Encourage an open discussion about feelings. Last year my company introduced the position of Mental Health Advocate in order for my employees to have a person to talk to when they are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. This has worked incredibly well and has made me realize over and over again how important it is to open up about it when you are feeling anxious.
As a part of my series about the the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing William Forshaw.
William is the CEO and Founder of the award-winning international luxury leather company Maxwell-Scott. He started the company in 2002 in London and has since expanded the business to sell worldwide with more than 200 products on offer. The brand’s leather goods are all handcrafted from Italian vegetable-tanned leather for the refined professional seeking timeless design and high-quality craftsmanship.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
18years ago I was made redundant from my first job after university in advertising so I had to come up with a new career path that I felt passionate about. Whilst in the midst of corporate London though, I had noticed that there was a gap in the market for high quality leather briefcases as several of my corporate colleagues carried plastic bags or poor-quality briefcases to work. So, it was this that sparked an idea.
Throughout my childhood my mother would travel to Italy frequently and bring back leather handbags to sell to her friends. Therefore, it only felt right to choose Italy as the place to manufacture exactly what I had in mind for my first product offering. With little expertise, but a significant sense of exactly the quality product I wanted, I searched tirelessly for the right factory, finally settling on a family-run factory in the heart of Tuscany.
In the beginning, I sold my briefcases where I had originally spotted the problem. I would sell in receptions and cafeterias or would hire a meeting room in the office buildings exactly where my target market worked day in day out. The success of the first two years operating under this method meant that, then, I had the money to expand to do exhibitions. This is where I found professionals with high disposable income and, as such, it felt the correct fit. It was hard, demanding work though as, at the peak, I did 50 shows a year with my wife, Charlotte.
In 2008, I taught myself how to build the very first website for Maxwell-Scott using only Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop. Initially, it was meant to be an online brochure for corporate clients however, within 18 months, I decided to take the whole business online and create a fully shoppable website. This has been incredibly successful for us and we now operate seven international websites and sell worldwide with an annual turnover of more than $3.6M per annum.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
To be honest, I have two small kids at home so I don’t really have much free time for reading. But spending time with my kids and seeing the world through their eyes is often the best medicine after a long day or during a stressful time. They ground me, they put things into perspective and they are the future of the business.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I think it’s only normal that the current situation makes us all feel uneasy. It’s changing so quickly, it’s unprecedented and we are all having to adapt our daily routines in a way that we would have never even thought about before. However, I firmly believe that there is something positive in any situation. My few reasons to be hopeful during this crisis are:
A new sense of community — Wherever you look people are stepping up to support the vulnerable in their community and to support one another. It’s beautiful to see and something that we haven’t really been witnessing in recent times as we all seemed to be very self-involved. Crisis times like this break those barrieres down and remind us all that together we are strong, and that there is a community to rely on.
A newfound simplicity — It feels a bit as if we are going back to the roots at the moment. With families being isolated at home time seems to slow down. Instead of rushing in after work and having a full social calendar, this is now the time to really reconnect with your loved ones. I love the extra playtime I have with my kids at the moment and I’ve noticed everybody seems to make an extra effort to stay connected — be it via phone, email or letter. The current crisis seemed to have reminded everybody how important real life relationships are.
A new way of doing things — As a business owner, my team and I have always had our marketing plan and customer communication down to a tee. However this new situation has forced us to adapt, to challenge the way we always approached things in the past and forced us to try out new things. And I’m so glad this happened. We’ve developed a new way of speaking to our Maxwell-Scott community; we’ve become more personal on social media and we’ve just generally opened up more. Thankfully, that seems to be something that really works — and personally I would have been hesitant to try to this extent if times were normal.
Millions of pets are loving it — If you are working from home right now, and everything seems a bit much, remember this one thing: House pets are currently loving all the extra attention. My team is working remotely too and every morning we have a company skype conference. The amount of happy dogs, cats and even bunnies that are seen in the background of that is just adorable and lifts everybody’s spirits. I have two dogs myself and they have been loving all the extra attention. Their tails have not stopped wagging.
Finally, there really is light at the end of the tunnel — This will pass. Recent news from Wuhan, the former epicentre of the outbreak. are showing us that the virus spread can be stopped and things can return back to normal. Their local government is looking into lifting the restrictions and lots of industry workers have already been able to resume production. I’m hoping that we have a similar experience in a few weeks or months.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Step 1: Encourage an open discussion about feelings. Last year my company introduced the position of Mental Health Advocate in order for my employees to have a person to talk to when they are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. This has worked incredibly well and has made me realize over and over again how important it is to open up about it when you are feeling anxious.
Step 2: Share positive news. Everywhere you turn at the moment you hear very negative stories. But it’s important for everybody’s mental health to still acknowledge that there is positivity out there. People are coming together and communities are stepping up. It is crucial to realize that. There really is a good to be found even in the darkest of times.
Step 3: Lessen their worries if you can. As a business owner I quickly realized that a lot of anxiety my staff might be feeling is due to the quickly changing situation and potential uncertainty about jobs. So I’m trying to be as transparent and reassuring as possible to lessen their anxiety. By being very proactive in updating them about how the business is doing and what I’m doing to make sure that everybody’s job is safe, I’m hoping I can protect their mental health during this difficult time.
Step 4: Break a difficult situation down into small steps. Anxiety all too often stems from the feeling of not being in control of a situation anymore. Maxwell-Scott’s Mental Health Advocate Holly suggests that you should focus on some realistic and small steps when you are feeling like you are losing control. By breaking a situation down into small, manageable steps it becomes less daunting and that alone can help lessen the feeling of anxiety.
Step 5: Focus of positive distraction. Negative or anxious feelings can very easily turn into a toxic downward spiral and it’s important to disrupt that thought process with positivity. At Maxwell-Scott, we are encouraging our employees to find that feel-good feeling by creating their own feel-good playlists. We’ve also started our own book club that we are sharing on social media to reach other people who are currently in need of a distraction.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
If you are struggling with everything that is going on I can really recommend the app Headspace. It offers guided meditation for beginners as well as more advanced classes if mediation is nothing new to you. It also offers bedtime stories that are designed to calm you down and will help you to focus on something else other than your worries.
I also really like the advice Holly, Maxwell-Scott’s Mental Health Advocate, has given a staff member recently: When you are having a panic attack or if you are really struggling, try focusing on things that you can hear, smell, see and feel in that moment. It really helps to refocus your thoughts.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My favourite life lesson quote is ‘Fall down seven times, get back up eight times’. I started my company after I was made redundant from my advertising job in London. I had very little savings and I really wasn’t sure what to do next. However I decided to seize the opportunity and create the company even though it was risky and I was not in the best position. Fast-forward 18 years and we are now selling worldwide and I have a team of 10 permanent members of staff. It’s all about not losing the will to succeed — even when you’ve been dealt a bad hand in that moment.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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’ve always been very passionate about sustainability within the fashion industry. From the beginning I tried to build my brand with an environmental ethos at heart. We are constantly looking into improving our supply chain, packaging or even paper waste at our HQ but I’d love to find a way to encourage other companies to do the same. We recently launched a sustainability promise with environmental-friendly goals that we as a company are trying to achieve within the next few years. It would be amazing if other companies in the fashion industry would follow suit in order to decrease the industry’s devastating effect on the environment.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!