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E222 | Unconventional Leadership As The Recipe For Success with Robert Chapman

When it comes to leadership, we usually think of one person that is in charge of holding the reins and steering the direction of a company. While it might seem counterintuitive to our traditional view regarding authority, equally sharing power and influence can often have more benefits than we can imagine.

Robert Chapman, co-founder of Firebrand, joins today’s episode of Mind Your F**king Business Podcast and shares how Firebrand became an incontestable leader of the Accelerated Learning market, with 21 years of continued growth and performance even while going through three major recessions and a world pandemic. 

Robert talks about the unconventional way he and his business partner Stefano Capaldo shared the responsibilities of leading the company as co-CEOs, the sales and marketing strategies they’ve improved and adapted for Firebrand, and how they transformed Verne Harnish’s book, Scaling Up into the perfect blueprint for scaling their company.

This fascinating episode is full of insights, so make sure to download and listen.

In today’s episode:

  • 21 years of successful business in an unconventional co-leadership
  •  Delivering high-quality training at twice the speed of traditional methods
  •  Leading a business through four recessions
  •  The Firebrand version of scaling up and the one thing that ensured its success
  •  Sales and Marketing strategies they learned at Onyx and implemented in Firebrand
  •  Selling to BPP

21 years of successful business in an unconventional co-leadership, with Robert Chapman

Stefano Capaldo and Robert Chapman co-founded Firebrand Training, and for the last 21 years, it has been a leader in the Accelerated Learning market.

Even though conventional wisdom says two heads are better than one, co-partnership in the business world is often looked at as the odd one out. So how did Robert and Stefano build a successful company under such unconventional leadership?

Like all relationships, being co-leaders requires trust, constant communication and a clear understanding of each CEO’s role.

“I was in charge of business development, sales, marketing, and go-to-market strategy. He was in charge of delivering, hence the catch it, cook it tactic. If I got the fish, I threw it over the fence and I trusted Stefano to go and make sure a great meal conjures up.”

Delivering high-quality training at twice the speed of traditional methods

Since its inception in 2001, Firebrand has grown at an incredible rate, from a start-up to a £20 million business. A testament to the value they offer through their unique Accelerated Learning methodology is their applicants’ high rate of success in getting their IT and project management certification.

“That puts huge pressure on us,” says Robert. “We gotta do a great job. We can’t hide if the instructor’s done poorly delivering that knowledge.”

Leading a business through four recessions

Regarding their leadership strategy, they’ve certainly made the right decisions because successfully navigating a company through four major recessions, including a global pandemic, is not something everyone can do.

“We took some tough decisions. We did make some people redundant; we asked staff to take pay cuts. But by the end of 2020, we’d navigated those waters pretty well and in a strong financial position and paid back all the staff that had pay cuts.”

“I do get really emotional because so many people went the extra mile during those periods and didn’t complain.”

The Firebrand version of scaling up and the one thing that ensured its success

When Brett Raynes, CEO of Cloud Direct and Robert’s good friend told him to read Scaling Up by Verne Harnish, he didn’t imagine that it would become the blueprint for scaling Firebrand.

“I vividly remember him saying, I’ve just read this book called Scaling Up. You should read it. I read it, and then I said to Stef, you should read this because I think this is the answer to the problem we’ve got.”

So they tried everything in that book, and whatever stuck became the Firebrand version of Scaling Up. And from that trial and error strategy, one thing became the determinant factor for their success.

“I’d say it’s the meeting rhythm and getting the cadence of a business and forcing the business to meet. If you do just that one thing, I’d be amazed if your business doesn’t fly.

Sales and Marketing strategies Robert learned at Onyx and implemented in Firebrand

There are three key factors that Robert claims to have worked for them and transformed Firebrand into an incontestable leader in the Market.

“Define your product, have great people, have great processes.”

If you manage to be disciplined and keep these three elements going and “build on brand memory in such a way that people recognize the thing, but don’t get confused” then your path to success is almost guaranteed.

Deciding to sell

For Robert and Stefano, 2022 was the year of the great leap. After leading their business for two decades, it was time for them to sell.

“We planned it for years. We didn’t wake up last November when BPP approached us and went, oh yeah, that’s a great idea. We’ll do that. We’ve been building up to it off the back of scaling up. So it wasn’t an overnight decision. (…) I’m 56, and when you think about it, you have to exit a business”, says Robert about Firebrand being recently acquired by BPP.

But they never forgot to consider their staff, and the years they’ve dedicated to the business.

“I’m delighted that we’ve exited to BPP. It’s so much about it that’s right and the thing that’s most right it’s that it’s great for the staff of Fiber. That’s the thing I’m most proud of. So it wasn’t kind of, the money’s good but we don’t like the guy we’re selling to, which would have been a huge compromise.”

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