And to kick things off, we asked Phil to share his very own experiences of crushing failure, immense success and everything in between…
TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CAREER CHALLENGE OR ‘FAILURE’ SO FAR… IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?
My biggest mistake was growing too many salons too quickly. The thing is, it’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of success when it’s all seemingly going so well. I opened my first TONI&GUY franchise in Salisbury when I was 23 years old, and the day I opened the doors I had just three clients. I’d stretched my finances to the limit and had to build the business from literally nothing. I borrowed the cash I needed to open another salon in Bath and soon, things began to fly. I was the first TONI&GUY franchisee to have two salons and the youngest franchisee in the company.
Before I knew it, I had opened up a string of salons across the South-West, I’d won Wales & South-West Hairdresser of the Year three times and I was getting nominated for British Hairdresser of the Year. I opened salons in Canada and Australia and, in what felt like the blink of an eye, I had a chain of 28 TONI&GUY franchise salons globally, with over 600 staff and annual sales of £16m, a media profile and a list of celebrity clients. There were so many ‘pinch me’ moments.
The flip side of running a huge portfolio of salons meant that life was a juggle of spreadsheets and staffing issues. I had a young family at home, and I was doing a regular, punishing, long-haul commute to the other side of the world. The big success had become a big stress and I guess it was inevitable that things would fall apart.
It was while doing a hair show in Russia in 2009 that the final wake-up call came. I was half an hour away from being on stage alongside some of the most respected hair names in the world. The payroll hadn’t gone through for one of the salons and each and every staff member started calling me, wanting to know where their money was. It was the final straw of what had been an incredibly stressful few months. Added to that, I was in the midst of a serious health scare, undoubtedly linked to the pressure I was putting myself under. Yes, I had a business worth £16 million, but if you’re spending £16 million and £1 to keep it going, you’re losing money –that’s not to mention what it was doing to my soul. I’d had enough. I began selling off my salons one by one.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU LEARNT FROM THIS?
Don’t just go for growth – the root of that is often greed and ego. In hindsight, I could have stuck at two salons and been in a better financial position with a whole lot less stress. I’m a person who likes to be in control, and there’s no way you can be when you expand so rapidly and to such an extent. My lesson is that a huge turnover is just pure vanity; profit is the only way to judge the financial success of your business.
HOW HAS THIS EXPERIENCE HELPED YOU MAKE BETTER DECISIONS IN THE FUTURE?
Growth at a slower rate can be frustrating, but it makes for longevity. I look at the long game now.
IF YOU COULD START ALL OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
Funnily enough, my answer is nothing. Not a single thing. Life is about the highs, the lows, the successes and the failures. I’ve been blessed with my career, and I wouldn’t change a thing because it’s all brought me to where I am now.
WHAT CHARACTER TRAITS WOULD YOU SAY HARD TIMES HAVE TAUGHT YOU?
One character trait I feel it’s made me LOSE is arrogance. You have to stay humble, grateful for your success and never takes things – or people – for granted. Money can go as fast as it comes, I never forget that.
HOW MUCH OF SUCCESS IS BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME?
People say you make your own luck, but instead I think everyone has their moments of luck – it’s what you do with it that matters. Without a doubt, I was in the right place at the right time when I opened my first TONI&GUY franchise. It was the height of their prosperity, and you could say I was ‘lucky’, but equally, I took the chance.
The other thing is that there is no easy route to success. Nothing replaces sheer hard work and if you have the right approach and ethic, success just flows. I’m the first to say that I’ve never been the most talented hairdresser, so I’ve always had to work harder to prove myself. In some cases, talent can make you complacent; if you don’t experience setbacks or knocks to your confidence, it’s all too easy and you can lose your drive.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DOUBTED YOURSELF – AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THOSE FEELINGS OF SELF-DOUBT?
I doubt myself every single day. I find it incredibly hard to make decisions, so I’m constantly thinking, “am I making the right choices?” I also hate confrontation, and that can increase doubt inside yourself. I guess the only way you overcome doubt is to keep going. I’d say I’ve worked harder over these past three years than ever, but when things are hard– as they’ve been for all of us post Covid –you just have to work harder still.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST DECISION YOU EVER HAD TO MAKE?
The hardest decisions always involve people. I’ve had to take legal action in the past to protect my business and that’s not easy – it makes me feel sick. But morally, I know that when people act incorrectly or pose a threat to your livelihood, you have to stand up for yourself.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST SUCCESSFUL MOMENT RECENTLY?
Seeing my son, George Smith, win Men’s Hairdresser of the Year at the British Hairdressing Awards last year outshines anything I’ve ever achieved myself. It gives me immense pride when my children accomplish success in their own right. It’s made me realise that the most satisfying triumphs are not about money or financial reward.
ARE YOU A PERSON WHO TAKES RISKS?
100 per cent. I wouldn’t be where I am now without taking some huge gambles. Whatever you do, there’s a ceiling if you just follow the norm. If you want to break boundaries and aim for more, you have to take risks. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.
SUCCESS IS OBVIOUSLY DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE, BUT WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
Success looks exactly like where I am right now. My product company is in its 17th year and I have my family working under one roof in the building where it all began. It’s the best feeling ever and I’d take it over any material thing I’ve ever owned.
WHO IS A SUCCESSFUL PERSON YOU ADMIRE, AND WHAT LESSONS HAVE THEY TAUGHT YOU?
I’d have to name two. Charles Worthington is a masterclass in what makes a successful business plan. Everything he did was a textbook example of how to build a brand –his business growth was phenomenal and he played every decision brilliantly.
My second is Toni Mascolo. Almost all my life lessons came from him – in fact, pretty much everything that ever came out of his mouth was a golden snippet of business advice. He taught me so much: Always come home from work richer than when you started that morning; people never work for you, they work with you; never get too big todo the little stuff and so much more. Toni was like a second father to me, andI miss him dearly.
WHAT THREE PIECES OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE AT THE START OF THEIR CAREER?
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