Brad Burton is the founder and MD of a business networking company that runs 5,000+ events every year in the UK alone. Noted for his ‘take me as I am, or not at all’ approach, he’s also written the highest rated and reviewed business books on Amazon.
Skype interview 21.4.14
The Authentic Man Podcast Series
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What do you think is the difference between a successful career and a successful life?
Brad: I think they’re one in the same, this is what I’ve realised. In life, this whole myth about the work life balance, that you work and you close your laptop at 5 0’clock and then you go and do this – you know, I think this is an out and out myth. If I wanna work at 3 0’clock in the morning I will do, if I wanna play computer games until 3 o’clock in the afternoon I will do. That to me is the secret of success and the fact that I can go to my kid’s sports days and I don’t have to ask anyone’s opinion as to whether I can go do this or that. The success I have now is the ability to do what I want when I want, a business that sustains a life rather than a life that sustains a business, which is what most people end up doing, they end up with this wonderfully successful business at the expense of their own personal life.
What’s the main difference between you now and the you 10 years ago?
Brad: Ten years ago, if you’d have asked me what my life was about, what my goals were about, I wanted a ten bedroom mansion, I wanted an Olympic size swimming pool, an apache gunship with hellfire rockets. But now, I think my goal is to do what I want, when I want. It’s fundamentally less about stuff, it was always about stuff, my barometer of success was always about stuff, based on the car I’ve got, on having granite kitchen surfaces, or just shit. But now that focus is about me doing what I want when I want and that’s what true life is about. I think I’ve moved away from stuff and now it’s more about my legacy, what I’m creating, what positive I’m doing. My motivation is to make a positive difference and I seem to be doing that now with my speaking and my books and what have you, so I think that’s what it is, making a positive difference and if you make some money on the way and you create a life that you want then you’ve cracked it, and that’s what’s happened now. So rather than it all being about money and ‘I want business success, a Porsche’, now it’s ‘yes I want success, but I’m not prepared for it to be at any cost’. There’s a personal price to pay for success and I think I’ve paid that price. I was ill a couple of years ago, I realised then that actually what’s important in life isn’t the material things, isn’t stuff, it’s health and relationships, and actually wealth is so far down the pecking order. So that’s the difference I think, so if you consider you’re captain of a ship and over on your left here is an island of health and relationships and on your right is an island with wealth, which one would you full-speed ahead towards? Because 10 years ago I was full-speed ahead towards business success and wealth at the expense of my health and personal relationships. I think I’ve got that balance now, I’ve cracked it on that front.
Fill in the blanks: If I didn’t have _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ life so far would have been a lot harder.
Brad: Tenacity. If I didn’t have tenacity. And I’ll tell you what, the other thing, business naivety. That’s carried me beautifully, this almost unwavering self belief that actually has been misguided at times, has carried me. Sometimes that’s all you’ve got in life, unwavering self belief or misguided belief that you’re destined for greatness, but that misguided belief that I had has carried me, because most normal people wouldn’t have embarked on the journey that I have come through. When I started my business off I was 25K in personal debt, no income, a whinging wife telling me to go and get a proper job, new born boy, living in a two bedroom house, no money, no capital, no business plan. Yet somewhere along the way in the last ten years I managed to create from nothing – bear in mind I don’t have a qualification to my name, not one – I managed to create a multi-million pound international business and that is all down to that unwavering self belief, that tenacity. That, I think, is the difference between me and so many other people, because the road is littered with people who have all these amazing skills but the thing they didn’t have is tenacity or that unwavering self belief, and that’s the X factor that’s kept me going, where most normal people would have said, ‘you know what, sack this, I’m gonna go do something sensible and go get a proper job’. So tenacity, unwavering self belief and business naivety are what have kept me going.
Name one man and one woman you’d like to know more about.
Brad: People who have really had a positive impact on me, this is an interesting one, Tony Blair. Tony Blair had a massive impact on me, I was unemployed for 2 years, I’ve been unemployed for four years in total, on the dole. 2 years I’d been unemployed, new labour got into power and what happened is I ended up getting a job two weeks after they got into power and there was just something about the euphoria at the time that almost moulded me to think – you know what, euphoria and belief can carry you so far. I think that’s what new labour managed to do and what Tony Blair managed to do, he went up against the establishment and made them look old fashioned and fuddy-duddy and I think that’s what I’ve managed to do with my business 4Networking, I’ve done the same, I’ve managed to make the establishment, the ‘you’ve got no chance, these guys have been established for years’ – I’ve made them look old fashioned and fuddy-duddy. So Tony Blair as a leader, and people talk about Iraq and this, that and the other, but you know, I’m trying to avoid the politics. Sometimes as a leader you’ve got to make decisions the likes of which not everyone understands and actually you’ve got a situation where you’ve got the full picture, and in management with me running my own businesses – I’ve had to make decisions which seemingly on the outside people would say ‘that’s a crazy decision’, but when as a leader you’ve got the full picture then you can make an informed decision. So Tony Blair as one of the fellas for me.
Female, that’s a great question, because every female I’ve ever wanted to know in terms of a business perspective, I’ve actually made my way to find these people and seek them out. One of the people was Rachel Elnaugh who was the first dragon on dragons den, the first female dragon. She got a business up to 26 million and then overnight it collapsed, she was one of the business idols of mine and I’ve sought Rachel out and she sort of mentors me now and gives me advice. So there’s no one really that I’ve not actually sought out. If there was another fella it’d be Damien White from UFC, the guy who took a fading business and created it into a billion dollar organisation, he’s another one of my sort of business heroes.
Brad: Doing what you want when you want. This alluded me for so long. I used to be employed and used to sit behind a desk pretending to work, I had no love for it, I wasn’t feeling it. And that’s the great thing about me, if I can’t be bothered working, I don’t have to pretend anymore. What I do is when I’m on fire and I really wanna go for it, I go for it. And actually if I wanna stay in bed till 3 0’clock in the afternoon, I will do. And that truly is what work life balance is. Don’t let other people put their framework up about what life or business should be. My life, my business, has been built around me and you’ve seen me on Twitter, I say what I want when I want. I’ve had people say ‘well I don’t think it’s appropriate you saying what you’re saying on Twitter’… well, in which case unfollow me and then you can sleep at night. ‘Well, I don’t wanna unfollow because I like your business stuff’… Right, well I don’t want to change what I’m about! You know, if everyone just concentrated on themselves the world would be a whole lot better place. But people get involved with trying to steer people. So my view is this, spend 100% of your time being 100% you and if people don’t like you for being you – Next!
-And what else?
Brad: Being comfortable. I’ve lived a life of extremes, I really have. I’ve lived a life of extremes, I don’t know anyone in a business capacity who’s as rock and role as I am. Nobody. And actually, as I’ve gotten older, I’m now 41, my family have come along and all of a sudden these guys are now natural sand barriers on my life. Because you know, if my children and my family weren’t a part of my life I know I’d be out partying every single night. Somewhere along the way, you can no longer do that anymore. You might have the funds and the means necessary to do that, but there are several things going on here. One, you’ve got things called the week, two you’ve got things called family, and three you’ve got things called health. They’re all wrapped in the same and to be comfortable with yourself is understanding that actually life does change and that you need to change with it. That’s something that I’ve realised over the last ten years, because deep down there’s a party animal in me, but that’s not the real world. The real world is emptying bins, the real world is going to Sainsburys, that’s what the real world is. I think that is what I’ve learned, fulfilment is to feel comfortable in yourself and in your life, regardless of any external pressures or any external influences.
I am my most relaxed when…
Brad: Playing computer games. PlayStation 3 and 4, that’s my thing. I’ve played computer games since being a young man. I’m now 41 and I was playing computer games at 7, in the arcades and so forth. And actually if you go on Google and YouTube you’ll find me on GamesMaster, I used to be a half-baked TV presenter and work alongside the presenters back in 1993/94. So yeh, computer games is my thing and it’s bizarre because people don’t sort of correlate the two between me being this rough-neck businessman compared to playing computer games. Funnily enough I went to a drum n bass rave on Saturday in Bournemouth and once again I’m the oldest swinger in town, my thing is doing these things, computer games and drum n bass raves, that’s my golf course. And I go to the gym as well. So the gym, drum n bass music and raves and computer games, which is probably not the answer that most people would expect. This is the point, you can be whatever you want and you don’t have to be put into a box with this. I’ve had people say ‘how do you fancy coming to Manchester United’s directors’ box on Saturday, or the F1?’ I couldn’t think of anything worse thank you! You see people conform, that’s just not what I’m about. I’ve surrounded myself with a load of people who I don’t have to conform with, I can just be myself. Whatever that is.
In a friend, I most value…
Brad: In a friend I most value those that support when they’ve got nothing to gain. You know, when your back’s against the wall, that’s when you see true friends. Anyone can back a winning horse. Since I’ve had a meteoric rise in terms of profile and so forth, I’ve had lots of people come out the woodwork, but those people that were there for me when I had nothing – I’ll give you an example, a friend of mine Jay is a very wealthy guy, he wasn’t always this way and he’s come from Salford Manchester and he’s gone through the corporate thing. When I was skint and I genuinely was skint 1994/95, I’d moved away from Manchester and he’d stay over at my bedsit that I had then, a moody bedsit in Weston- super-Mare and then when he’d leave, if I was ever skint he’d say open that book in your bookcase, there’s some money in there for you. You know, that kind of stuff, that’s what true friends are about, when you’ve got nothing to gain apart from just sealing that friendship. And that’s what I’ve seen over the last two or three years and I’ve had some difficult situations to deal with in my life in the last couple of years. I’ve seen people who’ve backed me, when actually they’ve had nothing to gain other than sealing that friendship. So loyalty I suppose, ultimately.
In a teacher, I most value…
Brad: Honesty. True honesty as regards to feedback and the like. When I think about me as a friend at my best, I’m the person that you can ring at 3 0’clock in the morning and say ‘Brad I’ve got a dead body in my boot, how do I get rid of it?’ Okay bad example! But you know, I’m the kind of guy who will support my friend when they’re in a hole and I suppose from a teacher’s perspective, sometimes a teacher needs to let you struggle a little bit. And as a teacher I’ve had that, where you ring up for advice or you ring up for support and these guys turn around and say ‘listen, I’m not prepared to get involved in this pity party’. And you’re not expecting that, you’re expecting a ‘there there there’, and I’ve got one personally, specifically that I’m thinking of now that I’ve gone to, because it’s a lonely place in management, you’ve got no one to talk to really when your back’s up against it. Anyway, my mentor, a lady called Debbie Huxton, she’s a former A&E nurse, she did 7 years as an A&E nurse and when you’re dealing with decisions which are life and death, you know anything that happens in a business capacity is toy. You know what I mean, you get something wrong you might lose a few grand or whatever, you get something wrong in that thing and you’ve got a dead body on your hands. But Debbie said something to me once when I rang her about something, she said ‘no, I’m not prepared to get involved in your pity party, you need to get your gumshield in, ding ding, seconds out and you’re going back out whether you like it or not’. And I thought wow, you know, I’d expected someone to give me some nice warm comforting thing. But no, she said ‘actually Brad, you’ve got everything that you need to do in order to win and beat through this decision, go and sort it out’. And she was absolutely right but I didn’t feel that way at the time. So in a teacher you want honesty and in a teacher you want to get your licks sometimes, and actually you need to come off your stool sometimes and do it yourself. So you want a teacher who supports, guides, but doesn’t do.
In myself, I most value…
Brad: It’s amazing when you’re asking these questions here, you’re just joining up lots of the dots on a lot of stuff because actually, fundamentally what I’m about is really backing the underdog. You know, I will back an underdog. I will go against everything. Years ago I was outside a nightclub, we’re talking twenty years ago, a guy got jumped on by 5 or 6 guys and I actually went in to save this guy. And you’re thinking what, who am I, Jean Claude Van Dame? But there’s just something intrinsically in me that just wants to support the underdog and I think that’s what is probably one of my biggest qualities here and one that has actually worked against me as well because I’ve you know, managed to take on more than I can chew at times. So I think a sense of honour, that’s probably what I’m about, a sense of honour. I think 400 years ago I’d have been on a white horse with white armour, a modern day knight. So it’s that sense of honour where I want to save the world and I want to help the world. But one of the things that my coach said to me is that Brad, you can’t save the world and you will burn yourself out trying to do so, which is why you’ve probably created problems in the past, you know you can’t save everyone. But a sense of honour, that’s probably one of my greatest qualities.
Airplane or train?
Brad: Listen, if you’re going long-haul it’s got to be a plane. But either’s good as long as it’s a nice journey. But funnily enough, when I go to the business show in Excel and Olympia which is when I speak, I’m not the kind of guy who travels first class anywhere, right? It goes against everything I stand for in some respects. But, when I go to the business show in Excel and I speak there I always get the first class train home. There’s just something rewarding about it, it’s my thing, it’s almost my – it just does it for me.
-And does that depend on the sort of performance you’ve given?
No, no – and this is I suppose a good one for your guys that you’re speaking to, it’s just a way of reaffirming yourself, as if you’ve come of age or you’ve succeeded. One of the things I talk about in my books is ‘enjoy the journey as much as the destination’. You can get so het up on tomorrow, when I get this my life’s gonna be great, when I do this my life’s gonna be great, when I get this new website, when my business does this – what about today? Because some people ain’t gonna see tomorrow and that’s the point. So it’s just my little treat, so first class back, first class there sometimes, but always, always without fail, first class back and I’ll tell you one of the reasons how this happened. I was coming back from that show and I turned up at Paddington and there were queues for tickets and my train was going in 6 minutes time. At the window for first class there was no queuing. So there’s a queue where you could pay £150, instead of £60 to queue up and get the next train, and I thought you know what – bollocks. Bollocks. You’ve worked really hard, you’ve worked so hard for this, what are you doing it for? Boom, and that was it and that started that whole principle off.
In a parallel universe, what different career would you chance?
Brad: I’d have probably been a bank robber, it’s true! If you think about my background I was brought up in a world where that was a career choice. Okay, I’ve never robbed anyone in my life, but with the wrong tutoring, and this is what’s so amazing about life, about things in life. You come across a Y in the road and you can go left or right, there’s several Y’s in the road where I’ve had an opportunity to go left or right and every single step of the way I’ve always chosen the right choice. I might have bordered on the wrong choice, but ultimately when push comes to shove I’ve always chosen the right choices. So either a bank robber or a TV presenter. I know it’s a bit strange that, but that just shows you that you can be anything you wanna be.
-Why wouldn’t you do that in this life?
Brad: Because it’s stupid, unfulfilling, there’s no victimless crimes ever and there’s always a price to pay for anything like that. So the reason I wouldn’t become a bank robber is because it’s a foolish move and there’s one end game with that one, ultimately which involves you getting banged up or your life being finished. Nah, count me out. I quite like the life that I’ve got. TV presenter – I spoke too fast twenty years ago, I had two screen tests. I just spoke too fast and I lived in Manchester and this, that and the other, but definitively I didn’t have the charisma, I just didn’t have the sort of attitude needed to succeed in that game. But if I had my time again I think I could have done that and I’ve had a couple of opportunities recently to be on TV or to host and the likes. That’s not quite panned out just yet, but it’s the kind of thing where I’m heading to and just because it never happened first time around doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.
If you could have a meal, sitting across the table from yourself, what would you both eat and what would you be sure to tell or ask the man opposite you?
Brad: Oh wow, what a great question, what a great question. Probably Thai curry. Thai curry’s ultimate. I mean I’ve overdosed on Thai curry to be honest. I love Thai curry, I remember the first time I ever tasted it, it was like wow! Boom and since then I’ve had lots of Thai curry, but ultimately that’s the meal I’d have to have in front of me. What question or statement would I say? I would always say ‘it’ll work out, it always does. And all problems have a worst before date, it’ll pass’. And I think that would carry me, and carry any person throughout this world. That no matter what trouble you’ve got going on, or whatever you’ve got going on in your life, or whatever’s happened in your background – whatever, ultimately it’ll pass. It always does. If you think about the worst day of your life and pain that you felt at the time, you don’t feel that now. It doesn’t mean it’s not there, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bad time in your life, but it’s no longer as relevant as it once was and I think that’s what I’d say to any Brad, at whatever age sat opposite me, ‘it’ll pass, it always does and you will find a way, and you know why, because you always have’.
Beer or champagne?
Brad: Oh champagne, I do not like beer. I’ve had 5 pints in my life.
-That surprises me.
You see this isn’t what people expect. Listen, I’m full of contradictions, people just don’t get that about me. I mean, I’ve had 5 pints of beer and I’ve had 500 bottles of champagne. And I think that’s just coming from having nothing, new money almost, do you know what I mean? I’ve had three bottle in a night before now, but when I think about in the last two years I’ve probably had two bottles in that time. So once again, this is that over-indulgence and there’s something funny about that in relation to success, certainly in my world. I’ve succeeded more than my CV would ever say I have, I’ve got no qualifications and was delivering pizzas ten years ago and there’s just something new money about it. The ‘hey guess what, this is great isn’t it?’, there comes a point, a bit like the Thai curry when you’ve overdosed on it and actually it’s no longer a treat. That’s a sad position to be in really, when actually, the things that were so coveted and exciting back in the day and so rare, are no longer rare anymore and that’s where you see people who find themselves cast at sea, not knowing what’s next, what exciting thing’s next. What do you start doing – let’s eat oysters and see what they’re like, then let’s try champagne which is two hundred years old, you know, when does it end? This is the thing that I talked about in my book, Life. Business. Just Got Easier. There comes a finite point in your life when you’ve just got to be happy with what you’ve got. Be happy with what you’ve got.
-That point in your life when you stop chasing.
Brad: Absolutely! Chase chase chase chase chase, for what? For what? What are you chasing for? And until you suss that one out… this is what I talk about. You’ve got your health and you’ve got your relationships, who gives a fuck about the rest? Don’t get me wrong, I’d sooner have more money than less – more of course, but there’s a price to pay for money and sometimes it’s too much.
You mentioned your legacy, what do you want that to be?
Brad: To prove that a guy from Salford, with no qualifications to his name, who’s done four years on the dole, can actually write books, can actually become a relative success, and can be a motivational speaker. And that’s the thing, that legacy paves the way for anyone else in a similar situation to say, ‘you know what, if this lad can do it under that guise, why can’t I?’ And the answer is, you can.
And my last question, if you’re happy to talk about it is, you mentioned a couple of years ago going through an ill period, what do you think shifted in you for that to happen?
Brad: What happened was – I made a load of bad decisions, right, and I think we’re all guilty of making bad decisions and if you’re thinking about following a bad decision back, ‘okay, how did I arrive at this bad decision’ what happens is we’re all a bit guilty of confusing bad luck with bad decisions or bad decisions with bad luck. And my decisions caught up with me, right, my seemingly innocuous decisions which is just me being me, caught up with me and actually when I had that, combined with a load of business problems and personal problems, it buckarooed, I just had one pickaxe too many before I couldn’t take it anymore and I unraveled, mentally unraveled and you know, anyone listening to this – I had a nervous breakdown and that’s a polite way of saying you’ve gone fucking mad, and I went crazy almost for 6 months. And when I say crazy I don’t mean walking around the streets pretending my name’s Jesus Christ, but I’m on about things weren’t right, things weren’t right, my thinking was diffused and the likes and my razor sharp thinking, my ability to make correct, informed decisions was no longer there anymore. And this is what happens, it’s like pulling a catapult back, pull pull pull pull pull, and hopefully you get enough tension on it that you let go and it goes the other way. But sometimes, you pull it so far back it snaps and that’s what happened with me. And what happened to me, I had my coach and she said to me – it’s a great question and one you should ask your guys when you’re speaking to them and they’re going through this kind of high pressure environment – is, Are you willing to risk it all? And it’s a great question because then they’ll say ‘well, oh, what do you mean by that?’ Just answer the fucking question! Are you willing to risk it all? And you will find that actually people will say no, so you say ‘well why on earth are you risking it all with your actions right now?’. And that’s what happened to me in that single line, that single line allowed me to chart a course back into getting my head right, that single line that my coach said to me, Are you willing to risk it all? At which point I said no, and it was that, boom. So I think, you know, what happens is that when you get a level of success, internally you start getting this level of what I call it – peacocking, where you’re swanning around thinking you’re King Shit and you end up getting a level of entitlement in your mind, that you think yeh, I deserve this, and I deserve that and that. You deserve nothing, never forget who you are, that you’re human flesh and bones and ultimately, without your health you’ve got nothing.
Well thank you so much, that has been awesome and a different perspective as well, which is fantastic.
Brad: Well this is the thing, it is a very different perspective, but it’s actually one that resonates with so many people. So many people have fronted off for so long about who they are in business, hiding off behind double Windsor knots or granite worktops. I hide from nothing. I hide from nothing. I tell people this is who I am. Normally when you have business leaders all they talk about is vertical marketing, how they did this deal or how they did that deal. You know, no one gives a shit because fundamentally at the end of your days, what matters isn’t your bank balance, it’s the positive impact that you’ve had in this world and that’s hopefully where I’m heading towards.