General Sir John McColl, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, takes up the position of Head Judge for the second year running. We caught up with him about his military career, his involvement with Heropreneurs and his advice to entrants for the 2019 Awards.
Why do you think the Heropreneurs Awards are so important?
There is an initial public perception of veterans indicating they are likely to be damaged in some way. It is widely perceived that the effects of service are negative and this is something that is vastly different to reality. Veterans are of benefit to the country and the Heropreneurs Awards demonstrates how extraordinary veterans are in the context of enterprise.
Can you give a brief overview of your time in the army and the most important things you have learned?
I commissioned into the 1st Royal Anglian Regiment in 1973 and finished my army career in 2011 with my last posting in Mons, Belgium. During my time in the army I saw action in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. I was part of the initial UK deployment to Afghanistan in 2002, I then became Deputy Commander in Iraq in 2004. During my post I was also special envoy to Prime Minister Tony Blair from 2004-2005.
My 38 years of service taught me that progress and achievement can be attributed to 10% knowledge and 90% effort. Having the right people and taking the time to invest in them is the second most important thing I have learned. Lastly, the importance of values and standards which I have found are often more valued outside of service than they are in the forces.
What first interested you in taking the role of Chairman of the Heropreneurs Judges?
Initially, when Peter Mountford, the Chairman of the charity, asked me to be involved I wasn’t sure I was the right fit. However, on learning more about the charity I realised the importance of having someone to represent the military community from their side. It was also an opportunity to draw attention to veterans succeeding outside of the military, which I am passionate about.
Why is it so important to support veterans in a career following their time in the military?
Many of them are nervous and lacking in confidence. They have extraordinary confidence in uniform, but need help to present themselves in the right way outside of the military. The country needs people with the kind of qualities they have from their time in service.
What similarities are there between working in the military and working in business?
To succeed in military life, you need similar qualities to those you need to succeed in the military: discipline, determination, working well with others and the ability to bring others on. You need a strength of character to be able to pick yourself up and succeed even if it takes a few attempts.
Do you think leaders are born or made?
Definitely made, it is an evolution throughout your lifetime.
What are the toughest elements of military life that bring out the key characteristics you look for in a business leader?
The ability to adapt to new circumstances. Few people outside of the military are aware of the number of changes to your job: commanding men and women, followed by a staff job or a technical role, through to negotiating under pressure with objectionable locals in an Afghan village. In the military we are used to change, but people in the civilian world often think the reverse. In fact, military personnel are more ready for change than any other profession.
The other characteristics you develop in service are in the powers of communication. It is impossible to do your job in the military unless you can properly communicate. It is one of the first things you learn to identify and how to communicate effectively with others.
From last year, were there any of the winners stories that particularly impressed you? If so, what was it that caught your eye?
For me personally, last year the thing that stood out the most, and impressed me the most, were the stories of failure, the setbacks, kicks and falls that many of the entrepreneurs and the judges themselves dealt with. The resilience it takes to pick yourself up and dust yourself down is remarkable.
How do you judge who is a winner when there are so many deserving entries?
Every category has a group of highly experienced and independent judges whose job it is to decide on the winners. My role is to oversee the important work that they do.
What advice would you give someone entering the awards?
Don’t rush it and make sure your business is at a point where it is at a level of maturity to compete and hold up against others. As you prepare your application, talk to the Heropreneurs team on how to best demonstrate you meet the criteria.