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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

Resilience: The Drive To Succeed

Resilience. What makes some of us dig in and try, try again in the face of constant adversity, whilst others crumble at the first sign of difficulty?

A smiling bald-headed man with glasses talking to a grey-haired, smiling man with glasses talk about resilience on a podcast
Mike White (left) and Andy Goram (right) examine the drivers behind resilience

In the latest episode of Sticky From The Inside, the employee engagement, culture and leadership podcast, I wanted to take a closer look at the topic of resilience, to find out, first-hand, what the determining factors were, and what we could learn from that.

I called up my good friend, Mike White, who's the CEO and co-founder of a successful, global, creative innovation agency, Lively Worldwide to see if he'd come on the show to talk about his experiences of resilience. Why interview a successful CEO of a global enterprise? Because it hasn't always been that way, and Mike's story, I think, is a great example of overcoming a constant series of challenges and knock-backs, on the way to success.

Building resilience

His journey is a testament to the power of self-awareness, resilience, and the determination to keep moving forward, despite the odds. School was a tough battleground for the young Mike, navigating an education system that was ill-equipped to nurture his creative and dyslexic mind. But instead of succumbing to the pressure, he used it as fuel to prove his worth. From organising a legal rave at 21 (and having all the taking stolen from him), and working in telesales, to securing a marketing job without a degree. From being set-up to run an Agency by Virgin, and then losing it all after 14 years of success, to starting over, relocating and disrupting a crowded industry, Mike has managed to keep moving forward through it all. But how?

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, where you can read about the factors behind Mike's drive, resilience and resolve. Or you can listen via the player below.

Podcast introduction

00:00:10 - Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to Sticky From the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing consistently successful organizations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode, we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses. The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

A story of determination

00:01:10 - Andy Goram

Okay? I'm genuinely thrilled to have you join me today as we dive into what I really do think is going to be an inspiring story of resilience and triumph in the face of adversity. Today, I've got the privilege of sitting down with an old friend and colleague of mine from 20 or so years ago, who, to me, is the epitome of resilience and determination. And I'm not saying that they've had it worse than anybody else, but from my perspective, they've conquered challenges, turned setbacks into stepping stones, and probably emerged stronger than ever each time.

I also think it's fair to say that my guest today probably wouldn't have picked this topic to talk about, or volunteer to talk about himself like I'm going to ask him to. But I think his is a story worth hearing and hopefully one that can help inspire or motivate anyone out there dealing with similar things, especially not to give up.

So with me today is Mike White. Now, Mike's the CEO of Lively, a creative innovation agency that's taken the industry by storm. Now, for me, the most interesting thing about Mike's story is not just his current successes, all the amazing companies he now works with, all the things he gets to do, which I'm sure he'll tell us all about, it's the journey that's led him here. To me, Mike's path has been paved with both personal and business challenges that would have, I think, made many others falter and maybe even give up. But he chose not to give up. He has shown, what I think is real determination and an unyielding belief in the power of self and resilience. And he is not afraid of taking gutsy decisions when opportunity does arise.

Understanding where resilience comes from

So, in what I know will be an honest episode, I want to try and understand and unravel that resilience that has shaped Mike's career. We'll learn how he transformed personal adversities into invaluable life lessons and redefined his leadership approach along the way. So whether you're a seasoned executive or an inspiring entrepreneur, I hope Mike's story will leave you feeling invigorated and equipped to embrace your own journey with real confidence. So be ready to be uplifted, inspired and motivated as we uncover the secrets to bouncing back stronger, wiser and more successful with my good friend Mike White. So buckle up and join us as we embark on what I expect to be an honest, engaging and enlightening conversation. Welcome to the show, Mike.

00:03:45 - Mike White

Hey, thank you for having me. What an introduction. Gosh!

00:03:47 - Andy Goram

Brilliant to have you here, my friend. A long way from our, let's say, greyer days in Perry Barr, Birmingham. Actually, I've still got the grey theme going on. I'm in Northampton. You, L.A. Very different.

00:04:04 - Mike White

Heady days of Allied Domecq. Let's call them that.

00:04:08 - Andy Goram

Yes! Headache days of Allied Domecq is probably more applicable. Anyway, Mike, great to have you today. I know you probably feel a touch uncomfortable talking about, or tackling some of this stuff today, because as we'll find from the stories, I think you just take this stuff in your stride, but I think the story is well worth listening to. But before we get into all that lovely stuff, do us a favour, mate. Just give us a little bit of your background and what you're up to today and what's taking your focus right now.

An introduction to Mike White

00:04:40 - Mike White

Okay, well, like you introduced me, I'm the CEO and co founder of Lively Worldwide. We call ourselves a creative innovation agency because we believe marketing is going through a massive change. The way brands are in demand changed the way that they engage with their audiences. And so we believe that is a mix of live and authentic engagement brand experience, but also an important level of understanding how technology plays a role in that. So we set the business up six years ago. Ironically, because of our proposition, our best years were during the Pandemic, which I don't think any other brand experience company can possibly say. And yes, and it brought me to Sunny L.A., which I'll kind of put into perspective later on.

How I got here? Well, obviously, I'd say my career really kicked on when I joined Allied Domecq, which is when I met you. And that got me into an industry that embraced my creativity and my unusual approach to working out solutions, let's say. Before that, through the whole course, like you said, you don't set up your own business for an easy life. And we'll talk about that later. But it was tough starting because it started at school. And school in the 80's and 90's was, well, probably still isn't designed to cater for the dyslexic, creative people that I now know I am. So it was tough at school. I came out of it as quickly as possible, and then I went on a, let's say, an exciting journey of experimentation.

00:06:44 - Andy Goram

Well, that's an interesting topic right there.

Challenges of the school system

00:06:50 - Mike White

Trying to find out... because school wouldn't help me find out there what I was made for, what was I put on this world to do. There's a ridiculous story that I did one of those career tests, I think when you're 16 or 17 and it told me that I should either be an airline pilot or a hairdresser. Given I'm now bald, that hairdressing one wouldn't have probably worked. Although I'm sure there are bald headdresses out there. And given I'm blind as a bat, I don't think the airline pilot would have worked out as well. The career challenges started at an early age, let's say, but to quote a very obvious phrase, "What doesn't break you, makes you stronger." And I'm pleased to say that I'm very happy with where I've ended up and where I'm going.

00:07:40 - Andy Goram

I think that's a fascinating piece just to take a bit of a pause, because that school set up that you and I went through. I think mine was called Gigcal, or something ridiculous, as the career finder. I think I was supposed to be a barrister, which... not a chance, I mean, I'm just not clever enough...

00:08:03 - Mike White

Barrister or a Barista?

00:08:05 - Andy Goram

Do you know what? Maybe there's a bit of Dyslexia with me as well, right? So maybe it could have been one of those things. It's crazy, but school, I don't think was set up for that sort of stuff. I'm amazed... and I guess I shouldn't be, at the number of people I end up speaking to now who are of our age, who have only recently kind of really been properly diagnosed as having some form of dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD. Because in our day, those things weren't really talked about very widely. You were a smart kid, or you were a thick kid.

00:08:38 - Mike White

Yeah. And also the classes were so big and the setup was so big that they couldn't recognize you as an individual either. That was my biggest shout. And look, there's a couple of teachers out there that I can't just slag off my whole kind of school life. There were some teachers there that really tried help me and thought they recognized my talent but they were still trying to push that through a traditional format. And I think that's something just to say about my career is I've never fitted into a traditional format of a career, ever.

00:09:17 - Andy Goram

Well, no, I remember that. I mean, for those who don't know, Allied Domecq was a huge, sprawling international company about drink or spirits, wines and leisure, really. Pubs, restaurants, retail, all that kind of good stuff. And we worked in, what to us, would have been quite a big marketing department. But in the scheme of it, pretty small, in the big function of it. And to say that you didn't really fit in. I mean, you were 6' 6". I mean, you don't fit into many things. But I think that's an interesting place to have a look. So when I first met you, you were a, YPV, promotions manager or a marketing manager, one of those things, right?

00:10:06 - Mike White

Young person, marketing manager, yeah. What a great title, eh?

00:10:11 - Andy Goram

You're young, market to yourself was pretty much the gig.

The power of supportive people

00:10:14 - Mike White

That's why I could do the job, basically. Even getting there was interesting, though, because to get a marketing job in those days, you needed a degree. And I didn't have one. And I think that was one of the... I'm going to say the word "luck", which I know you're always going to challenge me on. But that's why people have played such a critical role in my life and I think leads to this whole idea of resilience. If you've got people around you, they can really help that with resilience. And I was lucky because I basically ended up things just got so ridiculous from a career point of view. I took a job doing telly sales in Carlsberg, and it was a lady there that said, "You'd be much more suited to marketing", and she helped me get into that marketing role at Allied.

00:11:08 - Andy Goram

I think when someone sees you as an individual, and not just sees you, but extends an arm of help, or pushes you in the right direction, or makes a connection, sometimes those seemingly insignificant little moments are the things that really propel people on.

00:11:32 - Mike White

100%. I think I've got, let's call them stepping stones rather than mentors, but I've got about seven stepping stones that I can now reflect on that goes, thanks to that person, you've just hit it in the head. Recognizing me as an individual and for the skills I've got, helped me on that way and supported me and collaborated with me.

00:11:53 - Andy Goram

It gives you that kind of energy boost to take the confidence to take a new step, a fresh step, which otherwise you might not have done. Until somebody shows some belief that you're something else, or recognizes something in you that might allow you to do something else.

Building confidence and skillset

00:12:12 - Mike White

But also just on that, though, for all those people that are in telesales jobs and stuff like that, one of the many things that gives me my confidence now is I know that I've got a multifaceted skill base. Like the amount of times even now when I'm writing strategy for the likes of Ericsson and people like that, I'm still referencing something that happened to me in that telesales office, or something that happened to me with you in the marketing team, Allied Domecq. It's having that diversity of skill that allowed me to get to where I am.

00:12:51 - Andy Goram

Listen, I ran, I guess, a colour-based, self awareness programme with a bunch of guys who were working in a support centre for a big care home company the other day. I tell you what, what a fabulous bunch of people they were. They could teach a lot of customer experience leaders what the essence of customer service is. I'm certainly not denigrating anybody that works in a call centre. I'm just sort of saying at an early stage in that being your job, it sounds like with the background you had and without somebody picking you up, you could have stayed there.

00:13:33 - Mike White

Yeah. Giving you that motivation, 100%.

00:13:36 - Andy Goram

Yeah. Let's just talk about this because I've set you up as somebody I consider to be very successful, doing great things right now. This whole topic is about resilience. And I've said, listen, there's been a lot of stumbling, not always through your fault, or things that you've done. You've been put in situations or you found yourself in situations. So do me a favour, buddy, if you're comfortable, just talk us through a bit of that timeline.

Learning from mistakes

00:14:06 - Mike White

Okay? Yeah. I'm going to start with a quote from a guy I've got a lot of respect for called Mike Mathieson, who I don't know if you ever met him, but you'll know, his agency, Cake.

00:14:18 - Andy Goram

Was he BeatWax, originally?

00:14:19 - Mike White

It started as FFI BeatWax and we brought those guys in to help us with Student and Young People's campaign. But yeah, he's now a consultant because he successfully sold his business and he's working with about five businesses right now. And I remember talking to him and he was very honest. He said, "Look, my consultancy is built around telling people about my mistakes. Because if you listen to my mistakes and understand how I got out of them, you can probably do things a lot faster than I did." And I think that's such a good thing, because it was like, for me, school kind of really put me down, but I don't know whether it was a natural thing. But the thing that got me through that was I can remember having this conversation with my dad, who had probably had mild panic attacks every week when he saw how my education was going. And I just used to say to him, I was like, "Dad, I'm looking around me and I see that I come from a healthy, successful family." And I used to say to him, it's like, "I know I'm intelligent". What I now know it wasn't the academics I could do, but I was an intelligent person.

Learning fast

So that self awareness at an early age made me kind of 1) be determined to prove people wrong. But that kind of gave me my drive because yeah, I got to the point where I hated school. Which is horrible. Because it's also supposed to be the best times of your life. Then coming out of that, I started working behind bars, waiting and things like that. And all my other friends were getting their degrees and we're talking about careers and I was the barman working at the weekend. For me, I got a little bit carried away with myself. I started... it was in the 90's, the Rave scene was really strong, and I saw an opportunity to start building parties. So I don't know whether it was the first, but I decided I was going to produce one of the first legal raves.

00:16:30 - Andy Goram


00:16:31 - Mike White

And it was great fun. I did it on my 21st birthday. And unlike everybody else, I got a lawyer involved, I had contract made with the venue. I was kind of engaged with the police... I really tried to do it like the absolute right way. But silly me, you know, young, egotistical guy from Dorset thought he could go up to North London and work with a guy called Levi's. And sure enough, you know, when I presented him with the contact, he tore it in half and ended up at 02:00 in the morning taking all my money off me.

00:17:07 - Andy Goram

What a lovely bloke.

00:17:08 - Mike White

I very quickly learned that there are two sides to the world of entertainment and I was very much suited to the sensible one. Which is actually, I think it was six months after that, my dad said, "For Christ's sake, go and get a job. This creativity of yours is starting a little bit too early." But I've just kind of brushed over that. What I realized was, though, I was 21 and I managed to get, I don't know, thousands of people in a warehouse, design an incredible party, and it did make money, I just kind of didn't go into my pocket.

00:17:51 - Andy Goram

It just got robbed off you.

Finding strength in adversity

00:17:53 - Mike White

Yeah. But a lot of people would have kind of turned away from that. You have no idea the strength that gave me for some of my future jobs. I've built a career now, of events. My dad literally was like, "I can't believe you've made a career out of throwing parties. It's ridiculous. You don't need a degree for that." So that happened. And for me, if you think about it, I was trying to attempt to be self employed and then I had to take a massive step back and go and get a nine to fiver. But I think my point is kind of just always looking forward. It's like, "Okay, I've taken a bit of a step back. I've got to restart the building blocks, but I've still got a passion here." and then...

00:18:47 - Andy Goram

Mike, sorry, mate. That's easy to say, isn't it? It's such an easy thing. "Just always look forward. Just always look forward." Is it that easy for you? Or is there something...

00:18:55 - Mike White

I cry on a daily basis. Throughout life, I don't think anybody, even the happiest people, even Richard Branson, can't say there aren't ridiculously dark times. I think the important bit is, and again, I've got this... so much of this is about people. I took a massive step back, started to think, "Right, I need a career. What's it going to be?" That again, a punch in the face, "You haven't got a degree. How are you going to get a career in something that is going to suit your creative talents?" I luckily then got into Allied Domecq. You know, that there were a few interesting political challenges within that. I was challenged about why, within our own team, why was I there when I didn't have a degree? And why was I being paid more than anybody else?

00:19:49 - Andy Goram

I remember that conversation

00:19:54 - Mike White

But again, you saw the reaction. And the reaction was about self belief. Unfortunately, some of that self belief was a defense mechanism, that did actually... I've had some coaching and a lot of stuff over the way because there is a bit of anger that comes out when I'm challenged like that. That was my original defense mechanism. Now I've kind of learned to channel that a lot more. And like I said earlier, all my, if you want to call them mistakes, we can call them mistakes, but actually they're just amazing life lessons. And so got into that career. That really was fun. And we were a great bunch of people and we were doing some really creative stuff and we had people around us that would allow us to do that creativity. We did some pretty crazy and innovating stuff back in the day.

And then I got the opportunity to set up my own business. That was a "successful" in inverted commas, business, for 14 years as a self starter agency. I was actually set up by Virgin to have my own independent agency. But again, that came to an end. And for me, that was a very dark place. To have built up a very good agency, award-winning agency with a fantastic group of people, with fantastic West End offices, doing music festivals. To then have that rug pulled away from you is a shock to the system. And especially the older you get as well. And then when you get married and when you have kids, that pressure just piles on and piles on. But to your point, yes, that delivers dark stages in your life. But I don't know whether it's an automatic pilot, or something that I've just learned to improve on over time. But for me, there's only one way to look, and that's look forward.

Maintaining your drive in darker times

I got annoyed during the pandemic, the word pivot became like this dirty bingo word. But I've sworn by pivot all my life because it's such a great analogy. It's a basketball move. You're in a position with the ball, everybody's running at you and they're going to take it off you. So you take a step back, you look around you, you still know what you've got to achieve. You've just got to go in a different direction. And it's just those little bits of snippets of advice that if you remember them and hold them true, they allow you to get out of those dark places quicker.

00:22:37 - Andy Goram

The experience of going through something like that and coming through the other side must build something, another layer of belief, or confidence. That okay, I've been through some tough times. It hurts. I've come through it, right?

00:22:56 - Mike White

Yeah, 100%. I do events because I've always run a pretty agile small business. I often get questioned, can you handle this event? And I'm like, I used to do the headline sponsorship of V Festival across two sites simultaneously that included two dance clubs for two and a half thousand people, backstage hospitality for thousands of people, and all the branding, and all the negotiations. And then one year, I did the Commonwealth Games at the same time. It's like, if you can achieve that sort of stuff, nobody can tell me that I can't do something. It gives you that kind of confidence and determination and adrenaline as well.

00:23:43 - Andy Goram

I think this is hilarious, because I've got you on here to talk about resilience and give us the tips to dealing with trauma and coming through it and bouncing back. And I'm fast getting to the conclusion that this conversation is going to be about how to maintain drive and focus as your kind of resilience superpower. Because it does make me giggle when you talk about stuff, because you go, "Oh, yeah, I set up an agency. It was successful for 14 years. It was backed by Virgin. And the next story is..." Well, hang on, fella, let's just step back. You don't just walk down the street and Branson gives you some money to go and set up an agency. There's stuff behind that. You don't just get into entertainment in Allied because, "Oh, there's a job. Oh, we'll just give it to Mike." I mean, you fashioned and created that job because it was something that you wanted to do. To me, there's this definite drive that must lie behind your resilience. It's either belligerence, or it is an extreme belief in that you can do stuff.

Being self-aware

00:24:49 - Mike White

There's a bit of all of it, to be honest with you. But, yeah, sometimes I wonder whether I beat myself up too much, for sure. It's a hard thing. I like this word resilient, because resilience, it means a lot of things. And we've already covered a couple of them. Self awareness is a biggie. And just a little side track. I much prefer self awareness, than emotional intelligence. Anybody uses the word emotional intelligence, run because they haven't got any self awareness. And I know that for a fact. I think that's the thing. I think because of the school thing, I had no choice. I remember actually yeah, kind of diving into this I remember when my dad passed away, actually, I'd ended up getting myself into a really cool, very creative agency in London. I couldn't believe I got the job, actually, because I was a suit wearing marketeer from Birmingham, where I spent three years, and I was trying to get a job in a fashion agency in the West End. And somebody pointed out that I'd been wearing the same suit because I only had one.

00:26:05 - Andy Goram

The brown three piece suit.

00:26:11 - Mike White

Yes! And the guy said, look, if you want to get a job in a fashion agency, I'd dump the three piece suit, if I were you. So, for me, I think that's the thing is it's like this understanding of self awareness and having to find out what your skill sets are. That was my bit. Because I'm not trying to alienate people with degrees, but it used to be kind of, I've got this degree. This is proven that I have done three years and I know stuff, and blah, blah, blah. If you don't have that, you've just been a guy behind a bar trying to get a qualified job. So the self awareness, I think, was ingrained into me at an early age. I've got to sell myself. Got to sell myself. It's finding those unique skills that will fit into the relevant type of creative work that I wanted to do. To your point about, yeah, I'm making it all sound so easy and so rosy, but a lot of dark times. Probably if you spoke to my wife, she'd probably say, there's more dark times than happy times.

Coming back from tough times

00:27:15 - Andy Goram

I would want to dig into that a touch, if you don't mind. Because you talk about that agency that you had for 14 years, and then it wasn't there. Now, over 14 years, you must build up pride, passion, belief. You've got all those people working for you. There's so much stuff involved in the business has been going for that long that's yours. And then for it to go. To disappear, that's huge. Now, that must have been one of the toughest times to come back from.

00:27:54 - Mike White

Yeah. One of my weaknesses is definitely my emotions. I think I love everything I do. Most things I do. That's the biggest challenge when you're setting up a business, is you become... They talk about it, actually. It's funny, isn't it? We all think we're unique and individual and doing things differently and breaking the mould. And then you go and read a bloody book and they tell you that it's just a process that everybody's going through. Because when you start a business, there's this kind of kick-off stage, where just everybody's in it together. Four or five people, nobody's got titles. Everybody's rolling up their sleeves. They're all driving for just success. And it's adrenaline, it's exciting, it's camaraderie. You don't even care how many hours you're working. Then the work comes in, and then you've got to start... So you're a group of friends, basically. Then the work starts coming in, and you get to 15-20 people. Suddenly it's a family. The founders are the parents, the clients are the uncles or whatever. And I'm not patronizing staff, but they are your kids. You're bringing them in. You're giving them a career, you're giving them a job. And then you go from over 30, 25, 30 people, you have this horrible departmentalisation. And suddenly the politics, the emotions and all of that kick in. So, yeah, that 14 years was having never done that before. And I didn't read that book until after it all happened.

00:29:42 - Andy Goram

There you go.

00:29:43 - Mike White

And you don't know how to manage those scenarios. Because you do. You just want to be everybody's friend. And unfortunately, that's why they say, don't mix business with pleasure or business with friends or anything like that, because Richard Branson did it. He had a guy who was one of my main clients, worked with him for 25 years, and he got an email at the end of it. But by then, Richard was running an empire. It's a horrible thing to say, but that's how businesses get run.

When you see your company, just disappear... and the reason there are so many factors. Our biggest client decided to change direction completely. My business partner and I had a wonderful, wonderful relationship. We're still really good friends, but he was just like, "I'm done." And we always said the minute one of us was done, we'd just kind of separate. We didn't want to fight about who owns what and stuff like that. So that was really the catalyst, was, okay, my business partner doesn't want to do this anymore. And I've become so attached to having... I think that was actually probably losing my business partner was the biggest hit to me than actually losing the business, thinking about it. Because I was just so emotionally attached to that team. And then the staff there were brilliant staff that worked for that company. God, we did some incredible stuff, and they had to look after themselves. But you take it. And I think that's the thing, is you go through that emotional deconstruction, and it was three months. It was absolutely three months. And then you got to build yourself back up from that point, which is where the pivoting comes in, the awareness comes in, the self control comes in. It's easy to go and stare at a bottle of wine for the answer.

The steps of change and re-birth

00:31:52 - Andy Goram

Yeah, but that is what some people end up doing, Mike. Listen, I'm interested to kind of get to if that's the lowest low, potentially, how do we get to where we are today? Because I mentioned in the intro about this resolve, but also being pretty gutsy to take some decisions when opportunities arise. I think that's something that's a marker throughout your career, as I've seen it, is that when there's an opportunity, you are not shy in having a go at it. Regardless how risky it is, you'll have a go. And I think that's quite a big factor. So in this case, after those 14 years, after that turmoil of that breakup, how do we get to where we are today? What's happened?

00:32:41 - Mike White

A series of steps. I don't want to sound like I was an alcoholic, but I stopped drinking. I got on a massive health plan. I've been doing music festivals for 14 years, so my health was not in a good way. Particularly if you think about it before then. I'd been in the leisure industry, drinking with you as well.

00:33:07 - Andy Goram

Mineral water, obviously.

00:33:07 - Mike White

I went on a mineral water. Yeah, we sold mineral water. Carlsberg Ice. Remember that? Look, I got healthy, I took a break, as in, I made time for myself. I started reading a lot. For anybody that knows me. I'm not a reader, but I started looking for inspiration and guidance, and I started not leaning on, but I started searching for the right people in my family and in my friends to help me. And my wife played an incredible part in this. That self support of look... And that's what's really nice. Like you said, when you start talking to the right people and they start reminding you about... because I thought I was a failure then. That's all I thought. "I'm a failure." Because I set myself up for what I thought success was. But I ran an independent agency for 14 years.

00:34:07 - Andy Goram

Yeah, come on, Mike.

Reprogramming self-belief

00:34:07 - Mike White

I got awards coming out of my backside. I was recognized in the industry. Just all of these things that had to be reinstalled back into me. My skills had to be pushed back in. People had to shake the tree and remind me what I want. And then I was like, "Okay, well..." you and I discussed a really good analogy that I want to bring up. You said this, so I'm not taking credit for it, but my pilot light had gone out. And I needed to find how to reignite that pilot light. And so I went back to my skill. I was like, "Right, what do I want to do? What do I want to do for the next ten years? This isn't going to happen overnight. What are my strengths? What am I recognized for? And also, how do I do something differently?"

Because I've always been a person that probably makes me sound insane, but I used to go into the West End for the same agency year on year for three or four years. And I found myself, like, getting up, doing this, even to the point I'd go to the same sandwich shop to grab a coffee and a sandwich, bacon sandwich, because I was unhealthy. And I was like, "I'm in my own little rat race here." So I used to do things like, I'm not going to go to the same sandwich shop every day. And I think that was this pivoting for... if I'm going to set up another agency, I love disrupting stuff. So how do I disrupt it? What is needed in this industry to shake things up? And the minute I got that, I started getting positive responses. "That's a really good idea." So I started a rebuild from then. And like you said this two years into that. It's really weird, this whole thing. Harvard did a study that basically said if you write a five year plan and you start to put things as a vision and what you want to achieve, it's crazy how some stuff actually happens. And I just wrote on a piece of paper, like, "I want to be global. I don't want a massive office with loads of people in it. I want to be more strategic. I want to do this, I want to do that." And through all of the good stuff that I'd done in the years before, and the messaging and the repositioning I was then putting out through my social channels. The phone started to ring and I ended up with a US client. And I literally remember turning around to my wife going, "This is a bit crazy. I wanted to go global and here I am with a US client." I was running an agency for 14 years and never got a US client. It's mad. That when you start doing that how things can happen. Positives, affect positives.

00:36:59 - Andy Goram

It's not mad, Mike. It's not mad. I mean, I think if I look at the stuff I do with my clients, the pilot light analogy of when you lose that energy, that spark, it's hard to find anything. It's hard to go in any direction because you've just lost your drive. But when you sit down with a client and you think about, "Well, what do you want to achieve now?" Whether that is personal stuff, or whether that is organisational stuff, that exercise of really thinking about where you're headed and why you're headed in that direction and what it's going to look like is incredibly powerful on both sides. So it doesn't sound crazy to me, Fella. It sounds like you did all the right things to kind of get back on track. And look where you are now.

How does your experiences over the years influence how you curate the culture in Lively, where you are now?

Resilience's impact on leadership

00:37:58 - Mike White

That's a good question because it's the difference between kind of resilience and leadership, isn't it? Yeah. When I was young, I thought leadership was about being friends with everybody. Culture was about... I had a bar in my... first thing I built, with my new first office was a bar and a ping pong table, before anybody else did that sort of stuff. I was inspired by my old agency because Exposure was very creative when it came to that. So, yeah, my whole office was built around entertainment and we were going to music festivals, so we were out all the time. It was a cool office, it was fun. But that's when it started to like... it's funny when my business partner and I, we literally hand built, not like structurally, but interior designed our office, and it was cool. And for the first five years it was. But then we started to call it our prison because it was like, "What's the point of this building? What is the point of all these people? Am I creating a business just to employ people, or I'm creating a business to achieve something?"

It's about, for me, vision, strategy and understanding, I think, are the key principles. It's really interesting. We're positioning ourselves more and more around strategy, and a lot of people are like, "How do you start writing a strategy for a global company?" But it's in my title. It's vision and strategy. You just sort of understand what that end goal needs to be and work out how to get there. And so my job as a leader, is to constantly when people say, "What do you do?" I say, "I do vision and strategy for my business and for my clients." It is my job, as a CEO, to maintain a focus on why we are doing all of this. And the culture around that is we will celebrate and have fun, but we will support each other to maintain that end goal. And then as long as... going back to the education thing, which is the hardest point of running a business with people, is you've also got to remember that every single one of those people is an individual. And that's why it is hard.

00:40:24 - Andy Goram

But you know from your own experience how important that is.

00:40:28 - Mike White

100%. Yeah, it really is. And I've been in a lot of debates recently, because we run a totally virtual business. We don't have offices, we all work from home. And I'm the chairman of the CEO Club for The Drum, for a group of CEOs that run agencies across America. And I'm the only one that's still doing home office. Because everybody is saying, "But you can't have a culture without an office." And I'm like, "Since when's the culture been about brickwork?" That just doesn't gel with me. Elon Musk Musk demanding everybody back in the office or they'll be fired. Especially in our industry, if I don't get out of that, even sometimes this room becomes my prison. Which is why I do need to get out sometimes between nine and five and Monday to Friday, because otherwise I'll just be stifled, and I'll forget what I'm doing.

00:41:34 - Andy Goram

Well, even the architects of modern remote working, Zoom just recently said, "Yeah, you need to all come back to the office." I mean, I think there's a complete hot mess of all this stuff out there at the moment.

00:41:46 - Mike White


00:41:48 - Andy Goram

There are plenty of businesses that have operated remotely, solely, remotely for years who work very hard at their culture. It's just different. You just have to take a different approach to it.

00:42:00 - Mike White


The influence of the Pandemic

00:42:01 - Andy Goram

I think the world of work has definitely changed. I think there'll be businesses that slip back and go back to the old normal. I think there'll be others that will find a very different route.

00:42:12 - Mike White

Yeah. But to be honest with that's, our company proposition is, and we predicted that after the Pan... during the end of the Pandemic. We said at least 60% of industries will go back to normal and will have learned nothing from the Pandemic. And while everybody, from an individual point of view, learned a lot from the Pandemic, if there's one positive to have come out of the Pandemic, it was people started to focus on themselves a lot more and realised that their life is now, not when they retire at 65. And as an employer, we are all struggling with that. Because I've got a nephew who got a degree and he hasn't got a career yet and he's 28. But the lucky bugger is he's working minimum sorry, maximum six months a year. And then he's going travel. He went traveling around the whole of Europe for 15 weeks and he spent five no, two and a half grand.

00:43:12 - Andy Goram


00:43:13 - Mike White

And he was doing these work-to-live places, or whatever it is, and he was staying in nice places. That guy is seeing the world. And obviously me and my sister, his mum are like, "Oh, my God! He hasn't got a career, he hasn't got a job." And I'm like, well, he's also worked out that if he doesn't get a job until I think it's 28 or 30, he doesn't have to pay off his student loan.

Sticky notes of wisdom

00:43:36 - Andy Goram

Well, there's always a method in all of this. Mike, this has been, for me, a lovely way to catch up with a mate over something that... there's things in here I knew and there's things in here I didn't know. I always had this view of you as a proper go-getter and somebody who didn't necessarily fit the mould. And I think that's definitely something that's kind of come through here, which is a really encouraging thing for anybody listening. And I look fondly on it because I have two kids who have struggled through school, diagnosed with various learning difficulties and are pursuing, or trying to pursue careers in the creative world. So they've got somebody now who they can listen to and kind of take inspiration of, which I think is fabulous.

00:44:27 - Mike White

Oh! That's very kind of you.

00:44:29 - Andy Goram

No, mate, not at all.

I have an area in the show I call sticky Notes, which is a lazy attempt, right to summarise the greatest pearls of wisdom, Mike, that you can leave us with. And I know you take a lot of what you've achieved, done for granted, and we call it resilience, but it's a driver. If you could fit three bits of advice, thinking about those things, those factors that have kept that drive up and kept you looking forward and focused forward, which you sort of said yourself, what would those three sticky notes say?

00:45:01 - Mike White

Oh, God, can I have more than one sticky note? I'll do three, but I'll shoehorn a couple of things into each one.

I don't know whether to say be human or be individual. There is a strength in your individuality. Look at your skills and your life skills, as well as your academic skills. They're applying more and more to this world 100%.

Then find the right people to be around you. I'm not saying, like, model your friends or anything like that, but there is a time to switch on and off who you're going to hang out with and stuff like that. I've got my party friends and then I've got my sensible friends and they come into factor at the right time. And also those people, like I've highlighted is I've got at least seven stepping stones of people that I have actually been trying to reach out to recently and thank them and make them realize that they did help me on my career path. And it's holding those words true to yourself.

And then you can say I sound really L.A., but the third one is Breathe.

00:46:12 - Andy Goram

Oh, you sound so L.A.

00:46:14 - Mike White

You've got to make time for yourself. Yeah, I still do it. My schedule is a little bit of a weird one because obviously I've got a base in the UK. So I kind of get up at six and I start work at 6:30. But if I don't make a break at eleven, no matter how tough the day is, and I go and I go for a bike ride or just something, that day pretty much will be guaranteed to end up being stressful. And I think that applies. I won't go into a bit of biggie, but if anybody wants to Google "The Corporate Athlete" that was created by Harvard Business, it's a really interesting tool. It's about basically summary of getting a life balance. And I was given that by a coach years ago and again, that really helped me through my hard times. You don't have to think that you've got to double down and kill yourself by working every hour in the day. I reckon I get more productive, ironically, the less hours I do. Because I focus on my job and I don't focus on doing other people's job. That's really important to me.

00:47:26 - Andy Goram

I mean, those are three full on sticky notes there, mate. And I think they provide a really nice, simple insight into perhaps some of the things we take for granted when we're dealing with stuff like this, when we're facing into challenges, when we're kind of dealing with a bit of adversity, really recognising yourself as an individual, or the person you're dealing with, surrounding yourself with good people and looking after yourself. I mean, that's not shabby advice, is it, really?

00:47:53 - Mike White


Episode close

00:47:55 - Andy Goram

Listen, mate, it's been wonderful reconnecting with you and having a chance to have a chat and listen to the story in a bit more detail than I've heard before. So I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your story.

00:48:06 - Mike White

Oh, it's been good. Nice to have finally reconnected with you, Andy.

00:48:10 - Andy Goram

Smashing, mate. Well, look, thanks for coming on, Mike and I will definitely speak to you again soon, so you take care.

00:48:16 - Mike White

Nice one. Cheers, mate. See you soon.

00:48:18 - Andy Goram

Cheers. Okay, everyone, that was Mike White and if you'd like to find a bit more about him or any of the things that we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.

00:48:33 - Andy Goram

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps.

I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time. Thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.


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