Graham Thomas on the perils of overmanagement

09 September 2013 -


The Radical Company founder-director illuminates the pitfalls of excessive management, and what business leaders can learn from athletes

Matt Packer

Former Saatchi & Saatchi vice chairman Graham Thomas is founder and director of Radical Company, a provider of bespoke digital products to client organisations. In the course of his career, Graham has established a formidable reputation for building brands – a talent that has steered him to a number of top awards including Ad Age International Agency of the Year, P&G’s Robert V Goldstein Award for global advertising excellence and a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts.

Graham spoke about his work at the CMI National Management and Leadership Conference on Thursday 10 October 2013.

What does your business do?

We innovate and create digital products that allow people to be faster and smarter when they’re doing something digitally. It’s also what we help our clients be in their own work: faster and smarter.

What led you to become an entrepreneur?

I’ve always worked in entrepreneurial environments even when working for an organisation, but inevitably when you’re working for someone else compromises have to be made. In the end I got fed up with the compromises.

I also decided that I was hopeless as an employee!

What do you think is the most pressing issue that needs to be addressed in people management right now?

Overmanagement. A long time ago, I discovered that the HR department abhors a vacuum and will fill it with all sorts of guff that supposedly keeps people well managed and motivated. But it’s all a waste of time and a distraction.

What do you hope the conference delegates got out of your talk?

I wanted the guests to go away enthused with ideas about how they and their teams can be faster and smarter everyday.

What single legislative change would you bring in to improve prospects for entrepreneurs?

All legislation just gets in the way. It always hinders, and never helps.

If you could manage one blue-chip company for a day, which would it be, and why?

I’ve got no interest in doing this at all! I can’t think of anything better than running my own company.

What piece of advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur?

Elite athletes have saying: “Know your game.” Persevere at your game, but at the same time, know when to stop. Not all great ideas work – sometimes because of mistakes, but also often for reasons beyond your control. Remember that phrase about dead horses and all that? That should come in handy when you’re stuck: know when to move on.

Your fantasy leadership dinner guests are…

I only enjoy dinner with the closest of friends and I find at most other dinners, either I get bored – or I bore people! So forget the dinner (although I’m more than happy to share a glass of wine!) Leadership to me is simple: it’s about inspiring others. So, who would be the people I would most like to talk to about inspiration?

It would be three head teachers from three state schools in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK.

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