Interview with Authority Magazine
Roadmap MBA Founder Steve Pugh was recently interviewed for Authority Magazine.
Read an excerpt of the interview here. The full interview can be found here (links to an external site).
Steve Pugh of Roadmap MBA: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Iwas born and raised in Liverpool (UK) by a single mother who raised two boys. I learned what hard work looks like from my mum, and since then I have been fortunate enough to have travelled the world and build a successful career.
I am driven by a determination to overcome adversity and have devoted myself to helping others remove barriers and build their own lives through free access to business education.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing that has happened since we started Roadmap MBA was reaching people in 47 different countries and the incredible stories we have learned from people on the course. This includes people rebuilding their lives in Ukraine, to school teachers in Kenya looking to fund their non-profit school, to supporting women and girls in Afghanistan learn business skills to develop independence and financial freedom. It is these stories which interest me the most, being able to genuinely impact people’s lives.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made was thinking that simply having social media would be enough to drive new business. I was naïve that business would magically find me and convince buyers to part with their money. It doesn’t.
The sooner entrepreneurs can realize that marketing is incredibly important to help build trust, but you still need to ‘ask for the sale’, this can transform your businesses. Many businesses will give up or die before figuring this out.
Even as a Management Consultant I should have realized this sooner, but when it is your own business you think it will be different, it’s not. Pick up the phone or die.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person who has given me the biggest support throughout my journey is my wife. Becoming an entrepreneur is incredibly challenging and lonely but her constant support has meant that I could follow my dream.
The biggest challenge for most entrepreneurs is to survive the ‘valley of death’ between launching and becoming profitable.
Through my wife’s hard work I knew that the bills would always get paid, even in the early days, which allows me to re-invest into the business and give it everything I’ve got without the challenge many people have where they might not have a supportive partner and they run out of money much quicker.
My wife and I met at university over 20 years ago so we have been on this incredible journey together, on both the highs and the lows.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?
One of the hardest decisions most leaders struggle with is hiring and firing. Hiring is easy, but letting people go is difficult. Especially when you have a personal relationship with the person as part of a small team.
In 2014 the business I was in was badly impacted by the oil and gas crash and we were forced to make cost savings to ensure the business survived. When you list every member of your business on a wall, get out the red pen and put lines through names. Reducing any non-essential people in the machine was ruthless to ensure the business would survive and could continue to support rest of the team.
When you know these people’s families and children this becomes more difficult, but often the tough times create the strongest characters and I know that is true for my career. The hardest times made the biggest positive impact, even if I didn’t see it immediately at the time.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The main role of a CEO is to set the course and direction of a business, not do the tasks themselves. The most important part of a CEOs job is to understand the market, understand the customer, find the opportunities (for how best to grow the organization), then convince the team to follow.
It’s also your job to put your neck on the line to make decisions and align business resource to key areas and be bold enough to cut-off areas of the business which aren’t working.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Many people want to become CEO for prestige or money. Anyone chasing either of these will fail!
The best CEOs are driven by passion and the will-to-succeed at all costs. When you are at the top of an organization your life changes and you are serving your customers and your team 24/7. There is no such thing as time off. Nothing else matters except the success of the organization and if this challenge excites you, this could be the career for you. If you want an easy life, stay middle management.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It is all-encompassing. It is the only thing you think of 24/7/365. There is no time off. Before launching the business, I joked with friends I wanted to work 4 days a month, have a wonderful social life and control my own destiny working whatever hours I wanted. Since launching, I love controlling my own destiny but I feel I’m in competition with every other person in the world (in my space) and I want to win.
If I out-work and out-think the competition, we win. If I take my foot off the gas we lose. Nobody can really explain this until you’re in it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
If you want to be a successful executive, you do need certain skills. You need a solid base of business fundamentals, a good knowledge of your sector and an in-built burning passion for the challenge you have chosen to tackle.
Intelligence or an MBA will only help with problem solving. Without resilience 99% of people will give up. I genuinely believe that only 1% of people are cut out for the top positions and it has nothing to do with academics. It is all about character. Good character, hard work AND academics or experience are unbeatable.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Lead from the front and act in a way which demonstrates your values and commitment to the team.
In 2022 when inflation was hitting hard, we knew we needed to increase the salary of the team but we also knew the business couldn’t really afford it. We also knew we needed to lift the salaries of our lower paid employees the most (as they would be suffering the most).
The only way to make the books balance was for it to come out of my own pay, so I took a pay cut to help the team without negatively impacting the business. It was the self-sacrifice for the greater good of the team will pay back 100x of the course of my career and help build culture and loyalty based on actions, not hollow words or statements which a lot of leaders hide behind.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I grew up poor in a blue-collar part of the UK called Liverpool, famous for the Beatles. I know the transformational impact education can have on someone’s life, but also what it’s like to not be able to access something because of money or time.
Our whole organization is built on bringing FREE business education to the world, making business education and training accessible for 5 billion people. In taking this decision as a business (and not profit-first) we will be leaving tens of £millions on the table, but instead can uplift hundreds of thousands of communities around the world and that’s how I want to make the world a better place.
The full interview can be found here (links to an external site).
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