His first startup launched at the dawn of this century, and Simon Rogerson has been launching others ever since, while also raising children, running triathlons and contemplating the purpose of business. By Susan Gilchrist.
In year 2000, when Simon Rogerson was 25, he left a large financial services firm to launch a startup with two friends. They called their company Octopus, because “it had 100% name recall,” Rogerson later told the Financial Times. Another reason: He and his fellow founders preferred something humble, in an industry of names taken from gods and planets.
In 21 years, Octopus has extended its tentacles from financial services into energy, real estate, venture capital and financial literacy. Connecting those disparate businesses is a culture that emphasizes service to customers, colleagues and society. Rogerson, CEO, has stationed his desk in the reception area of Octopus headquarters. A significant stake in the privately owned company is held by its more than 2,300 employees. In highly competitive markets, Octopus stands out for its devotion to sustainability and renewable energy. It is also known for its highly literate communications. “Out-pricing, outsmarting, outmaneuvering the competition won’t last forever; out-behaving them will,” states a recent Octopus publication.
Octopus is highly successful. “Our original shareholders have now made 100 times their money,” says Rogerson.
The face of Octopus is Rogerson, an introvert compelled to write. His thought-provoking blog posts evoke the image of a philosopher CEO. With a degree in French literature, Rogerson is a father of three, an Ironman finisher and a subscriber to the belief that effective leadership benefits from an affliction he calls “Permanently Disappointed Syndrome.” In an interview with Susan Gilchrist, Brunswick Chair of Global Clients, Rogerson laughs. “I’m not a miserable person, but I’m always thinking we can do things faster and better,” he says.
Does behaving well truly confer a competitive edge?
Let’s imagine it’s the Middle Ages. You’re the blacksmith, I’m the baker. You put shoes on my horse. I sell you bread. We live in the same little hamlet. If the community finds out that I’m not being honest, that I’m cheating you, they’ll kick me out of the village, or they’ll put me in stocks.
Over the last 20 years, businesses have forgotten that great business is simply about how you make your customers feel. The larger they’ve become, and the more distant their customers, the more their morality has declined. They’ve built walls around their businesses that stop these customers from seeing in. They’ve spent hundreds of millions on advertising to project an image that’s more wishful thinking than reality.
But things are changing. The walls companies built around themselves are being ripped down. The power is shifting—from the company to the customer. People, customers and employees can now see straight through a company. Not just what you do, but how you do it. Thanks to technology, particularly social media, we now live in a hyper-connected, super-transparent world.
But not every company has woken up to this new reality. Some companies—particularly those in our sectors of energy and financial services—still embrace and hide behind their complexity. They still behave like they’re the adults and their customers are the children. That will not last. The power has shifted. We’ve gone back to the Middle Ages. Your customers give you the right to be in business.