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In conversation with Nathan Farrugia - Episode 5 - Inspiring the Next CMO series

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Join Lou in a conversation with Nathan Farrugia, an industry CEO, entrepreneur, business coach, author record-breaking athlete, TEDx speaker, Vistage owner, NED, and philanthropist. Nathan talks with us about:

  • Working from a rooftop garden in lockdown

  • Being inspired by children and their parents overcoming their challenges

  • His incredible family and how they inspire him

  • Looking for inspiration in the non-profit sector

  • Having pride in your own achievements

  • Driving forwards inclusive employment in Malta

  • Accepting the good and the bad about being in a position of responsibility

  • The importance of focusing your time to get the most out of it

  • 27 marathons in 27 consecutive days in 27 countries

  • Marketing is about connecting with people

  • Asking for forgiveness rather than permission


Transcription (contains Amazon affiliate links):

Lou: Hello hello Right. This is our Inspiring the Next CMO podcast series for Behind the Fluff podcast from The International Bunch. It’s specifically for those in marketing, those interesting in marketing, those in academic publishing, scholarly comms and libraries. Who are we going to be talking with today? Nathan Farrugia. Nathan is an industry CEO, entrepreneur and my business coach and has known me for many many years back when I used to live in Malta but he won’t be telling any of my secrets. Nathan talks with us about:

  • Working from a rooftop garden in lockdown

  • Being inspired by children and their parents overcoming their challenges

  • His incredible family and how they inspire him

  • Looking for inspiration in the non-profit sector

  • Having pride in your own achievements

  • Driving forwards inclusive employment in Malta

  • Accepting the good and the bad about being in a position of responsibility

  • The importance of focusing your time to get the most out of it

  • 27 marathons in 27 consecutive days in 27 countries

  • Marketing is about connecting with people

  • Asking for forgiveness rather than permission

So why don’t we just jump straight in? Let’s go.

Lou: Welcome everybody to our Behind the Fluff, Inspiring the next CMO podcast series. Now, you can find lots of great resources to help you raise your game and inspire you at inspired.

Today I have a real treat for you. I'd like to welcome Nathan Farrugia. Nathan, if you go by his LinkedIn profile: entrepreneur, business coach, CEO, author record-breaking athlete, TEDx speaker - you might have to help with how I say this properly, Nathan, Vistage owner – NED, philanthropist, husband and father; now that's impressive hey. So, Nathan and I have known each other for many years and he's also my business coach. So hello, Nathan.

Nathan: Hi, how are things?

Lou: Good. Now, did I say that correctly?

Nathan: What, Nathan? Yes.

Lou: Vistage?

Nathan: Vistage, well, tomato, tomato.

Lou: Well exactly. We both speak British English, but we will say Maltese English and whatever I am. OK now before we start, I did kind of throw Nathan under the bus with this one. I didn't tell him about this, but we have one question for you. Now something we ask everybody when we do these podcasts: every day on our social media, we send out a word of the day under #intbunchwordoftheday. We would love to know what is your favourite word, and why, and what does it mean?

Nathan: Yes, you did surprise me with this. You would have expected something a bit more profound, but actually, my word is aubergine. An important reason behind this is because of my eldest daughter, when she was very young, it was one of her first words and she just used to make us laugh by saying it. So yes, she got entertainment out of saying it.

Lou: That is an impressive word for a little girl.

Nathan: I think it's shaped her choice of lifestyle as well because she's vegan.

Lou: I hope she does love aubergine; a nice chargrilled aubergine, it makes an excellent soup - I'm sure she knows that anyway.

Nathan: Yep, baba ganoush.

Lou: So first things first, what we want to know is a bit more about you: so what's the best thing you have discovered in this last year?

Nathan: My roof. (Laughing)

Lou: That’s true. You do have a pretty awesome roof. We've done a webinar together and you did it on your roof.

Nathan: Yes, and obviously, because I've been stuck inside, like most of us, I like to change space. I need newness, and when you can't get it outside, you have to find it somehow inside, so I moved my office to the roof on sunny days like today, and it’s really helped me cope with being stuck indoors. But actually, it has given me the opportunity to get fresh air, hear birds and be outdoors.

Lou: For those of you that don't know, Nathan's actually in Malta. So a lot of the houses there have flat roofs, and you get a little bit of background noise though don’t you, which is to be expected.

Nathan: Yes, but it's a less sterile environment like that as well; a dog barking or an ambulance going by, or whatever.

Lou: Absolutely, it just shows that people are around, doesn't it? It’s life.

Nathan: Exactly

Lou: So here's a question, actually yes, who does inspire you?

Nathan: I get inspiration from many people. I don't sort of have a list of people that inspire me, but I look for inspiration in the way people do things, the way people behave. I spend a good amount of time in the charity world, in the non-profit sector, and so watching how people are with their philanthropists, or actually even people who benefit from the charity can be inspiring. The parents of some of the kids that we treat at Inspire, with the disability and how they cope with the difficulties that they're facing. I am inspired by clients. I work with people like you, who decided to quit the day job and start a business, or really push through their vision to make something happen; and this is inspiring. So I guess inspiration is all around if you look for it. The danger is that we don't; we just are self absorbed and don’t perhaps notice the goodness in other people and look for that inspiration that is everywhere.

Lou: Absolutely.

So When you were young, what did you want to be?

Nathan: When I was young and I started to think about answering that question, the first thing that came to mind was to become a vet, and simply because I loved animals. I always had a caring sort of approach to doing things, and it always stayed that way. In fact, I ended up in the medical profession, eventually as a physiotherapist, so this feeling of fixing things or making things better or making people, or animals, or businesses today better, is something that is probably deeply ingrained in me.

Lou: And of course, if people read your book as well, which I'm hoping that Nathan will talk about soon, but if people read your book they'll also find out more about you when you were young: what some of your aspirations were and also how you were challenged with a medical condition and how you've managed to overcome that, which I actually think is incredibly inspirational in itself and really, really important.

So, if you were to have dinner tonight with anyone alive, dead, whoever you want it to be, who would it be?

Nathan: Well a flippant response would be my kids because they are teens now and all they do is stay in their room, or if they go out, they go out with friends. (Laughing)

So it would be nice to sit down with them and have a proper conversation. I'm being facetious; we do spend time together but not as much as I would like. Interestingly, because we have been stuck indoors, the first opportunity for them to go out we obviously encouraged because we want them to be out and meet friends. So we're sort of sacrificing our own family time for them to be outdoors with their friends. And I think we spend most of our quality time in travel as a family; that's where we have to be together whether they like it or not. (Laughing) But we do have good times on travel and that's something we miss obviously.

So I think, you know I like…I'm not a very social person in the sense that I don't have wide-reaching sort of friendships, etc. I have a handful of good friends and I enjoy company with them. Actually, we've been lucky because the rules here allow us to have up to four people in the house, and obviously, we've had people over and spending time with them, a close-knit group of people that we know, we trust because they are not mingling themselves. So it keeps it safe.

Lou: Yes, you know it’s funny if we do this again in a year's time when hopefully things will be back to normal, I bet some of our conversations will be very different: oh do you remember the old days when we used to have to limit the number of friends indoors?

I do see pictures on social media of friends in Malta who are out at restaurants, you know having a meal together and stuff, and I think: those were the days. One day!

So let's talk about your career - tell me about your career and how you got to where you are today.

Nathan: Well, like I said earlier, I started off being passionate about the therapeutic and health realm. I was always athletic, having overcome asthma, which did condition my early years. And so I, therefore, gravitated towards the health sciences space. Obviously, because I was heavily into sports I felt that being a physiotherapist would be useful to treat myself and save me a lot of money, but also to help my fellow athletes. And I was just curious because obviously, as a sportsman you do end up at the physio more often than not. I happened to be in the hands of some good ones and I thought, well, this is a career I could aspire to, which I did and I followed at Uni. But coming out of that I realized that there was an entrepreneurial side to me that I hadn't known about and when I started to set up my private practice, actually more than one, I realized that actually, there's a business side to this that I enjoyed: employing people, and building teams and working with partnerships and developing projects and programmes beyond the actual science of therapy. And so I wanted to learn more about this and I went off and did an MBA overseas to really enrich my theoretical or academic background as well.

I chose a university that had a lot of experienced CEOs delivering most of the lectures, and that gave me a real-life understanding of how business works. Then I joined the Academy for Chief Executives, which is now Vistage, which also then helped me broaden my perspectives around what business is, how do you find your purpose, what is the best way to do things, how to treat people, as well as all the sort of technical side of finance and marketing and all that.

So whilst I needed my fix of sort of being useful and helpful, I was always keen to start new things and build new businesses, which I have also using my sports as a passion taking on the brand Xterra, organizing all sorts of races, sports events, triathlons, marathons and all of that as well as one of my business. So trying to be a match between my passion and the business side and pulling everything together. I've been really lucky to be able to do that and I've always refused to be employed as it were, although I have been employed in the sense that I've run organizations as a CEO, it's always been on terms that allowed me to shape the business and really understand how I can learn from each experience each time I say yes to a particular own.

I've spent 15 years running non-profit organizations both here and in the UK. I've run technology companies, software companies, hospitality organizations as well as my own, I’m business coaching now and the training business. So yes, quite a spread but always in the people business, although you might say technology isn't really a people's business, we were in the HR space as well. So again, it was really about providing solutions for people to be able to work better.

Lou: It's a really impressive career and if someone was to ask me who I take some of my inspiration from, I’d be the same as you in respect of saying I take it from lots of different people around me rather than being one person in particular. However, you personally, I do take a huge amount of inspiration from you

Nathan: Thank you

Lou: Because I think you're just incredibly impressive and very personable. I love that when you get on stage and you start by saying something random to introduce, because you make people feel at ease and they immediately know that you get it, you're a human talking to humans. If you see what I mean.

Nathan: Absolutely. I mean it’s for me, the relationship side of business is what makes business fun and interesting.

Lou: Absolutely. We all need a bit of social time at the moment as well.


From your career then, what have you been most proud of?

Nathan: I think different roles brought a sense of achievement and pride as it were – pride in a positive way, because often it is misconstrued as a negative thing. But I do feel proud of the work we did with Inspire, which is Malta’s largest non-profit organization that provides health and education for children with disabilities. We've really made a difference to lives and families through our therapists and our team, so very proud of that.

And proud of the team because essentially, you know people are designing the programmes, people are working hands-on with very difficult situations, difficult children, difficult family situations, and that's something that I look back and say, that's something I really do feel proud of doing because it was a very very difficult time to set it up and a struggle to make it work.

Very proud of the Spiteri Foundation, again, which I set up through the co-operative that I run which employs people with disabilities, and now we've got over 600 people with intellectual disabilities employed with the Spiteri Foundation. And that's great because we're actually making an impact on the inclusive side of employment in Malta.

So there’s a thing. But it's easier to say to feel proud of causes like that, but I'm also proud of setting up our little business. I’m proud of being one of the fastest-moving Vistage countries from a growth perspective, despite our tiny size. I’m proud of the team we've got, but then there's the personal side: I’m proud of being a dad, proud of being a husband. After many years, when I look around and see that a lot of my friends no longer are together and we've stuck it through and we are doing well, so there are lots of things to be proud of. And I'm actually proud to be sought after as someone who can give advice and be helpful, so when people like you call me and say, ‘Can you give me a hand?’ For me that's a sense of pride. It means I must have done something right if people are asking for my advice.

Lou: You kick my arse, that what you do! No, actually, what you really do that is valuable for me, is you make me take time to think about something but you also ask me things in a way that I really have to take stock and think differently and think “oh” or you correct me because I'll say something that habitually I’ll normally say; maybe it's a word like challenge or something like that, and then you'll talk to me about what that word actually means, and I'm like, ‘Oh wow’. It's like a light bulb “ping” and then I'll stop doing it, even though ‘challenge’ does creep in every now and again. It's because it's habit. But yes.

Nathan: Yes. Well the habits are what shape us and what condition our behaviour, so if we can unravel those and untie the ones that hold us down, then we are much freer to be able to live our best lives I guess.

Lou: Absolutely, and I think when someone reads your book for example, or if they know you, what is impressive about you, amongst a number of things, is how the fact that you rose up the ladder very quickly at a very young age. Now I think you became senior management when you were about 25? Did you become a CEO when you were 25, is that right?

Nathan: Yes.

Lou: Yes, and I think that's a really interesting part of your book – not that I am promoting your book - I'm just using it as a reference, but I mean, I can promote your book! It was just really interesting when you talked about that and how you were thought of as being a CEO at that age, and I think a lot of people take a lot of inspiration from that.

Nathan: I mean, you know if I think back, I probably was a [laughing] cocky executive trying to show off, as most 25-year olds would be, but I always took responsibility. So whilst now, I’m much more mellow and seek the limelight much less, when you are pushed in front to be the face of a big organization you need to make sure that you stay grounded. Having a coach at the time really did help me, as well as a board of trustees that were excellent at what they did. So it's also having the right people around you to support you and help guide you when you veer off track.

Lou: Absolutely. That's what you're there for me. So what, mmm now this is, so, I feel like I need to change this. What have you found most challenging in your career?

Nathan: Well, clearly letting people go, that's probably the toughest experience in work that I can recount. Even those that deserve to go frankly, because we're often in situations that are driven by guilt; could I have done better? Could I have done things differently? Is this person the way they are because I did something wrong in my leadership style or the way I set the organization up?

Worse than that is situations like during COVID, to have to reduce headcount, for example, which is extremely torturous for a leader to have to shoulder. But actually, you just need to remember, there’s a book about Keats that tells us that you just need to remember that you have a duty and when you say yes to the CEO role you're saying yes to the good and the bad. We have to carry that responsibility with us. So it's difficult and it's kept me up at night. But at the end of the day, nowadays I realized that I have more confidence to know that if I'm making a decision, I've built it on enough facts and enough insights, as well as other people's views and objectives to make sure it's an objective decision and then you have to live with it.

Lou: Yeah. Well I think, Nathan, you kind of hit that nail on the head though didn’t you, because when you said you feel the guilt, the reason that you feel guilt is because you care, because you've got empathy. So if you didn't feel guilt and you didn't care that would be a completely different experience for those people on the other end of it and an awful experience. So, you know a lot can be said for that.

Nathan: And I think if we do it well, I've got people that I have let go of with grown-up conversations at the time who obviously didn't like me very much for it, who today we are friends and they realized that it wasn't about me or them or the organization; it is just a dynamic or a fit that was off. In fact, for two of them it was time for them to grow, so they needed to leave to move into bigger shoes.

Lou: Yes

Nathan: Yes, but it still feels uncomfortable for them to be pushed.

Lou: Yes, absolutely. It is. I think a lot of people will say that having responsibilities for people management is very tough. Especially when you have to deal with some particularly tricky situations, or your organization has a restructure and you're just dealing with things from above, and you may not agree with the decisions, but you have to make them, which is very hard.

Nathan: Yes and no: I think you have to practice integrity: if you disagree with a decision, you need to be able to challenge it to the full and if you really feel it goes against your values and beliefs, then you should not act on it. I will never go against my values and beliefs because a shareholder suggests it. I think the most important thing for me is intent: what's your intention? If your intention is positive, even if you get it wrong, even if you screw up, if your intention is right, then it's redeemable. Then you can fix it. You can apologize. You can try a different way. If your intention is wrong, then it's a non-starter.

Lou: Yes, no absolutely. Some excellent advice and takeaways there. Thank you, Nathan. So what's your ultimate career goal? Are you there? Have you gone past it?!

Nathan: Yes and no. We've had this conversation before; I don't look at goals as endpoints. I've never said, ‘I want to have this much money, or have this title.’ Maybe as a younger person but not anymore. I look more around the journey, the enjoyment of being what I'm doing so I really enjoy being a coach, and even though I own the business I still continue to coach a number of clients because I really enjoy being in the room and doing that. Whether it's a small outfit or a multi-billion Euro outfit, it doesn't really make a difference. I still enjoy doing that.

An so my sort of career goal essentially is to be able to continue to add value; and sometimes it's within my own business, sometimes it's helping other people. Sometimes I’ll step into an interim CEO role to help someone transform or pivot. As long as I have that feeling of getting up in the morning and looking forward to work and saying: this is going to be a good day. And looking back at the day and saying, yes, it was tough, it was hard, but it was making a difference as it were, then it's a good day.

I don't have the sort of, I want to retire at this age or buy a boat to go sail around the world or whatever. I'd like to be able to say today: I don't want to work because it's nice out there and I want to go out for a bike ride, and that is a condition I set myself: I don’t want to be tied to my desk or tied to my clients. But yes, I think a balance is good. I have a good balance. There are days when I work 14-15 hours because I have, and there are days when I don't.

Lou: That reminds me of the best piece of advice that you've given me once, and that was about work-life balance. Funnily enough, I was talking to someone about this in podcast recording that I did just last week. And it's not the fact that it's about you prioritizing your time in a sense of work-life balance, it is about the value that you put into that time. And so for example, I give the example, and it's probably the same one that you gave to me, but me using it from my side: is that the time that I spend with my daughter: if I spend an hour with her, concentrated just her and me. All the other distractions are gone, and she'll get so much more value out of that concentrated time with me than she would do by sitting with me for half a day here in the office. I'm working. She's on a tablet, watching TV, whatever, and I've just got her there. And it's the value that people take from that time rather than the amount of time.

Nathan: You're absolutely 100% right. And that's why I answered earlier, when you said, ‘Who would you like to have dinner with?’ and I said, ‘My kids.’ It is exactly the same reason. It's about having the time distraction-free, very importantly, to say, ‘I am now with this person, or these people, and really enjoying the moment’. And sometimes that time is on my own, I like to be on my own because it allows me to reflect or listen to an audiobook or learn or whatever, you need to make the time and it's what you do with it.

Lou: Absolutely. Someone told me about a podcast last week - I haven't checked it out yet – it’s called, Alonement, which is apparently about spending time with yourself and taking that time to reflect. And I think, especially in this last situation that we've been in, I know last year I lost myself because I prioritized everything else on just getting through four months of lockdown, of being stuck here, at the sacrifice of myself. And I mentally just, I don't even know who that person was. So that was really significant for me.

Nathan: I think it is moving towards, we talk about work-life as a balance, which means that they're opposite sides of the coin, and I disagree. I think you have one life and it's all contained within it, but it's good to explain it as a balance because when you talk about compromise, people assume that is a sort of balance, but compromise is a lose-lose, and we need to find ways to get the win-wins which isn't compromise, it's maximize.

Lou: And it’s what you weight things as, isn't it really? Rather than saying they’re equal because they're not. So a balance can still work. I heard this the other day, but actually, I decided that I'm no longer going to use the word ‘journey’, or I'm going to consciously try and decouple myself from using ‘journey’, and I'm going to say the word ‘adventure’. Because actually, life is an adventure of ups and downs, but I think that's a much more fun word. It makes me feel like yes, I can do this.

Nathan: Yes, absolutely, and it sounds more interesting.

Lou: It does. It does! So, if you weren't doing your role now and money was no object, what would you be doing? I mean on your bike all the time, with your kids, you know, your family?

Nathan: I think it will be trying to fit it all in as well. And I'd probably still gravitate towards giving advice or doing some coaching, obviously free of charge if I didn't need the money, as well as the charity work. I really am blessed to be able to say that I wouldn't change much. I do have certain stresses related to administration and paying bills, banking requirements and all that sort of tedious stuff - with respect to the bankers watching, but I still do my exercise and I train and I travel. I travel for sports as well. As for holidays, I'd like my kids to be a little bit more into it; if we're away and we say, ‘Let's go for a trek or a bike ride. They say, ‘No, let's go shopping’. But I guess as long as everybody gets their bit, then it's a good holiday.

Lou: Exactly. As long as you’ve got the balance…”the balance”. So which, now of course, I've mentioned your book, A Million Steps - it's the first time I've actually mentioned the name of it. Which, because that's one of my inspiring books, so with this question, which inspiring three professional books would you say are a must-read and why?

Nathan: I think it really depends on what stage of life in business you are. So if I think about books that I found really very useful as I was growing up as it were, as we said, I was a CEO at young age it was the likes of Covey’s 7 Habits, and really trying to be a role model and trying to make sure that you are doing the right thing. So I think that's probably one that rings true to me as something I've read a book more than once.

If I had to bring it to today, I would say, The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thích Nhất Hạnh it's probably much more important and valid to me in remembering to be in the moment and remembering why I'm doing something, and remembering to focus and pay attention when I'm doing what I'm doing. To give it my best rather than try and spin plates and juggle all the time. So I think those are the extreme sides of things: the self-awareness part and leadership part in the beginning. Being true to yourself as a leader and developing the leadership skill, and then at the same time being more centred, more balanced and more using your intuition more effectively. So I think those two are useful.

On my right I've got hundreds of books which I recommend. Sometimes it's just one nugget of information in just one book on one page, and that's enough to say that's a really good book.

Lou: What’s that book called? You've mentioned it to me before. I think it was when you had a picture of your book on a bookshelf in a store, you had Who Moved My Cheese? Yep, I read that, well I listened to an Audible because I'm an Audible listener, and that was really good.

Nathan: Uh-huh. And I love the neuroscience stuff. The stuff around how we're wired and how that affects our behavioural patterns and habits. Childhood to late adult habits, conversation, intelligence. Judith Glaser: these are all very, very interesting people that have taken brain science and applied it to business, and I find it fascinating. They started off being researchers or neuroscientists, and they realized that economics has so much of an effect, psychology and neuroscience have so much of an effect on economics, that we need to pay attention to it. And obviously, Daniel Kahneman's book - Thinking Fast and Slow, is an excellent read. It's meaty. You need to pay attention, but it's an amazing book.

There are lots and lots of books that really help us see different perspectives of the world and business, in the example of a business book. And even with mine, I really talked about personal stories, but I still want it to translate to the young executive who may be confused around whether they want to start their own business, or move up the ladder in an organization, and how to make those choices, and how to act effectively, and be useful and make a difference. It comes together.

Lou: Absolutely, Absolutely. And when you start your own business you have to wear a lot of hats, don't you? [Laughing] You are HR, you’re accounts, you’re finance, you’re legal, you’re sales, marketing - I mean, it just goes on. I’ve learnt a lot.

Nathan: Yes but then again, I think, yeah absolutely – it’s a baptism of fire when you start your own business, then you have to do it all. If you've been in organizations before, that helps because you have bit of an insight from other people that you've worked with on how things go. But starting afresh or starting from scratch is tough, and that is entrepreneurship isn't for everybody.

Lou: No, but you do really appreciate all the different roles and all the different people and what exactly they've got to do because you have a snippet of experience in that area to say: yes, that’s not easy. That's not an easy thing for someone to do. That's not going to take them half an hour, that's going to take them half a day or it’s going to take them a couple of days.

Nathan: Yes, or the other way around: you could try and do it yourself and then you ask for help, and you've been struggling for half a day and they do it in five minutes. And you go, “I should have asked earlier”. [Laughing]

Lou: Exactly. Mind you, I really like it when organizations, when the top boss at organizations like the MD or CEO will say, once a month, spend a day or half a day on customer services, so that they're still aware of what's coming in. This generally tends to be with companies that are getting a lot in on the customer service side, but it tends to keep them grounded. I think that's quite good, I don’t hear about it much.

Nathan: Since I've been CEO, I do ‘a day in the life’ at least once a month with one of my employees.

Lou: You see, there are only four of us so I've kind of done everything that they've done. I’m like, oh, I’ll have to wait until we are bigger.

Nathan: Yes, but it could be extended to your partners and clients: spend a day in their business and see how they work, or your supply chain.

Lou: Yes, absolutely, though a lot of my clients are people I used to work for! I think that makes excellent sense, especially in the supply chain.

Nathan: It's also useful because you learn inside information on how things work, and if you wanted to be cynical you also stop them from trying to pull the wool over your eyes because you know how their job actually works. When they say to me, ‘You don’t know how tough my job is.’ I say, ‘Yes, I know. I was there for a day’.

Lou: I did it for a week - that was enough. I know how tough it is. So, what's your most favourite, and if you want to have more than one, that is absolutely fine, but what's your most favourite book, podcast or blog?

Nathan: Like I said, it really depends on my mood and what I'm reading about. I did listen to podcasts quite a bit. It was a phase, but I prefer books, and like you, I listen to my audiobooks while I'm running. That's the only time I'm doing two things at once. I'm just fascinated by new ideas. Also, the tone makes a difference as well. So I picked up a book recently. I very rarely have not finished a book, even if it's tiring or tedious, I will still plough through just to say I finished. But there was one book recently I just couldn't read beyond the third chapter because all the author did was brag about how great they were, and it just put me off. For me it's about learning something new.

I love, there’s a book called The Patterning Instinct, which was a real eye-opener. I think I read it about two years ago. It talks about human being’s evolution of language and how the language we use shapes the way that we behave and how we think - the example you gave of you choosing to call something a challenge versus a problem, just shifts your mind. So yes, stuff like that I love and then the personal development stuff.

Also, I spent a lot of time when I started doing triathlons and ultra-distance learning about the mind over matter, how the body works and how physiology works and how you can do amazing things with this body of ours, that typically most people don't appreciate that pretty much anybody can do. We have this idea that to run a marathon you have to be super fit, which is absolutely rubbish. So, really understanding that stuff was fascinating as well. As well as there is a book by Mike Stroud who partnered with Ranulph Fiennes when they ran across the Antarctic and they did seven marathons in seven continents.

And Mike's book, Survival of the Fittest is really interesting because he talks about his own personal experience as a guinea pig to some of the stuff that Ranulph was taking him on, and I relate to that a lot because a lot of the stuff I've learned was just going out there and seeing if I could do it and then seeing what happens.

Lou: Yes, says the man who ran 27 marathons in 27 consecutive days in 27 countries - not that you want to be defined as that, but that is very impressive. As someone who’s training for a marathon now, I'm like, oh god, how did you do this? How did he become an ultra-athlete? Oh my god! It’s impressive.

Nathan: I know thank you. It was a physical feat, but it was also a mental and a logistical one as well to get to 27 countries in 24 hours.

Lou: I don’t know how you did some of that – amazing.

Nathan: But actually, when you come back to books like Tales of Endurance, which is a fascinating book about how the early adventurers discovered the Bering Strait, or crossed the Antarctic, or sailed across, like Columbus, across the Atlantic and discovered Australia - Cooke. These stories you read then you go: wow. Walking for three months with a hundred grams equivalent of food a day. It's insane the stuff they did. And it pales, some of the stuff I do and other people at our level who are respected, pales into insignificance compared to what these guys were up to: Shackleton, Mawson etc. It’s insane.

Lou: It's quite amazing that not having the same technology, not having the same footwear, not having the same health and the science there, etc, that they managed to do that. But I think also, that's why there were so few people that that could do something like that because that was so extreme. But yes, it's absolutely impressive and incredible what people have achieved over the years, and it does really demonstrate, like you said, what our bodies can actually do.

Nathan: And I think it's fundamental to human beings as being the species that has taken over the planet; our sense of exploration or curiosity, the sort of will to pursue despite pain and discomfort is something quite unique to us as a species, and I'm fascinated by why people put themselves through such discomfort and pain just to achieve a purpose that they dreamt about. Mallory saying, why did you climb Everest, when asked, he said, ‘Because it's there. Someone's got to do it. I’m curious to try.’ And as cliché as that is, I think it's a really good answer.

Lou: It is also personal achievement as what's important to you, isn't it? And I think that very much does come from that personal sense for someone, because what might be a big achievement for me for example, may be a small achievement for you, so it's doing what's right for you and what’s personal to you.


They're looking at us thinking this is a therapy session!

Nathan: I think most powerful, however, the most powerful motivators are the ones when we do it for others.

Lou: Oh yeah.

Nathan: When you see people running the marathon with t-shirts reflecting a loved one or someone they're trying to raise funds for. Even these adventurers, they were so patriotic; they wanted to plant the flag of their country, of their nation, and these were huge driving forces beyond their own ego, and fame and money. When you do something for others I think it really brings out the true spirit of human endurance.

Lou: Yes, and I think when you see runners who, like with a marathon, when they put 26 names on their arm, and they have basically named each mile that they're going to run with a person that gives them that motivation and encouragement to keep going because they know that that is for each one of those people. And you're right: when you do charity events for people or you've got someone specific in mind, it does really excel you forward and it gives you the extra drive to just keep going, when your brain is saying – stop! Stop! Walk! It’s like no, I can do this because of someone.

Nathan: It's so funny; when you talk about the neuroscience of the brain and where our identity lives in our head and how it affects us. I remember the first time I ran a marathon. I ran the London marathon, and I'm running along and I must have been about 36 or 38km in. I could see Big Ben and eventually The Mall, and I was probably hobbling then, and I'm looking down at the floor and I’m shrugged and stooped and really tired, and I hear, ‘Go Nathan! Go Nathan!’ and I automatically pick up and start running again, and after the shock of it, it was like, but I'm in London. Nobody knows me here, who called my name? And I remembered that on your actual number, there's your name - it's for a reason. So people are calling out your name and you feel automatically energized and you run. I ran the rest of it. And so you say, actually physiologically, I could have run it, it was just my brain had said I've had enough.

Lou: I guess that says that as much as you need people to help to, as part of your brain process and to help spur you on, those people need you as well. Is that the right way I was going there? Maybe not! I recently learned last week that sometimes I go quiet in my brain, and I was thinking oh, you know, I must be, I don’t know, getting old or something, even though it's been like this for years. And I realized when I was talking to someone that I'm dyslexic, and I had completely put that to the back of my mind and not thought about it for many years. And then now I’ve realized how that affects me, and now I've got coping mechanisms around it. So if I do randomly just go quiet or mix my words up the wrong way, it's my dyslexia, and I'm cool with that. I just ignore it.

So, if you could travel back in a time machine, what would you tell your early career self?

Nathan: I would say to them, ‘Be patient.’ At the time when I started, I was always a high achiever. I always wanted to get the next goal, the next level. So this idea of be patient and letting things happen puts things into place. Also, focus on effort and intent, not outcomes. So really focus on the way you're doing something rather than a means to an end. I think be a role model is something that I would loved to have understood earlier.

Lou: So what is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Nathan: Lots of lots of advice has served me well. I think I remember once on the basketball pitch being very aggressive about trying to win a game, being told by one of the opponents who was a friend of mine, he said, ‘Remember that after this game we’re friends’. And that sort of shook me a bit, and I was like, yes, I'm a different person when I'm being aggressive and want to win, and that's not helping me. That's one part that sort of comes back when I have to remember who I am, if I'm losing my sense of self sometimes in a situation. So that was very interesting advice in a moment.

I think another advice which I talk about when I'm coaching people when they have to deal with shareholders is me being very flustered because I couldn't get feedback from my board about some decisions I had to take as a CEO, which were very important and keeping me up at night. And I remember meeting the Chairman and saying, ‘Why don't you guys answer my emails? Or, I've been asking for your advice on something.’ and he said to me, ‘Nathan, the best thing you can do as a CEO is assume that you have the responsibility to do it until someone tells you not to’. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. And then I went “oh” and that's a good way of looking at it and I became much faster and much more agile. Those I think those two come to mind very quickly as you asked the question.

Lou: Excellent. So, what is your number one tip for anyone working in marketing right now?

Nathan: I think on a practical level: don't just simply use data to make decisions and to get a message across. So we are overcome with data that is starting to shape the way that we sell stuff and the way we make decisions about where we position our product or how we get to our customer, and I think that's losing a little bit of the humanity in the sector in the marketing field. These sort of data-driven decisions can lose the innuendo and perhaps the human side of how people behave.

I think the other part is people buy from people, so if you're using marketing to position yourself, whether you're selling something or a service, or actually just selling a message or an idea, you need to have emotional intelligence you need to have empathy to be able to connect. And so for me, marketing is that: it's about connecting, not from the top down; I'm going to manipulate you or influence you, but to connect. So yes I would say those probably. And I'm looking at it from the marketing companies I engage and how I would like them to get my message across or how I am influenced by marketing as a consumer.

Lou: And also because you have marketers that work for you.

Nathan: Yes.

Lou: Yes, the tone of voice is incredibly important and how you position yourself. I think that now companies are really starting to move forward to connect with people on that level and resonate with them, ultimately, so that a person will look at a company and say: yes, they understand. And you're absolutely right, what you said comes out of my mouth all the time: people sell to people not companies to people, and that's what also fosters retention and loyalty and that’s why people come back. They go somewhere to will buy something if it's cheap. That doesn't mean that's going to be retention. That's just cost is of interest to them at that time.

So, what do you miss most since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Nathan: Oh clearly, travel. That's a very straightforward answer.

Lou: Anywhere on the hit list first when the borders all open up?

Nathan: I'd like to go back to London to meet my mum's side of the family. I haven't seen them for ages. Just being out there in the mountains on my bike if I can get there. Travelling with the family – it could be anywhere, typically. Somewhere new if possible.

Lou: Yes, just not Malta or Gozo or Comino. Just…

Lou/Nathan: somewhere else.

Lou: Oh god, now this is the question I have been dreading because I haven't prepped for this. So is there anything you want to ask me?

Nathan: Um, why ‘Behind the Fluff’?

Louise: Oh why Behind the Fluff? Because when you work in marketing it's quite hard to explain to people what exactly marketing is, when you work in marketing. And normally people think that marketing is really fluffy, so it's a bit of an in-house joke with marketers. And so this is about taking the fluff away and looking behind the fluff. And actually, well that's it. Exactly.

Nathan: Does it do a disservice to marketing?

Louise: The fluffy marketing? No, because it’s all strategy. But I think that people just think that marketeers, sometimes they think they are there just to do emails. And actually, it's incredibly complex and it's interlaced throughout an organization in many ways, and like you talked about communication as well. That's incredibly important. I just think sometimes people don't appreciate that.

I often give an example of my poor mum, I say ‘poor mum’ because I gave her this example of when I used to work for British Standards Institution or the Royal Society of Chemistry, and she would say to people: my daughter works for the Royal Society for Chemistry - because she talks like that - or British Standards Institution. I know she'll probably watch this and be like, ‘Oh,’ but when I worked for ProQuest, people would ask her what is marketing? And she was like, ‘I don't know.’ I try to give her a bit of an elevator pitch about marketing and strategy and stuff. But yes, it didn't work. So I just gave up.

Nathan: It's a bit like one of those things; people talk about strategy as if it's some magic wand, strategy is just a plan with a deadline. We overcomplicate things when we don't need to, just to sound important or expensive.

Lou: We do strategy sessions. I think actually, what it is, is a focus for people - that's the most important thing about strategy. It just an easy word to say, but yes, it's focusing people and prioritizing them. So yes, that's why ‘Behind the Fluff’.

Nathan: Good point.

Lou: So there we are. So I'd like to say, Nathan, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. It has been absolutely brilliant, or if I use someone else's favourite word - I can't say aubergine, but I will say awesome. It has been awesome. So yes, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. If people want to get in contact with you how best would they do that?

Nathan: LinkedIn is probably the easiest. So just find me there and connect.

Louise: No problem. We will include a link to anything that Nathan's talked about in terms of resources, like books, etc, and also we’ll link you through straight to Nathan’s Face…um oh god…

Nathan: Facebook is fine but I’m….

Lou: You’re not going to his Facebook page, you’re going to his LinkedIn! Thank you so much Nathan.

Nathan: You're very welcome. It was good fun.

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