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Chris O'Riordan

Chris O'Riordan is the MD of Firestarter Business Solutions which works across a broad range of clients helping them develop more effective strategies for selling more of whatever it is they do. He has been running the company for almost seven years.

EXPLAIN A TYPICAL WEEK IN YOUR WORKING LIFE:

As a business, we usually operate with a portfolio of around 20 clients.  My job varies between senior interaction with key clients, developing new relationships with potential clients and ensuring that our account management teams are delivering an excellent client experience. 

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FACING YOUR INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW? 

We’re fortunate at Firestarter that the world will always be full of businesses wanting to sell more – it is so fundamental to running a business that most people will engage in conversation with us.  For large corporates their challenges revolve around finding the time to concentrate on new markets/growth opportunities whilst doing the day job. For our SME clients, they have the constant challenge of balancing investment against return whilst understanding they need a better mix of skills, resources and capacity to achieve their goals. 

AND WHAT ARE THE BIG OPPORTUNITIES? 

For me the biggest opportunity is the fact that nearly 7 years in and 60+ clients on, we, at Firestarter, genuinely feel that we have evolved a methodology for growing and professionalising sales that is a fit for 90%+ of UK businesses. There is a definitely a “long-tail” of non-productivity in UK business when it comes to sales, and the potential massive impact of widening our reach not just for ourselves, but directly for the UK economy is very motivating. 

HOW DO YOU GET THE BEST OUT OF YOUR STAFF? 

Our five values – Clarity, Action, Accountability, Independence and Fun are never far from my thinking when managing the team.  We have worked hard, especially in the last couple of years, to grow a total consensus on how we are delivering our services and how we manage each client. This concentration on shared approach has developed a culture where we all have each other’s backs and generally make fewer and fewer mistakes.  I’m also very focused on ensuring we only have the best people. This makes such a difference. 

WHAT WAS YOUR LAST MEETING ABOUT, HOW LONG DID IT LAST, AND WAS IT PRODUCTIVE? 

My last meeting was with a potential new client.  It lasted around 75 minutes and was definitely productive. My experience is that clients have 5 common areas which are normally inhibiting their sales growth and I am able to use this framework to drive conversations which culminate in both me and the potential client seeing a really clear way forwards. 

HOW MANY EMAILS DO YOU GET IN A DAY, AND HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE TO READ THEM? 

I’ve learnt over the years that the number of emails one gets is generally related to the number one sends.  I usually start the day early and as part of this will ping out a range of emails to “make stuff happen”.  My traffic varies – somewhere between 30 and 60 a day.  I’ve never seen it as a badge of honour to get hundreds – and don’t believe that too many people get that many.  It’s much more about how you manage them.  Once I’m “into the day” I’ll manage most e-mail on my phone as I go along and then clear down again the next morning.  I always go into the weekend with 0 emails in my inbox – a personal discipline that I have stuck to for years. 

DO YOU ANSWER WORK CALLS OR EMAILS AT HOME? WHAT’S THE RIGHT WORK-LIFE BALANCE? 

Generally speaking I will not send emails before 7:30 in the morning or after 7:00 in the evening.  And I don’t send emails at the weekend.  This doesn’t mean I don’t work at these times but this is my choice and it’s not my right to interrupt others’ free time.  If I make a separate arrangement to do a call – or respond to someone – out of these times I will honour it, but generally speaking my view is that 10 to 12 hours a day five days a week is more than enough – and rest is just as important for the mind and body.  A top tip I have is to turn off your work email in the “Settings” on your phone  - especially at the weekends and on holiday.  This doesn’t permanently remove the account, just means you can use your phone without being tempted to check work! 

HOW DO YOU HOPE YOUR COLLEAGUES WOULD DESCRIBE YOU? 

Good at what I do, Hardworking, fair, honourable and fun!  

HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? 

I think I underestimated my success in my early years.  By 32 I was running a £32m corporate with >300 staff, driving consistent year on year sales growth and doubling bottom line profits, whilst integrating 5 very different businesses in a post-acquisition environment.  I just got on with this and fought through tough (American) management cultures to drive great progress. 

At Firestarter I am proud that I have created something that (still) no-one else is doing. There are plenty of “consultants” telling you what you should do, but we have designed a model where we don’t just give you the senior horsepower, but also plug in our resources to make sure stuff actually happens. 

ANY PARTICULAR FAUX PAS OR EMBARRASSING MOMENTS IN YOUR CAREER YOU WOULD PREFER TO FORGET?

None really.  I have always “played the game in front of me” and have developed high levels of tenacity/resilience that let me see every setback as an opportunity. 

PET HATES? 

I’m not a big fan of complacency; people who think they have a right to things rather than believing they have to work for them.  I believe you make your own luck, that you reap what you sow.  I also more people would realise that there generally aren’t any instant shortcuts to success, that you just have to work at it! 

IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF SOME WISE ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

I think when I was young in the work place I put people on too much of a pedestal, thinking that they “knew everything” and the way they did things was therefore going to be right.  What I have learnt along the way is that pretty well everyone has doubts and insecurities and even the bosses get it wrong quite a lot of the time! 

HOW DO YOU RELAX AWAY FROM WORK? 

My main interest is playing the trumpet – at a pretty high level in all kinds of groups (orchestras, jazz quartets, big bands etc.).  Being a good trumpet player is that perfect balance of discipline and personal flair.  There’s nowhere to hide if you make a mistake and you can’t do anything else than concentrate entirely on it when you are doing it – so total escapism.  I also still run a lot – and love time relaxing with my wife and two teenage girls. 

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE BIRMINGHAM BUSINESS COMMUNITY? 

Birmingham has a great tradition of industry, innovation and not taking itself too seriously. I think this still comes across in today’s community and it’s always pleasing to network because people are always happy to talk and introduce each other to mutually beneficial contacts. 

TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE PROBABLY WOULDN’T KNOW.

I travelled extensively for a year before going to university (to study History, which I still love) and am somewhat of a secret expert orange picker having worked on Crete for several months as well as not bad at Italian having lived there during that time! 

YOU CAN TAKE ONE BOOK, ONE FILM AND ONE CD ONTO A DESERT ISLAND – WHAT WOULD THEY BE? 

Book – Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes

Film – Any of the Audrey Hepburn Classics

CD – either some Chet Baker, or one of the big (trumpet-heavy symphonies) – probably Mahler or Tchaikovsky. 

YOUR FIVE DREAM DINNER PARTY GUESTS, DEAD OR ALIVE? 

Tempting as it is to invite a range of historical figures or current celebrities, I know so many great people, have such great family and friends, that probably I should start there.  Watch out for the invites! 

WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO EAT FOR YOUR LAST SUPPER? 

Not something I’ve ever thought about, but I’m pretty sure that you can’t go wrong with a good steak in a good restaurant with a great glass of red and great company!

 

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