Business Advice caught up with Sharon McLellan, co-founder of Kissing With Confidence along with her partner Russell Wardrop, for the third instalment of our “I fell in love with my co-founder” series to find out how they’ve survived the past two decades working and living side by side.
Who are you and what is your business?
Sharon McLellan and Russell Wardrop, co-founders of Kissing With Confidence. We create Rainmakers – individuals who use their powers of influence and persuasion to grow their business.
How did you both meet?
At the University of The West Of Scotland. Russell was director of placements at the business school and I was a senior administrator. He was very disruptive in the Faculty meetings, that’s when I first noticed him.
What inspired you to start a business together?
Russell’s dad started a hugely successful business when he was 35 and it was in his blood to do the same. I had always thought I would have a business of my own, in the fashion or music industry.
What specific roles do you both have?
I am managing director and Russell is chief executive. My role is running the business and Russell is both the creative driving force and delivers to big audiences far and wide.
How do you separate work from your personal life?
I love my garden and can easily be out in it from 10am until 10pm in the summer. During that time Russell will be watching sport on his huge telly while creating something terrific for lunch or dinner, or he will go off for a cycle.
Our respective roles help. I am based in the Glasgow office and Russell is away for 100 nights of the year, half of it in London. When he speaks at a conference in Barcelona I might find a reason to be there and I go to London regularly for meetings where we are partial to a nice restaurant, a show, a museum or a walk along the Southbank.
Do you have any rules to leave work at work?
We both work at home occasionally in our dream house Russell designed and built six years ago. It is a great place to do client proposals and the like and there are three or four different locations on different floors. Russell likes the big telly on when he is working which drives me crazy, so I go up to the study with Molly the cat.
• Founded: 1999
• Turnover: £1m
• Employees: 12
I am a night owl and Russell is a morning person and I need to know not to assail him when he is just off the 9pm from City. He gets caught out at 8am on the way to the office, when I say “talk to the hand, I’ve not had my second coffee yet”.
For big proposals, we are at our best when I do what I do late afternoon and evening and Russell does his thing at 6am, when I am still dead to the world.
What are your individual strengths?
I studied Law and I’m more analytical and detail focused, though I play clarinet and saxophone and was going to study music (long, painful story) so there is some creativity in there. As an architect, Russell is the creative force behind the business and sees what the future might be. He is also a force of nature with huge charisma, whilst I am more adept at staying under the radar and employing subtlety and charm.
We are both entrepreneurial but Russell is more of a risk taker. He needs my more cautious and analytical approach to things, so we don’t bite off more than we can chew. He might tell you a different story, but he is not writing this piece!
We are completely different personalities with entirely different skills sets who wanted to have different roles in the business. This has been hugely important as we have developed our products and services.
Russell says that he would not be in business, or in such a cash-rich and successful business, had I not been running the show. And Kissing With Confidence would not exist without Russell’s creative imagination, single-mindedness and passion.
Russell has a crazy schedule and is blessed with an iron constitution. He is a farmer’s son and never gets ill, not missing one client engagement in 20 years.
And not forgetting his ability to hold an audience of hundreds in the palm of his hand for three hours.
What’s been your biggest business achievement to date?
The Rainmaker programme, a six month journey that delivers business growth by creating Rainmakers in businesses. It is the culmination of two decades of work and is the perfect combination of Russell’s vision and my ability to ask the right questions and forensically analyse data.
We show significant ROI, Kirkpatrick Level four in our industry, which is a compelling value proposition for businesses.
What is the hardest part of working together?
There are inevitably challenges that mean robust discussion. If walls have ears the next owners of our house are going to hear some interesting stories. Russell is happier to have these than me being more direct and assertive in all situations. I need to remind him I am his MD and his wife, though I have a feeling this would be the case even if we were not working together.
In senior team meetings, the fact that we are a couple is perhaps not quite the elephant in the room but is something everyone is cognisant of. And there is the odd client who must wonder why we are sharing a hotel room, so at some point I usually say we are a couple.
What is the best part of running a business together?
Knowing someone has your back and, while you can disagree on issues, there is no doubt we know we can rely on one another no matter what. And the fact that we are still in business – and still a couple – after two decades!
We have had some fierce challenges over the years: major staff issues, the financial crash and some contractual challenges that needed both of us to be touch tight to one another.
What celebrity couple are you most like?
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease. Russell has a big nose and spends much of his time in aeroplanes and I am sweet as can be… up to a point.
We’re inviting Britain’s entrepreneurial couples to have their stories heard. To nominate yourself or somebody else for our regular series, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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