You never really 'make it' - you have to keep working at it
Mark Furness’ thirteen-year journey from band member to business leader has shown him the importance of keeping his foot on the gas. Here, he tells Smith & Williamson’s Hall of Fame about the lessons he has learned growing essensys, a leading software provider for flexible workspaces.
Mark Furness’ lessons in business started early, when he was picked as a drummer for a local band at age sixteen: “I was playing in a music shop in Liverpool City Centre one Saturday. The manager of the band saw me playing and within a week I had auditioned, and they asked me to join. Until that point I was so dedicated, I practiced every minute I could, but then the application that got me there…stopped. The band were touring, we were playing big venues and I thought: ‘I’m here now. I’ve made it’.”
He was dropped. “They said I was a good talent, but I wasn’t applied enough. The lesson that stuck with me is that you never really ‘make it’ – you have to keep working at it.”
A subsequent business venture also taught him the importance of working with trusted colleagues. A company reneged on a promise to give him a share of the business. It was the catalyst he needed and he set up essensys with two former colleagues, who remain at the group today.
essensys provides software for the flexible workspace industry. With headquarters in London and New York, an international team of seventy-five people, and customers in thirteen countries, it is one of the fastest growing property technology businesses in the world. Mark puts the success of his team dynamic down to a mix of chemistry and luck, but also acknowledges that he took a deliberate approach to working with personalities that balanced his own. “I wanted to make sure that I had sounding boards, so that I could iterate my thinking with people I trusted.”
Trust has continued to play a vital role in the business’ growth. He admits keeping employees up to speed with the vision and focus of the business hasn’t always been his strength, but inspiring trust (and trusting the right people) seems to come naturally.
According to Mark, it all comes down to authenticity: “You get to a point where you get comfortable with your authentic self, and it allows you to be really open with other people,” he explains. “People tend to respect that authenticity and then feel safe to do things for themselves.”
Mark shares three personal tips with every new essensys employee, that he feels will help them achieve success in the business:
Firstly, it’s ok to question everything. “Why we do things, how we do things. It’s good for everyone in the business to keep questioning; it’s a great way to learn.”
Mark’s second tip is to be yourself. Having spent the first few years of essensys trying to be a version of the CEO he thought others expected him to be, Mark realised that it was time to run the business his own way, which has proved far more effective. “People can spend so much energy trying to be a different version of themselves that they have no real energy to do great work while they’re here,” he explains. “It’s ok to be authentic.”
Mark’s final tip to new starters is perhaps his least orthodox, especially as CEO, but it’s also his most personal. “Work is part of your life,” he says, “but it can’t define you. It’s important to have a sense of purpose at work, but you have to know that it’s not as important as family and friends. If people grasp that, they tend to go on to do well.”
For Mark, it’s his wife and cockapoo – ‘the most privileged dog in the world’ – who help him maintain a strong work-life balance. “I used to go home and just think about work and there was no time for me, or anyone else. That’s changed, and it’s given me more of a sense of purpose: it’s not just me anymore.”
With essensys now approaching its thirteenth birthday, and revenue exceeding £16 million, Mark has come a long way from ‘rock bottom’, which saw him couch surfing and working in a Thai restaurant, with only £5 to spare after paying his rent. The lessons he has learned at every stage in the journey stay with him and continue to shape him as a CEO, ensuring that essensys stays agile.
“Nobody is the finished article,” he concludes. “We make mistakes, we make bad and good decisions, but we are always trying to do the right thing. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of about our business.”
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