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The First 101 Days: rebirthing a company during a crisis.

I’ve not spent this long at home since 2005. My feet aren’t itching yet, but my head is.

On March 9, 2020, I flew back into Edinburgh after an amazingly vibrant week of learning space design work in Kuala Lumpur. I gingerly got into my usual driver’s car, and asked if he’d prefer me to sit in the back. We both slapped around hand sanitiser, and tried not to breathe too much on each other. I had no idea what was going on around me, having been in a newsless bubble throughout the previous week of heads-down work.

101 days later, I’ve not left my desk for more than a few miles’ walk.

101 days of the same desk.

101 days of having to buy soap, and not use the ones left each day by the hotel.

101 days of cooking, shopping and the challenge of seeking out a new route for a daily walk of five miles.

101 days of worrying about my daughters’ lack of time with their friends, and not worrying so much about the amazing progress I can see them making at school.

101 days of being propelled into taking decisions I should have taken a long time ago. I’m sure I’m not alone.

101 days in the same place is hard for someone who, for 15 years, has benefitted from destroying the planet, one flight at a time.

In 2019, I once more travelled nearly 160,000 miles — still significantly less than the 250,000 miles I found myself doing in the early days of setting up NoTosh. However, in two months of 2020 I’d already covered 63,000 miles with goodness knows how many booked up. I had been getting tired and didn’t feel that I’d had the chance to do some of the creative thinking and work that I used to be good at.

And it just wasn’t good business.

In 2019, our firm had its best year in terms of cash in, growing 18% on the previous year. We were doing strategy work for most of the big international schools, whole districts of state schools, and some of the most high profile names in enrolment, accreditation and advancement.

But it cost us a fortune to make that, too. Maintaining the pace and course we had set was unsustainable in every way. Our travel budget alone was close to $200,000. So in December 2019, before Coronavirus was a ‘thing’ for most of us, I started to take some tricky decisions. I slimmed down our team. I chose to invest time in the ideas and people that radiated. I gave up on life’s drains and gained a focus that I’d been missing for a while.

I’ve had sleepless nights this past 101 days. Lots of them. But I wonder if that’s not the same as The First 90 Days in a new leadership job, as you flail around to get a handle on things, doing all the jobs yourself, not all of them very well, before you finally begin to crystallise what it is you’re going to do.

It has certainly felt like a more intense version of the same period 10 years ago, when I left a highly-paid, high-profile job at a television firm to set up a startup, in the middle of the ‘worst economic disaster since the Great Depression’. Intense and now, with some hindsight, invigorating.

The First 101 Days

A virus absolutely forced me to sever my old thinking from 2019.

I’ve seen where my preferences in life sit, and where I’m vulnerable. I’ve seen it in others, too, for better and, in a couple of cases, for a lot worse.

I’ve learned every day, intentionally and accidentally, and used my thinking system to track it, make sense of it and apply it to some amazing new ideas. Well, I think they’re amazing. We’ll see.

I’ve rethought strategy from scratch, and put three or four irons into the fire to see which is best for my whole team.

I’ve negotiated and renegotiated with our customers, set clearer expectations than ever, and helped some of them start to work better together.

I’ve had some early wins in places which, a year ago, I thought would take years of effort.

My team is coming out of an emotional trough stronger, and pulling together around some completely new ideas.

I’ve learned how to partner. I’ve always been rubbish at it. A crisis shows that people are, mostly, really quite nice and not out for themselves. It’s also shown that a few are just as nebulous as you’d thought they were.

I’m lean and productive in the head. I need to get lean and productive on myself now: improving kitchen prowess comes at a cost, too.

I can’t wait to accelerate into the next phase, refreshed, renewed, with a brace of projects that can perhaps create even more impact than the ten years’ worth before.

2010, when I last felt the same way. Even in a crisis, there are silver linings if you look hard enough.



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Ewan McIntosh

Ewan McIntosh

I help people find their place in a team to achieve something bigger than they are.