2021 is my retirement year. In December I head for Thailand and a new life.
But I couldn’t leave without giving something back and sharing some of the things I’ve learned in more than 40 years of business – the people, the challenges, the highs and the lows.
In normal times, I’d do all this face to face over a cup of coffee and a chinwag but as that’s not possible right now, I thought I would go digital!
During the coming months, look out for my ‘lap of honour’ newsletters with stories, anecdotes and insights. I hope my stories bring a smile to your face - and some positive inspiration for the months ahead!
To start off my swan song, did you know I once owned a lake in the Lake District?
Long before glamping and shepherd huts were a thing, I was hoping to get planning permission for log cabins overlooking the River Kent. For technical reasons it didn’t happen but I think business is all about looking for new opportunities and fresh ideas. I will always cherish the memory of owning a lake in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK.
I might be a season ticket holder for the Tangerines (Blackpool FC) but I was born and bred in Yorkshire and came to Blackpool with my family when I was teenager. But at the age of 14, I missed my mates back in Leeds and couldn’t settle at school.
With the bright lights of Blackpool on my doorstep, I wagged school (stuffing my uniform in a locker at Talbot Road Bus Station) and headed to the prom - and the amusement arcades.
Before long I knew the winning combinations of the amusement arcade slot machines.
Thinking back to those times (1970s), the promenade was packed with amusement arcades and I could empty the machines in an hour. The attendants would chase me out and I’d get the odd clip ‘round the ear’ before returning a week later to try my luck again.
I also worked at a fish and chip shop, a darts and candyfloss stall and on weekends I used to ‘barrow boy’ at Blackpool’s central train station. The early morning trains would arrive packed with people who needed help carrying their bags and suitcases to the guest houses, hotels and holiday flats. It was crazy the number of people arriving off the trains in those days so you could earn quite a lot of money!
At the age of 15, I decided it was time to leave home. I wanted to get out into the world and be independent - a feeling that has never left me! I rented my own flat but still went home for sunday lunch (Yorkshire puddings) and to get my washing done.
It’s the end of January; the Christmas festivities are a distant memory and Spring is just out of reach. But for team ICG, the ‘annual conference’ beckons.
For the last 14 years, we have booked the last weekend in January for our ‘team building-cum-Christmas party-cum-annual conference’ trip away. The call for passports is heard, the bags are packed, and we board the airport minibus full of excitement (by the way, it’s a much quieter trip on the way home).
Sadly this year, it’s not to be but thankfully we’ve no shortage of incredible memories from drinking ice cold Czech beer in Prague, strolling down Las Ramblas in Barcelona, relaxing on the beach in Alicante and enjoying coffee in the Madrid sunshine.
I asked my colleagues to share what they remember from our trips to destinations across the UK and Europe...
Peter always managed to end up in casinos at the end of the evening, often losing big money. In Alicante he had a successful night, then lost it all the next night. On the Bruges cruise, he made short work of a few hundred quid in seconds!!
In Malaga we were getting taxis after the tapas bar and Peter turned right instead of left and got totally lost.
Pete fell into a bush in Benalmádena, I know he loves that story.
I vaguely remember Peter chatting up some women in Dublin back at our hotel.
Him snoring very loudly when we’ve shared rooms.
Enjoying a starter of prawns in a chilli and garlic tomato sauce so much in Alicante that he ordered another one.
In Barcelona, one day Peter wore a nifty beige sports jacket. The next day, he had the same jacket but in blue - turns out the jacket was actually reversible!
These winter lockdown months are pretty hard going at the moment but cooking helps me relax. It’s also where my career started, studying catering at Blackpool and The Fylde College, back in the 70s.
I remember my first day - there was a group of 10 of us and the tutor came along and one by one put splashes of Tabasco sauce into our palms. On the count of three, he asked us to lick it off. You can imagine the howls and streaming eyes.
I think the moral of the story is that if you don’t know what something is - ask!
Looking back maybe that’s where my love of very spicy food comes from!
My favourite Friday night meal is home made Indian curry... spicy...hot, hot, hot. I batch cook the base sauce and freeze it into individual cartons. Defrost some king prawns or chicken fillets and serve with rice, naan bread, chutney and a bottle of wine. You have a super meal for less than a fiver! (excluding the wine)
If you need the recipe, drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it seems just right to tell you about In the Mood.
In the Mood was the name of a night club that I managed in the 1980s. By this time, I’d already spent a few years working in catering and one job had led to another.
I was in my 20s and it was a brilliant time in my life - I got to know everyone on the night club scene around Blackpool.
I could walk into any local night club; on Monday I’d be at 007, Tuesday was my favourite, the Adam and Eve, Thursday was Palms, and Friday and Saturday In The Mood.
I am sure some of you will already know that I’ve been married four times. I took full advantage of managing the nightclub and look back at those wonderful nights with a wry smile. Not surprisingly, I’ve had the odd pint of Guinness and a few glasses of wine poured over my head. Good job I had three dinner suits!
In the Mood was popular with the over-25 crowd looking for somewhere to go after the local sports bars had rung last orders. We’d be so busy, we’d have to turn people away at the door until closing time at 1am.
Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon and Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling were at the top of the charts and popular drinks were Bacardi and coke, whiskey and ginger and Cinzano and lemonade.
By the way, In the Mood took its name from the iconic music of Glenn Miller (American jazz musician from the Big Band era). Look it up on YouTube - it’ll get you toe tapping and banish those lockdown blues.
And, finally a word to the wise about Valentine’s Day. If your partner tells you not to make a fuss with hearts and flowers, don’t believe them! Always have something special up your sleeve and get them in the mood!
It’s National Careers Week, and while I might be coming to the end of my career, I remember just how it felt when I was starting out.
My career really got going off when I became Deputy Manager at the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool. The Imperial is a beautiful 19th century seafront hotel which has boasted many famous guests including Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and members of the Royal family.
During my time it welcomed stars of the stage and screen including the comedians, Norman Vaughan, Jimmy Tarbuck and Ken Goodwin as well as Cilla Black and her husband.
I met Harry H Corbett from the massively successful, BBC sitcom Steptoe and Son. He wore a beautiful, tailored blue suit which was such a contrast to how he looked on the telly as a rag and bone man - it blew my mind and the experience stayed with me for weeks.
There were musicians too including glam rock band, Sweet, The New Seekers, famous for the song ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ and Peter Noon from Herman's Hermits.
When the Beatles appeared at the Winter Gardens in 1964, they stayed at The Imperial - I’d already seen them in Leeds as a young lad and I will never forget the screaming fans.
The Imperial also welcomed many politicians as the party conference season got underway at the Winter Gardens. I remember two plain-clothed detectives stationed at dining tables at the two entrances to the hotel’s Louis XV (15th) restaurant accompanying Conservative Prime Minister, Ted Heath and Labour’s Harold Wilson. I was only a young lad at the time, and to see these high profile figures was incredible.
I had some great experiences at The Imperial and learned a lot about how to deal with people and think on my feet. There’s been a lot in the news about how the pandemic has impacted young people - their jobs, education and mental health. They’ve had to downsize their ambitions for the last year but I am confident it will only be temporary; they, and the rest of us, will bounce back.
My love of horse racing came from my parents when we lived in Leeds.
They both loved the horses and every Saturday we would go to a race meeting that was anywhere within traveling distance - Redcar, Tadcaster, Wetherby, York, Thirsk, Pontefract, Ripon, Catterick, Beverley and Haydock.
We were lucky compared to most; both my parents worked, which was unusual back in those days, and my dad always had new cars.
I will never forget when my older brother was sent to a convalescent home to recover from a very serious motorbike accident. As luck would have it, a young Willy Carson was also convalescing in the next bed. Willy Carson went on to become a champion jockey and my parents would visit every night and chat with Willy, they loved it. My Dad’s diaries from the time revealed that he had Willy’s telephone number and he would ring him up asking for tips. The diary reads ‘called Willy, lost again’.
With the Cheltenham Festival in full flow this week, I thought it was a great opportunity to reminisce about the horses. I still love watching the classic race meetings but when I was younger, I would go mad for Cheltenham and Royal Ascot - all the group one races for the jumps and flat seasons.
I used to watch all the previews and the pundits; if I was working and couldn’t watch live racing I would get home and watch every minute of the recorded coverage; I was in heaven.
I alway remember Norton Coin winning the Gold Cup at 100/1 in 1990 and thinking how could you have picked that horse - but as trainers and jockeys always say ‘the horse doesn't know what price he is at the start or finish of the race’.
My favourite Cheltenham Gold Cup winner to this day is Kauto Star who won it twice and was runner up to Denman; he was such a good jumper, trained by Paul Nicholls, a super horse.
I only had the pleasure of attending Cheltenham once which was in 1995 when jockey, Norman Williamson, claimed a rare Champion Hurdle Gold Cup double on Alderbrook and Master Oats.
Norman was a lucky jockey for me and I backed him on the Gold Cup. I didn’t back him in the Champion Hurdle and he won it by around five lengths. I remember watching the race, you could call the winner three fences out, Norman was motionless on the horse, unbelievable, on cruise control. The crowds were brilliant and everybody was smiling. It was a wonderful day out.
These days I place a few bets but nothing like I did in my prime but I still love watching the classic meetings. I also take particular pleasure in ICG’s work for the Racing Foundation and the Scottish Racing Academy.
So if you are planning a flutter this week - here’s some advice. Play smaller stakes and enjoy the racing. On Tuesday, three big priced winners went in - Black Tears 11/1, Vintage Clouds at 28/1 and Jeff Kidder, 80/1 but as one tipster succinctly put it ‘I could have picked 20 horses in this race and not picked the winner from 22 runners’.
Now that the Euros 2020 are over, I can confess to coming off ’a bit worse for wear’ after watching England’s match against Ukraine and having a few too many beers!
Getting into scrapes seems to have followed me around ever since being young - it first started at home with my two brothers. Here’s a few memorable moments…
My elder brother, Paul bought a parachute from a local army shop. I was only five-years-old when he tied it around my shoulders and told me to take ’a run and jump’ off a block of toilets at the end of our street. The parachute didn’t open and I fell to the ground putting out my hands to break the fall. That was the first time I broke both wrists simultaneously.
I broke them again after falling off the climbing frame in the park.
A few years later while whizzing along on my new Christmas roller skates and being pulled by a rope attached to my brother’s bike, I broke them again. He turned the corner and I headed straight for a row of houses!
But the japes and scrapes didn’t stop even when I left home. During my catering days, there were always lots of high jinks! We had a chef called Robert, who was a really tall guy, and a head chef called Douglas Hatfield and together they were always messing about and trying to get me with one thing or another.
One day I trapped my finger in the heavy fridge doors and was screaming out in pain only for Robert to say ’let me have a look’ and he squeezed my finger again. I nearly hit the ceiling because it hurt so much.
Another time, I was locking up for the night and they dressed a broomstick up in chef’s clothes so that when I opened the door, it fell on top of me and I almost had a heart attack, it scared me to death!
And in typical Laurel and Hardy style, they balanced a bucket of water on a door and I got soaked. Couple of nice guys to work with though - always reliable.
I’m a great believer in working hard and having fun along the way, so enjoy as much as you can!
With the summer of 2021 fading and only a few months until I retire and embark on my new life in the “Land of Smiles” AKA Thailand, I’ve been reminiscing about my holidays of the past.
The destinations haven’t always been exotic…Scarborough was the location of choice when I was growing up. Myself and my brother, John, would explore all the small beaches regardless of the weather. Although, I’m not quite sure we were always dressed appropriately… my Mum would often dress us in matching knitted jumpers even when the sun was bright!
Talking of holiday attire, I once spent some time haggling with some locals in Tunisia. Two bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label were swapped for four leather jackets… the whole family were matching and they lasted us for years.
Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria also became a family favourite. As you can imagine the sunshine was guaranteed and I can assure you, I didn’t pack a knitted jumper!
One of my favourite holiday memories was bumping into football manager Ron Atkinson, commonly known as "The Tank", Big Ron or Mr. Bojangles - he’d recently left Manchester United and was relaxing on the beach working on his tan. We talked for a while and it wasn’t until we walked away that my Dad realised who he was!
Ice-cream also brings a smile to my face… we’ve been enjoying them in the office this summer while the weather has been hot… I’ll always remember when my family and I were asked to model in a photoshoot for a leading holiday brochure.
All we had to do was enjoy a fancy ice cream in a beach cafe…we started eating the ice creams the moment we were given them…..it took several takes and several ice creams before we got all the shots they wanted!
… and on that bright and cheerful note, always remember to enjoy a holiday or two even if you can’t get abroad…often the best creative ideas appear when you are relaxed and away from work!
Being in business is all about making decisions. They might not always turn out to be the right ones but you definitely learn from them!
I’d left my early career in catering and had joined a company selling advertising space. Later, I set up my own business called Orbit Publicity with a colleague called Eddie. It was a big decision - we both had to put our houses up as collateral to the bank.
We started off producing self-financed estate agents brochures and local council rate demand leaflets. It was going well when the Director of Midwifery at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary asked us to produce a maternity book called ‘Stork Talk’ for mums-to-be.
After saying no several times, we finally said yes and committed to providing Stork Talk for a five-year rolling period at no cost. We employed a local lady to sell advertising space but after five weeks not a single space had been sold.
Clearly Stork Talk needed some serious effort - neither me or Eddie wanted to pick it up, so we tossed a coin. I lost...so, knowing we’d had no luck selling advertising space, I decided the only way forward was to get cheeky.
I knew two local brothers who each owned children’s nursery shops but they had fallen out with each other. I convinced each of them that the other had taken a full page advert in Stork Talk, and if they didn’t take one too, they would lose out. It worked a treat - they couldn’t sign up quick enough. It was the start of something - I was on a roll.
Next, I signed up Kendal based Farley's Milk for the front inside cover which proved a master stroke and later Cow & Gate for the back inside cover. The Director of Midwifery was delighted and she invited us to a national midwifery conference she was hosting at Lancaster University.
Midwifery units across the country wanted their own version of Stork Talk. It went crazy and after the conference, we travelled all over the country to sign up more hospitals.
The next step was to approach the bank to get some funds and pull together a sales team.
Orders were coming in thick and fast - it was stressful at times and we worked incredibly long hours but the rewards were great.
We had a difficult period with cash flow one Christmas when we received a letter from our bank giving us two week’s notice to reduce our overdraft facility by 50%.
The bank wouldn’t listen to us when I had said our overdraft would be cleared by February.
The only option was to lose six people and put the company cars through the auctions for a quick sale.
We re-employed all our staff on 1st February and it was a bittersweet moment when we told our bank manager we were going elsewhere.
After four successful years we decided to sell the business. Very quickly, we had a couple of interested parties - including a company called Mcmillan Martin in Macclesfield.
It was clear McMillian wanted it and they made an offer which we accepted.
Everything seemed to be ok until the owner of the business went on holiday and the finance director told us he didn’t think it was worth what they had offered.
He thought we would accept a reduced offer but we didn’t and we found a new buyer.
Martin came back from holiday and called to ask if everything was ok with the sale. I told him we were completing with another buyer the following morning. The next 24 hours were tense as we worked late into the evening to draw up a new contract with Mcmillan - they ended up paying considerably more than their original offer!
You have to remember that at this time interest rates were around 15% and many people ended up in negative equity or had their homes repossessed.
After the sale of the business I took a couple of years out spending time with my son, Thomas and my daughter Melissa.
When I joined ICG in October 1998, it only had two clients - BAE Systems which accounted for around 90% of the business, and Bodycote International. My role as new business development manager was to expand the client base in different sectors, working alongside the current MD, Steve Ormand.
In the first 12 months, we were lucky and won a couple of large clients including Baxi Heating at Bamber Bridge and P&O Ferries in Fleetwood. After about 18 months of things going really well, we were told that the business was in advanced talks to buy a company called Lawton Hawthorn Advertising in Preston.
Within the first year of the buyout, we lost the two biggest clients - Booths supermarkets and Patak's Foods. After a further 12 months, there were just a handful of people left who had joined ICG from Lawton Hawthorn.
At this time Denise Dawson was appointed Managing Director in 2001.
Denise had some difficult decisions to make in those early days - closing down the recruitment advertising team and replacing the web development team with an external partnership arrangement.
The restructure set us back a while as everyone adjusted to the changes but we soon started to win new clients and get back on a level playing field.
Simon Couchman joined us as Creative Director in 2004 from a London agency and quickly started to have an impact within the business.
Simon and I attended most new business appointments together and we had some great times on the road.
Time and time again we’d get lost, often having to add an extra 30 minutes to the journey to make sure we would get there in time.
We used to blame each other for not following the directions correctly... it always made me laugh and it would be the first thing Simon would mention to the team when returning to office.
He once booked us into a hotel in London that was like a prison cell with no windows. The shower and toilet was a curtain you pulled round and the beds touched like an L shape.
In January 2013 myself and Simon took over as joint MDs, and since then we’ve worked collaboratively alongside a great team which has seen the business go from strength to strength.
We launched a staff profit share scheme, created new digital and social teams, refurbished the offices complete with games room and outdoor dining and encouraged staff to get involved with everything from triathlons to award wins.
ICG has seen more than 10 years of consistent growth and our client portfolio has grown beyond recognition. We now have a diverse mix of clients from multi-nationals to SMEs across many different sectors.
For me, one of the best things at ICG has been working with young, talented people. It has kept me feeling young and enjoying work, especially seeing members of the team progress and develop their skills.
We call ourselves the ICG family because people genuinely care for others as friends, not just work colleagues - it’s what I shall miss most of all.
Today, I wrap up my very last Lap of Honour with a final farewell.
I head off to Manchester Airport tomorrow for a new life of sun, sea and sand in Thailand.
Earlier this month, ICG family members past and present, friends, colleagues and relatives gathered for a great night of celebration - a surprise retirement party. It was quality!
Blindfolded in an ICG scarf (of course!) from the Queen’s Hotel in Lytham to Fylde Rugby Club where everyone was waiting, there was not a dry eye in the house.
Just before I locked up at the barn for the last time, I was presented with a book of ‘appy memories’ from the team - have a flick through, it will bring a smile to your face.
Well, that’s all from me. An exciting new chapter awaits for the brilliant team at ICG - good luck.