Entrepreneur Interview: with Pete Wilkinson

Posted on the 17 April 2015

Entrepreneur Interview: with Pete Wilkinson

As a teenager, multi-award winning business performance coach and motivational speaker Pete Wilkinson would jump in his Mini and drive to Leeds, to buy towels and bedding. He would load up the car and drive back to his native North East, where he would sell the goods to nursing homes.

That entrepreneurial streak remains for Pete, who grew up in The Barnes, Sunderland, and still lives in the city. Having worked for Northern Electric plc and then run his own electrical retail outlet in Washington, Pete now follows his love of business and his boundless enthusiasm for life with his own enterprise, helping others to be the best they can be.

Based out of offices in Newcastle’s Clavering Place, his multi-faceted business continues to grow.

So, Pete, tell us about the business.
The business has three main areas. The first is our Performance Partnership Programme and that’s to do with supporting a small number of managing directors over a minimum of a 12 month period. I become their performance partner and support them and their executive team for at least a year, at most it’s probably going to be three years. The second part is speaking, which is made up of workshops and keynote presentations; I will do anything between 40 and maybe 50, 60 presentations a year. The final part is my online courses and coaching that helps me to reach people further afield who need more flexibility and where they don’t have to make so much of a monetary investment. They are all interlinked.

What was your first job?
I worked for Northern Electric plc, based in Newcastle. That was my main real break in business; I was a senior retail manager for them. They had an education incentive scheme, so they put me through Newcastle Business School where I did an MBA, which was great. I had a retail business for about six years based in the North East, then I decided to focus really quite tightly on where I was expert and since doing that, things have just totally taken off and I’m loving every day, doing what I should be doing, working people I should be working with, creating the impact I want to create and getting fabulous feedback.

What made you move from retail into business support and coaching?
I got to the stage where I liked it, rather than loved it and that wasn’t really what I wanted to focus on, so five years ago we took some time out. My wife and I went to Spain and designed this business, where we are really focusing on helping people and just working with businesses. I love business. I was looking through my book case recently and there is a book there called The Book of Business, Money and Power, and I bought that when I was 16, so I have really always been interested in business, how it works, how people can run business and how they can improve themselves. I’m massively passionate about personal development so I do a lot of work in that area, so I’m practicing what I preach.

How did you finance your retail business and subsequently your current venture?
We had to do a full refit and we had a staff of about six people in the business. It was a reasonable sized business and that was done through bank finance. This business is obviously much more micro, it’s grown organically, so I have boot strapped this business so it’s fully self financed. We have no business loans or anything of that type now. We are in a really good position. 

When I started this business five years ago, like most small businesses, cash flow was extremely tight for the first few years and it was: make some profit, put that back in the business, and then get better at what I was doing initially and then reinvesting. I have done that for the past five years to the point where now we are fully up to date with equipment and the things I need, like camcorders, laptops, business stationary, brand, we’ve done everything and we are just fully self-funded now.

Your business is focussed upon your personal brand, but what sort of team have you built around you?
I do have a fairly large support team, seven people in total, so that’s right the way through from a financial advisor, an accountant, a marketing guy, a web guy, a design guy, a PA. I also have two formal mentors, one looks after the success mindset for me and the other supports me with building the speaking side of the business. We are just in the process of appointing a third mentor for the online side of the business as well. I’ve had mentors all my life. I always have people who I am supporting and I always have people who support me. It’s just a mindset. I don’t think anybody can become the very best version of themselves without someone to mentor them, coach them, support them.

The business is essentially me, but jokingly I refer to myself as Frank Sinatra – Frank wouldn’t do his own website and design and stuff, so I bring experts in and they are all on the team on a project by project basis. These are people I know personally and have a relationship with. Every single member of the team is new in the last 12 months and I think that’s something that some businesses don’t do enough of, which is review who supports you, who are your vendors, who you buy your services and products off, and do you actually assess them enough.

As you grow, you need to make sure that the support you are getting and the people who are challenging you and providing a service are growing as well. If your team is providing a result that you are happy with, are content with, and is enabling you to execute your plans and ideas, then that’s fine. When I work with senior teams, I will ask them to rate their team from one to ten and you would be surprised how many managing directors have got six out of ten people in their team. For me, if you are going to execute exceptionally on a consistent basis, you can’t have people who are six out of ten. It’s not a ruthless mindset, it’s a mindset to enable you to execute consistently and to do that everybody has to be up to speed. I’ve got a team that’s ready for the next stage of development.

What is that next stage?
The online part of the business is going to be the greatest area of development. That’s going to be massive for us. We have just launched a new business, literally a start-up that is pre revenue. We’ve got the brand done, the business name, we’ve got the values, the mission and things all organised for that, which is going to be called the Ministry of Personal Development. That’s going to be a really good business to help people remotely for low cost investments on themselves, where they can do the courses on their own time. So, we are going to really build a separate brand, rather than just me. It’s all about helping people with their personal development. For me it’s always about the person first and then the business and the Ministry of Personal Development will be addressing that. The current course we have is fully CPD certified.

We are going to be targeting the UK primarily, to help people become the best versions of themselves. It’s how you manage yourself, how you lead yourself, how you lead your time, how you communicate, how you prioritise. For me they are the key things that people need to address to go from good to great.

How did the recession affect your business?
It didn’t. In my business, I am very clear about the value and if someone invests in a programme and they get excellent value from the programme, why would they not want to keep getting that value? So, I did spend a lot of time understanding what that value is, finding out what people were looking for and making sure they got it through the programme.

How have you grown your business?
I’ve invested a great deal and when I look at the percent of sales over the last three years, the investment I have made is significant. It’s quite funny, recently someone was saying ‘it’s ok for Pete, he’s an overnight success story’, and I am laughing because yes, we are doing really well now, but I’m an overnight success story that was four years in the making and people don’t see that. 

All the things we have worked on, we are now really getting the benefits. The business is just absolutely taking off. The growth is significant and this year we are going to be about 50 to 55% up on the previous year. Once the online kicks in, that will just ramp up even further.

How is the market for your services changing?
People are getting very short of time and we are building the online courses to address that. In terms of the Performance Partnership Programmes I am seeing more and more people that are prepared to invest in their development if they know it’s going to provide a return. So when I say that a client of mine has seen their sales improve by 35% a year, every year for four years, then that’s a great figure, so why would someone not want to invest in that? At the moment, the opportunities for what I do, I am seeing them increasing quite considerably.

How have you ensured your business stands out from the crowd?
The big thing is that I do walk the walk and talk the talk, which is a cliché, and you’ve heard it before, but I genuinely do. I’ve seen people who speak about a subject and it is clear that they don’t actually live and breathe the subject that they are speaking about. I’m completely different. So when I talk about focus and about using your time effectively, I’ve done an MBA when I was married with two kids under four and working as a retail senior manager doing a 60 hour week. I’ve completed an iron man triathlon while running a business doing a 50 hour week. So, I do live and breathe what I do. 

Also, my system, which we jokingly call ‘the world’s best one page action plan’ is a little unique, people love the idea that I’m all about how to focus and how you can achieve more by actually focusing on less and the action plan helps you do that because it actually fits on a single page.

What is your personal motivation?
My motivation really is I absolutely need to become the very best version of myself and I have had glimpses of what that looks like. I realise that most people just play it far too safe, most people think far too small, most people never really challenge themselves to the degree that I think people should and I am absolutely passionate about living an absolutely full life, whether that’s with relationships, family time, holidays, business, health. 

I am fairly intense and that’s not for everyone, but I am absolutely passionate about making sure that I have a full life, so I live and breathe it. I don’t want to get to a situation where I look back and think I could have done a bit better there.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
I think it takes someone who’s prepared to put their thoughts and ideas on the line and take a risk and look to add value. Even when I was 18 years old I was entrepreneurial. I used to drive down to Leeds and buy loads of towels and bedding and then just sell them around the nursing homes of the North East. My dad always ran businesses, mainly engineering, and my mother was a natural born sales person who just loves people.

I’ve always had an interest in business and I’ve always been a very driven person. There was a very strong work ethic, there was a message about working hard, so even at 16 years old, 17, I would be working in Dicksons pork shops during the day on a Saturday and then going up to work in a bar on a night time, working about 17 hours a day on a Saturday, but I had the freedom that that brought.

I drove that myself really, there was no pressure on from parents to do that, but I have always really been driven and always worked very hard. The flip side of that, of course, is that when you start really doing what you love to do you’ve got to get that blend right, because I could easily work more and more, but I’ve got to get that work life blend. Now, I’m getting that balance right for me and my family.