Doing Well, Doing Good And Learning The Lesson Of The Orangutan – Interview with Ken Olisa of Restoration Partners

go do good #2

Today’s interview is with Ken Olisa OBE, who is the founder and Chairman of Restoration Partners, a boutique technology merchant bank that provides advice to technology firms. Restoration Partners, by their own admittance, shamelessly copy the traditional Warburg merchant-banking model of developing long term, trusted relationships with their clients and aligning their interests and rewards. Ken agreed to talk to me about his family motto: “Do Well, Do Good”, why he thinks it’s important that entrepreneurs and business follow this mantra, his experience as a successful entrepreneur and his interest in both good governance and social inclusion.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Employee engagement is like rolling a snowball uphill – Interview with Peter A. Hunter – and is number eighty in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things and helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Here are the highlights of the interview with Ken:

  • Our interview came on the back of an introduction from a mutual friend, Ric Piper, and the fact that I saw a Guardian interview with Ken that mentioned his family crest, whose motto is “Do Well, Do Good”.
  • Asked whether he believes there is a rise in ‘Conscious Capitalism’, he thinks this is ultimately driven by enlightened self-interest rather than any other over-arching sense of altruism.
  • He suggested that society’s progress is dependent on philanthropists (those who derive pleasure from helping other people get something from other people) out-numbering ‘sadists’ (those who derive pleasure from disadvantaging others).
  • He is happy to say that he is a philanthropist. Philanthropy taken here to mean a giver to or a lover of fellow man and not just someone gives lots of money away to good causes.
  • For Ken, ‘Doing Well’ is all about being the best that you can be, whether in your business or your profession. This is all about achievement.
  • ‘Doing Good’ then is about acting in a philanthropic way across all elements of your life.
  • Ken adds that, he believes, people have an obligation to help others on their path to achievement.
  • Ken’s business is closely aligned with a saying from Siegmund Warburg who said: “To make someone a client, youmust first make them a friend.”
  • Ethical behaviour in business today does not get the credit it needs to.
  • Zig Ziglar: “If you help enough people get what they want, then you will get what you want”.
  • Ken heard Jack Welch talking the other day talking about the ‘generosity gene’ and thinks he sums up the point very well when he said: “The best leaders are those that get a thrill when their employees get pay rises or promotions”.
  • Ken has recently been putting his philosophy into action: Fitzwilliam College of Cambridge (Ken’s old college) opened a new IT Centre and Library that was funded by a £2m donation from Ken and his wife. You can find out more about that here.
  • Norman Knight, the noted Boston business person, philanthropist and Ken’s mentor, has given away 10% of all income that he has ever earned. He started doing this anonymously but Ken believes that whilst giving is good, doing it anonymously fails to deliver great role models for others.
  • Following a series of discussions/arguments between Norman and Ken on that very point, Norman eventually changed tack slightly and now there are a number of things in the Boston area that now bear Norman Knight’s name.
  • Norman Knight has also notably said: ““I do have a basic philosophy that the only thing you have left when you die is what you gave away.”
  • Ken’s philanthropic interests surround social inclusion.
  • The environment in the UK for entrepreneurs is much better than it was 30-40 years ago.
  • Ken believes that the attitudes towards entrepreneurs in the UK are now better than they are in the US.
  • Ken’s biggest tip for entrepreneurs is to consider the ‘The Entrepreneurial Cycle’ which is a journey that involves Idea (Concept), Research, Plan, Resource, Implementation, Learn, Refine the Idea and so on. Ken explains it in more detail here.
  • Entrepreneurs do that at speed and often frustrates their families, staff and investors.
  • The way to solve that is for the entrepreneur to focus themselves on a goal and not get fixated on the idea. That goal should be defined in terms of time and money.
  • Not defining your destination is the biggest killer of being an entrepreneur.
  • Do not feel under any pressure if, as an entrepreneur, you change your idea as that’s what entrepreneurs do.
  • Two of Ken’s biggest lessons that he has learned are:
    • One, if you have commitment, then don’t give up til the end. And, always escalate until you know you are properly defeated or are not going to be successful.
    • Two, learn the lesson of the orang-utan: Never let go of tree A until you know that tree B is secure.
  • Ken wanted to ‘plug’ a couple of things:
  • One, his frustration at how difficult it is for entrepreneurs to get funding from banks in the UK. He is proposing, and currently discussing this with Vince Cable, a Guaranteed Repayment Insurance Policy (GRIP) scheme that he believes will significantly address the problem. You can find out more here and here.
  • Two, on the back of his experience with ENRC, Ken is promoting a Good Governance 100 Index, which will allow investment funds to track those companies with the highest standards of boardroom behaviour.


About Ken (taken from his bio on the Restoration Partners website)

Ken OlisaKen’s technology career spans over 30 years commencing with IBM from whom he won a scholarship while at Cambridge University. At IBM he held various posts in systems engineering, sales and marketing, before joining Wang Laboratories in 1981. Following a period as Marketing Director for Europe, Vice President of US Marketing and then of Worldwide Marketing, Ken was appointed Senior Vice President and General Manager of Wang Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In this role, he was responsible for the sales, marketing, support, service and administration activities within 11 subsidiaries and 92 distributors.

After leaving Wang in 1992, Ken founded Interregnum, the technology merchant bank, which he led to a £100+m IPO on AIM in 2000. He was elected as a Fellow of the British Computer Society in 2006. In addition to his entrepreneurial/private equity activities, Ken has considerable public company Board-level experience on both sides of the Atlantic. His connection with AIM dates back to the market’s foundation. In 1995, he chaired Voss Net, the first UK ISP (Internet Service Provider) to go public and one of the first companies to list on AIM. He was later Chairman of the Board of the first Israeli company to list its shares on AIM – DMATEK. He is a director of Thomson Reuters and has served on the boards of ENRC from 2007 to 2011 and of Open Text Corporation from 1998 to 2008. He recently joined the board of The Institute of Directors as a Non-Executive Director in April 2013 and he is currently Non-executive Chairman of Outsourcery Plc who successfully floated on AIM in May 2013. He additionally serves on the Board of, or advises, several early stage private technology companies.

Ken’s knowledge and experience of large and small enterprises, technology and marketing – and his willingness to speak his mind – makes him a much-demanded public speaker. A believer in the Victorian ethos that successful commerce is the fuel of public service, Ken is a Freeman of the City of London; Deputy Master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists; a Director of the Thomson Reuters Foundation; Chairman of Thames Reach (a charity working to shelter and resettle the homeless in London for which he received an OBE in 2010); a Vice President of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT; a past member of the Government’s Women’s Enterprise Taskforce and was an inaugural Postal Services Commissioner from 2001 to 2004 and a member of IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority) until 2013. He was named 2009 Sunday Times UK Not for Profit Non Executive Director of the year and one of the Top 50 most influential people in UK IT in 2011.

You can find out more about Restoration Partners here and connect with Ken on Linked In here.

Thanks to John Lodder for the image.

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