On Father’s Day every year, we like to celebrate male entrepreneurs who are running successful businesses whilst being awesome dads and family guys. (This was last year’s article)
As always, it’s a bit of a longer blog than our usual ones, but once we get guys talking about their families and their businesses, it’s hard to stop them! They’ve got some great stories, from newborns in lockdown to co-parenting successfully, so let’s get on and meet them…
Simon Alexander Ong inspires people to lead an extraordinary life doing that which makes them feel most alive. An award-winning coach and international keynote speaker, he has appeared on Sky News, BBC and Forbes, and has spoken at organisations like Virgin, Barclays and Microsoft. He and his wife had a baby girl in lockdown.
Simon Applebaum is the Managing Director of Spirit Digital, a leading provider of tech-enabled care to the NHS. He specialises in creating digital products and previously developed the Day Out With the Kids platform to serve 27,000,000 people a year. He is also a husband and father to a toddler.
Devon Bandison lives in NYC and is one of the most sought-after personal and business coaches in the world. He works with Fortune 100 Companies, professional athletes and teams, CEOs, salespeople, small business owners, filmmakers, producers and parents. He co-parents three children and is the author of best-selling ‘Fatherhood Is Leadership.’
Kwasi Affum is Vice President in Strategy for Barclays Investment Bank. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded Viable Enterprise a real estate investment and management firm and SlowMoney Club a social enterprise with the goal of improving financial literacy. In 2019 he started FutureBanking, the UK’s first FinTech accelerator focused on startups run by or for minorities. He lives in London with his partner and two children.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family
Simon O: I was born in the UK to Malaysian-Chinese parents. Growing up I was one of just a handful of Chinese students in the schools that I attended before moving to London. I studied at the London School of Economics. It was here that I met the woman who would become my wife. Whilst we are based in London, our family is global. Her parents are based in USA and my dad and his partner are based in Australia. The rest of our immediate families are then spread between China, Singapore and Malaysia. My wife and I also recently started our own family with the birth of a baby girl. She was born during lockdown at the end of March 2020. Life has not been the same since!
Simon A: I live and work in the Midlands. I have a two-year-old son and an incredibly supportive wife, without whom I couldn’t enjoy the very best of work and play. When I’m not making animal noises and being the tickle monster, I spend my time building digital businesses.
The last couple of years have been a huge, wonderful change of pace. Getting the balance right can be tough. The changes brought on by Covid-19 have helped me to make some conscious choices to be more present in my marriage, my son’s life and my business.
Devon: I was born and raised in NYC and played college basketball. I’m a personal and business coach who works with leaders around the world in how to create and live their best life. I am father to 3 wonderful children who teach me more about life than I could ever teach them. I have a daughter, 22, who graduated with her BA last year and is now pursuing her Master’s degree. My elder son, 18, graduated high school last year and is a budding entrepreneur and musician. My youngest son has a smile that lights up any room and is one of the best 10-year-old basketball players in NYC.
Kwasi: I’m father to two children aged six and four. I grew up in North West London and still live in the area.
My wonderful ‘tribe’ plays a crucial role as the backbone and support for everything I’ve been able to achieve.
They include my wife, a secondary school teacher originally from the Black Forest in Germany, my parents, who emigrated from Ghana in the ’80s in search of opportunities, and my three siblings. We all still live within ten minutes of each other. My children go to a local school with a headteacher who also taught me when I was seven (although not at the same school).
What about your WORK? What led you to where you are now?
Simon O: It’s been one hell of a rollercoaster ride! After graduating from the LSE in 2007, I began my career in the financial services sector. Just a year later, the global financial crisis took hold and the company that I worked for – Lehman Brothers – collapsed. Talk about an eventful start!
The next few years would prove highly volatile as an employee and it wasn’t until I was out of a job for 10 months- it was painful at the time but a blessing in hindsight – that I began to enter a deep period of self-reflection. I spent time understanding what fulfillment looked like to me and the impact I wanted to have in the world. The challenge was to have the wisdom and courage to build my life around these answers.
Now as an entrepreneur, I now get to coach high performing leaders and business owners; share my thoughts and insights with audiences across the world through my speaking work and media outlets; regularly experiment with new ideas – from uploading videos to my YouTube channel to launching a private Facebook Group and partner with brands such as Unilever to deliver insightful content for their consumers.
Simon A: I have just joined Chris Barker and the team at the Spirit Health Group. They have had a digital product for a few years, but without ever really getting the traction of their other ventures.
Moving into healthcare feels particularly exciting at the moment. Covid-19 has meant a massive movement by the NHS to adopt digital methods of delivering care. Our product makes that incredibly easy and we’ve seen huge interest.
Previously, I’d spent my career in travel and tourism, building platforms around experiences ranging from clubbing holidays to days at the zoo. This is obviously a huge change in focus, but actually the principles of user-guided product development are similar. And of course, we have a very motivated audience in the clinicians and patients who use our services.
Devon: I started out working and developing programs in NYC for what was called ‘at-risk youth’. I changed the name to ‘at hope youth’. Our work focused on creating behavioural, emotional and mental health programs for children and families.
I led and oversaw the amazing work of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers in the community. I eventually created a program for first-time fathers in the South Bronx that became nationally-recognised. In that position, I started developing leadership coaching programs for staff. Six years ago, I started my own coaching business centered around personal and professional transformation.
I work with professional athletes, organisations. producers, CEOs and some of the top coaches around the world.
I am dedicated to helping people discover how powerful they truly are. To tap into the innate wisdom and gifts that you have in order to live your most inspiring life. I know people can get there because of the profound impact coaching has had on my life and that of my clients. It’s made me a better man, father, son and human being. Together, my clients and I create a life that they may think is possible but aren’t sure how to get there.
Part of my work has allowed me to become an international TEDx speaker and a fatherhood thought-leader. I’ve been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, Huffington Post, Inc. Magazine and Success Magazine.
My book ‘Fatherhood is Leadership: Your Playbook for Success, Self-Leadership and a Richer Life’ was a #1 new release on Amazon in 2017.
My signature leadership group coaching program, The Game Changer Experience is held in California and New York every year and has also been implemented in companies around the world.
Kwasi: I have had an enjoyable career in the investment banking space for well over a decade now having started my career at Goldman Sachs at the onset of the global financial crisis. I somehow managed to survive that and went on to have successful periods at JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, before arriving in my current role as Vice President of Regulatory Impact Assessment for Barclays Group Strategy.
I’ve quit the City a couple of times to become a full-time entrepreneur, but I haven’t been able to stay away. I figured why not maximise this unique opportunity performing unique roles very few people have the chance to? I’ve been able to develop a range of skills that lend themselves well to my business ventures.
I am the Director of Viable, a private property investment company that specialises in renovating old, unloved properties, turning them into homes and filling them with happy tenants.
In 2019 I founded FutureBanking a FinTech focused organisation to help under-represented founders access funding, and under-represented employees access training for upskilling. I feel that as the financial services sector increasingly turns to technology to shape its future, it’s essential to attract talent to unlock the full potential of technology.
An added challenge is a scarcity of funding for startups with BAME founders, which consequently leads to an under-representation of BAME users and employees in the FinTech customer base and ecosystem. These are the challenges we want to address through FutureBanking.
Growing up on a council estate in NW London lead to me believing everyone should have access to financial literacy. That’s why I founded SlowMoneyClub, an inclusive community which promotes financial inclusion and syndicates a lot of the knowledge some people may take for granted to a wider audience.
any lucky breaks, or people who helped or inspired you?
Simon O: Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up”. It’s something I have seen play out in my own journey. I feel that a lot of the ‘lucky’ breaks I have had originated from my desire to show up each day, to do the work, and show people what I can offer.
For example, if I had not been proactive in developing relationships with journalists and those in the media, I would not have been featured in the newspapers and magazines that I have over the years.
However, my luckiest break was the moment I met the woman who would become my wife. She has been instrumental in my journey and I would be nowhere close to where I am today without her presence in my life. We have become a formidable team: my success is our success; her success is our success!
Simon A: Lots of role models have given me a guiding hand; far more than I deserved. Everyone from my parents to some incredible bosses that I was blessed to have. As a result, I won a couple of industry awards and was listed in a 30 under 30 list early in my career. That raised my profile immediately and suddenly lead to enquiries as to my availability. Those career sponsors helped me win accolades I hadn’t been pursuing and that was a huge confidence boost.
As I moved into more senior roles, I have to credit Steve Richards, the then Chairman of Attraction World Holdings (AHW), who pushed for me to have an ownership stake in the company. Finding ways for that to happen, and in pushing me to take options rather than pay rises and buy shares that were available was amazing advice and paid off financially and in terms of taking me into the boardroom.
Devon: I’ve had many people who have inspired me along the way. Coaches, mentors and most of all my mother, who has had a profound impact on the person I am today.
Luck to me is where preparation meets opportunity. And along the way, most of my ‘lucky breaks’ came when opportunity met preparation. When I was working for the company in NYC, a coach came to train us. We connected, built a relationship and he became one of my first mentors. If I hadn’t met him, I might not have been where I am today. So that was luck in a way – AND – I was at a turning point of my life so the opportunity came and I followed through on it.
Kwasi: I would describe many things as my lucky break. The fact that I had two parents and great stability at home. The fact that I had parents with an amazing work ethic, some of which I inherited. Growing up where I did, all these things couldn’t be taken for granted and with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how much of an impact it had on my progression.
As a child, I used to go shopping with my mum and convince her to buy me multipacks of sweets like Hubba Bubba (bubble gum). I’d then take these to school and sell them individually for a profit. This was the start of my entrepreneurial journey!
It’s always been in my veins. I remember when Nintendo Wii first came out (I’m giving away my age), I would fly to Germany during reading week and fill up my suitcase with games, then sell them on eBay. This is how I got my beer money.
However, being the son of Ghanaian immigrants the entrepreneurship route wasn’t the chosen path for me. It was ‘Go to school – get good grades – get a good job’.
As a result, side hustles became my thing and I managed my career in parallel. I studied Biomedical Engineering in Uni as I was supposed to become a doctor (like a good West African boy, according to my grandmother).
What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in your career?
Simon O: There have been many challenges along my path from employee to entrepreneur and I am sure there will be many more to come.
What I have found important, is how we respond to them. I love challenges! I feel that challenges are the universe’s way of saying that it is time to level up. Challenges can either defeat you or act as the springboard to helping you become stronger than before.
Some of my greatest challenges that I have had to overcome include: failing and having to repeat my second year of university; the prospect of redundancy within a year of beginning my first job after graduation; losing my Mum and then my grandfather shortly after; losing money on two initial business ideas; balancing a full-time job with building a business on the side; and, navigating the scary transition out of full-time employment and into the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.
Simon A: I’m incredibly fortunate that I’ve not had to face anything insurmountable. I exited at a travel business at a good valuation weeks before Covid-19; had I not, that would have been impossibly difficult and instead sits on the ledger as my good fortune.
The biggest hurdles have actually ended up being opportunities; tech that has reached the end of its useful life has given way to better tech, customers that have gone elsewhere have given me the bandwidth to find bigger and better ones.
Devon: I’ve had many challenges along the way. When I decided to start my own business I was in the midst of a divorce as well as being promoted to a job where I wasn’t doing the things I really enjoyed anymore.
It was a difficult time in my life and in looking back was the BEST part of my journey. The challenges and adversity that occurred allowed me to really take a look at who I wanted to BE in the world.
It highlighted the foundation and principles which I live my life by and run my business – integrity, service, compassion, impact. As a result of the inner work, everything became possible. My business soared, a wonderful life was created and my ex-wife and I are best friends today – co-parenting in a really conscious way.
KA: The biggest challenge has been believing I can do it. Whether in banking or real estate, I’ve never had a mentor and when you work in banking, in particular, there are not a lot of people who come from the same socio-economic background or look like me.
Being in this situation all the time can sometimes evoke perceptions of negative stereotypes and this creates identity challenges.
So ensuring that negative stereotypes towards you don’t diminish your career prospects, progress, and performance has meant gaining self-belief. Something that I feel has only developed alongside a track record.
What do you love about running your own business? Any downsides?
Simon O: I am very grateful to be running a business that allows me to have a positive impact on the lives of others. Three things come to mind as I reflect on what I love about running my own business. The first is that my productivity relative to that working for someone else has exploded massively. When you are working on something you are passionate about and have the right attitude towards it, you can accomplish more in months than most will in years.
The second is that I get to structure my day around my priorities and adapt as necessary. Health is something I value a lot, so make sure to begin each day with a workout and end each day with meditation and journalling. I also have the luxury of being able to have multiple days off. I leave them free of meetings and calls so that I can read and learn about new ideas and perspectives.
The third is the excitement of all that can be possible, with each day and week bringing new opportunities.
The only downside is the uncertainty and constant stretching of my comfort zone that comes as part of the territory. Even so, this keeps me on my feet and focused on doing the best I can each day to keep moving forward. As Denzel Washington once said: “Without commitment, you will never begin…without consistency, you will never finish.”
Simon A: The companies I’ve led have sat within bigger groups and so I’ve always been fortunate to have the autonomy to have a vision and build it, and the resources and support to accelerate that journey. The quintessential entrepreneur struggle was fought by both sets of my parents, and probably does not appeal for that reason.
The downsides are mainly the lack of hours in a day. I’ve worked incredibly hard for financial freedom for my family. But the same drive that led there also can mean some late nights and tunnel vision. Now I have a family, that needs curtailing.
Devon: What I love about running my own business is the awareness that discipline gives you freedom. I love waking up and having a daily routine in service of my business. I also love continuously seeing where my ‘edge’ is and stretching past my comfort zone.
My business is one of the few that pays you to learn about yourself. So the more you learn about you, the more success you will have. I’m a lifelong learner so that’s right up my alley.
Kwasi: Being an entrepreneur means you have a lot more control over how you spend your time, but it doesn’t mean you have more time. It is also very time-consuming if you are ambitious.
The best and the worse thing about running a business is that there is no one to tell me ‘no’. But sometimes the best thing about working for large financial institutions is that there are lots of people that say no. Sometimes…!
How do you motivate yourself?
Simon O: I motivate myself by consciously and intentionally designing my environment around me. From the people I spend the most time with to what I watch and from the books I read to who I follow on social media. Our environment shapes our thinking, how we see ourselves and what we see as possible. What also keeps me motivated is regularly reminding myself of why I am doing what I am doing – something that has significantly deepened since the birth of my daughter.
Simon A: I’m always optimistic about what can be achieved in business and really excited and motivated by evolution and change.
These are good things to enjoy as a father as no aspect of it stays the same for long. One minute I’m cradling a tiny newborn, and within what feels like the blink of an eye he’s learned to walk, talk and chase me around the garden with a hosepipe. I know my wife really struggles as he moves through these stages and stops being our baby, but I’m more fascinated with what he is becoming and very motivated to help him achieve his potential.
Devon: I wake up and make sure that I have a daily practice of self-care. I have a morning routine that makes sure that I ‘fill my cup’ so that I properly take care of my sleep, peace of mind, health and wellbeing. This focus on giving to myself first allows me to give more of myself to others.
Kwasi: My family motivates me. Thinking about what my parents and grandparents have done just to get us to where we are motivates me to keep on the same trajectory and create a similar platform for my children.
When I was younger my motivation was to be a role model to my siblings in a similar way as someone they can look up to. Proof that they don’t necessarily have to go to school – get good grades – get a good job, but they can have the freedom to choose what they want to do.
Any tips for timesaving or productivity?
Simon O: The first thing I would say is to spend time crafting and getting emotionally connected to a vision that is magnetic in nature. Because the more exciting and compelling the vision, the easier productivity becomes.
The second is to plan your day the night before to allow you to begin each day strongly and with the right focus.
Finally, you want to be managing your energy, not your time. Time is fixed, energy is not. I have learnt that we are at our most productive when we have a good rhythm between periods of deep focused work and intentional rest. In fact, sufficient rest is the foundation of our most productive days.
Simon A: The starter for 10: get something out there for others to see and feedback on. So much time can be lost trying to perfect something.
I also think the biggest thing for avoiding reduced productivity is letting people be accountable and removing myself as the gatekeeper wherever it is possible. That can also make work more joyous because you can often be surprised by the results rather than frustrated by the process.
I also prioritise heavily 3-5 outcomes every week and make myself a slave to them rather than getting trapped in reactiveness.
Devon: My favourite quote about time-saving comes from Warren Buffet who says “Busy is the new stupid”. When I work with clients in their business we look at the myth of ‘time management’. A lot of us treat our ‘busyness’ like a badge of honor instead of something that keeps us from doing our most meaningful work.
When you take a further look at it, you see that the issue is NOT time management, it is actually people-pleasing – saying ‘yes’ to the things you need to say ‘no’ to. So my tips would be to one, prioritise what’s most important, two, say ‘no’ more than ‘yes’, and three, do what you love.
Kwasi: Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available. So when I have a lot to do in a short space of time I use agile methodology techniques such as sprints and time-boxing. These types of time-management techniques are the best productivity hacks I have come across in my career.
Time-boxing is my favourite and simply involves allotting a fixed amount of time in advance for the things I need to get done. It then means I have to complete the activity within that time frame or move on no matter what. But this stops me spending too much time on one thing when I’m in a flow state.
How do you balance YOUR WORK with fatherhood? What are your typical days or weeks like (pre-lockdown)? How has this been changed through lockdown?
Simon O: There have been no typical days since my daughter was born, shortly after lockdown! That in itself was a surreal experience because I was only able to stay with my wife and daughter for an hour or so after the birth. But it has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise as it has allowed us to spend every day with her.
Prior to lockdown, I would be travelling to client meetings and delivering talks at organisations/conferences based both here and abroad. Now that these have all transitioned to being held online for the short-term, I have had the privilege to be next to my daughter during these first couple of months of her life.
My wife and I have therefore been able to approach baby care as a team: when one of us is on a virtual meeting, the other is taking care of our baby; when one of us is shopping for food, the other is with baby; and, we can both contribute during night times given we don’t have to leave the house in the morning. I still build my days around certain non-negotiables such as exercise and reading, but have had to be more flexible around how much I can realistically achieve each day from my ‘to-do’ list now.
Simon A: Pre-lockdown, before I sold out of AWH, I was almost entirely absent during the week, as I travelled to and from an office and relied on childcare and my wife to ensure our son was thriving.
Lockdown, combined with my new home-based role, actually forced a much-improved family balance on us and we’ve all embraced it. I get up with our son, sort breakfast and play until 10am. My wife (who works part-time hours) will have been up working since 6.30am and will then take over. I’ll also try and get away for a walk or lunch break with them when the diary allow. I feel more connected with my wonderful little boy than ever before. He will let himself into my office for at least one video conference per day and rather than that being embarrassing or difficult, it’s actually welcome relief for everyone.
Devon: Fortunately, things haven’t changed much for me in regards to business and fatherhood pre and post lockdown. I work from home a lot so that hasn’t changed much. After work, my days are usually spent with my children. You can find me coaching my son’s basketball games or watching movies with my daughter. Or learning the newest dances or raps songs and at Friday Night Pizza Night.
The one thing that has changed has been that I don’t travel to organisations right now because of the distancing rules. Everything else has remained the same. I see my individual and business clients via zoom which allows for a ‘recession-proof’ business.
My philosophy has always centred around an intentionally created life rather than being a victim of circumstance. I chose to spend my days serving clients, practicing self-care and spending a lot of fun time with my children. When you choose something, commit to it and follow through with integrity anything is possible.
Kwasi: A typical day starts early with the kids and their wake-up call (normally before 6 am). Pre-lockdown I was based in Canary Wharf and would commute four times a week. Now I simply commute to the spare bedroom, like most of us!
My day-to-day is normally made up of a lot of meetings, reading, analysis, writing, and presenting. I also have to problem-solve any issues that arise in the various ventures I operate. I’m very hands-on and get involved. No two days are ever the same and I love it.
When I started working from home at the beginning of lockdown, there was very little work-life balance. Now we have a great routine. My kids know when they shouldn’t interrupt, and I try and spend as much time with them as possible during the day when I’m not actively on calls. I can set up the kids with some home-school work and they will entertain themselves. Everyone seems to have adapted to the new normal.
Growing up on a council estate makes me empathetic to anyone who has been in lock-down with young children and no garden. We are very lucky to have one so that’s been a great retreat for all of us. Whether it’s building forts, playing football or going out in the rain to watch a lightning storm (my personal favourite), it brings the family together every day in some way.
How do you define success? What success are you most proud of?
Simon O: Success for me is all about happiness, growth and contribution. Am I doing things that make me feel alive and spark joy? Am I becoming a better person than who I was yesterday and making progress in the areas that are most important to me? And how am I positively contributing to the lives of others? For me the successes that I can be most proud of include: making the leap from employee to entrepreneur, the incredible results that my clients have experienced and more recently, having agreed a book deal with one of the world’s largest publishing houses to release my first book.
Simon A: Success for me is in making great products that both delight and deliver user value. At Spirit Digital, that means helping people stay healthier and improving care delivery for healthcare professionals. That vision alone is incredibly rewarding. When you get this right, your enthusiasm should translate to inspiring potential customers and all of the financial and secondary benefits this brings.
Devon: Success to me is creating an intentional life around the things that make you happy. It’s an internal peace, knowing that there is nothing outside of you that can bring you success or happiness. And knowing that true success comes from within, not something outside of you.
My favorite quote that expresses my personal view on success is:
“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both. ” James A. Michener
I am most proud of the relationship love that I am able to share with my children, my family, my clients and the world.
Kwasi: These days I define success simply by how happy my children are. As long as they are happy, we are successful. I’m most proud when I just sit back and watch them enjoying all the things I have worked so hard for.
How do you celebrate success? And what do you do to relax?
Simon O: My wife and I celebrate our successes by dining out at one of our favourite restaurants in London. There is nothing better than celebrating a win with food that makes us happy. However, now that we are parents, we are going to have to rethink that one in the short term! With regards to relaxing, we enjoy long walks in nature, travelling, cinema and spa afternoons.
Simon A: There is nothing better to celebrate securing a success, than acknowledging the teammates who were pivotal and then setting your sights on the next one. When you can build momentum into an organisation, there is almost no more potent force.
Despite that, when wins are bigger I’ve been known to get a bit carried away. When I first got Day Out with the Kids profitable after it had been a long term white elephant, I threw a pretty big party for the team. It cost so much that we almost undid that first profitable month! But after so much hard work it was a great night and one I think I’ll always remember.
Relaxing is something I need to work on but I’ve started to embrace exercise for unwinding. And the occasional Sunday afternoon nap feels very indulgent! Before Covid-19, eating out was how my wife and I would use rare nights off but these days it’s more likely to be a bottle of wine and a takeaway.
Devon: I celebrate success every day. When I hit certain milestones in business, I’ll allow myself to do something or buy something special to honor that. The real celebration is in each moment. I am super grateful for the people in my life, the relationships and the community that has been built. To me this is the ultimate celebration.
Kwasi: Success is a tea party that doesn’t end in tears before bedtime! To be honest, celebrating success is something I am very bad at. I normally celebrate success by moving on and becoming fully immersed in the next thing.
However; I do enjoy long relaxing mental breakaways from my routine. Sometimes I just fall back into my student life routine, staying up late, watching random documentaries, and playing computer games till 4 am.
Maybe I’d also define success as having the ability to choose how to spend my time.
What a great thought to end on.
Thank you, Simon O, Simon A, Devon and Kwasi for taking the time to chat with us and share your stories.
Here’s wishing a Happy Father’s Day to all of you and all the other amazing dads out there.
If you want to have a chat about positioning your brand for growth, give us a call. We’re cool if your kids want to join in the Zoom – it’s the new way of working! Book a free 30-minute call in here.