Why we are passionate about ‘Local’

Cakes and bakes at the Ready!

Cakes and bakes at the Ready!

This week our focus around the office will be baking, flower arranging and possibly if we are feeling ambitious making an egg cosy!

The 110th Royal Windsor Rose Show

The 110th Royal Windsor Rose Show

Let me explain:  On Saturday the 18th of July hundreds of participants will stage their entry in a long marquee in the grounds of Windsor Castle.  Thereafter the exhibits will be judged and prize money, rosettes and trophies will be awarded.  I am of course speaking about the Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society Summer Show…and my business ComXo will be sponsoring it for the 5th consecutive year…the question is why on earth is a business services company sponsoring a village flower show?

Probably the smallest Royal Show in the UK?

Probably the smallest Royal Society in the UK!

 

Let me explain in a round about way!  When we speak to the customers of my business ComXo we say we are ‘The Voice of the City’.  What we have come to understand is that the function of Switchboard is more than just a telephone answering function.  What the switchboard of the 21st century business does is help callers navigate their way into a the complex businesses of the modern mobile world.

More than just an answer!

More than just an answer!

People calling into the large professional services firms in the City of London expect to be answered and handled in a particular way.  For instance important callers do not expect a ‘Call centre’ experience they expect to be treated as though they had just walked into a 5* hotel.  Accent is important, city knowledge engenders trust, the educated skills more akin to a private secretary help the caller feel at ease as they are put through to their trusted advisor.

The Try household get ready to bake!

The Try household get ready to bake!

Finding such people has always been something ComXo worked hard at and our Windsor location so close to London has been a major factor in our appeal to the type of person who might not usually look at working on the phone for most of the day.  But how do you create a culture that draws in a professional, educated, well spoken person capable of multi tasking across different computer systems and with an effortlessly charming manner.  Well the answer is that such people often enjoy the sort of past times on show at the Society’s summer show.  A show that is becoming synonymous with the ComXo culture.

If you want to find and attract local talented people to join your team then starting with their culinary, horticultural or crafting skills is not a bad interview technique!

ps if you would like to come or want to enter you still have time go to www.rwrhs.com to find out how!

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Comedy night ComXo style

"It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear

“It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear

Its spoken about as the most anticipated and most sort after ticket in town! This year we have had more customers, of my business ComXo, and more friends and colleagues than ever before cancel other events and postpone their holidays to get to it.  It is of course the ComXo Shakespeare in the woods and this year we are celebrating our 10th production with Much Ado About Nothing.Much ado

Let me colour in the picture a little.  If any of you have been to Legoland you will recall the long drive up the hill towards the car park.  To the right of that road is mass of woodland that hides a very historic property.  The land is on a high promontory of the Thames Valley that juts out towards London.  I am told that if you stand in a particular spot you can in fact see 6 counties just by turning your head.  cropped-Windsor-castle.jpg

 

Because of this it has long been held as a strategic site and I suspect that as long as there have been people living in the area it has been lived on.  What we know for sure is that it was both an Iron Age fort and a Roman Encampment, in fact the symbol adopted by the Royal Society of Antiquities is that of an Roman lamp found on the site in the 1800’s.

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St leonards hill Thomas Sandby

The Duke of Gloucester’s Royal Residence

Following that it became a hermitage for over 500 years and thereby a place of pilgrimage.  After a concession given in the middle ages by the Pope you could be absolved of your sins if you drank from the holy well on the site on three specific days of the year.  Sadly the well has long been lost and thereby I suspect easy penitence.

As part of the Royal estate from William the Conqueror’s time it became a royal residence and was lived in by The Duke of Gloucester, George III brother and then for the next 150 years was rented, bought and borrowed by almost anyone who was anyone.  Three British Prime Ministers, The Harcourt family, The Waldegrave’s and lastly Sir Francis Tree Barry.

House

Sir Francis Tress Barry re-modelling

It was after this that the property took a turn for the worse and following the First World War along with almost 20,000 country houses fell foul of a change in life style and taste. After 5 years on the open market without a flicker of interest American developers following the fashion of building huge country houses in Newport and the Hamptons took the roof off and extracted the interiors.

The ruins as a party venue

It was at this point that my grandfather himself a young entrepreneur decided to buy the derelict house and pleasure gardens with the dream of rebuilding it as a home for his family.  Sadly at the end of the second World War he was approached by the local garrisons who asked him to allow their troops to practice their drills for the D-Day landings.  The damage it sustained from live ammunition meant that for safety the rest had to be pulled down.

What is left is a rather romantic ruin and the most beautiful gardens filled with flora and fauna from its royal past.  The grounds have been a passion of mine for my entire life as they have served as the backdrop for my childhood, a party venue for my youth and now as my tastes change for Shakespeare.

Henry V 2007

Henry V 2007

Coincidently I discovered a month back that the property also had a role in the history of one of my most important customers, global law firm, Herbert Smith.  Sir Francis Tress Barry was Herbert Smiths brother in law and his first and most profitable customer.

Macbeth 2008

Macbeth 2008

When we sit down in a few weeks time the ruins will become a stage and the audience will be transported back in history…it is at that moment I like to ponder how so much of Britain’s history has actually passed under our feet.

 

 

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Windsor’s where its at!

Stag and copper

Early morning Monday in the Great park

Last week Windsor is at the centre of the social calendar. On Sunday we witnessed the celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta Barge

On the 15 th of June 1315 King John acquiesced to the will of the Barons who presented him with a bill of rights that form the foundation of modern democracy the world over. This all occurred at Runnymede, just down river from Windsor and as luck would have it the flotilla of 200 vessels including the Queens barge Gloriana passed the garden of my sister who lives on Ham Island on route. It was a spectacular sight and made me stop to think how a single moment eons ago, birthed from a cry for freedom resonates so powerfully through our lives today.

The Royal Barge Gloriana

 

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Her Majesty in Garter robes

The following day on Monday was Garter day and the knights of the order process through the castle precincts from the middle ward down to St George’s Chapel for a service of commemoration.

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The Garter Procession

The Queen is of course the head of the order and she is accompanied by 22 knights of her choosing and much of Her Court including heralds and anciently titled officers with names like ‘Bluemantle Persuivant of Arms in Ordinary’ , the service is short but the medieval costumes and sheer numbers of magnificently dressed soldiers is a feast for the eyes and a double shot of wonder for a patriotic soul.

 

The rest of the week is also centred around the Queen and her delight and passion for horses with racing at Royal Ascot.   It is a quintessentially British affair that offers a perfect snapshot of 21st century Britain at play.

Car park picnic Ascot style

Car park picnic Ascot style

Walking from Car Park 1, possibly the poshest car park in the world, where name badges glimpsed will include Dukes, Princes and scions of great dynastic families through the Royal Enclosure where cut glass accents mingle with those of the less affected entrepreneurial class and so on through to the Grandstand and even better the Bandstand where after the racing everyone gathers all suited and sloshed to guzzle the most expensive champagne in the country and sing with gusto the great old tunes from the east end and marching songs of the Great War.

It seemed to me yesterday that the appetite for drinking, having good old fashioned fun and spending money is not the preserve of any particular class or geography. In 21st century Britain a good time is accessible to more people than ever before and apart from accents, taste in fashion and attitude the social and particularly economic landscape of the country seems indeed to have become less defined.

Anachronistic..nah.. just a bit of fun!

Anachronistic..nah.. just a bit of fun!

 

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How to draw a virtuous circle

logoAs Chairman of the Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society, a charity with 120 year pedigree and Her Majesty The Queen as Patron, I think a lot about our purpose.  Our world  is full of worthy causes and the plight of many is so desperate that one has to question how we can persuade any benefactor to support our horticultural society at all.

Well last week our purpose came to life.  Let me explain; in our constitution it states that we are to “further education through the promotion of knowledge of the science of horticulture in our community” and traditionally we deliver this through our Summer Show (18th July, Windsor Castle, all admitted) and the various visits and events we hold throughout the year.

Susann Laughton and Paul Roach

But last week something amazing happened.  Orchestrated by Susann Laughton, the Society’s Honorary Secretary, the face of Windsor was transformed.  Through careful planning and coordination 4 diverse and unconnected parts of our community worked together and by fulfilling their own purposes improved our community.

Let me explain.

Pot

Forlorn and un-loved Planter

The local council have for a number of years wanted to re-fill and plant up 8 abandoned and unloved street planters on St Leonards Road in Windsor.  Their problem in this age of austerity was resource and finance…the coffers for this sort of thing are empty.

The local primary schools all have planting, growing and community on their curriculum and need projects that covers these areas.  Making this interesting over and above the rather old fashioned blotting paper and water cress classroom lesson is difficult.

The Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) have a level 3 Horticulture module which requires students to do a project that includes design, landscaping and planting and also a module that requires team work and community.  Designing this in an interesting way to keep 17 year old students engaged is a challenge.

The local shop keepers want their end of Windsor to be upgraded to tempt the shoppers of Peascod Street to venture further and spend more.  But they have had to look out on these weed infested planters for years with little ability to change it.

& students from BCA Horticulture

BCA Horticulture

So on Monday last week 7 students from BCA, 6 schools from Windsor, a cohort of adjacent shop keepers and Paul Roach from the Local Council were orchestrated by The Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society to ‘Adopt a Pot’.

Kids

Homer First school

watering

Upton House

Two local businesses, Window Flowers and Plantify, supplied the flowers and plants in a colour scheme reflecting this weekends Magna Carta celebrations and the Virtuous Circle turned.

The out come…smiling teachers, smiling students, smiling councillors, smiling shop keepers and smiling shoppers.  All remits fulfilled…no money required!  And The Society’s Purpose delivered.

Kids 2

Smiles all round The Kings House School

We may not be solving the worlds Big problems…but we are getting our community smiling and that can’t be all bad!  Anyone fancy donating?

(click here to become a member of probably the smallest Royal Society in Britain!)

 

 

 

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A little sweetener…

beeFor over a year now ComXo have had their own bee hive and we are sadly down to the last pots of the 2014 crop of delicious honey.

The story of our hive has been a fascinating adventure into the perception, fears and fondness for this tiny miracle of nature and serves as a good parable on industry, belligerence and doing the right thing.

We wanted a hive because I love honey and apparently their impending doom may threaten my craving.  So we had space next to the car park, we border the wondrous organic estate of Windsor Castle and most importantly we had Stuart.

stuart1Stuart has been part of the ComXo team for more than 3 years.  Last year, we discovered, that over and above his many talents as an expert on exceptional service it turns out that his fastidious eye for detail also made him a natural bee keeper.  In fact Stuart had at the bottom of his garden 2 hives, a veritable honey factory.

As with all entrepreneurial endeavours the concept is the easy bit and our concept was “Lets have a hive in the car park!”  We invested in all the kit,  splashing out on traditional wooden hives and prepared the site.  We considered all the aspects: proximity to houses, wind direction and speed, away from direct sunlight, the side closest to the river and thereafter the Royal Estate…surely we had thought of everything.

stuart 2

We set the hives up and took delivery of our colony.  We screened the area and as the spring sun began its slow but transformational work on the neighbouring flower meadows we began to see the steady stream of bees hard at their daily commute.

meadows

Unfortunately so did our co tenants in the building we rent and naturally as part of the car park is theirs they took umbrage at not having been consulted…which of course caught up in my excitement I had neglected to do!  Then so did the land lords notice who referred to the clause in our lease that we were not allowed to keep pets on the premises.  Apparently the health and safety concerns that a bee hive in a far corner of the car park presents is so draconian I am surprised we’ve had no deposition request from DEFRA .

Well whilst we were fending off every parry and riposte from powers way beyond our influence, our busy friends were in full production of their sweet nectar unaware of the furore and machinations as their fate was determined.

comb

When Stuart knocked on my door smiling like an innocent in spring I knew our efforts had been rewarded.  Sure enough the tiny pot he produced tasted as sweet, floral and fragrant as any I have had, gloriously amber and delightfully runny.

Over the past 6 months of winter we have been asked on a number of occasions to move the hive but weather and conditions have never been suitable but now the pressures are on from the pollen police to move on our humming collective and we need to act…publish or bee damned (sorry!) I thought…so thus this post.

So what is my plan to stop the nectar nasties getting their way?

honey

Well lets just say that when I go to in to London to meet existing or prospective customers I often take a jar of our home made honey as a little demonstration of how we at ComXo differ from other businesses.  Taking care of our hive takes time, requires attention to detail, rewards patience and of course delivers delight…all things our team here ambitiously strive for.

So back to my plan….I intend to deliver a little sweetener to our detractors.  I will let you know how it goes!

bee happy

 

 

 

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Ask me about ‘the why’….

I was very fortunate last week to be invited to a very smart dinner at Windsor Castle in the company of the Earl and Countess of Wessex.  The event was connected to my company Comxo’s sponsorship of the Windsor Festival Youth Art Competition.  As we went into the dining room of Norman Tower, one of the oldest rooms of its kind in the country I scanned the table for my place setting and saw that I was to be seated next to a ‘Lady’.

norman tower

I soon discovered that not only was my dinner companion titled but she had also been High Sherriff of Berkshire…impressive.  As the dinner progressed she asked me the perennial question…’So what do you do?’ .  In a panic that I might find myself explaining the fascinating details of ‘outsourced switchboard’ and ‘global on demand business services’ I had a flash of inspiration and told her ‘don’t ask me what I do…ask me why I do it’

The Why

If you don’t recognise these circles Google Simon Sinek

The why is always more interesting than the how or what because it gets to the heart of the matter.

For my why lets go back to 1989.  Fresh back from graduating university in Boston where I had been working directly with futurologist and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis (ISUX Prize, Singularity University) setting up The International Space University..(that’s another story!)

Peter Diamandis

Cramped in a tiny office above a bagel shop I was intern to Peter building an institution that today is the foremost institution for space studies  the world.  As part of a team of 4 people building a dream the work pace was frantic, always on the phones (way before mobiles) we called sponsors, professors, ex astronaut and presidents.  The US was a phone based economy, they understood that being easily contactable made doing business easy and that drove revenue.

So back in the UK I was stunned by the pedestrian pace and slovenly approach to phone interaction.  Setting up my business my experience of calling into businesses large and small companies was appalling.  You were lucky if anyone picked up the phone, you were even luckier if they were polite to you and hit the jack pot if they had the nouse  to take your details correctly and put you through to the right person.

We have all suffered her wrath!

We have all suffered her wrath!

My story came to a head when the property of my dreams came within my reach.  A small farm my family had been trying to buy for generations came on the market and a race to buy it ensued. Trying to contact our lawyer  to put the deal together was a nightmare.  Every time I called no one picked up,  messages were not delivered, no one returned my call…we lost the farm and the law firm lost our family as customers.

In retrospect perhaps I should thank them because it was in this moment of anger and frustration that I thought…

“There must be a better way, there has to be a need for an absolute specialist, delivering exemplary switchboard experiences to law firms.  I can help lawyers be easy to contact and make doing business with them (at least) a pleasure at ‘first contact’ and this will drive their revenues.”

So was born my business in Windsor providing extraordinary people, polite in nature, professional in demeanour, proficient in technology with bags of personality delivering a wonderful experience to my customers clients whenever they want to get hold of their trusted advisers.

Midnight on National Telephonists Day 2015!

Midnight on National Telephonists Day 2015!

Today 40 top 100 law firms and hundreds of professional service firms in banking, insurance, architecture and financial services use us to impress their customers whatever time they call, from wherever in the world they happen to be for whatever they want…that’s WHY I do!

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A governors view of Ofstead

logoAs a new governor for The Berkshire College of Agriculture I am having to learn a whole new vocabulary of acronyms…FE (further education) and HE (higher education) , SFA (skills funding agency), Ofstead (office for standards in education), STEM (Science, technology, engineering and Maths) , QRB (quality review board) …in fact in the run up to an Ofstead inspection (any day now) I have just received a list of 543 acronyms used in the every day life of our college.  Abbreviations Acronyms MAY 2015

What I am learning is not that education loves to abbreviate but that the complexity around further education is staggering and the responsibilities of governance immense.

Hall place2

Before becoming a governor of what I thought was a sleepy rather quaint Land Based college on a beautiful Georgian estate on the outskirts of Maidenhead, I had imagined the role of governor in such a middle class area was all about showing up 4 times a year, judging a flower show and being no more than a back seat advisor. How mistaken I was!

cars

This extraordinary college has often been described to me as the last chance saloon for a teenager who finds main stream education un-inspiring. Here at BCA at the age of 16 you can study to be a farmer, a gardener, a zoo keeper, a beautician, a car mechanic, a film director, a stable manager and much more beside.

Recognise the arch?

Approaching the college down its grade 1 listed lime tree avenue towards the stately magnificence of Hall Place you might be mistaken on thinking that this was a private school rather than a state school. On further investigation of the facilities you might, as I was, be astounded at the quality of facilities the class room technology, the breadth of campus and the passion of staff.

However looks can be deceiving as the college is currently under review by Ofstead as “needs improvement” or “grade 3″. This might mean little to the un initiated but, as I have now learnt, to the staff of BCA this is serious. “Grade 3″ means seriously under performing in the key purpose of the college;  namely the education, preparation and welfare of the 1500 learners in our care.

Before I became a governor I had only been aware of the “dreaded Ofstead inspection” through parents or teachers who had experienced a visit. The stress of 4 days of interviews, the stress of a snap shot approach to understanding, the stress of a detailed examination into every area, every level and a forensic approach to uncover the facts.  The apocryphal stories of it all being down to the nice or nasty inspector etc., However it is only now as BCA approaches its inspection that I am beginning to understand the true very effective purpose of Ofstead…and surprisingly I like what I see!

untitled

 

So why does the inspection outcome matter so much? Well the difference between grade 3, grade 2 and the holy of holy’s grade 1 or “Outstanding” is the difference (in football language) between being Sunday league football and the Premiership.

As a governor who is accountable for ensuring that the college is fulfilling its purpose:

” delivering high quality education that gives our students the knowledge, skills and experience to be successful in their chosen career”

it is all about overseeing a vision, culture and working practices that consistently deliver excellent value to the tax payer.  Success is seeing a cohort of leavers prepared and enabled to be able to support themselves with out state intervention.  Learners who, like me, failed in the classroom of academia but are able to find their vocation and purpose in areas with equal value to society.  It is without question that many of BCA leavers armed with qualifications in hair dressing, car mechanics, agriculture  and horticulture will eventually become part of the entrepreneurial class that drives the UK economy.

What impresses me about Ofstead is that the rigour of the inspection ensures that the educational establishment delivers root and branch.  This will not be a beauty parade and style over substance is bound to be uncovered.  What gives me hope is the tireless work that the entire college has done over the year that I have been involved.  The focus, professionalism and passion to manage adversity and manage fundamental reform  would set it on a par with any excellent organisation of a similar size in the private sector.  That is not to say it is perfect but it wants to get it right…and for the right reason..not for the inspector but for the learner!

Bring it on!Ag students

 

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Managing Partner Magazine article on 21st Century Switchboard

I wanted to share an article that appeared in this weeks Managing Partner magazine.

The human story at the heart of this is that the two ladies that appear in the picture below are the grand children of the lady that appears in the switchboard picture at the end of page 2 during the war.

Their jobs of 21st century switchboard operator and war time switchboard operator are professions which did and still do require extreme mental dexterity, lateral thinking, charm, politeness, technical expertise and an ability to be constantly positive in how you project yourself.  It is a profession that never ceases to surprise me in terms of its difficulty and it makes me immensely proud to have so much talent working for Team ComXo! Managing Partner page 1

Managing Partner Page 2Down load article below

Page 1 

Page 2 pdf

 

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Why we sponsor the Windsor Festival Youth Arts Competition

Who would think that the art room at the local state school is the future engine house of the UK economy?  But those were the sentiments of Desmond Shawe-Taylor,  Keeper of the Queens Pictures and one of the nations leading art experts.

Keeper of the Queens Pictures

Keeper of the Queens Pictures

Desmond was not in this instance appearing on television but speaking at Herbert Smith Freehills, one of the London’s great law firms, at an exhibition of work from young school children.

Exhibition brochures

Exhibition brochures

The work which spanned multiple disciplines including painting, writing, poetry, music composition, sculpture and clothes design was curated professionally by Windsor art gallery ICE and came together through The Youth Art Prize part of the Windsor Festival and sponsored by my business ComXo.

Fisherman Olivia Clarke

Fisherman Olivia Clarke

Why are we, experts in switchboard support services and 24/7 business concierge, interested in youth art? Well it comes down to ‘purpose’ and as a mentor of mine explained “purpose is what gets you out of bed on the coldest darkest dankest day in February raring to get on with what you do.”  In my case my mentor made me think about it for some time, testing each answer I came up with, like the obvious ‘money’, or ‘global domination’, or ‘lifestyle’ and even what had been my stock answer for years ‘master of my own destiny”. In the end I wrote down the following words and they have stood the test of time

” to build an organisation where creative, energetic people with a passion for being the best can challenge the status quo and build a better future.”

Now I would forgive you if you dismissed that as navel gazing guff but I  stand behind it because it means everything to me.

Waistcoat Christabel Turnbull

Waistcoat Christabel Turnbull

Dismantling and re thinking what we do today and through creative thought rebuilding and re shaping and then trial and error we progress.  When we hire at ComXo we are less interested in school grades, past experience and knowledge and more interested in a persons aptitude for challenging what we take for granted and why and how we do things and putting together creative teams that can evolve any existing process, procedure or product to make it better.

 

Self Portrait 30's Style Katie Underhill Churchmead School

Self Portrait 30’s Style
Katie Underhill
Churchmead School

Creativity sits at the heart of this process and creativity is honed, developed and set free in the art room, music room and drama studio.  It is surely a misconception that information or facts learnt by rote and regurgitated in the exam hall is the determinant of successful learning…with out creativity to stretch, manipulate, de-construct, re-arrange, turn inside out, upside down and as such to alter perspective, uncover insight and discover the new our world will indeed stagnate.

So thank you to Ian Gatt QC of Herbert Smith Freehills, Partner responsible for the firms extra ordinary art collection who said

“Through ComXo, who provide telephony services to Herbert Smith Freehills, the firm became involved with the Windsor Festival Schools Programme in 2014.  As we were impressed by the extremely high standard of work we invited the winners and commended entrants to exhibit their art on the commercial stage in London, in front of clients and guests visiting the firm offices.”

Click the link below to see the press coverage

Schools Programme 2014 Exhibition at HSF Press Coverage

 

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Better Connected (interview published in Briefings magazine October 2014)

 

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