Feeling a million dollars

John Tate

Feeling a million dollars1

Finance | John Tate | 28 Nov 2011

John Tate built a million-dollar team, and shares the successes and mistakes he made along the way.

Writing last month’s column was somewhat nerve-racking as, in parallel with putting the article together, I was also finalising the sale of the company I was running at the time – ChangeBASE Ltd. We were acquired by a large US IT vendor and got a decent deal for the shareholders and staff.

I joined ChangeBASE as a startup in 2007 when it just had a couple of paid staff, and I led the team that grew it to a multi-million-pound turnover global business.

I have been involved with a good number of start-ups and have been on the board of quite a few charities. Over the coming months I will share some of the lessons I have learned of running a business and dealing with the IT sector – good and bad.


So to kick things off I’ll pose this question: what makes a million-dollar team? Whether the team is running a commercial business, a charity or an IT department most of the characteristics are the same.

I’ll put at the top of the list clarity of vision. It is critical to ensure the whole team know exactly what it is the organisation is trying to achieve and their role in helping make this happen. Some might regard this as a statement of the blindingly obvious but, believe me, this is extremely hard to achieve. Pretty much every business I have run has failed to really get this clarity or focus in place.

Senior managers, directors, trustees, and shareholders all have different interests and motivations for being involved in an organisation. To get real consensus and clarity requires everyone to put aside some of their personal goals and ‘sacrifice’ themselves to the cause. This needs to be kept up day-after-day, week-after-week, and month-after- month. It is incredibly difficult to motivate and manage people to keep this going.

Next on the list is communication. You must make sure people know what is going on and share relevant information with their colleagues. Again, it sounds obvious, but it is so crucial for ensuring different teams work well together and that the needs of customers or beneficiaries are fully met. Email has gone from being our best friend to our worst enemy in supporting this. It is too easy to copy people in to communications and, as a result, staff get overwhelmed with information.

So key performance indicators need to be agreed that senior staff really buy in to. Processes need to be set up, and rigorously followed, to ensure the right information gets to the right people at the right time.

The third priority is a cultural issue – deciding how open and transparent you will be with your workforce and external stakeholders about what is going on in your organisation.

I have aspired to develop a culture of openness, integrity and honesty in my business ventures and have found, in almost every case where I have succeeded in doing this, that we have gained massive benefits. You have to celebrate successes, of course, and do this more often than reviewing shortcomings in your organisation. But honesty with your colleagues about your own, and the organisation’s, failures does create a culture of trust. It also encourages people to take risks and learn themselves from mistakes.


However, risk needs to be managed and if you are out of your depth as a boss you will not find this an easy ride. Sharing with customers and external stakeholders what is really going on will hopefully achieve the same result. Admitting, for example, that you got something wrong is not typical of how suppliers deal with customers. However, I have found that if you communicate honestly about the situation, and tell the customer what you are going to do to address the issue, a ‘refreshing approach’ works wonders.

You may be surprised that I have found this a painful column to write. As I have pondered on the topic, I have unfortunately been drawn into thinking about the countless mistakes I have made, and situations where I have failed to practice what I preach.

Being a really effective manager requires a level of dedication and passion few of us can maintain. However, even partial success can deliver impressive results and it is hugely rewarding to see people and teams develop as a result.

John Tate is a business consultant, IT adviser to CFDG and a visiting lecturer at Cass Business School

Oliver Smith
Bridging Finance
7 Jan 2012

Well done, it is a unique posting. I think your articles are very nice.


[Cancel] | Reply to:

Close »

Community Standards

The community and comments board is intended as a platform for informed and civilised debate.

We hope to encourage a broad range of views, however, there are standards that we expect commentators to uphold. We reserve the right to delete or amend any comments that do not adhere to these standards.

We welcome:

  • Robust but respectful debate
  • Strongly held opinions
  • Intelligent relevant discussion
  • The sharing of relevant experiences
  • New participants

We will not publish:

  • Rude, threatening, offensive, obscene or abusive language, or links to such material
  • Links to commercial organisations or spam postings. The comments board is not an advertising platform
  • The posting of contact details for yourself or others
  • Comments intended for malicious purpose or mindless abuse
  • Comments purporting to be from another person or organisation under false pretences
  • Gratuitous criticism, commentary or self-promotion
  • Any material which breaches copyright or privacy laws, or could be considered libellous
  • The use of the comments board for the pursuit or extension of personal disputes

Be aware:

  • Views expressed on the comments board are left at users’ discretion and are in no way views held or supported by Civil Society Media
  • Comments left by others may not be accurate, do not rely on them as fact
  • You may be misunderstood - sarcasm and humour can easily be taken out of context, try to be clear


  • Enjoy the opportunity to express your opinion and respect the right of others to express theirs
  • Confine your remarks to issues rather than personalities

Together we can keep our community a polite, respectful and intelligent platform for discussion.


John Tate

John Tate is a qualified accountant and entrepreneur. He is a columnist for Charity Finance, a visiting lecturer at Cass Business School's Centre for Charity Effectiveness and trustee of Eduserv.

Popular Tags

The Libor process is murky, but it is not the charities who are to blame

20 Sep 2016

The Libor process is worryingly unclear, but we should not be attacking the charities for receiving the...

Love, trust and the teachable moment - a better way?

20 Sep 2016

Three months after politicians were united in paying tribute to Jo Cox, which highlighted the importance...

May daze: when it comes to the charity sector, our new PM is as bland as a cheeseless water biscuit

8 Sep 2016

Ian Allsop is gasping for breath after a tumultuous summer – can Theresa May successfully bore him?...