"Just flipping do it": life lessons from small-business maestro Chris Ingram

01 June 2015 -


The founder and managing director at one of the West Country’s fastest-growing firms tells us about his background and management style

Colin Marrs

It’s been a busy past few months for Continental Underfloor – the largest direct supplier of underfloor heating to the trade, and one of the biggest small businesses in Cornwall. Following its move to larger premises in October, the company has been involved with government efforts to spread superfast broadband through the West Country, and just yesterday published results from its own survey of what people in the UK wish they could spend more time on.

Here, the firm’s managing director Chris Ingram tells us what makes him tick, and how his management style works.

1. What was your favourite subject at school?

It’s hard to choose one. I enjoyed technical drawing because the teacher was the only person who had any belief in me and I enjoyed geology because the teacher, Mr Clark, showed me just how self-limiting prejudice and stereotyping can be.

2. What was your first job?

My first job, aged 14, was gardening and lawn cutting for neighbours living near my parents so I could earn enough money to buy my own kayak.

3. What mobile device(s) do you use?

In an ideal world none, but sadly I travel with a laptop, tablet and mobile (although this is often switched off unless I’m expecting a call from my children).

4. What is your biggest achievement in business?

Seeing people who have worked for me go on to launch successful businesses of their own.

5. What is your biggest regret in business?

Not realising how much of a responsibility having employees is when I took on a 16 year old school leaver to work at my first business when I was aged 21. Sadly, my first business endeavour didn’t work out. Seeing him sign on when he could have chosen something firmer for his first job was really hard.

6. How has your business sector changed since you began your career?

This is the fourth sector I’ve worked in. Since I started working in the heating market 15 years ago the biggest change has been the introduction of government legislation and policy which has perhaps hindered rather than helped the industry.

7. Who is your business hero?

Anybody who arrives in this country with nothing but the clothes on their back who builds a business that supports themselves and their family.

8. What is the trait you most admire in other businesspeople?

Just getting it done. Too many people spend too long planning and coming up with strategies when they could be getting out there achieving something.

9. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I think I quote Einstein’s thoughts on insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – to other people a little too often.

10. What is the one thing about your job you could do without?

Endless paperwork, forms and red tape; particularly that supplied by government agencies with nothing better to do.

11. How would you describe your management philosophy in one sentence?

Just flipping do it. Planning is pointless if you never implement.

12. What was your best holiday?

It has to be my most recent skiing trip to Les Arcs with my children where we went down the black run and off-piste together for the first time.

13. What is your favourite day of the week and why?

My favourite day of the week is every other Friday because it’s the day I get to pick up my children from school.

14. How do you unwind away from work?

Solo sailing is my favourite hobby and something I try to do every couple of weeks, even if it’s just sailing from one harbour to another for one night.

15. What is your favourite film?

A film I never tire of watching but find tiring to watch is Apocalypse Now. It challenges you on so many levels emotionally.

16. What is your favourite smell?

Other than success (joke!), it has to be the smell of freshly baked bread.

17. What music do you like?

I spent most of my 20s working as a touring manager for bands so I have a very wide musical taste, ranging all the way from Irish folk singer Christy Moore through to hip hop star Ice T.

18. What keeps you awake at night?

I think like many entrepreneurs I often fret that I may be missing an opportunity or choosing the wrong path, but a pad and pen to record my thoughts, and a large single malt, usually help me get back to sleep.

19. Which four guests would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

I’d invite a mix of passionate and determined individuals comprising mountaineer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Captain Paul Watson, who is responsible for the marine conservation action group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to solo circumnavigate the world and Bernard Moitessier, the sailor who let him cross the finish line.

20. If you could, what advice would you give to yourself aged 20?

That despite what other people may think or say, you can achieve anything in life regardless of your background.

For further thoughts on developing management styles, find out about CMI short courses and qualifications.

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