Great interview with Craig Hunter who as well as leading his own successful business has been at the forefront of spoting excellence with UK swim teams at Olympic and Paralympic games.
BD: Welcome to personal best, igniting personal and business performance, very fortunate today to be joined by, Craig Hunter. Craig runs and operates a business called Versec and also have a really interesting background in terms of working with and in the elite sports arena, and so, Craig thanks ever so much for, for joining us it’s great that you can do so, and Craig we spoke a lot about earlier, about your experience in the of blend both working in the elite sports arena, and also businesses such like. Starting off as a kid, because clearly you became a fairly well known team manager, you lead the GP swim team to two Olympic Games and your Paralympic teams to its most successful results ever and those games. How did you become involved in and not said a bit, did you compete as a swimmer yourself?
CH: I did, yes, taught to swim by my brothers, swimming was in our family, my great, no my grandmother swam before the war, was really serious in it and it just carried on, and having two older brother to teach you to swim, your aspiration is to beat them, and when I beat one of my brothers in a swimming race, that was the end of his swimming carrier and probably the start on mine.
CH: and swimming to be honest sort of consumed my life. I was at an old fashioned, traditional boys grandmas school were education was important and sport was less, so unless it was the traditional sports, rugby and cricket, well I basically, I wanted to seize as much as possible and was going to Crystal Palace makes nights and week’s a four hour round trip, the train took two hours, I’m not really bothering with my studies so it was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to scrap together a few A levels and my head of Seth thorn said to me. You’ve got to get A levels, swimming is never going to pay you salary, which was probably not quite right, but probably not in the same way that he thought, and so I was knocking on the door of perhaps getting onto the international team, but I decided that education was probably more important and I managed to get my A levels, and it was the challenge of knowing what to do after that.
BD: Yeah, and your involvement in, clearly you’re a real a first class swimmer, but the time and the commitment that it would have taken to take that next step, you just had to make an intelligent decision as to which way you were going to jump. So, how did you become involved in managing or coaching, or administer your that?
CH: Well even when I was focusing on my education. I still managed to dabble a bit and I was carried on swimming when I was away at chateau polytechnic there doing my degree, and it was sort of a bit of a bizarre event really. One day I was competing in a race, my dad was the team manager. I clearly won the race but was placed second by the referee, and when myself and the other athlete concerned went up and said to her. I think you got that round the wrong way, she shewd us away saying, you’re not important in this decision making process. Being young and head strong, I went to my dad and said. This is outrageous. And being the calm unflappable person that he was is he just said to me. Well if you don’t like it son there’s only one way to change it, you need to get involved
CH: And so I started to qualify as a technical official for swimming, probably one of the youngest qualified referees’ in the country at the time, and had lots of people supporting me, mentoring me, pushing me forward until one day, the phone rang. I remember it vividly, it was just after New Year’s Day and this chap, who I knew, vaguely said. Craig Hunter? So I said. Yes? We’d like you to take a team away to Paris to the swimming world cup, and I said. I think you got the wrong Craig Hunter and he went, no, no, no I know exactly who I’m talking to, and that was really the start of my international swimming carrier. 25 years ago and well I be seen to have done a reasonable job, and then they asked my to do another one and the rest as they say is kind of history.
BD: Yeah, and it’s interesting, because I mean, and partly with that. Craig obviously the love and the passion you have for swimming, you had to have known that we are up against your education about your youth, presumably your carrier and sub-school, your business as well, because you’ve founded your business Versec, which again we touched on this just when we spoke earlier, and all was interest and amazes me, the business that are out there, that you just, would never occur to you that there’s a need until somebody, said or mentions it to you and your business from right in saying, put this sort of, governance and the complaints element around book companies, so company secretary services in terms of putting that, those keticle, but simply. So you started that business what, in the late nineties where you were still heavily involved in swimming, yeah?
CH: Yeah, I think anything that I do; I’m a hundred percent committed to it and always wanted to stride to be the best, but I also recognize that after a period of time, your ability to keep generating new ideas can be quite challenging. So yeah! I wanted; I qualified as a company secretary, worked in a private company than moved into a public company, very unusually, they gave me great support and an additional holiday to be the British junior team manager and in ninety-six, I decided to quit that role, because I felt that I had taken it as far as I could and it needed some new fresh blood, and I wanted, I had to do something else. I was invited, got the opportunity to go to the Common Wealth games in ninety-ninety eight to Qual a Numbha , but the company where I was working, basically it said. Enough is enough, we’ve supported you through all this time and we can’t give you any more time-off, I was looking for five to six weeks off to go over there, and great opportunity. So my boss, after some toeing and prowing said well, how about this as an idea, we make you redundant, that didn’t sound terribly appealing initially.
CH: and he said will give you a contract and you can provide the same services that you have been doing for us. That was the contract, and he gave me a three year contract. So in ninety-ninety eight, March, Ninety-eight I started my business and in September ninety-eight I went to the Common Wealth games as a technical official, which was a fantastic opportunity, great support by a boss who had been supportive, but it was his creative thinking that helped me to winning, change the tech that I was going on and open some new doors for me.
BD: That’s interesting, and in terms of growing that business after that contract, not as much after that contract Craige but presumably. Well you had that maybe as a corner stone of the business. What did you do keticly to build that and attract new clients in, because it’s not the first thing that occurs to people, I think it’s one of those, potentially the start-up operation that think. Well, we can skip this part and it’s just some sheets of paper and a folder, and presumable the pain doesn’t come until excellent amount of years down the lane when you realize your structure is all wrong and such like. So it doesn’t straighten as an easy sale, you feel like it’s not an obvious one.
CH: Well, and your right. What was fascinating was that they gave me; the public company gave me a three year contract, and day one I sort of sat down at my desk in my office and turtled my thumbs a little bit, so I thought this would work with them, but my former boss could give me the contract, he was at his local rugby club talking to the company’s secretary general council of another public company, just around the corner, who were in trouble. They had there company secretary records were in a real mess, they were going through, potential take over and they needed some support. So I was asked to go in, meet that chap, tell him what my skills where, how I could help him as he saw it. So yeah, that was the start really, of actually a much more interesting part of the business, far more than just filing the returns of what happened, but actually going in and adding value to a business. This business was in a terrible state around its record keeping and we ended up doing a lot of forensic work so that they could go through the takeover, and I learned more from the lot and that then started, that generated a little bit, what I would say of a reputation, and after that of the sort of the springboard, the number of other public companies that were going through similar kinds of situations were referred to us. In fifteen years we have never advertised, we have never really come out to seek business, it’s all been really be a word of mouth around one general counsel, one company secretary saying. If you need some help with this, we think Craig Hunter at Versec is the person to help you.
BD: It’s obviously a testament to what you do Craig and your presume with that, the precision and the delivery. It strikes me as parallels between the elite sports and leading businesses and decision making and such like, and I have to say, as a lane man, swimming of all looking at the sport and events that we get engaged in June Olympic games, it’s the one that looks the most impossible to call, because even in a sprint it’s clear that you see them both, is beating the other guy by three or four meters but in elite swimming? You could throw a blanket over the first four guys in, and I often wonder how you even, without the help of electronic aids even declare a winner, and as a lane man looking at it you think, that’s such a finite measure between success and failure. In swimming it’s a very obvious one, when you watch a race, it’s not clear who’s come first, but do you think that you’ve maybe taken the stuff that you had is compared to the swimmer yourself and some of what you’ve probably both coached and learned by working with elites, and used it on other data’s of life personally in business wise and such like?
CH: Yeah, I think anybody who’s been involved in sort of, as an athlete or working with elite athletes. First of all, think you have a different kind of mentality to commitment, and that’s not to say, the people who work in business and who are not sportsmen have any, it’s just a different kind of commitment
CH: And yeah! I suppose as I worked, as I sort of moved along with my experience, it was about working with other people, and working as a team, that in the great ages no man is an island, that’s never true, I mean, swimming is out when you stand on the block, you are there by yourself
CH: but behind you, there’s the rest of your teammates, and the great support staff, and it’s a bit like that in business, we’re only a very small business delivering what we deliver, but sitting behind and some working with us are a whole host of other professionals, and for example CPD, you have to constantly keep on top of what’s happening within our error of governance. I couldn’t possibly spend time researching all of that, but what I can, I know, now we live in this great technological age, so I get pinged with emails all the time that I can just, sit down, read a newsletter or something online to keep me up to speak, and that’s the support I’m getting from other professionals, not directing members, but absolutely part of the teams deliver, you know, the services we need to satisfy our clients.
BG: And since this one Craig, I think we can have spoken about earlier as well, that you have been quite a lean model haven’t you? In terms of people actually working with the business and the way that you potentially outsource other areas, and you keep the business really manageable in doing that, yeah?
CH: Well I think it is, unfortunate I have an office at home and I’ve had numerous approaches to amalgamate with other businesses or be taken over. I love what I do, I love being able to come down in the morning, check my emails before go down and get breakfast and can check my emails on a Sunday night before I go to bed, people might say that’s slightly bizarre kind of lifestyle. I want to be able to have the freedom and flexibility to do what I enjoy most, and that’s a blend of working in comers around providing these governance and compliance services, and also being able to work in sports, that’s some fantastic opportunities, working and leading with some of the most amazing teams, most noticeably at the Paralympic games in London in 2012 as the chief commission for the British team. A life changing experience and the impact on me every day, the way I go about doing things.
BG: Yeah, Did you join, was that whole a, I know it’s a kind of warm cliché for that kind of gratitude attitude Craig that I think maybe, as we advance through the years, our gaols and respirations change and our perception of what success looks like changes as well, and you become humbled both by and inspired by the experiences you had directly I guess, and I think that’s a big thing as it relates to me, that perhaps twenty years ago, I needed to be the big played, the major guy, and as you get older you realize that there’s actually other areas of your life that are as important as your business life and having the time, which is the most precious resource of all, to choose what you do and not that it’s all even, business success and business success that can be computed by money, all that money does is give you those additional choices I guess, but it relates to time, you know?
CH: Well actually, I mean, I think you have really, really captures so much in that sentence at the moment, when I finished after London in my role with the Paralympic team, people just sort of said to me. So what are you going to do know? The Olympics in Rio, I said. Well actually I’m just going to take a little bit of time out, because I just need to recharge my batteries and I need to decide what I want to do next in my life. I had an amazing experience in games, but I also had a quite a life defining moment, because just before the opening ceremony I was in a car going over to do a major piece of the team announcement, which was to announce our flag bearer for the opening ceremony, it’s going to be live television at Hampton court, and as we were driving across there going to London, Russia in traffic, my phone rang and it was the hospital in where my parents lived, and it was a doctor consultant saying to me, you need to come to the hospital now because your father won’t last twenty-four hours, and I said. There’s no way I can do that, I said my father won’t expect it, we’ve had the discussion, he was critically ill, he’d been ill for a little bit while beforehand and we’ve shared an awful lot of quality time, I said, no wait, I just can do that, but my partner went up, I managed to speak to my dad the next day on Skype and told him that I was not going to be able to get to see him, I said. Dad, you’re just going to have to pull through this because I need to see you when the games are over and his still with us today.
CH: which is amazing, how he pulled through, defied all the medics, but over the last twelve to eighteen months since the games, I, my life has really been consumed with looking after him, you know, visiting my parents on a very regular basis because both of their health’s, there health’s had declined significantly, but they keep bouncing back and you know, I wouldn’t be here today and I wouldn’t had all the great opportunities I, I’ve had in my life, without two wonderful parents. So it’s about time my last eighteen months have really changed in it and about me giving back to my mom and dad, you know who are eighty-four, eighty- five now, and just deserve to have a bit of dignity towards the end of their life
CH: For me to be able to give something back is, is amazing and I’m really privileged to be able to do it.
BD: Can I, it’s nice of you to share that story Craig, it’s not everybody that would and again I think maybe again, this comes with age a little, but I don’t know, but I don’t think any of us will ley there during our last moments, I hope not anyway and say. I wished I had spent more time in the office or I wish I had closed that deal twenty-two years ago. I think the measure of our lives is based on where we loved, that we loved, and the contribution and impact and such like and yeah, and interestingly even though I speak a lot with guys who are quite senior level jobs and such like, I think this dawning realization, and its maybe a, maybe it’s just a thought of its time that guys who are thrusting executives in the forties and fifties where is maybe twenty, thirty years ago, they were very myopic about their business life and there career. I think people are ether changing the way they work or there leaving there corporate lives still together, because they realized that, when they measured the life, when they look back on it, that stuff, won’t be as important as other stuff, and I think there is that balance and measure in all things. So it’s interesting and nice of you to share Craig, thanks. On the business side Craig, if somebody did wanted you to just jump on, because it’s just one of those things that I wasn’t so in troubled by until we spoke and now I’m thinking. Have we set up properly here at, your website is Versec V.E.R.S.E.C.co.uk, is that?
CH: That’s right.
BD: is that right, yeah? So I presumable your contact details and such like are only a people can grab a hold. It’s been a really interesting chat, and obviously you and I both know that we can have did this yesterday and we got so far and then technology worked our best efforts and such like. So I really, really appreciate your, you know, not just your time today, but the fact that you’ve been so well and your open to the conversation Craig, and thanks so much for taking the time to share about your story and your journey, and hopefully we can get this up and people connect with you, and take it from there. So Craig listen thanks ever so much again.
CH: Absolute pleasure! Good luck!
BD: Thanks Craig All the best!
CH: All the best.