How 20 years in the RAF ignited an entrepreneurial spark!

John Davison enjoyed his career in the RAF spanning two decades, constantly learning new things and updating skills.

After another 20 years of running his father’s business, he found out what it was like to be a true entrepreneur when he joined ActionCOACH.

“I joined the RAF as an Officer Cadet in 1966. I spent two and a half years at Cranwell where I swapped from engineering to logistics. My future was set out for me as a Pilot Officer with a guaranteed career until I was 55, unless I took optional retirement after 16 years of service. I got married to Helen just six months after being commissioned and we started a family.”

John worked at RAF Wittering during the Falklands War, receiving a MBE for his contribution. He was promoted in minimum time to Squadron Leader and sent to do a Master’s degree at Cranfield before moving on to a role in the Ministry of Defence.

Stepping in to entrepreneurship

“My Masters helped to save a lot of money in the MoD but I didn’t fancy spending the rest of my time in the RAF in a staff role and so I took optional retirement when I was 38 years’ old. I’m originally from Sunderland and I went back to Teesside in 1986 as my first entrepreneurial spark ignited. My father had started a marine engineering company quite late in life, I took it over and it remained very profitable for nearly 20 years until two of our biggest clients went out of business almost overnight. I couldn’t sustain the business and spent six months closing the company down, controlling discussions with staff, clients and suppliers – it was a big hit of reality.”

At that point, John felt like he was unemployable. He invested a year with career change consultants and found something called business coaching.

“It really interested me because of my extensive experience; skills from the RAF played a big part; a Master’s degree and 20 years in the trenches of business ownership. It began to dawn on me, I could help others overcome the challenges I had faced. But I didn’t have a set of tools to back me up and so I started to look around for resources including investigating some organisations and franchises which could help.”

Realising what a real entrepreneur should be

In 2006, John was introduced to Yorkshire’s first ActionCOACH, Andrew Cussons, by his accountant. He then went on to speak with the UK Support Team.

“What struck me during my initial conversation with Ian Christelow, ActionCOACH’s UK Co-founder, was he wasn’t selling the franchise to me, he was interrogating me to see if I was suitable to be a franchise owner. I was really taken by ActionCOACH’s culture, the structure and support.

John took Helen to the discovery day and looked at the huge range of tools and resources available to him. He convinced the team he could make a success of the franchise and began a whole new challenge.

“I realised I had gone from constant development in the RAF to 20 years in business where I had never opened a book! I went to Las Vegas for 10 days of initial training and commenced a new era of personal development. I’d never been so stretched before – even given my military training. The RAF taught me how to lead, organise, manage, and communicate but, so far, I’d only used them in business to deal with negative situations. ActionCOACH taught me to approach a positive angle and a mindset of success.”

John launched his ActionCOACH business in November 2006. He set himself some goals but, most importantly, his focus was on helping local business owners.

“It took me 18 months to really get into the flow. In hindsight, my biggest personal  challenge was sales and marketing. My past two careers had never needed these skills and it took  a number of MasterCLASSES, which ActionCOACH run for free for franchise owners, to improve my skills and to realise that sales meant building relationships. Typically, I have 10 one-to-one coaching clients, and run a group planning day, GrowthCLUB, every quarter. My clients come from ActionCOACH’s 6-steps seminars, networking and referrals.”

Five years ago, John decided to share office space in Knaresborough with another Action Coach, Stuart Johnson. Teamwork is very much embedded in the culture of ActionCOACH and that makes the business more enjoyable.

“We share GrowthCLUB, strategic alliance workshops and seminars. It could be seen as competition but it works well to farm in the same area. Apart from the fact that I choose to support just 10 clients a month when there are thousands of business owners in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, we call it co-opetition – some coaches click better with certain personality types and I have someone close by to introduce if I have a business owner eager to begin coaching when I don’t have availability.

An entrepreneur for the future

John received one of the top scores in ActionCOACH’s first independent client survey conducted in 2016. It’s just one of the ways in which he has recently accessed the support available to him.

“It’s fair to say that a franchise represents a pre-ordained, structured successful model. It’s not an easy way to start a business but someone has done all the thought process and structure, so all you need to do is put the hard work in and follow the systems. As well as the client survey, I’ve introduced three of my clients to the national partnership ActionCOACH has developed with Funding Circle.

“ActionCOACH is an outstanding franchise and continues to develop and grow. The core of the model and the communication methods between the network is constantly innovative. Equally as a business opportunity, ActionCOACH has added value services to the core coaching, multiplying the commercial potential for franchise owners.”

Even though John turns 70 in February, he has no intention of retiring. ActionCOACH gives him the option of reducing his workload by having an employed coach to take on the day-to-day work or passing on his clients to another franchise owner.

“I currently work three days a week and Helen is still working too. Coaching is something I love and can do at my own pace. I need to feel purposeful and this business enables me that. My clients are about the same age as my children. While my brain can outdo them, I will stay in business and entrepreneurship.”

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