In this interview, my guest was Thomas Power. In 1998, Thomas co-founded Ecademy alongside his wife, Penny Power OBE, and they built the first online network for business leaders.
Over the following 14 years, they grew a community of purposeful business experts across 52 countries and over 650,000 members. Thomas continues to pioneer this people-first culture originally developed within Ecademy, and it remains at the heart of his own passion for sharing connections and insight with those who need it.
Having worked with household names such as The Apprentice’s Sir Alan Sugar, mental health pioneer Jay Shetty, and Facebook and Spotify co-founder Sean Parker, it is this drive for connecting like-minded individuals and sharing nuanced, unbiased information that has led to his position as a go-to for those seeking an Independent Director.
What You’ll Hear
- [2:08] About Thomas and his background
- [4:04] Why Thomas became an entrepreneur
- [6:08] What inspires Thomas
- [10:16] Why some business owners do better than others
- [17:32] Why not everyone will succeed
- [25:50] How Thomas overcomes challenges
- [33:20] How Thomas became an independent director
- [36:18] The most interesting place Thomas has visited
- [38:10] Final Thoughts
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About Thomas and his Background
Thomas started working at Waitrose aged 16, and went on to assemble hard drives for Apple, before finding himself with super-mentor Peter Allen. He worked at Amstrad for a few years and met Michael Dell, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Ross Perot.
Thomas learned a lot about market research and analysis, networking and connecting people from Lord Sugar, and saw how they were used together to get the information you want.
He met a lot of people and began introducing them to other business owners and influencers. He became a connecting junkie, he says, and continues to do it 40 years later.
Why Thomas Became an Entrepreneur
Thomas said that having observed Alan Sugar, he was inspired to entrepreneurship. His parents were also entrepreneurs, and he realised that he wanted to do something, be someone and make a contribution in a unique way.
He says there’s a desire for independence and contribution to others without being shackled by an organisation. The experience of being an entrepreneur makes you a very good independent director, because you can be a unique, objective voice on a board.
What Inspires Thomas
Thomas says he’s a big believer in the concepts outlined in Napoleon Hill’s 1937 book ‘Think and Grow Rich’. The basic tenet is ‘we become what we think about’, and they drive Thomas all the time.
When he’s in an entrepreneurial position, he considers what it is he or the other person wants to achieve, and digs deep to find out what’s required to get there. A lot of people don’t follow through on their ideas, because it requires tremendous persistence and resilience to withstand the knocks.
It’s incredibly hard to build a company – it can take 10 years to get them out of the ground, and lots of things go wrong in that time. You need a strong desire to become what you thought about being.
The reality is that across the planet, only 1 or 2% of people are entrepreneurs. Out of 80 billion people, that’s 80 to 100 million are entrepreneurs. 90% of businesses fail, and sometimes those that get through aren’t that good. They’re zombie companies because they don’t grow.
We see the tech giants in Silicon Valley going through enormous growth so many people think they’re the example of how to be a successful entrepreneur. But those half a dozen companies are so rare. They’re unique, and they’re founded and run by geniuses.
They’ve set the benchmark and so they’re inspiring, but they’re uniquely powerful. Thomas says he’s not in their league, but they’ve got a deep talent and human resource. They motivate him, and he keeps going through resilience, tolerance and persistence.
Why Some Business Owners do Better Than Others
In the modern world, you have to be a very good storyteller, and those who are, raise the capital. The finest storyteller of recent years is Elon Musk, and he’s the biggest loss-making millionaire, said Thomas.
“He’s 48 years old, he’s never made a profit, he’s one of the richest people on the planet and he’s built a dozen different companies. His ability to see the future, get to it, tell the story, raise the capital and hire the talent, is unique.
“If we look at Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Reed Hastings, Larry and Sergei at Google – these are unique characters with amazing skills, but they’re also great storytellers.”
For those operating in tech, they need to become salespeople, and the salespeople need to have a better understanding of tech. But for successful sales, you need good storytelling.
Storytelling is critical because that’s how you get the capital; without capital you can’t have the talent and without the talent you can’t follow through on your idea. Getting the people to implement your idea relies on storytelling, and Thomas says he goes round and round considering each element.
Many entrepreneurs have a boundless energy, and Thomas says this correlates with how much money they have in the bank. A lot of cash or having capital available gives you energy, which improves your performance. And they often have an exceptionally good memory, too.
In the last 30 years, the people at the top of the tree are geniuses, and they’ve built a complex system. That means that other entrepreneurs have to work harder in order to survive and thrive in the modern, internet age.
Why not Everyone Will Succeed
With so many intelligent, powerful people in the world, Thomas doesn’t believe that everyone can be successful. Not many people have the patience, tolerance, resilience and persistence to succeed in entrepreneurship.
To be successful on your own or with a team is difficult, and the worldwide web makes it even more complex. You have to dig deep to succeed, and it’s only going to get harder.
Today we have 4bn people using the internet, and by 2050 we’ll have all 8bn people in the world online. Blockchain and crypto contribute to us moving towards a world of unlimited opportunity.
People have a vast array of skills and there are more than 1bn who’ve grown up on the internet. Thomas thinks we’ll probably run out of people to do the work. Everyone thinks that AI will put people out of work, but he thinks the opposite is true.
Many basic tasks will be automated, but there are many tasks that need to be done by people: cleaning, support, recreation and transportation. Already, people are finding it hard to find the right people, no matter what the industry.
Money is under threat. Let’s assume that 90% of those fail, but of the 10% that succeed, they need people to support them. There’s so much new technology coming along all the time that Thomas says we won’t have enough people to do the work.
While the recent Covid pandemic has been devastating, if you’ve made it through and your business has survived, the scale of growth in the next decade will be one we’ve never seen before.
Everyone knows how to work from home and how to use cloud technology, so we don’t need to go back to offices. And there will be thousands of support companies to work with the bigger businesses that weren’t there before.
Deliveroo has 100,000 drivers and is a new industry that’s appeared in the last 10 years, for example. And as time goes on, that will only increase.
Crypto and digital will increase, and we’ll find ourselves in a position where we can click around the internet and be paid when we click. We’ll be able to buy anything in the world we want. Non-fungible tokens (NFTS) are brand new, and allow us to buy digital history.
Every single thing in the world will have a competitor, and that creates unlimited jobs. Thomas says that’s a good thing, but you need to hone your niche in order to succeed and grow.
How Thomas Overcomes Challenges
Thomas says he’s lost a lot: businesses, homes, friends and family. He’s struggled to overcome depression, like every other person. We all face dark times, and we can get stuck in them for a while.
Thomas says he had an exceptional wife who got him through, and in turn he pulled her through. You need a good network of family, friends (personal and business) and people to help you.
He describes Ecademy as a big mental health support group, and that helped. “Achieving recognition in the online world as a mentor and contributor and forging on to the next thing helped. You have to work hard and push on to whatever the next thing is.”
“Push yourself physically and mentally to keep learning and stretch yourself. But take breaks and rest. Humans need to work and keep themselves busy to avoid the dark places. You have to work through or go somewhere else.”
Thomas and his wife Penny are working to recreate the supportive environment that existed in Ecademy, and are building a smaller, more intimate community of 100 business owners who can support each other – BIP100 Club.
People need deep support and trusted colleagues around them. They need to hear about other people’s struggles so they can be inspired and move on. We need to move together and support each other.
We are going to merge with the machines by 2050 – there will be singularity. We need to work together and prepare for exploration of the rest of the universe. Mankind is curious about exploring and learning more, and we need to contribute to the collective.
How Thomas Became an Independent Director
All boards now seek independent directors to support the internal C-Suite. When they are publicly listed, they need that person to give an objective voice. They support and advise the board, but they also feed back information with the shareholders.
Having been so much himself, Thomas feels able to position himself as an independent, objective voice for other businesses, and works hard to be unbiased. The roles he takes on are around governance, remuneration, audit, talent and capital. He really enjoys the role and loves making a contribution.
Life is about choices and decisions, and Thomas wants to help people by giving objective advice. Sometimes you need someone else to give you other things to consider before you make that decision.
The Most Interesting Place Thomas has Visited
Thomas says the Faroe Islands is the place that’s had the longest-term effect on him. There are 25 islands, all connected with road tunnels. There’s a population of around 50,000 people, and he visited their Ecademy group there.
The inhabitants consider themselves the original Norse people, the first pioneers who travelled the word. It’s also a stunning place, Thomas says. It’s the most beautiful place on the planet he’s ever been.
“Believe in your own ideas, tell stories and find others who believe in you too. Trust the words of Napoleon Gill ‘we become what we think about’. You will become your dominant thoughts and they drive your choices and decisions. Keep your mind clear and have the right thoughts.”