Going viral is just the icing on the cake

I've mentioned Coffee within Social Media, so now it's time for cake because this picture has just gone absolutely ballistic on the Twittesphere. 

Chris Holmes resigned from his job with the Border Force so that he could concentrate on his cake making business. The thing is, he wrote the letter ON A CAKE. 

Naturally, he posted a picture of it on his personal Facebook account - who wouldn't? Next thing he knows, it's become an internet sensation. I retweeted his brother-in-law's reaction earlier this morning, but since then it has been picked up by the national press and news sites around the world.

For me, it's a fantastic piece of creativity, but I think the real reason it went viral is because it's such an inspiring story. The idea makes you daydream about jacking in that nine-to-five to chase your dreams. And even if you don't, you still want to root for him because he did in a spectacularly clever and engaging way. 

One thing is for sure, I can't think of a better way to get your cake business off to such a flying start. We wish you every success Mr. Cake. (Oops, looks like that link is down - possibly due to the intense interest it's generated including over 1 million views on Reddit as I post.)

Here's Chris's latest reaction to that err, problem...

This calls for cake, I say!

Remembering Lawrence Montagu OBE: Shaping lives by shaping minds

Having only just read of the terribly sad news though Facebook, I can’t help reflecting on the death of my former School Principal Lawrence Montagu O.B.E. after a long battle against cancer.
My former Headteacher Lawrence Montagu who died last Friday
He was such a pivotal character during my formative years and I feel particularly melancholic at the thought that here was a man whose time among us concluded far too soon.

Thinking back, it was during the second week of October in 1984 when the coach, on its final leg from Birmingham, pulled into Gloucester bus station completing an exhausting 
23-hour journey from Galway City in the west of Ireland. For myself, aged 13 at the time, and my two younger brothers, this was a far more seminal journey than we could have imagined as we left behind our school-friends, neighbours and relatives to start our new life in England. Dad was already there to meet us off the bus and quickly transferred our suitcases (we were allowed two each) into a waiting taxi before heading straight out to St. Peter’s High School on the Stroud Road to meet with the new Principal and get signed up at our new school. 

Despite being worn out from the trip, we were ushered in and instantly made to feel at home due to the tremendously warm and friendly welcome we received from Mr. Montagu who was only six or eight weeks into his new job at the time. Despite the formalities, he was happy to have a little banter with Mum who explained that all three siblings were left-handed and the Irish term for it was ciotóg (pronounced kith-ogue).

Two things I distinctly remember about Mr. Montagu in that first encounter; one was his youth and the other was his accent. My previous Headteacher (Seamus Cullinane at the Athenry Vocational School) was in his sixties (quite ancient when you’re twelve years old), so to see this dynamic thirty-something at the head of such a big school really made quite an impression on me. It was clear that age was not a prerequisite for leadership and it spurred me on to be as ambitious as I dared to be.

As for his Liverpudlian accent, I found it both disarming and intriguing. Having just arrived from the so-called fields of Athenry, (and I was as green as the song title suggests) it was the first time I met someone with such a distinctive English accent that you could actually pinpoint their origin. I have since developed a deep appreciation for the myriad of accents found here in the UK and find myself imitating them during lighter moments or especially when I am daydreaming about one thing or another. 

08Jun04: Catching up on latest news, Larry Montagu always made time for his alumni.
During my school years, I was lucky to discover my passion for cooking early on and concentrated on becoming the best chef and patissier I could be after I finished my ‘O’ levels. Somehow it also seemed natural to pop in every so often if I was passing to see Larry as I came to know him in later years and give him an update. He would delight in hearing about my travels to Bermuda and of opening a business in Kathmandu. When I introduced him to my wife on one chance visit in 2004, he organised a pot of tea and cancelled a budgeting meeting he was due to attend at the town hall. It was this generosity of goodwill that I came to admire in him most, especially when I think of the pressure he was under in running one of the UK's top comprehensive schools. 

I was delighted for Larry when I heard he had been awarded an O.B.E. for services to education - it certainly came was no surprise as he really did deserve the accolade. In a display of sincere humility about his achievement he would joke about the letters possible standing for "Other Bugger's Efforts". Again, his self-effacing leadership style was to deflect that spotlight of achievement onto the people around him upon whose shoulders he stood.

All was not well though when he told me how he was forced into a leave of absence in order to be treated after doctors discovered he had developed Prostate Cancer. A major bout of chemotherapy and sheer willpower put it in remission and allowed him to return to work. Sadly however the cancer returned more aggressively than before and had visibly affected his appearance and health on my last visit to see him in July of 2012. He was upbeat despite, as he put it himself, being given fewer than five years to live by his consultant at that stage.

During that final chat with him, I found a man resigned to the ravages of his own mortality and taking each day as it came, knowing there weren’t many left. The fact that he devoted every one of them to the well being of St. Peter's school community is truly a remarkable and noble act of human compassion that will forever remain his legacy. 

I understand he was due to retire at the end of this academic year, but it seems someone up there had other plans and Larry was sadly taken from us this gone weekend. My thoughts go out to his family, colleagues and pupils who, like me, will find it difficult to understand why such sad things are meant to be.

There is no doubt that Lawrence Montagu had a profoundly positive influence on shaping the careers of dozens of teaching staff and shaping the lives of many, many thousands of schoolchildren lucky enough to attend St. Peter’s High School over the last two generations. You only have to to read this tribute here and the comments posted from past pupils on this story here to see what a profound effect he had on the lives of the people he touched.

Mr. Montagu will be sadly missed by us all. Me especially.

Rest in Peace Sir.

We're not looking for anyone too ambitious right now.

I couldn't help going over to shake hands with a senior Director from a rival Catering Company who I spotted in the crowd at the Savoy Hotel yesterday...
"You probably don't remember me, but you interviewed me for a job about three years ago."
"Don't tell me I didn't hire you."
"You didn't hire me."
"Who do you work for now?"
"Eh, the chap about to give the lecture. Just celebrated three years with BaxterStorey last Friday." 

I'll never forget his summing up of me in that interview:
"Thomas, I can see you are so ambitious, that whatever I do offer you, you'll be banging on my office door within eight months demanding a newer bigger  project."

Take three tablets...

Here's an iPad ad that screams "Wild!"... "Bright!"... "Together!"

Meanwhile on his commute home "...every evening, at exactly 6:07 District Manager Thomas M. Wilkes" does this on his Dell XPS...

Or in meetings, this young hipster executive daydreams of escaping a world full of spreadsheets on his Microsoft Surface Pro...

Which lifestyle do you aspire to?

Bonus: And can you guess which tablet has the biggest market share in unit sales?

A cooking show for the rest of us

Come to think of it... Imagine a weekend TV show with a time slot like Sunday Brunch and the budget of Saturday Kitchen. 

Presented by Roy Ackerman and someone like Ravinder Bhogal. In-the-field reporting from Brian Turner (Cuisine), Fred Sirieix (Service) and William Curley (Patisserie). 

A different perspective.
Featuring latest industry news; aspirations, technical prowess and results from Bocuse D’Or; World Skills Competition; National Chef of the Year; National Waiters Day and AFW Awards of Excellence as well as OUR industry perspective on current affairs, awareness campaigns and the grass-roots people making a REAL difference in our sector today.

I’d watch that. Would you?

And if you're in TV and could make this happen; well, you know the rest..

Typing is Talking, So Talk

I have a lot to say. In fact, most people think I have too much to say and just won't shut up. My client Suzy calls it the 'talking stick'. It's a clever little trick she uses to to stop me waffling on in meetings... "I have the talking stick right now, not you." Schtum! Point taken.

But over the last 18 months, I've lost my voice in a different kind of way. My blogging voice. There are a million things I want to talk about and yet as soon as flip open the laptop to start typing.... the well just dries up. Nada. Not a solitary thing. It's like this little voice inside my head saying What'll they think?; Isn't that too sensitive?; What if I offend someone?; What if my boss reads this? (he might); Who do you think you are? or even Nobody cares. So I close down the lid and leave it for another day. 

Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain or the resistance. My sous chef Chris calls it a 'limiting belief'. Either way, it's that thing that stops you from being you. Worrying about what other people think, holds you back. Worrying about not getting it absolutely perfect, holds you back. Heck, worrying about what holds you back, holds you back.

Which is why I am writing this. I just started typing the first thing that popped into my head so it's never going to be my best work. But it needs to be written if I am going to kick start this fundamental need. A need to be heard. To be part of the conversation.

I'm not even going to stick in a picture. "OMG," I hear the Social Mejia Peeps collectively groan, "he doesn't get it. Everyone knows great pictures drive traffic". Do they? Here's the thing; my all time favourite blog (the one I check in with every night when my head hits the pillow) is Daring Fireball by John Gruber. And guess what? He doesn't put a damn picture in from one end of the month to the next. He does something far more powerful: he PAINTS a picture. His words, bursts of opinion, quick links to random stuff or clever little riposte to that latest guesstimate written as *fact* (endearingly called 'claim chowder') really stirs up a very powerful resonance in my imagination and to that of his readers. That's a powerful space to occupy. I think I want to be in that place. But you gotta ship.

So here goes. It's just words. But they're my words. And I do think they're worth sharing. Hopefully you do too.

A Leader who knows his Onions

A colleague of mine recently had to give a short presentation which involved describing a leader that inspired her, but using food as the analogy to describe that leadership inspiration. Her challenge caught my imagination and we had an interesting discussion about it. As we are in the catering sector, the humble onion is one ingredient that gets overlooked in our business and yet underpins so much of what we produce from our kitchen. With that in mind, here is a leadership analogy that might just work for you.

An onion packs lots of character despite its size. 
And like a true leader, this appearance belies an unflinching willpower that’s fueled by passion. (Be careful of the smaller ones, they tend to have more bite!)

If you cut an onion open during a meeting, it’s aroma will definitely stand out.
… and this ability to ‘stand out from the crowd’  and leaving that memorable impression is what turns a good leader into a great one. 

However, the same onion has a harmonizing effect when cut within a kitchen.
Skilled leaders create harmony and team spirit by motivating the people around them.

Sometimes the humble onion leads from the front - just look at French Onion Soup. 
- true leaders don’t shy away from situations that others might find very challenging.

And in other recipes the onion leads from behind by bringing out the best in other flavours.
Through empathy, influence and skillful maneuvering, a smart leader can energise the team to raise their game. 
Onions add bite & texture when thrown in a salad, but cooked down in a sauce they add sweetness. 
Different challenges have diverse paths to a solution requiring the canny leader to think outside the box and encourage the team to explore those paths.

Cutting across an onion reveals a number of rings - symbols of both strength and continuity. 
Like great leadership, these represent new experiences or challenges, with one bigger than the last.

And as any search on leadership will tell you, an onion - just like our proverbial leader - is made up of many layers. 
For me, each layer represents a chapter in our experience that moulds us into the type of leader we are today.
As for stripping them away, you might think there will be nothing left. But paradoxically, I believe we are left with ‘everything else’. Put simpIy, the leaders who shaped our early behaviours, continue to influence our decisions today. So it is vital to seek out - and offer - great leadership!
If nurtured under the right conditions, an onion can be cultivated to produce a future crop. 
This can also be said of true leadership skill. Be that manager, mentor or coach.

One final point about the humble onion: 
like any great leader, they also have the potential to move you to tears.