Mark Thompson is managing partner at Ryder Architecture, an international practice with its home in Newcastle since 1953, with other offices throughout the UK and in Hong Kong and Vancouver. Ryder employs over 130 people with a turnover of £12m. Mark is also one of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s board members.
We asked Mark his views on how strong leadership helps organisations to scaleup and succeed.
Strong leadership has been a key factor in growing Ryder Architecture. Where my senior colleagues and I learned ‘on the tools,’ we now invest a great deal in the future generation to prepare them as well as we can. Taking a strategic approach to leadership development is a real a game changer and ensures a pipeline of talent.
Here at Ryder we ensure our leadership is authentic and open and we actively encourage the wider team to get involved. If you ask for commitment and set out to build a strong and skilled team, you have to listen, value people’s opinion and act on it.
In 2017 Ryder ranked number 10 in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For (SME). This is testament to our approach as it is our people who were interviewed and it was their answers that put us up there. This year’s achievement isn’t a flash in the pan, we’ve been striving for such recognition for the last decade, building a strong culture of continuous improvement, and have featured in the listings since 2007. However, last year, following an internal restructure, we dropped out of the Sunday Times 100. But to bounce back with such impressive scores across the eight areas measured is proof that the culture is deep rooted and sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to make a leap forwards.
A good tip is to approach leadership with common sense, it isn’t rocket science, I thank former Newcastle Falcons and British Lions coach, Steve Black for that pearl of wisdom. When you are placed in a leadership position don’t change the behaviours that got you there, just be yourself and treat people as you would like them to treat you. By all means be demanding, set the bar high, but be generous with the opportunities and rewards that come with success.
Without strong and consistent leadership, businesses can stagnate or lose focus, however there isn’t a one size fits all approach. Everything depends on the size of the business and where it is in its journey.
In terms of personal development and improving your own leadership capabilities, my view is that it’s impossible to read too much (I guess these days 'reading' also includes blogs and YouTube).
I also try to meet as many people from different sectors as possible and deliberately make space to think strategically.
It definitely helps to take yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace mentors. Having non-executive directors can be extremely useful too.
Be ambitious and more often than not you’ll see quick returns from the investment in your people. It’s your business so your responsibility; no one else will do it for you. Make leadership development, of yourself and your team, a priority and you’ll be glad you did – your business will benefit from it immeasurably.
In his inspirational book Winning, which helped shape the direction of Ryder in 2006, Jack Welch advises, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."