HOW ALEX GOLDSMITH FOLLOWED IN HIS FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS AND DROVE HIS FAMILY BUSINESS TO NEW HEIGHTS
Alex Goldsmith was working as an investment banker in the City when his family business came calling for his help. He faced a challenging situation. His father, Mike, who’d launched Northampton-based Medigold Health and turned it into a £4m business, had been diagnosed with cancer. The founder needed to step back and fight for his health and, without his son’s help, the company was vulnerable. So, no pressure, Alex.
PUTTING FAMILY FIRST
Alex took the decision in his stride. He says: “It was 2006 and I’d had a good year in the City. But my priority had to be to help my Dad and his business. We’re a tight-knit family. Mum and Dad brought us up to always put family first.”
So, Alex joined Medigold Health as Business Development Director – a decision that, with hindsight, looks excellently judged. Today, founder Mike is still going strong and Alex, who’s original intention was to perhaps one day return to the City, is now CEO. What’s more, the company now employs just under 600 people and turns over just shy of £40m annually. “I’ve found my home and I love it,” says Alex.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. All businesses – especially family businesses – come with unique dynamics and special challenges. And so it’s been for Medigold Health, especially since Covid. Let’s take a closer look.
A GROWTH INDUSTRY VISIONARY
Medigold Health creates “occupational health and employee wellbeing solutions for UK employers”. Alex explains: “We help all types of employers to keep their staff in work, safe and well. We focus on virtually anything related to workplace health: wellness medicals, pre-employment screening, health surveillance, physiotherapy, mental-health support, counselling and much more. It’s very broad.”
However, Occupational Health is a relatively new industry. When Mike Goldsmith launched Medigold Health in 1998, few people could have predicted its rise. “Dad is a visionary,” says Alex. “He’s the entrepreneur. He saw the potential of occupational health and wellness when others didn’t.”
Indeed, Mike planted the seeds of Medigold Health when he bought out part of a large insurance firm in 1998. “The insurance company didn’t see a future for this type of business, but Dad did. He led a management buyout and became chief cook and bottle washer,” says Alex. “He was head clinician, lead salesman, and ops director. He brought in a couple of very capable people, and turnover grew from £500,000 to £3m by 2003.”
ARGUING HAMMER & TONGS
When Alex arrived in 2006, it was a real eye-opener for the ex-banker. “I hadn’t quite realised how well Dad had done,” he says. “I came to see that he’d unearthed the future of HR advisory services and employee health. I saw his work in a completely new light, and my enthusiasm became huge.”
However, Alex also knew that, potentially, he was flying into the eye of a storm. His move might work out for both the business and for him, or it might not. But one thing was sure – his arrival would put added pressure on kin relationships, particularly that of father and son.
“Dad and I are close,” says Alex. “He’s a pal. But even he would say that he can annoy me more than anyone on earth! So, I’m not going to lie to you, over the past 15 years there have been times when we’ve gone at it hammer and tongs. There are moments of intense friction in any family business because you argue with relatives in a way you just wouldn’t argue with colleagues.”
HOW TO MANAGE CONFLICT IN A FAMILY BUSINESS
Over the years, Alex has learned how to deal with these flare-ups – the remedy, he believes, is to step back and look at the bigger picture. “Dad and I both know we’ve got the best interests of the business and the family at heart,” says Alex. “So, if we disagree at a micro level, or if we speak to each other without respect, it’s always a short-term thing.”
“My advice to anyone trying to manage family conflict within a business is to remember why you’re there. Inevitably, you’re there to deliver success and security, not just for the family (and future generations) but for everyone at the company too. So, step back, go for a walk and remember that both of you are trying to do the right thing.”
THE LESSONS FROM MEDIGOLD’S TENFOLD GROWTH
A second vital lesson that Alex has absorbed relates to company growth. Medigold Health has grown ten times in size since he arrived. How have they done it? What insights can he share?
“First,” he says, “you need a business that’s running so well that you don’t lose customers. It’s hard to grow a business if your bucket has a hole in the bottom. So first and foremost, get your foundations in place so that when you win business, you keep it.”
To build solid foundations, you need the right culture, argues Alex. “We’re trying to build a culture that’s stronger than oak,” he says. “We’re a family business with a family culture. Our people are phenomenal and they work hard for each other. That’s how we’ve grown. The team are happy and engaged, which means they work hard for their customers. That pleases our customers, which in turn pleases our shareholders. It’s a virtuous circle. And once you’re keeping your customers, thanks to a quality product and an excellent culture, the rest is simple: you grow almost automatically (almost!).
“But, quality of product is also very important. Quality was, and is, a long-term obsession for my father (and now me). Our business was built on quality, and an obsession with it runs through our company’s genetic code. I think that is a major part of the reason why we attract such great people – they enjoy working for a business that values doing things the right way.”
CREATING A THRIVING COMPANY CULTURE
But how do you create the right conditions for growth? What ingredients build a “family-like culture” that’s “stronger than oak”? Alex has some perceptive and candid answers.
“Once you grow to above 100 staff, it gets much tougher to create the culture you want,” he says. “Medigold Health is 580 strong now and there’ll be people here who’ll say it’s all nonsense; we don’t have a strong, family culture. That’s inevitable. A few people don’t feel it, but most do.
“How do you build it? Through honesty and trust. I tell my staff everything, good or bad, and I try to be totally transparent. The best advice I can give to any leader is this: don’t treat people as if they don’t know what you’re doing. Instead, treat them like you’d treat someone at your boardroom table. If you speak to your people in the same way you speak to your chairman or investor – which is what I try to do because that’s how I feel – you get the same respect back.”
NEVER STOP IMPROVING
Another lesson that Alex has absorbed since joining Medigold Health is more technical but no less critical. He now sees innovation and technological development as a constant battle – one he can never win but merely manage (like ceaselessly painting the Forth Bridge). He says: “I’ve slowly come to understand that you’re never done with IT, development, technology and innovation. I used to think you could spend money on it and think, ‘great, that’s done, we’ve made it’. But you can’t. You need to see it as a continual battle and budget for it every year.
“Understanding that fact frees you up to create proper release schedules, proper development teams, proper tech teams. For example, we’re about to launch a new tech system but that won’t be the end of it. We’ll need to keep on improving.”
UNEXPECTED SILVER LININGS
However, the biggest learnings of Alex’s career so far have come from Covid. Despite the pandemic wiping out 50% of Medigold Health’s revenue in April 2020 and taking several months to win that back, the CEO is upbeat when assessing the past 12 months.
“The impact of Covid has improved us a business and me as a person,” he says. “First, it’s brought us closer together as a group. We’re now even more transparent with each other and better at communicating. Now, I’ll speak to the whole company at least once a month, sometimes as often as once week – whenever I’ve got news. The entire thing has freed up the lines of communication.
“Second, we’ve become more flexible as a company. Before Covid, with hindsight, we’d become bogged down in established process and fear of change. The pandemic has smashed through all of that. As an example, now I don’t really mind where people work. If you want to work on your bed, great. From home? Perfect. In your kitchen? Good for you. In the office? Also fine.
“I want to give people the chance to work where they feel most comfortable and engaged. I’m also starting to understand that what people wear isn’t the be all and end all either, as long as they’re professional.”
“And speaking personally, Covid has allowed me to rediscover the importance of health and exercise. I used to be massively into sport, rugby in particular, but somewhere along the line I put on four stone.
“Ironically for a guy who runs a healthcare company, I became very unhealthy. What lockdown did for me was transform my exercise regime. I now workout every day for an hour. I’ve lost two stone, feel great, and my energy levels have gone up. I didn’t realise what exercise could do. Now I’ve got 50% more energy for my job and my family.”
A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
The story of Medigold Health and Mike & Alex Goldsmith has much to teach us about many subjects – not least family loyalty, business growth, conflict management, the power of clear communication and the benefits of personal fitness.
What began as one man’s vision has, 23 years later, become a £40m family success story. The reasons for that success are numerous, but at the centre of it is a CEO – and behind him, a family – that genuinely wants the best for the business and everyone in its orbit, both now and in the long-term future.
Indeed, Medigold Health shows exactly how powerful it can be when a loving, positively motivated family sits together right at the heart of a growing business. To prove that, Alex’s younger brother, Sebastian, has recently joined as Head Legal Counsel. And so, the next chapter in the family story begins.
HUNGRY FOR MORE HUB CP?
It’s the community we created to celebrate and bring together the most electrifying, rebellious, entrepreneurial minds of our day. If that sounds like you, you can get a flavour of everything we’ve done with the community so far here.