When my partner teamed up with me again, we both had clearly defined roles. Mine was to manage the business – and the team – and to find new clients. His was to automate and streamline the everyday management of the company so I spent less time on that and more time on getting new business.
But for me, my father’s death changed everything.
Somewhere inside me a spark had gone out. I had found buyers for my father’s house literally three days before his death, but one of his neighbours, who objected to the idea of a young family moving in next door, staged a prolonged and bitter legal battle aimed at preventing the sale. it went on for seven months, leaving me no time or space to grieve the loss of a man I had loved more than any other.
After weeks of argument about boundary lines that were clearly defined, clearly visible, and in the most contentious area literally built into the house, the young family moved in – as I wanted, and as my father would have wished. But I was emotionally drained – and visibly so. In my Asgard partnership that would have been the signal for someone else to step up to the plate. In this partnership that didn’t happen. Important things began to drift, and I didn’t share everything that was going on. When my partner found out he was – with some justification – angry and hurt. In his eyes, I’d been deceiving him.
But that didn’t excuse what happened next.
Coaching and recruiting
In response, and quite willingly, I agreed we should both work with a leadership coach I knew and respected. The intention was to help me adjust and adapt to a role I was clearly finding challenging.
To an extent, that worked. But in the process it became very clear to our coach that the partnership was irreparably damaged. And although he was supremely diplomatic in the way he dealt with it, he clearly felt that I was the lesser part of the problem. We had moved from an equal relationship to one where, effectively, I was doing most of the work and my partner was doing most of the bullying. It needed more than a change in me. It needed change in both of us.
And, in my view, a third partner. Someone used to managing situations like this, and used to turning businesses around – most especially in the area of marketing.
I knew right away who I wanted – the amazing Kim Morrison. So I asked her. And she agreed to meet us.
A disastrous meeting
I explained to my partner what I had in mind, why, and why I wanted Kim in particular. At that stage I had committed us to nothing more than an initial discussion. I could tell he wasn’t happy, but that was a poor excuse for turning up late for the meeting, unsuitably dressed, and spending the first 20 minutes of it slagging me off in front of Kim. I’m happy to say that she knew me – and knows me – well enough to form her own opinion of what he was saying. And despite that she said she would be willing to join the company – as long as she assumed the role of MD.
I was pleasantly surprised, and perfectly understood what she was getting at. We had a good, viable concept. But it would go nowhere without the kind of management neither of us was equipped to give it. And I knew she could.
My colleague, of course, point blank refused.
And the unforced error…
In all but outward form, that meeting marked the end of Newsletter Genie as a company. There was simply no way to work with someone who could behave like that in any meeting, let alone a meeting that could have reshaped and revitalised the business. And I couldn’t work with a man who actually believed some of the things he had said about me.
But… there was still work to be done. Newsletters to be written, designed, coded and published. Freelancers to be looked after. And data to be managed, safely and securely.
And then I heard – on BBC News of all places – that our flagship website had almost certainly been hacked. My colleague had built it using a system called Drupal, and the public service announcement they issued on 29 October 2014 is still on record. I texted him to ask where we stood. He said he’d look into it. But my increasingly urgent enquiries didn’t get a satisfactory response. Given the nature of our business the security of client data was paramount – and until the site was secure I didn’t feel we could safely use it. That effectively crippled the entire operation – but the most I could get out of him was that he’d sort something out by the end of the week.
…that was never corrected
He didn’t. In fact his answers were getting increasingly evasive, and he was offering no solutions. So I found a piece of commercial project management software, set up the most urgent newsletters on it, and effectively bodged together a substitute system in three days. It was crude and unfinished, but just about allowed me to do what was necessary to rescue the most urgent tasks.
Later – much later – I worked out the reason for his evasiveness. His one and only job had become to build the website. But to do so he had hacked into Drupal’s core code – meaning that literally no security updates were possible without effectively wiping out all his work. Not only was the site insecure, but there was no way it could ever be secure.
It had been a quick, dirty and initially effective solution. But on 29 October 2014 it was shattered beyond repair. An unforced error which all but destroyed the company.