is not about how the obstacles came into his life, but about how we can all learn to see our own challenges as an inspiration and a motivation. He linked this back to the changes we face in our industry, and how we can all see them as an incentive to excel - to tap into our entrepreneurial spirit, and focus on and seize the advantages that change presents us with.

The Ideal response

I was deeply moved by John and have struggled to work out how to bring his inspiration back to Ideal. His brilliance is exceptional. He has turned a tragedy into an opportunity and as well as his career as a high-performing athlete he now has a successful career as a world-class public speaker. Every single member of the audience was on their feet applauding him. It got me thinking a lot about ambition and entrepreneurialism and what more we can do at Ideal.

Our values - pride, ambition and relationships - represent the drivers in our business, and we expect everyone who works with us to live the values in their work with our customers. Pride and relationships speak for themselves - but scaling a business and pushing for bigger success requires ambition. In our industry, if we stand still we cannot thrive.

There's no better place to breathe ambition than at the annual Tech Track 100 awards. Attending the dinner last week to pick up our award for placing 47th among Britain's fastest-growing private technology companies, I was surrounded by hungry, fearless tech entrepreneurs who would have recognised some of themselves in John Maclean. I loved the story George Karibian told when collecting his award for Paymentsense. He shared how his eight-year-old had asked him what an entrepreneur is. His answer was, "It's the person who stands on the edge of a cliff, and jumps."

As I looked around the 200 or so other entrepreneurs, I found myself reflecting on John Maclean's message. To build successful tech companies in such a rapidly changing industry, at some point all of us had found ourselves on the cliff, and used it to propel ourselves forward. John Maclean's stamina, brilliance and single mindedness will stay with me as I support Ideal to evolve and thrive in the future. A true gift from a vendor conference.


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Image: Ash Crestfelt/Flickr, Creative Commons