Marathons Man

Mike is the former CEO of Telecity Group. He is currently engaged in non-executive roles across four continents helping businesses within the TMT space to drive growth and profitability both at early stage and at exit level.

Michael Tobin tells us what it is like to be an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and maverick.

Published in Issue 1 | MARCH 10, 2019

During my tenure at Telecity, the business had gone through tremendous change, increasing its market capitalisation from £6million to over £2billion in just over a decade. When it was sold to Equinix, I had a decision to make; should I get another full time role, or go “plural” as a non-exec director.

I chose the latter almost immediately. It was right for me to make the change because it has opened so many new avenues. However on day one when I went from having 200 emails a day to just a couple, I felt pretty down. I felt like, “Nobody loves me.” What are you going to do at that point? Some people were saying to me, “Take six months off, you’ve earned it. Just chill out and reflect on what you want to do before you make any commitments.” I said, “Hell no.” I’ve probably got a radioactive half-life on my value, every six months is worth 50% less than it was before. So, immediately I was out there and people wanted to talk to me; the industry was on fire, and I found myself in demand, rapidly accumulating non-executive roles as I started to get involved in international deals with private equity firms such as Permira, Carlyle, BC Partners, Abry and 3i.

One really important piece of advice that I would always give to my executives is try to surround yourself with positive people, not negative people. It’s like a virus, and positivity is viral, negativity is viral. Happiness is viral; misery is viral.

Today, I’ve got over a dozen non-exec roles, varying in intensity, but I cram a load more into my day than the average. Don’t compare contribution just on a pure number; compare on people’s energy levels, compare on people’s ability to perform. If any of my boards feel that I’m not delivering, then I have a problem. But if they’re all feeling that I’m delivering value, then everybody is happy. My recent book, “Live, Love, Work, Prosper,” is about how work-life balance doesn’t exist, and work-life integration is the only way forward. One has to be aware there is a better way than what we’ve been conditioned into thinking over the last couple of decades, of saying, “Work-life balance.” There is no such thing; you can’t balance them and expect to excel at one and the other. You can excel at one OR the other, but usually at the detriment of the other one.

Work-life integration means that I can enjoy myself while working, technology allows me to do just that. It helps me control -- more importantly to be in control of -- my life. Take the 40 marathons in 40 days I ran in 2016 to raise money for the Princes Trust. Every day I started running at 03h30am, and was finished by 08h30 every day, in time to get on with my day job afterwards. I did it over summer as there are not many board meetings in July and August, but on one day for example, I was able to FaceTime into a board meeting in Hong Kong, whilst crossing London on a marathon. So, it’s integrating work and life.