We catch up with John Warren, an inspirational business mentor and director of Matchbox Associates. His professional experience includes speechwriting for government and running an national business with 800 members of staff.
Tell me about yourself
I’m a Director of Matchbox Associates - we help SMEs with business planning, strategy, performance improvement and growth. We also work with companies to access grant funding. I’m a mentor for the Business Growth Hub and we’re one of the Executive Development Programme delivery partners. Before forming Matchbox Associates I ran a large business with 800 people UK-wide so I’ve had to deal with lots of the challenges that businesses face. My early career was in the Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills where I had some fantastic roles - I was a speechwriter for the Secretary of State, Private Secretary to the Trade Minister, spent 6 months in the European Commission in Brussels and 6 months in the British Embassy in Jakarta. I have an MBA from Manchester Business School.
Why do you mentor?
There’s a real satisfaction in helping people to achieve their goals. Helping to unlock something that’s preventing them moving forward, and making a real difference to an individual and how they perceive themselves. It can often be something that’s really simple that has a powerful effect.
How do you describe your mentoring style?
Ultimately mentoring isn’t about fixing a particular problem, it’s about developing the individual’s self-confidence so they can deal with whatever problems come their way. As a mentor you have a limited time with your mentee, so I try to listen to what people want to achieve, then help them to break down the major barriers they think stand in their way into a series of manageable challenges.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see business owners make and how could they be avoided?
The kind of people we work with are often very entrepreneurial and they’re risk takers, who’ve become successful because they make decisions quickly and because they get more decisions right than wrong. Where we help them is putting in place structure, strategy and process so that the risks they take have a better chance of paying off, and the direction they send the company in is sustainable.
How do you describe mentoring?
Mentoring is about empowerment. It’s about giving individuals the confidence and support that allows them to do things they thought they couldn’t. For me that’s often about showing empathy - using examples from my own experience that might give them options.
Who inspires you?
Lots of people from lots of different walks of life. The kind of people that are determined to succeed, whether it’s in sport, business and academia.
What advice do you give to growing business owners?
Have a clear picture of where you want to be, and work enormously hard to get there. It’s so easy to be distracted by opportunities that come along, particularly when you’re a very small business, and you need always to keep an eye on whether new opportunities will simply give the business a short term boost or if contribute to achieving the real long-term goals you want to hit.
What is your favourite inspirational quote?
On a leadership course in the Lake District our task was to get to the top of a really tall tree. We used all the coaching, supporting and encouraging language we’d been taught to help each other, and whilst it worked it took a long time. A little distance away, we heard a bunch of teenagers on the same exercise, and through the trees we heard one of them shout out, “just get up the tree now you muppet!”. It kind of stuck with me - sometimes we don’t need to over-complicate!
What advice would you give to new mentors or someone considering becoming a mentor?
Lots of people are aware of what their issues are, they just need a bit of help to map them out and think logically through their options. So, particularly in the early meetings make sure you spend more time on “receive” than “send”. It’s really important to give your mentee the chance to talk through their issues because that’s often when they achieve a breakthrough.
Interested in Mentoring or finding a Mentor? Sign up to our mentoring programme