Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole

EPISODE 5: Turning your biggest challenges into life-changing opportunities with Michael Tobin OBE, Multi-Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Maverick, and Philanthropist.

September 23, 2020 Donna O'Toole
Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole
EPISODE 5: Turning your biggest challenges into life-changing opportunities with Michael Tobin OBE, Multi-Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Maverick, and Philanthropist.
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Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole
EPISODE 5: Turning your biggest challenges into life-changing opportunities with Michael Tobin OBE, Multi-Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Maverick, and Philanthropist.
Sep 23, 2020
Donna O'Toole

This episode Donna is joined by "The father of the UK Data Centre Industry" himself, Michael Tobin OBE. As a seasoned entrepreneur, Michael shares his thoughts on the many challenges life throws us and how you can overcome fear to seize the opportunities now.. Plus he shares his stories from trekking to the South Pole, to receiving an OBE from the Queen, and joking with Prince Charles.

From living on the streets of Bermondsey to becoming one of the world's leading digital personalities. Michael Tobin’s outstanding achievements have earned him many awards during his career, including ‘Datacentre and Cloud Influencer of the Decade’, ‘UK IT Services Entrepreneur of the Year’ (Ernst & Young) *THREE YEARS RUNNING* and ‘Lifetime Achievement for Services to the Data Centre Industry’ amongst many more!

Mike's latest book, Lifting the Floor, reveals the incredible stories hiding beneath the tiles of the global data centre industry, taking us from blackmail and betrayal to some of the biggest boardroom battles of all time.

Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.

Show Notes Transcript

This episode Donna is joined by "The father of the UK Data Centre Industry" himself, Michael Tobin OBE. As a seasoned entrepreneur, Michael shares his thoughts on the many challenges life throws us and how you can overcome fear to seize the opportunities now.. Plus he shares his stories from trekking to the South Pole, to receiving an OBE from the Queen, and joking with Prince Charles.

From living on the streets of Bermondsey to becoming one of the world's leading digital personalities. Michael Tobin’s outstanding achievements have earned him many awards during his career, including ‘Datacentre and Cloud Influencer of the Decade’, ‘UK IT Services Entrepreneur of the Year’ (Ernst & Young) *THREE YEARS RUNNING* and ‘Lifetime Achievement for Services to the Data Centre Industry’ amongst many more!

Mike's latest book, Lifting the Floor, reveals the incredible stories hiding beneath the tiles of the global data centre industry, taking us from blackmail and betrayal to some of the biggest boardroom battles of all time.

Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.

Donna O'Toole :

Hi, I'm Donna O'Toole and you're listening to my exclusive winning awards podcast. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. I've seen firsthand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raise profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community. In this podcast, I'll be sharing valuable awards, insights, tips and inspirational stories to make sure that you get the recognition that you deserve, so that you can go on and achieve your dreams. So what are you waiting for? It's time to start winning. Hello, and welcome to another episode of my winning awards podcast. Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming serial technology entrepreneur Michael Tobin OBE. Born in the backstreets of Bermondsey, Mike is known as a maverick former CEO of the Telecity group is also widely credited with having been instrumental in creating the digital infrastructure of the internet in Europe. Michaels outstanding achievements earned him many awards during his career, including broad groups data centre and cloud influencer of the decade, Smith and Williamson's top 25 power individuals of industry, the Ernst and Young UK IT services Entrepreneur of the Year three times running, and data centre Europe awards lifetime achievement for services to the data centre industry amongst many, many more. In 2014, he was recognised by Her Majesty the Queen with an OBE for his services to the digital industry, and following his unwavering dedication to the data centres industry is well deserved. His day at the palace though was a long way from his humble childhood beginnings that included suffering periods of homelessness, violence, and dodging petrol bombs in Rhodesia. Today, Michael works around the clock and is NED and Chairman roles and undertakes charity missions that continue to test his limits. His latest missions to support and empower young and vulnerable people have included running 40 marathons in 40 days for the Prince's Trust. And in January this year, he finished an arduous trek to the South Pole supporting the brain tumour charity to beat brain tumours in children. Mike has just released his third book called lifting the floor. And in Mike's own words, it's the first book ever to reveal the incredible stories hiding beneath the tiles of the data centre industry. This book is unbelievable. It's a business book that reads like a thriller. And it takes us from blackmail and betrayal to some of the biggest boardroom battles of all time. So welcome, Michael.

Mike Tobin :

Thank you very much Donna, I hardly hardly recognise myself in that.

Donna O'Toole :

I don't know how you get any time to do anything, it's madness. No, thank you very much for coming on today. It's great to have you here. So you've obviously got quite a story. And there's no way we could pack that all into one podcast. But what would be really nice for our listeners today is just maybe if you could just tell us, start with your your kind of childhood story and how you then eventually got working into technology and data centres.

Mike Tobin :

Yeah, I mean, it's so, born in the East End, as you mentioned, and my dad was imprisoned when I was born, quite a violent gang. very nasty to my mother. And so when we had a moment, a chance to escape back when I was about seven, we escaped to Africa to try and escape him and the and the life that we we had in in in East London. But when we got there we we've basically it was frying pan to fire because we were in a civil war. And you know, we ended up being petrol bombed as you say a few times and one destroyed the house got shot at 13 times. One got me in the leg and and then and then we we basically got back to London when I was about 12 and because everything was taken from us literally at the airport when we were leaving Africa at the time we came back as refugees into our own country so lived in a squat in Stockwell we used to we used to make money by by by sort of breaking into a condemned houses waiting for demolition and finding things that we would then sell in the in the markets in particular pianos and things that people couldn't get out of out of the houses when they moved. And and yeah, so we survived doing that. And then I got an apprenticeship in electrical electronic engineering and and basically that sort of set me on a path I guess, into technology. Even though I still didn't really understand what I was doing and it was with a company called Rockwell Automation, it made sort of industrial robots and then and then you know started going for jobs that I knew I had no, no right to get and was getting a few and ended up in in Redbus and Redbus was a business that was the kind of the beginnings of a data centre organisation that's erm, data centres are where the internet lives, right. So when we think about what we do on the internet, we think about the cloud and all that sort of stuff. And you know, you think you might be business in the cloud, well all of that actually lives in physical buildings and data centres are, what those buildings are, and ended up in, you know, in this thing that I probably wouldn't have chosen but, you know, made the most of, and here we are.

Donna O'Toole :

Amazing. It's such a journey. And I was just thinking actually there when you were talking, then what a great shout out what a great example you are for apprenticeships,

Mike Tobin :

well, you know, I've supported apprenticeships throughout the years. And several years ago, they tried to make a comeback, I think and, you know, that is what is interesting is obviously not everyone can be academically capable, right. And yet, the government or our around, our environment suggests that we all need to have a degree when we come out of out of sort of finishing education. And you know, having a degree in sort of underwater basket weaving isn't going to help you get a job. And so, so, you know, whilst it's very important for people to have degrees in academic capabilities, there's also an argument to say that, you know, that there is a need for, you know, for skills, right. And, and I think that, you know, in Germany, for example, they they look at apprenticeships as an alternative higher education, whereas in the UK, we look at it as an alternative to higher education. But it almost creates a second tier value to apprenticeships, which, which shouldn't be the case. And, you know, the value of an apprentice in a company these days, if they're managed properly, right. I mean, I remember going around, you know, like every single department of a business writing, doing, you know, from, from your quality assurance, to finance to goods in, to and working on on the shop floor, literally on a production line, doing the same thing, monotonously, eight hours a day, and only when you've done everything in a business, do you really understand that business, to the point where, you know, you can add value. And, you know, when I left I was I was somebody that people came to the say, this process isn't working, tell me how we can improve it, because I was able to see the process from all these different departments. And there's very few people in the company that's worked that work in all these different ways to understand how the company itself hangs together.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, fascinating. And it's interesting, actually, so I was having a conversation the other day with someone about business GCSEs in business, and he was in business and, and, and degrees in business. And whilst I'm sure there is there's value to them along the way, I do think that as an entrepreneur, you're an entrepreneur, I'm an entrepreneur, you kind of just jump in and get on with it. And actually, you learn business along the way.

Mike Tobin :

Well, I mean, I mentioned it in in, I think I've mentioned a couple of books, my books that I've done, but I never I never recruit someone on capability. I always recruited them on attitude. Because I think, you know, capability is is, you know, if they were doing the same job before, and they've moved, why have they moved, right? I'd rather I'd rather have someone that has the right attitude and give them something they've never done before, than to know someone is very good at some role, but has a bad attitude, right? And so for me, it's all about attitude. I don't care whether they they've demonstrated their capability or not, in that particular aspect. I'd rather just have the right attitude, and let them loose.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, I completely agree with you, actually, every time I've recruited on my intuition, not on someone skills, but on my absolute intuition that they just have the right attitude, and they will just do and work to everything that you want them to do that. So it's the right thing to do. Absolutely. So as a young as a young person, then you've gone from such a difficult childhood and such difficult background to then getting an apprenticeship. And you know, something that we talk about. Actually, somebody else said this recently, is that one of the things that's most valuable to people more so than money is recognition and actual recognition of what they've achieved. So when do you think then you first kind of felt like you were getting some recognition and actually that could drive you forward?

Mike Tobin :

Well, yeah, so I've I've been quite a I guess I'm somebody that wants recognition I've probably since childhood, missed love, right as a child, and you know, always hunts out types of sort of recognition in various ways. And I think to a certain extent, many of us are like that we look for alternative reward. And you know, money is great, right? because money is a form of recognition, you know, if you get paid lots of money for doing something, it's because people see you as valuable. But actually, you know, sometimes it's just about wanting to sort of a long term piece of paper in your hand or a long term, you know, block of block of perspex, that you can say, look at this, you know, and I think almost all of us will, will accept that, that is something important to us over time. And I think the other thing about rewards, awards rather than rewards, is it's usually our peers that recognise it, rather than simply just getting money from from, you know, it's your peer saying, okay, we're all in the same boat here. We're all in the same industry. And we recognise that you're doing very well, and that that's, to me, that's, that's, you know, that's an interesting thing. And I remember the, in the data centre awards, it was always the fact that everybody that I knew, my competitors my, you know, my, my, my partners all these different things, different sort of entities, but all knew how tough that industry was, and how nascent it was at the beginning, and how, you know, how it evolved. And they were recognising my contribution to it. And I think that was that was the key, it was the kind of it was the peer group recognition that was so so good in those awards.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, fantastic. And so when you so it was sort of 2002, mid 2000s, when you start in the data centre industry, and I know and and anyone who doesn't know, needs to read Mike's book about exactly what went on in that time, because it's, it's absolutely mind blowing, what could be going on in behind the scenes at that time. And so you went through like a such a roller coaster, such a roller coaster, and you like when were literally fighting fires constantly, but also then eventually turn that around. And then when you merged and became Telecity group, that's when things changed for you. And that's when we saw your recognition, starting to come to fruition. And I remember you told me a story about a time. I mean, if there's any, there's anyone who knows how to get to a black tie dinner it's you. And I remember you told me about a time. Tell us a story about the time when you were late

Mike Tobin :

Yeah, well, I mean, I was basically, I was skiing. And, and it was the the awards company, the head of it, who I knew quite well, because they, they did some research, and they had a research division as well. So we use the research. And he phoned me up and he said, Look, you are coming to the, to the awards then right, yes. Yeah, of course. Yeah. I've bought a table and you know, to support them. And, and they said, No, but you must make it and I was skiing, and our flight got cancelled, and then rearranged. And in the end, you know, I think I got back, but there wasn't, I literally landed at about 7pm when the event was starting, right. So I landed at Heathrow, the event was in the West End probably Grosvenor house somewhere. And I just said, I, you know, I thought I can still make it but there's no way I can get home, get a black get get into my black tie. And then get there. So I literally just went just to show my face to say, look, I promised to be here. And I turned up in ripped jeans and a T shirt. And and as I walked into the room, and I was just going to say hello to a few people. As I walked in the room, my name was being called out on stage to come and get the kind of the gong of the year. Yeah, it was like the big the biggest award. And it was Ed Burn the comedian who was who was who was doing the the awards. And literally as I walked in in my ripped jeans and T shirt, he said come on up and get the award I came I went on stage and everyone was kind of like laughing about the whole thing. And, and old Ed Burns, goes like you could've at least made a bloody effort, you know? And I said, well look at you, because he's a scruffy character as well, right? And I said, Well, come on, you know, you might put black eye on but you know, you could have washed your hair. But But you know, that was that was the you know, it was it was a bizarre thing. But I got a kind of a reputation then for the sort of Maverick approach. But people assumed that that's it was my intention to turn up, you know,

Donna O'Toole :

On a random day in your jeans

Mike Tobin :

Yeah exactly some kind of mystic attack on kind of Broad Group, whatever the company was that maybe it was, but But no, it was just simply, you know, I was trying to I was trying to try to fulfil a promise, which was I would turn up didn't have the time to to get changed. And then and then then I understood why they wanted me to turn up because obviously they'll give me the award of the evening.

Donna O'Toole :

So there we go. So the moral of that story is don't worry what you're wearing, just get there

Mike Tobin :

You know, the award isn't isn't your black tie the award is for the for the days and weeks and months of effort that you know.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah exactly. So this Maverick title has followed you around hasn't it, everywhere you've been. But I think I think that comes from some of the kind of management stories and also that you've talked about in your first book as well, from back in the day when you sort of had teams to motivate, inspire, lead, and used to kind of do all kinds of exciting things with them, like getting them kidnapped.

Mike Tobin :

Yeah, so I mean, yeah. So one of the challenges was that you're bringing two sort of competitive businesses together, if you imagine back in the day, you know, IBM and HP both make computers are suddenly put together and the people, you know, they had cultures and, you know, trying to get them from being competitors to sitting on the same side of the table overnight was quite challenging. And the first time when I told my team that we were going to merge these businesses, they obviously they were quite worried. They were thinking like, you know, okay, well, there's two of everything. So, you know, when there's two people one job, someone's going to get, get sent back in or whatever, but so I took them, I took them, actually to Scotland, and just on the north side of the third or fourth, just you cross the the old road bridge, not new one, but you cross the old one, there's a there's a massive aquarium. And I took them up there, they thought they're going for whiskey tasting, but I we pulled up and I got them two by two to get in their wetsuits. And they said, and they kind of didn't know what to do and ask them to get into the this massive aquarium. And when you're in it, you if you think you're in the open sea, because it's so big. And as they were getting in, of course, they then started to see the shark fins in front of them. And they were going, they were going down with sharks, no net, no cage, no, no protection. They were just in there with giant sharks. And when they came out, I said to them, how did you feel when you realised what you're about to do? And they said, Oh, my God, it was so terrifying. And I had to you know, it was it wasn't possible to sort of really, really understand the fear that was going on in my brain. And I said, Well, how did you feel when you were down there with them? And you were seeing sharks? And they said, they said, I was still scared, but it was kind of exciting, when I was going through it. And I said, How did you feel when when you came out, and they said are amazing, it was a life changing thing. I don't want to do it again. But it was just so... And I said, every time you have you know, every time you fear something, remember that process, right? So we always fear things in advance of it to a disproportionate degree of what the risk is, because we look at the negatives, and we look at the, the sort of the risk side of it. And then and then invariably right, it's, it's something that we learn from, it's something that actually is interesting to go through. And when you come out of it, you're always a better person, because you've gone through such a challenge. And so, whenever we look at sort of something that makes us fearful or afraid, or or, you know, we're worried about, you know, remember that fear is simply a, it's like, it's like paying, it's like paying interest on a debt you have on a drawdown you haven't drawn yet, you know, it's like, it's an unnecessary emotion. Because it's about the future. And if you can, if you can, if you can mitigate the risk of the future, then you should do it. And if there's nothing to mitigate the risk of future then why worry about it, because it is what it is. So there's no value in worry.

Donna O'Toole :

No, it takes a lot of self discipline and self control, though, doesn't it to stay in that present moment and not fear what's coming up

Mike Tobin :

You know, I mean, I, you know, I talk about it, but I still I still worry about future sometimes and I have to, you know, you have to catch yourself constantly doing what you what you truly realise is nonsense. Because Yeah, agreeing or fearing the future is nonsense, either deal with it, or do something to mitigate it, or there is nothing you can do. And either way, in no circumstance should you waste energy worrying or fearing the future.

Donna O'Toole :

That's a good message for right now, actually,

Mike Tobin :

isn't it? You know, everyone's in challenging times. Right? I mean, you know, there has never been a moment as as challenging for businesses generally, as today is yet you know, we still you know, here we stand you know, we're listening to podcasts, we're doing these things and and we've just gone through six months of the most bizarre environment, you know, that nobody could have, you know, if you try if I had written about this last year, everyone would've said that's stupid, you know, so we've just gone through it. And you know, we've kind of hustled through. People have found it difficult people have lost their jobs people, but actually, you know, we still stand we still live and and we'll get through. But we need to think about the positives, we need to think about, okay. What do we do tomorrow? that improves my mind? Right? So how do we fix the negatives in life? But just worrying about it doesn't doesn't fix it?

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, no, of course not.

Mike Tobin :

Let's take action, you've got to take action.

Donna O'Toole :

Actually, it's been it's been such a fascinating year, in a strange way. Because I'm sort of thinking of, I've been thinking about it actually, from a kind of perspective of thinking about this podcast thinking about recognition and how that comes in different ways. And, you know, we've all became we all became so, took for granted our National Health Service over the years, you know, here in the UK, we're so lucky to have it, and yet we expect it, we've taken it for granted. And then this, there's been such a shift in attitude, you know, in a good way, this year, where we've actually given recognition to the nurses and to the doctors, and to all the key workers, you know, the standing outside every week clapping actual physical, just, you know, we're not giving them anything personally, but we're just showing them that we respect them, we, we care about them, we're glad and thankful and grateful for everything they're doing for us. And that's been a huge, a huge step forward in in recognition and in understanding that actually, that means something.

Mike Tobin :

like a giant awards programme, isn't it? Yes. Amazing. Well done. Everybody, you know, yeah, the industry is, you know, when you think about what they've done is stepped up in terms of the fight against something. So now, I think people almost feel like COVID is part of life now. Right? But back then, nobody really knew how devastating it would or wouldn't be to people. Right, then. People were getting it, we're dying. And it's less it is less now. Right? So so people are getting it and surviving now. But at the time, when when it was, you know, nobody knew just how serious it was that everyone believed it was very serious. And yet they stood up and went into work every day. And and faced this fear. Right head on. Yeah. And that was the kind of amazing thing about the NHS. It was like, they were saying, Yeah, it's my, it's my job, it's my responsibility to save people. And, and that was never recognised before. And, you know, obviously very, very glad that they have got recognition. And, you know, you kind of wonder how long it will be before we forget again.

Donna O'Toole :

yeah, scary. Yeah. And let's hope it's actually we never forget, and actually, it's more of a shift in our behaviour than it is, you know, going back and forth, and back and forth. You've been doing some volunteering for the NHS, as well haven't you.

Mike Tobin :

I've done. I've reached two and a half thousand hours now, of volunteering, and it's not, it's not big, I mean, it's a few things was sort of like taking groceries to people that were vulnerable and couldn't get out. And in the in the early days, now, it's more about people just phoning phoning them and talking to them about their frustrations. And it's usually elderly people that are stuck indoors, have very little contact. And they moan about things, there's nothing I can do, right. It's like, my staircase is wonky. Okay. But but they might they want to express and they then they want people to, isn't it very interesting, because they want people to appreciate the challenges, right? And yeah, and I think heart You know, all of us in life, just want just want people to appreciate situation and the circumstance. And, you know, it awards a similar thing as the, it's a rec- it's an appreciation, right? And yet, and yet these people in, you know, I talked to as a volunteer, and all they want is someone to listen to them. And to say, yes, I do understand. And sometimes I may give advice, but many cases, it's just an

Donna O'Toole :

acknowledgement, isn't it, it's acknowledgement of their their pain or their issue, or even just that they're on their own. And then that that's, that's terrible and hard enough as it is.

Mike Tobin :

But you know, and they, and they, they phone up and they want, you know, and the volunteer app, sends me a message, I call them and we sit and we chat for half an hour and then and then they're fine.

Donna O'Toole :

Amazing, but that's one app that's been working. So that's good.

Mike Tobin :

well. I think that one though, that that is a really interesting one. Because you know, that, you know, I don't know, I can't remember the numbers now but like, you know, within 24 hours, like a million volunteers.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, that's that is incredible.

Mike Tobin :

And, you know, that's a good way of you know, back in back in wartime right, it was how many people signed up to for for national service or, and you kind of go well, this is today's modest way of trying to be part of a greater cause, you know, it's like yeah, fight this this enemy called erm and you know virus and, and people wanting to sort of sign up to the army that's gonna, you know, in whatever way they can.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, exactly. We're talking about fighting for causes. And that's something that I know, it's a real passion of yours as a big philanthropist, but also someone who likes to push themselves to the ultimate limit. So this year, you trekked to the South Pole.

Mike Tobin :

I did that. And it feels such such a long time ago, but it was. But um, yeah, I mean, it was the most brutal thing I've ever done. And I, you know, you kind of you read about it, and you prepare in a certain way, and also it's going to the gym and things like that. But when you get there, and what I didn't realise, so that, you know, Antarctica is, is as a continent bigger than North America, it's massive, right? And just getting there is a is an experience, right? So you have to fly down south america go down to the end of the tip of South America, then you have to wait for windows in the weather, and you get a Russian cargo plane across to the to the continent, and then even then you have to get, and that's a six hour flight, and then even then you have to fly six hours to a point where you can start trekking, and we did like 150 miles, 200 miles at the end to the South Pole. And then when this plane just drops you off in the middle of nowhere, literally in the middle of nowhere. And you can look all around you and see nothing other than snow, and nothingness. And it's minus 40 degrees minus 50 degrees, and it's 24 hours day light. And there's, you know, there's nothing can come back from in that plane, could not have come back and picked us up again, if there was a problem. There's no helicopters, you're at 10,000 feet everywhere. So it's like being a high altitude with no, you know, you have to acclimatise in terms of altitude sickness and everything else. And we were we were walking at the beginning, we did a mile a day. And then, you know, that was how hard it is. And towards the end of it, we're doing 9-10 miles a day, which already, you know, sounds like nothing, but it's dragging a 200 kilos sledge, you know, it's, it's really arduous, and you know, that the things that we the things that we experienced in terms of kind of frostbite and, and hypothermia and collapsing, and it's just incredible. I'm so glad I did it, but I just don't want to do it again, that's for sure.

Donna O'Toole :

Did you get you get to plant a flag at the end?

Mike Tobin :

Well, you know, when you get to the South Pole, the South Pole is actually something that's probably about two and a half feet high, which is a silver ball on, on what looks like a kind of a Barber's barbershop. Kind of Yeah, you know, like a white and red sort of thing. And that's it, right? It's, it's this little thing, and there's a few flags around it of all the people but of all the nations that have representation on on Antarctica, research centre there. But it's quite a when you actually get there, it's quite a sort of, it's almost disappointing

Donna O'Toole :

anticlimax.

Mike Tobin :

All that. Geat. Now, what do I do? And then you find

Donna O'Toole :

Turn around and go back again!

Mike Tobin :

Then you go into this kind of temporary heart, which has got heating, and you know, and I and I and I took a bottle of whiskey with me. Yeah, and then we just, we just drank this bottle of whiskey. And you don't know what time it is because it's 24 hours daylight and it's just daytime, nighttime, you know, you

Donna O'Toole :

You can't text anyone

Mike Tobin :

there's no connection, there's nothing. It's just completely kind of, Okay, that's it.

Donna O'Toole :

That's a bit of a, I think you've got to go for self recognition in that area haven't you like what you've achieved because it's not foudn at the end.

Mike Tobin :

thing is when you come back, right? And bizarrely, I came back and had personal problem there because my sister sadly passed away within a week of me coming back. And that was challenging as well. And, and the whole kind of event just got forgotten, because then we were into COVID. And, and I and I had no sort of, there was no kind of big fanfare, there was no sort of this amazing thing you did. And and, you know, what we did was we raised we raised a million pounds for children with brain tumours, and that's the key. But there was nothing. There was no party there was no kind of welcome home there was nothing and and that was that was kind of odd in itself. But the whole kind of post event just got just got swallowed up by events. Yeah. And I think that's that's probably something you know, looking back on it now. Right, you you it's interesting to think how important recognition is to reward people's effort. I think that's Yes. And that was that was lost

Donna O'Toole :

the whole point of the whole kind of point of recognition from a formal perspective, actually, and this, actually, I'll talk to you about this, because obviously, you've got your OBE is that it should drive you forward to do more good things. But it should also demonstrate you as a role model and inspire others to do good things. So the whole point of recognition is to create this kind of virtuous circle, and to keep inspiring and driving people forward. Because if no one ever gets recognised for doing anything, then they lose motivation, and they lose inspiration. So back in 2014, you were recognised by Her Majesty the Queen with an OBE for your services, digital industry, which is no no mean feat. And for a lot of people listening to this, you know, we will never experience receiving such an amazing honour. So can you tell us about how that came about? How did you find out that you are going to be recognised?

Mike Tobin :

I mean, the main thing is that obviously, you know, you don't you don't know, right? I mean, you don't know that it's happening until it happens to you, and and you get the letter from the palace, saying that, you know, first of all, the letter comes in it says, if we get if we were minded, to give you this award, however, we want to ask you, if you get this award, would you accept it? Because what they don't want is to make you an offer. And there are some people in you know, in the past have sent out

Donna O'Toole :

some rebels.

Mike Tobin :

And they and they don't Yeah, they don't, they don't want to be in that position. So they say that we, you know, we're minded to think about giving you this, and if we were then would you accept it? And then you have to respond saying yes or no. And then and then you don't know anything else again, right? That's it. Okay. And then there's another letter comes, that basically says, Congratulations, you've been awarded this. And so there's, there's two kind of two moments one, one that you're not quite sure, but you probably are going to get another one that says confirmation. And then the one that says confirmation is still about five weeks from the time of when you get it. And it says, you know, you're going to get your head chopped off by, you know, by by the queen, if you tell anyone. So keep that secret for five weeks,

Donna O'Toole :

That's a heck of a secret to keep.

Mike Tobin :

I mean, you want to say to everyone look, you know, I'm so proud about this. And and of course, you're not allowed. And then the day before the so mine was the New Year's Honours list. So on, I think it's the 30th of december two days before they give it to the newspapers, and then the newspapers can publish the list. But until then, you're not allowed to say anything. Yeah. And it's, you know, you're very proud to have it and, and the other thing as well, you can only take you can only take three people to the palace, right? And so I said, Which of my children would you like me to leave out? Oooh okay. And he said, Okay, leave it with me. And we'll try and find because obviously, not everybody takes three. So yeah, somebody might take two. Yeah. And I was having one of those places. And then they said yeah ok.

Donna O'Toole :

Oh, that's good. Yeah, you don't want to have to put that poor child in therapy for the rest of their life.

Mike Tobin :

that to be fair, I mean, it's actually it's a long, you know, it's like, you know, what, it's like, what have you having watching your kids graduation at uni, right. So you always watch everyone else's. And there's beautiful music playing. But you're sitting there, you know, waiting, you know, and I'm obviously in the queue effectively to come and sort of take my award and it was Prince Charles and I do a lot of charity work with Prince Charles and Prince's Trust and all sorts of things. British AsianTrust and and, and, you know, I meet Prince Charles quite regularly. And when I went up to get my award, and he saw me coming up, he went, Oh, no, not you again. Right. And I said, you can talk I was hoping for your mum. Right? And we all but we burst out laughing and everyone's going, what's going on what's going on? Because it was all very formal until then. And then, you know, Charles, Prince Charles, and I just start laughing and everyone was going to woah... it was funny, but, um, it's, uh, you know, it's a very, it's a great honour to receive to receive that. And it's also I mean, you know, there's no way that I could have done what I did in a business sense without, you know, all the people around me, you know, in every walk of, of life, you know, both in a private sense in a business sense. You know, they keep you going in the tough times. In the business, they are the engine of the business. You know, I'm just there as a kind of a figurehead in a way. And for me to get that award was, it was it was fantastic. But it was also I felt a little bit guilty because I was getting the recognition of so many people's hard work. Because they you know, and that was an industry award, it was services to the digital economy. And it's such a broad kind of title that so many people have contributed to that success. And yet I was getting it. And it was very humbling, to me, it was. Yeah, I felt like I should kind of almost do more to give back. And a lot of what I do when in charitable works is giving back but but it was because, you know, it comes from this, this sense of not embarrassment, but but sort of, you know, there are many people that deserve this, not just me,

Donna O'Toole :

Well, I think adds a sort of extra layer of responsibility, doesn't it almost as to the people you've worked with, but then then to the industry ongoing as well, it's not like, okay, I've done that now move on, I'm not really ever going to have to do that, again, you sort of and but that is part of the purpose of these awards is to actually keep you interested and keep you motivated and keep you moving forward. And that's something now that you do as a chairman and NED and you support other companies. Tell us a bit about your work there

Mike Tobin :

I do a lot of mentoring. But Chairman roles, non exec roles are also super important. Because, you know, having spent most of my life, being a CEO, running businesses, you know, how lonely it is, as well, right? Because you get these recognitions, right, but also, you know, there, there are times when you take, you know, you have to take the punishment too, right. So, you know, you've got to get the hit of it over the head, if the share price doesn't work out, or, you know, there's no one else to blame. And I, you know, I think that sometimes it can be a lonely place. And the way I work as a non exec now is I give a lot of freedom to my management teams, like hundred percent freedom, but I'm always there, for them to kind of come to if they want to, they want to set a sounding board or, or, you know, a bit like my sort of, NHS volunteer, you know, they phone me up and moan of me, that's kind of that's part and parcel of my, my role as creating, the best thing a non exec can do in business is to is to create a safe kind of buffer zone for management to do their thing. And if management can't do the right thing, then you've got the wrong management. But if they if you've got the right management, then the only Why would you try to do what they just give them the space and give them the kind of breathing apparatus if you like to, to do the right thing. And I think that that's, that's kind of what I what I do now. And I've just, I've been on the on the other end of meddling, meddling, non execs, things like that. And I think that, yeah, we, we need as kind of that that kind of NED NED environment, now we need to just believe in our management teams and give them space to deliver. And more so than ever before. And this is the toughest time, this is the toughest time, right? And, and you faith and support is better than chastising, and swearing at people and, you know, we all know what, what, what's going wrong, and what's going right. But but having the ability to just say, guys, you know, we're all in this together, we support you. We're here to help, but just, you know, we'll get through this.

Donna O'Toole :

You took a business through, you know, you will, obviously within the data centre industry during the 2008 2009 kind of recession, when that hit them. And there will be a lot of people who were then and they are back in this difficult scenario now. And we're constantly hearing on the news and everything, you know, we're comparing to these other big recessions. What do you think the difference is now to what you had to deal with then? And then what would be your kind of message now for business leaders and entrepreneurs? how to how to get through it? Because you've come out the other side On many occasions

Mike Tobin :

Yeah, I mean, so. So look, I mean, I don't really see much difference, to be honest, I think, you know, the thing is that we all have all these tough times. You know, we've got through, right, and we are going through another one now and we will get through it. And and I look at I look at challenges in life as the opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition. So if everything is good, right, we feel like Yeah, that's great. But actually everyone is feeling Yeah, that's great. So value comes, you know, character value comes from when you get knocked down. Because the ability to get up each time you get knocked down is the thing that differentiates differentiates you from everyone else at that point. So every hurdle, right, instead of seeing it as a hurdle, instead of seeing as a problem, you get over the hurdle, and then look at that, as it is as something a barrier between you and everyone else that still needs to get over that. So if you look at if you look at challenges in life as the opportunity to, to distance yourself from your competition, that gives you the momentum to get over the hurdle and look at the hurdle as a positive. Yeah. So so so that's the key is I think every time you see a challenge we end up being so engrossed in the challenge, right? We don't see the challenge as an opportunity. Yeah. But if we can get over the hurdle, that hurdle is the differentiator between you and everyone else.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, I completely agree. Actually, that's something. So when I'm judging on awards, panels, people always say to me, what questions do you ask what questions will the judges ask me? And I would say my favourite question to ask is what's been your biggest challenge? Because so often, actually, people try to portray this amazing business story of perfection. And everything's gone perfectly, and nothing's gone wrong. And we're completely on track. And I think no, that's not that's not true. Because it just can't be true. It never is for anybody.

Mike Tobin :

There is. And if that's the case, then you know, they've got an almighty bang coming up sooner or later. Yeah, exactly. Because 90% of success is luck. Yeah. Okay. And luck, can be improved with hard work, and doing all those good things. Right. And you seem to be getting get luckier, right? I was it was it then Tony Jacklin, I think he said, playing golf, he said, the funny thing is that the y'know the harder I work, the luckier I get. Yeah, but but the point is, you have to you have to take circumstance, okay, and work with it. And you know that the successes that come that are coming out in industry that are coming out post COVID are people that have looked at COVID and gone, oh, my God, potentially, my business is dead. However, I'm going to pivot and take this, and I'm going to reprocess my business, I'm going to redirect my business to be COVID functional, right? And where, you know, where people have taken that negative and turned it into a positive? You know, some people in hindsight would say oh that was lucky. You had that? No, it wasn't. Yes, it was lucky but no, it wasn't right. So yeah. You know, so you kind of take these opportunities, and you look for the opportunity and, and in what may be the most dire circumstance. And then people say that was lucky. Yeah, but but it's like, it's like high jumpers, right. I mean, there's a differentiation between high jump and pole vaulting than most other sports. In most sports, it's like, Who's the fastest? Who can lift the most who, you know, is the first one. But high jump, always. The success always ends in failure. Because that's the moment you've achieved the maximum you can achieve. And then you Yeah, that's it, you're done. Right. So but so it almost like your success is achieving a negative? Yeah. And and what is important in in success for me is, you learn nothing from getting it right every time. Right, You never know, whether that was lucky or not. But when you get it wrong, you absolutely 100% know that that was wrong. If you get it right, you might you might know one of many ways to get it right. Or you may have been lucky on that day or whatever. But you know, when you get it wrong, that was 100% the wrong thing. So the learning of life comes from the the painful lessons, the negative lessons, and the more negative lessons you can get the more appropriate and more accurate we can be in getting it right. So, so getting, you know, having having setbacks having hurdles. For me, are just simply honing in on success.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, absolutely. I think you're absolutely right. And actually, and you're so right, because our challenges are what make us at the end of the day. And yeah, they do differentiate you and and, you know, we're all gonna have them this year, we're all gonna have next year, but who knows, you know, there's a different challenge for everyone every year isn't there at the end of the day, it's just that this is a collective challenge.

Mike Tobin :

And look, you know, at the same time, right, you can say, you know, that there's been in, you know, the whole finance industry in 2008, they had a massive crash. And, you know, there were there were bankers becoming Uber drivers. And, you know, but people get through right, now, it's an entire world rather than an industry. But actually, you know, in a way that's better than just simply you having barrier challenges, right. It's actually we're collectively getting through this. Great. So. So the playing field is levelled again. Right? Yeah. It's not kind of just me that's having this problems. Everyone is in the same boat. So what do I need to do to differentiate myself again? Yeah, and we're in a better position now with it with a global problem than we would be with an industry problem or a cyclical problem. Now, we we've all just reset. So yeah, it's actually you know, get off, get off our rear ends and actually do something, will make a difference to us. Because everyone's in the same boat again.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, absolutely. Well, that's a good message for everyone get off your rear end, do something. And there will be positive times ahead.

Mike Tobin :

Absolutely. At the end of the day, right. So, you know, we all get up every morning, you know, we all we all kind of deal with whatever we're dealing with. And these may be different challenges. But we've got through challenges.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, we are. Confidence isn't it? Self belief, confidence? Yeah. positivity. Well, thank you, Michael. This has been such an interesting, it's really interesting chat. And I know your your stories and your journeys. And it's no wonder you have so many books, because you've got so many amazing stories to tell. So for anyone who hasn't yet read it, please go out. And I'll put a link as well in our text to lifting the floor because it's absolutely fascinating. You will gasp with horror, and you will really laugh too, in this book of Mike's incredible journeys through the data centre industry, which is an industry now that we all in this day and age massively are relying on to operate our entire lives, basically. So thank you, Mike. I really, really appreciate your time today. And I look forward to speaking to you again soon.

Mike Tobin :

Thanks, Donna. Appreciate it.

Donna O'Toole :

Thank you for listening to this episode of my winning awards podcast. If you enjoyed it and found it helpful, please share it on Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you have any questions, please head over to craftedbyaugust.com where you can find out more about winning awards and contact me. On the website, you can also take our free awards test, which will identify your awards strength and tell you how likely you are to win. I really hope you've been able to take away some ideas today so that you can go ahead and win awards have an even bigger impact on the world and achieve your dreams. Transcribed by https://otter.ai