Phil Spencer: “Planning succeeds where plans fail!”

Communicate clearly — ‘ABC’ (Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity). Clear information is easier to understand and follow. It is important to avoid ‘padding’ out instructions with superfluous information that can cloud-out the key points being conveyed. Less is more! Lessons identified. Once a situation has passed it is important to capture the key lessons while they are still fresh in […]

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Communicate clearly — ‘ABC’ (Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity). Clear information is easier to understand and follow. It is important to avoid ‘padding’ out instructions with superfluous information that can cloud-out the key points being conveyed. Less is more!

Lessons identified. Once a situation has passed it is important to capture the key lessons while they are still fresh in everyone’s mind. This facilitates the accumulation of corporate knowledge, enabling any similar situation in the future to be managed more effectively.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Philip Spencer.

Phil has developed a broad wealth of experience in gemstones, jewelry, financial services, and the armed forces. Graduating from University College London in 2003, he subsequently served as a Commissioned Officer in the Royal Navy, prior to working in the financial services sector as a Stock Broker and Wealth Manager, both in the City of London and Dubai. Phil founded LDE in 2013 out of a lifelong passion for precious gems and jewelry and a desire to build an ethical and sustainable business model from the ground up.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born and raised in Pinner, west London in the 1980s/90s. I was educated at Reddiford Prep School, Buckingham College Senior School and St Dominic’s VI Form before reading Geography at University College London. As a child I was always a creative thinker — humanities were my subjects of choice at school and preferred them to maths and science.

I loved the outdoors and from an early age I was into sailing, horse riding and walking and I joined the Cadet Forces at an early age. I was also fascinated by gemstones and jewelry, a theme that was to return later in life!

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I am the founder and Managing Director of London DE Fine Jewellery, a Hatton Garden-based bespoke jeweller specializing in coloured gemstones. I combine this with my part-time role as an Amphibious Warfare Officer in the Maritime Reserve.

I live in south London with my wife and 3-month old daughter. We enjoy country walks, travel and any activity on the water!

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I served as a Commissioned Officer in the Royal Navy from 2005 to 2010. This entailed a year at Britannia Royal Naval College, followed by Fleet training in a Frigate and an Aircraft Carrier, prior to professional training at Maritime Warfare School, HMS Collingwood, and service with the Fishery Protection Squadron and another Frigate.

After a four-year hiatus, I re-joined the military as an Amphibious Warfare Officer in the Royal Naval Reserve in 2014, where I continue to serve on a part-time basis.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

Throughout my time in the military I had the privilege of meeting some very interesting veterans and senior officers. On one occasion, in 2007, I hosted Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach for a Falklands War 25th anniversary dinner.

Admiral Leach, after whom Royal Navy Headquarters in Portsmouth is now named, was a World War II veteran who later served as First Sea Lord (the professional head of the Royal Navy) at the time of the South Atlantic campaign to regain sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Dependencies from the Argentine Junta.

Admiral Leach was an inspirational man yet, despite his incredible achievements and service, he was very humble, approachable, and keen to engage with young officers many decades his junior. I learnt a great deal from him, and I was saddened to hear of his passing in 2011.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

One of the best stories of heroism I ever encountered was that of a young Royal Marine serving with 42 Commando. Whilst on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan he triggered an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) which amputated one of his legs below the knee. For most people this would be more than enough for them to accept medical discharge and seek an alternative professional.

However, this individual determined that he would stay in the Royal Marines and persuaded them to allow him to re-join his unit if he could demonstrate that he was still able to pass the gruelling Commando Tests, with a prosthetic limb. He duly did so and returned with his unit to Afghanistan several times!

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

I regard ‘heroes’ as ordinary people who do extraordinary things! They tend to be selfless and modest about their achievements. I think the term is sometimes used flippantly but in some instances it is the only way to describe the actions of a very few brave individuals.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

The military has a long tradition of training and developing “CLM” (Command, Leadership and Management) and this has a positive bearing on those leaving the armed forces in order to embark upon business careers.

Equally important, if slightly less tangible, are the qualities of determination, self-discipline and courage that embody the military and are important when it comes to running a business and managing people.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Along my journey there have been many people, civilian and military, including colleagues, superiors, teachers, instructors, friends and family, who have helped me. I feel it would be unfair to single out any one person in particular.

However, I have always regarded it as essential to both give and receive advice, and in some cases constructive criticism. During my military career I can recall occasions on which I felt I was being treated quite harshly but upon reflection these have helped to mould me and develop my character.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

I define a crisis as a serious situation that develops suddenly and has an as yet unforeseen and potentially dangerous or undesirable outcome.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

It is impossible to prepare for every conceivable eventuality. As General Eisenhower once said “planning succeeds where plans fail!” I think flexibility is the key to good planning. I have seen people attempt to stick to a rigid plan despite the situation around them clearly demanding a radical re-think.

Responding to changing conditions and circumstances, listening to the information you are receiving and filtering it for the essential components that will enable you to exercise your judgement to best effect will lead to the most advantageous outcome possible.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

The first response should always be to listen, take in the available information and remain calm. Knee-jerk reactions seldom result in sound judgements and actions!

Once the available information has been received it is important to give people some initial activity to focus their attention upon, while the leadership conduct more detailed planning and devise a thorough plan to navigate through the crisis.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

It goes without saying that a calm, cool head is essential! Listening and communication skills are also vital, to enable the maximum brainpower of your team to be utilized and tasks delegated as effectively and efficiently as possible.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Neil Armstrong is one person who immediately springs to mind. There were several examples of Armstrong’s actions as an astronaut that saved his craft from certain destruction. On one occasion in particular he managed to steady a module that was spinning out of control by recalling a sequence of actions whilst being subjected to a centrifugal force that would render most people almost instantly unconscious.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

When I left the full-time military I initially went into financial services. However, this was shortly after the global financial crisis and many businesses in that sector were struggling to survive.

Consequently, I found myself being made redundant from two businesses one after the other. These setbacks, although out of my control, forced me to re-think and re-assess what I wanted from my career.

It was at this point, whilst a spectator at the London 2012 Olympics, that I came upon the idea of building a brand around the essence of London. This was the genesis of my business, London DE, formed in 2013 from the fusion of the London hallmark of quality and my personal interest and connections within the colored gemstone sphere.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Keep calm and carry on!

The most dangerous thing anyone can do in a crisis is panic — a natural human reaction to a situation we feel we cannot control. A panicking person is a danger (either literally or figuratively) to themselves and others.

2. Listen, listen, listen!

As the saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk! I think many people form the mistaken conclusion that noise equals activity and they feel they must be heard immediately if they are to make a difference. The problem with this is it can cause confusion within a team if they are receiving too many instructions and too much information to process.

3. Dwell a pause

The human brain is highly adept at digesting information and problem solving but it takes time! When decisions are rushed, they are often poorly thought through and may lead to unintended consequences, so it is vital that instructions are delivered and a timely, but considered, manner.

4. Communicate clearly — ‘ABC’ (Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity)

Clear information is easier to understand and follow. It is important to avoid ‘padding’ out instructions with superfluous information that can cloud-out the key points being conveyed. Less is more!

5. Lessons identified

Once a situation has passed it is important to capture the key lessons while they are still fresh in everyone’s mind. This facilitates the accumulation of corporate knowledge, enabling any similar situation in the future to be managed more effectively.

Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to extend a movement that already exists — “Fairtrade.” Whilst many commodities, including gold, have now come under the Fairtrade principle, gemstones and coloured gemstones have yet to do so.

Ethics, transparency and responsible sourcing are the cornerstones of what we do, and I would like to see these enshrined throughout our industry.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Richard Branson is the business leader that has inspired me the most over the years and I would love to have a private audience with him. In his own words, Branson has tried to inject a sense of ‘fun’ in all of his business undertakings, whilst challenging some of the world’s largest monopolies from the aviation, communications, music, retail and many other industries.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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