Interviews

Utilising a military background to build a fast-growing company

7 min read

01 September 2015

From an enterprise run out of his own home for more than a year, John Loveday's Spearhead Compliance Training is generating some serious attention and is evidence of what can be done after a career in the armed forces comes to an end.

The idea to launch a training company came to John Loveday after a stint with Pertemps People Development Group, where he went on various courses. He wanted to provide other military personnel with the chance to gain qualifications through his business, and Spearhead Compliance Training was the result of this lightbulb moment.

Alongside co-founder Paul Hood – also with a background in the armed forces – Loveday started working from a room in his house for 14 months. It was, he said, fairly tough going with just “a laptop, printer and some low-budget business cards”. They bootstrapped to begin with, using their own funds and resources, prioritising “differentiating value proposition” and “ensuring our clients were happy and getting the service they deserved”.

Hours were long, as they worked “around the clock”, with Hood and Loveday forgoing salaries during the early months to reinvest everything back into the business. They developed courses covering many areas – including health and safety, food and fire safety as well as care sector offerings.

At an early stage, the businessmen realised they needed to figure out how to differentiate themselves from competition, as it’s particularly hard to do in the training industry. A focus from the off was making the business stand out in terms of standards of delivery, and all trainers selected are “experts in their fields” and undergo a stringent selection process. The rigorous and disciplined approach, helped in no small part by their military backgrounds, has paid off in spades.

A successful application to accelerator Entrepreneurial Spark gave the business the push it needed, with RBS and NatWest giving the duo “great guidance” as part of the programme. Loveday said the benefit of the initiative is its focus on the entrepreneur – “it develops your mindsets and skills which in turn grow the business”. The mix of firms taken on by the programme was also appealing, he said, as it gave Loveday the reassurance that “it welcomes any business”. As a result it “enabled me to move from being a trainer trying to run a training company to a businessman running a training company”.

Read more about the coming together of the military and business:

Spearhead now has 125 trainers nationwide, with numerous big organisations as clients and a projected turnover of £1.9m in the next year, with 76 per cent profit margins. It has also caught the attention of some notable entrepreneurs. Poundland founder Steve Smith “has been a huge help as a mentor and now as a business partner”, with Loveday noting: “His experience is priceless and so is his contact list”.

The positive experience Spearhead has had in terms of support from initiatives and organisations has meant Loveday is enthusiastic about other growing businesses following this route to success. “In our first 14 months we were adamant we would do it all alone, but get a mentor and get help,” he advised. “If you can gain partnerships then do it – they build empires.” He pointed to three of Spearhead’s biggest contracts, which he doesn’t feel the company could have delivered without partnering with the organisations they had done in the past.

When Smith joined the Spearhead board, the company was able to secure a significant national contract with one of the UK’s largest retailers – qualifying over 8,500 staff from 106 stores over five years.

As someone who had never sought out becoming an entrepreneur – “my life from a young age was focused around the army and boxing, and I joined the army at 16” – Loveday has assumed the role with confidence and aplomb. Does he feel the characteristics developed as a soldier have stood him in good stead as a business owner?

The answer, from his perspective is a resounding yes. “The army gives you great transferrable skills and confidence. It teaches you how to be a great leader and when all odds are against you, how to inspire you team to move forward and follow you into the scariest situations.”

He goes so far as to say the fundamental military ethos of “integrity and selfless commitment” has been instilled to form the core value within his and Hood’s business model. “The army made me who I am today and gave me the confidence to sit in front of 200 people and deliver a presentation, or sit with high net worth businessmen and women and pitch our services,” he added.

In terms of future prospects, aims are set high. “We hope to be one of, if not the UK’s leading training provider within four years and look at branching out internationally,” he outlined. Having learnt a lot over the past couple of years, he now knows the value of key partnerships leading to success here.

“A strong team and great partnerships will accelerate your business,” he agreed, and with the former CEO of Jessops, Rod Tompsett, now serving as a business advisor for the company, it looks as if Loveday is already on his way to building up the Spearhead network.