Growing business vs growing family

Piers Linney talks about the difficulties in getting the balance right


I decided to write a column about my experience of managing that difficult balance between business commitments and your personal life weeks ago, but then I was distracted by a partial disposal and restructuring of our business involving many nights away from home; a short notice trip to the Caribbean to speak at an event; two weeks away with very limited family contact filming Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire programme and then my wife gave birth to our second daughter four weeks ago. Ironically, the last two months have certainly been a test of my ability to maintain a balance.

In 1997, at the age of 26, I qualified as a lawyer after two years training with SJ Berwin. Many have family and financial commitments by this age. In my case, although there were many occasions when I worked long hours, through the night and over weekends, it didn’t really matter as I had no personal commitments and that means you can be as selfish as you like. Clearly this isn’t possible as you establish serious personal relationships, marry, have children and begin to notice that, after 30 years of seemingly very little change, your parents are starting to look a little older whenever you get to see them.

Enjoy and maximise this period of your life. Not only can you travel the world with no pre-booked destination, it is a time during which you can take entrepreneurial, career and business risks. I rode BMX as a teenager with no protection. At the age of 40, I ride mountain bikes encapsulated in the best body armour money can buy. It can be a lot harder to take what boils down to financial risks when you have a mortgage, partner, car payment, and children to consider.

In 2007 I left law and became an investment banker with Credit Suisse. Basically, I didn’t see my family or friends for three years. It became a certainty that whatever family event, party or even holiday I was supposed to be involved in, it was going to happen without me turning up. People quickly stopped sending me invitations. It was a period when I did miss out, but I absolutely thrived on my work – I was learning, working with great people and maximising the opportunity the City had given me. However, I have seen many relationships fail, partly as a result of City careers, but holding down any kind of relationship during that time was difficult. Arranging a date was usually pointless. My wife was a commercial dancer and often worked until late at night. I could leave Canary Wharf at 2am and meet her for a coffee on her way home from a show. Then she travelled the world with music acts. If she had a nine-to-five job and liked romantic weekends away, then I’m not sure what would have happened. However, as a dancer, my wife never really knew what she was doing next week so my career in the City and the uncertainty of my many entrepreneurial endeavours didn’t concern her at all.

I will admit I have never been that good at meticulously planning how I divide my time between business and family. I tend to throw myself into projects and tasks and become quite obsessed until I achieve the right outcome. When we bought the business that became Outsourcery, my business partner and I spent nine months living in hotels for half the week at a time when I had just become a father. However, before that, when I had the opportunity, I had taken some time out to spend the first couple of months with my new-born daughter.

I read about entrepreneurs and business leaders who have found ‘nirvana’ in terms of the balance between their business and their personal life. My own experience is that anyone working all hours to grow a business will, at some point, have to make sacrifices in terms of the amount of time they can devote to their family and friends. However, it is important that you don’t forget that you should always be making an effort to get to that family event or nursery play.

To me, one of the great upsides of being your own boss is that you can manage your diary. It might be full and you might need to work through the night now and then to get things done, but nobody is going to be tapping their watch saying, “what time do you call this?” when you get to the office a little later. In fact, by using modern communications technology, you probably don’t need to even go to the office. I have been lucky in that my wife is also an entrepreneur (she has built a dance school business) so the constant balancing, planning and occasional disappointment when we can’t be somewhere is just the way it is. We both understand the commitment required to succeed, but we strive to build in quality time for each other, our families and our children.

Running your own business gives you the power to manage your day, just don’t forget to exercise that power as it is immensely valuable. Also, never stop making a concerted effort to spend time with your family and friends. In my view, the day you concede to business commitments and start ‘planning’ to spend a little more time with your family and children once ‘I’m more established’, or ‘when I’ve built the business’ or ‘when I’ve sold my business’ is the day you’ll start to lose the battle.

Piers Linney is the CEO of £44m-turnover Outsourcery, a world-leading provider of cloud IT and unified communication services for businesses. Linney sits on the governance board of the Cloud Industry Forum and was featured in The Power List, a compendium of the top 100 most influential black people in Britain. A qualified solicitor, Linney worked as an investment banker, venture capital fund CEO and hedge fund manager, before acquiring a mobile phone business from a FTSE 100 company in 2007 with business partner Simon Newton, remodelling and rebranding it as Outsourcery.

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