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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Goodbye Grass Roots, Hello Digital Fibre; the Natural History Museum in Tring; Nelson Mandela dies aged 95.  And a very Happy 2014 to all!

Friday December 20th was my last day at Grass Roots, ending a career that started in 1981 and became permanent in 1985. Now is the right time for me to move on.   I have a lot of fond memories I will cherish forever (or for as long as I can remember them), but it is the people I will miss above all.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their kind messages which I have received via emails, text messages, telephone, greetings cards, Linkedin, Facebook and of course in person.  I have been touched by the kindness and encouragement from so many of you who have been in contact.  I have messages from CEOs, Managing Directors, OBEs, an MBE, a Sir, and most importantly, the hundreds of people I have worked with over the years in the four corners of the world.  It is now that you find out who your friends really are.  Grass Roots has been an amazing place to work, doing good work and making money in a wide geography.  I wish all my friends who remain there good luck and much success and I would like the business to be as profitable as possible for the sake of the shareholders (that includes me J).
Pennyroyal Court, Tring, my office for most of my days at Grass Roots

On January 1st 2014 (today as I post this blog), my new career starts at Digital Fibre, a business created by Torstein Solid ten years ago.  He started supplying software to Grass Roots about seven years ago.  When I first saw the work he did I was hugely impressed and started to use it as much as possible in my part of the business.  In 2011, Grass Roots bought a majority share in Digital Fibre and I became a Director of the business.  We then proceeded to introduce the software to other areas of Grass Roots and to invest in a new platform, designed to run incentives and recognition programmes with all the associated communications and reporting services, which could be easily configured without the need for software programmers.  The platform is programmed in a programming language called PHP (which stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor, which, I am reliably informed, is a recursive backronym, meaning that the description was specially constructed so that the acronym fits the existing name. Yes, I thought you would be interested). Well the new Group Board decided to sell the business back to Torstein and this comes into effect on Jan 1st as I join the business.  I will continue to be a Director and I will also be a shareholder of the new independent business.  We have developed a comprehensive business plan and aim to open out to other businesses in addition to retaining and growing the work we do with Grass Roots.  Already we have an impressive client base using the platform which includes Rolls Royce, EE, Beefeater, Costa, BNP Paribas and many others.  I am very excited by the new business, as not only can I continue to work with the people I love at Grass Roots, but I am now building relationships with other people, many of whom I have known for a long time, who can use our service for the benefit of their clients.  The start of a new, higher risk, very exciting journey.  We plan to do good work, make money and have some fun along the way.  We are a team of eight, and I am the only one who doesn’t write software!
Our new logo.  New website launching in a few days.

For 30 years, I have travelled to Tring almost every week.  Apart from Grass Roots, Tring is most famous for its Natural History Museum which is now part of the famous London museum of the same name.  In my last week, I found an hour to go there before my visits to Tring became less frequent.  And what an impressive place it is!  The reason for the location is the Rothschild family who owned much of the land around Tring (this is why the station is a mile or two outside the town – so as not to encroach on their land – and why there was a 5 mile motorway around Tring to keep traffic out (now part of the A41).  Walter Rothschild opened his first museum in Tring aged 10 and had his first employee by the time he was 12 – a taxidermist. He went to Cambridge to study Natural Sciences and then devoted his life to the museum in Tring.  He could be seen riding his carriage in Tring Park pulled by zebras instead of horses.  He collected animals from all over the world and the museum is one of the best collections that exists of stuffed animals – everything from tigers, elephants and apes to mice, butterflies and fleas.  When he died in 1937 he left his collection and the surrounding land to the nation.  Today, you can go right up to the animals and look then in the eyes in a way you could never do with living creatures.  Six huge galleries full of these animals.  I was working at my desk a few years back when I got a shock and jumped up because there was a glis glis looking at me. A glis glis is like a mouse.  They were called edible dormice by the Romans and were served for tea as a delicacy.  The are nocturnal so normally they only come out at night so it is very unusual to see one during the day or at all.  In the UK you can only find them in a 30 mile radius around Tring.  This is because they were brought in by Walter Rothschild and some of them escaped.  Before they were stuffed.  The best place to see one is in the Natural History Museum.  So Lord Rothschild’s legacy lives on for us all.  Even if most of it is stuffed.
Walter Rothschild riding his carriage in Tring!

Glis Glis or edible dormouse.

I can not complete this blog without mentioning Nelson Mandela who died in December aged 95.  Perhaps his greatest achievement or what allowed him to become so great was that he treated everyone equally. But like all great men he did have his weaknesses which included not condemning Mugabe, not condemning Mbeki’s attitude to aids or Zumo’s corruption, his continued friendship with Castro and so on.  This is a recurring theme of mine: how the greatest of men and women also have great weaknesses.

I usually end my blog with a quotation.  This will probably be the longest: it is the last part of President Obama’s speech at Mandela’s memorial ceremony on December 9th in Soweto:

“For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba's passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?
It is a question I ask myself as a man and as a President. We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people -- known and unknown -- to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle.
But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.
For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.
We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.
There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
The questions we face today -- how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war -- do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu.
Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows us that is true. South Africa shows us we can change. We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.
We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world -- you can make his life's work your own. Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me.
It woke me up to my responsibilities -- to others, and to myself -- and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength -- for his largeness of spirit -- somewhere inside ourselves.
And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach -- think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

What a great soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa.”

President Barak Obama
Nelson Mandela

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