Why hard graft is my key to success [Evening Gazette (UK)]
(Evening Gazette (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) TELECOMS boss Tom Howson has come a long way since school-days spent fixing Honda motorbikes for pocket-money. KELLEY PRICE talks winkles, Armani and family values with the managing director of Main- Tel.
IT'S obvious Tom Howson has always been a go-getter.
A former BT engineer, he set up in business by himself in the mid- 80s when the company was privatised.
"I was told there was no promotion for 10 years minimum," he says.
"I had a choice - either hang around there and walk in a dead man's shoes or grasp the nettle."
Of course, he chose the nettle. He set up his telecommunications company, Main-Tel, and did everything himself in those early days.
"I was a one man band, I had a drum on my back and cymbals between my legs," he laughs.
"I did Government projects over weekends while the offices were closed, getting up at 4am to be in London, on top of a working week.
"I've never been afraid to work."
And that's due in no small part to his upbringing in Thornaby, he believes.
His mother died when he was just 18 months old, and his father raised him alone.
The family was poor; his father would work double shifts from six in the morning to 10 at night.
Tom would get up at 4am and do a milk-round and paper-round before school, followed by a second paper round later in the day.
"It was us against the world, we did everything together," he says.
"We loved each other. "If he was in before me, he'd have my tea ready and vice versa.
"We had nothing. It teaches you values and respect for others.
"They were difficult times, but I wouldn't change anything because it's made me who I am today.
"Before I did something, dad used to tell me things like 'think how you'd feel if you were in the other person's shoes, and if you wouldn't like it - then don't do it'."
By the time he was a teenager, Tom had set up one or two money- spinning schemes.
He learned to work with motorbikes and would fix Honda 50s and 90s at the back of the streethouses in Thornaby for shift-workers that didn't have the time to do it themselves.
He also used to "pay a chap to go to Robin Hood's bay" to get winkles, which he would wash and bag.
A team of girls he'd recruited would go round the various Thornaby working men's clubs selling them.
By the time he was 14, and his father came to buy a house for them, Tom had amassed quite a lot in savings.
"The house cost Pounds 1,700, but the mortgage would have been too much for him.
"I'd saved Pounds 1,200, so I gave it to him.
"He thought I'd stolen it, and was going to march me to the police station," he laughs.
Now at 56, his company turned over Pounds 1.4m last year, and boasts a "who's who" client list from Armani to HMRC.
The company looks after Armani's UK head offices in Knightsbridge and Kensington and is rolling out further work for the fashion house over the next three years.
And on a word-of-mouth recommendation from Armani, the company has also secured another major fashion contract for US chain Tory Burch, as the women's clothing chain expands into Europe.
In fact, Main-Tel's finances are in such good order, that Tom's recently set up a scheme offering competitive loans to companies that want to upgrade their telecommunications. "We are making a lot of money, and I want to help the economy and at the same time offer my services and expand client base.
"All I keep hearing about is the poor North-east.
"Well let's do something about that.
"We want to go in as a one-stop shop, if you want IT, telephony, link-in with smart phones right across the board to give you total transparency, then come and talk to us." But surely there's some catch - instead of shouldering the risk for up-and-coming companies, why doesn't he just take the money and head for sunnier climes "What would I do " he asks. "I could take the money and move abroad, but there's only so long you can sit on a beach, or walk along a prom."
Achieving his objective of running a successful and profitable business is his proudest moment, he says, alongside creating jobs within the area and having a great team around him.
And his lowest point Losing his father five years ago, almost to the day.
"We were best friends," he says, "the bond we had was phenomenal. I lost my best friend.
"I've never forgotten where I've come from, and I never would."
FACTFILE NAME: Tom Howson. JOB: Managing director and founder of Thornaby telecommunications company Main-Tel.
LIVES: Thornaby with his wife, Margaret.
He also has two grown-up daughters and two grandchildren. HOBBIES: Swimming, and developing a four-acre property between Yarm and Thornaby. "It has a valley with a stream, and we're making an orchard. It's stunning," he says. BUSINESS MANTRA: "Be true to yourself, and be honest. I always tell it the way it is. If you give people the truth, at least they can deal with that."
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