Posted on April 15, 2019 by Louise Howland
Rob May is MD and founder of ramsac. He specialises in cybersecurity, business and technology strategy. He is an experienced industry writer, author and spokesperson, and he is a TEDx, Keynote and International Business Speaker. Rob founded ramsac with Sally Cooper in 1992 and for over 26 years ramsac have been helping clients to get the best out of technology – implementing, managing and supporting secure, resilient, flexible IT solutions. Working with small and mid-sized organisations, providing them with strategic IT input, proactive management, jargon-free IT support and solutions that help them to grow their own organisations efficiently and securely.
Mark Leigh is a senior partner at Roffe Swayne and has been with the firm since 1983. Roffe Swayne are a long established and highly regarded firm of Chartered Accountants with a team of approximately 100 people, providing specialist accounting, tax, corporate finance, forensic and outsourced business services to their clients from their office in Godalming. Mark heads up the corporate finance team which provides a wide range of transactional and strategic services including raising finance, acquisition and disposal mandates and strategic advice to shareholders and management teams. Mark’s expertise includes the property and leisure sectors.
ramsac and Roffe Swayne recently celebrated 25 years of working together, to celebrate Rob May and Mark Leigh sat down to discuss how to create and sustain a business relationship for over 25 years
Question: Why are long term business relationships important to you?
Mark Leigh “I cherish the long relationships, I have a number of them that have lasted for 35 years, which is almost inconceivable. It’s extraordinary and those relationships have evolved over time; it’s not about work, it’s about growing a bond with people you like and can work with. I get real satisfaction from the longevity.”
Rob May “And I think relationship is key. Its relationship and its trust, over the years, what you do together will change. But it’s a bit like friendships, I have really good friends who live a long way away and I might only see them once a year, but when you do you just pick up where you left off, and I think that business trust is exactly the same.”
Mark Leigh “Absolutely, I think bottom line you have got to like the person, that’s a key point. Work is so much easier when you enjoy interacting with your business relationships and this is also positive for your staff if there is a mutual respect. When I get a phone call out of the blue from someone I like and have worked with for years it lightens my heart, I get a real buzz from it, because it’s like it is an old friend”
Rob May “At home I now ask Alexa “what am I doing tomorrow” and Alexa reads out my calendar, and I will think Oh good, because I am having a meeting with someone that actually you enjoy meeting and I will look forward to that.”
Question: How do you sustain a business relationship in the long term?
Mark Leigh “It’s interesting. It’s a bit like any relationship, if you take things for granted, things are going to go pear-shaped, so you have to work at a relationship. So, I think even with good relationships you can’t ignore them and you have to invest time in them and try and give more than you get back, which can be easier said than done.”
Rob May “There has to be give and take on both sides as well. and it’s not always in equal measure, depending on what’s going on at the particular time. But it’s having that mindset of helping each other. I think also there is an element of having relationships on lots of different levels.”
Mark Leigh “Because the relationship has interacted on so many different levels its transcended just the two of us and what we do, so a lot of our guys know your guys, have played football with them, it makes the relationship much stronger. I think the other thing about longstanding relationships, is that if you have got a good relationship and then a person moves on elsewhere, then the odds are that that relationship will carry on with those people wherever they move to, because people like to continue good relationships. I have seen this over the years many many times, both in and out, where people have left and carried on a good relationship and coming in they have bought other relationships with them. Fundamentally, there has to mutual respect and the feeling that “we are in this together as a team” – the relationship works best where it is more than just the provision of services, which by its nature is very transactional.”
Question: How do you deal with inevitable bad or rockier patches in the relationship?
Mark Leigh “Well, the other important thing about good relationships is they allow you to deal better with difficult situations. There will almost inevitably be things that go wrong at some stage, but if you have a good relationship and provided things aren’t going wrong all the time, or more specifically don’t continue to go wrong, you can survive the odd rocky patch. One of my pet expressions is not overly worrying about something going wrong but how you react to fix it. Learning to deal with difficult situations makes you grow up, particularly when you have to solve your own problems. It’s the ability to make something better afterwards by the way you behave and rectify things which is good. I have had longstanding relationships that had a bit of a rocky start, but if you get things back on track quickly they can last forever, so it all comes back to how you deal with any issues, and if you fix it well, that is potentially better than starting off okay in the first place, because you have gone the extra mile.”
Question: What is the secret to maintaining a successful business relationship?
Mark Leigh “The thing about a longstanding relationship, you can’t treat people with disrespect and you have got to invest in the relationship. It’s a relationship borne of trust and knowledge and expectation as to what you are going to get back, which is important. I’m a big believer it setting and managing expectations – and hopefully delivering. It’s about honesty and integrity, so integrity is probably the bottom line, if people believe you display great integrity and they trust your judgement and don’t think you are trying to get one over on them, then people work on the premise that what you are telling them is right, But you have got to have that integrity where you will tell someone what you think, tell it how you see it, even if they are not going to like it, and that’s a tough place to be sometimes. This will always pay off in the long run”
Rob May “Yes, occasionally people aren’t surprised, and, in a way, they want you to tell them the thing they don’t want to hear, and they know it, but they don’t want to accept it themselves but if someone else says it, it’s like yes ok.”
Mark Leigh “Yes, it’s what goes around comes around, I am a really big believer that actually it’s the way you behave, if you treat people with dignity and you treat people properly you get it back in bucketloads.”
Question: How do you identify long term business relationships?
Mark Leigh “The thing is you don’t find a long term relationship, you start a new relationship, not knowing where it is going but you invest in it and it’s what investment you put into that relationship. So, I try to massively invest in most of my new relationships thinking, I am not sure where this is going to go, but it’s not going to go anywhere if I don’t spend the time understanding their requirements and what they are looking for. So, I think it’s, you don’t know if a relationship is going to be long therefore you approach every relationship that you want to work as if it is going to be a long-term relationship.”
Rob May “Yes you build the foundations.”
Question: Why do you think the ramsac and Roffe Swayne relationship has lasted for over a quarter of a century?
Mark Leigh “So, one of the things I was quite proactive about was trying to share you and the good news that ramsac bought to us, to other people. For 2 reasons; one it reinforces and underpins your own ‘buying decision’ and two, mainly because you want to be able to help and add value beyond the work being done together, so it is much broader, And you have introduced me to contacts that have become long standing relationships, it’s the sharing the relationship and introducing contacts to each other that provides so much more than just a service to one another.”
Rob May “Our relationship has always been bigger than just IT and thinking about it in terms of where I deal with other clients, I go in and ramsac are the IT company, but we talk about business as a whole, it is because we are talking about the bigger picture.”
Mark Leigh “I have always respected your advice, it’s always been well considered and it’s not trying to sell us this or sell us that, it’s about the fact you trust what the person is saying makes sense. Which I think is pretty important and I think if you have got a salesy relationship with someone you are always concerned that all they want to do is sell you another x or Y, and maybe out of it you will sell more but the selling is a by-product of the good advice provided and actually what you are really doing is giving sound advice which may not even lead to anything.”Find out more about Roffe Swayne