Getting To Know You: Ben Black from My Family Care

What do you currently do?

I run a business called My Family Care. We started off buying a nanny agency in 2000 and the business has grown and branched out in a number of ways since then. We now employ 300 people across 4 business streams.

What is your inspiration in business?

Profit and People. It took me a long time to work that out and the 2 are clearly related. Obviously the initial inspiration is wanting to be your own boss but ultimately businesses are massively more fun and engaging if you’re growing and making money. They say that profit is sanity and that’s true. But it’s people that hold everything together. Building a team of people who you respect, who take ownership and who develop with the business is tremendously rewarding. A motivated and talented team takes 90 per cent of the bad stuff out of running a business. Building a good team is virtually impossible if the business isn’t successful.

Who do you admire?

My brother who I started this business with, my father who filled us with commercial curiosity from an early age and most of the people who now work here. As for someone famous I would always plump for Margaret Thatcher. What an amazing turnaround job that was. The fact she smashed every glass ceiling on the way only adds to her achievements.

Looking back, would you have done things differently?

Everything! We started this business in 2000. It was possibly one of the best times ever to start a business, just not in childcare. The list of things we could and should have done differently is very long. I have a theory that there are three types of business people. Those that are brilliant and get it right quickly and often. Those that work hard and learn from their mistakes. And those who just aren’t cut out to be in business. I’m definitely in the middle camp but luckily I’ve always been a quick learner.

What defines your way of doing business?

We have a very clear set of company values. Internally we’re incredibly demanding of our staff. The quid pro quo is that we need to give them the support and freedom they need to be as good as we expect them to be. Externally we would be seen as passionate, innovative and proactive. In fact we’re possibly too proactive some times. On the corporate side – our work with large employers like IBM and P&G – we have a huge US competitor. We’re significantly better and smaller. It’s a good position to be in!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

We now have a successful business and we’ve built it by hard work, by trying different things and by learning from our mistakes. Sharing direct experiences I always think is more useful than “advice” but if I had to I would say 3 things:

• Cashflow will kill you. You need to know from the start what your numbers and Cashflow really look like. We got through 4 different accountants in our first 2 years which was a near death experience!
• Hard work. The one thing you have to throw at the business is time and effort. You’re unlikely to be successful without it
• Reality – this is the difficult one. You need to make sure you build in some reality checks. How do you really know if something is working or not. Do you plough on or accept when it is time to change track. There’s no template for how to ensure you get a regular reality check but a non exec, a mentor or a partner can all fill the role successfully.