In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest is Dave Gibson, Co-Founder & CEO of Blu Sky Chartered Accountants.
A key theme in this episode is how Dave owes his dynamic management style, not to a single source of inspiration, but to lessons learned at every juncture along his path – from observing the power in his father’s quiet authority to pioneering in the IT space, to navigating a series of positions at a wide range of companies across multiple sectors and geographies.
During his career, Dave has explored the world of contract consulting, all the while observing Managers whose styles ranged from bullying to empowering. All of the tools he acquired over the early years of his career lent themselves directly to the entrepreneurial chance Dave and his partner took in 2005, when they decided to establish Blu Sky.
In this episode, you will learn that the most powerful Managers depend foremost on clear communication, respect for people and an intuitive curiosity about whatever task is at hand. Dave will inspire you to speak up, raise your hand and look for the golden nuggets in whatever work experience you take on because, regardless of where we go, careers are built on the openness we bring and the knowledge we seek.
Key Takeaways from this episode with Dave Gibson
Dave talks about his multinational upbringing and the parents whose adventurous spirit and industriousness shaped his perspectives. He also shares thoughts on his educational experience (including the decision to forgo college) and awakening to the power of keen leadership styles (like that he witnessed in his father, who was a successful football coach).
From his first day in an office environment, Dave was completely engaged and excited. He loved every aspect of working in banking – from being in on the ground floor to the long days and teamwork. He valued his roles, however minor, for the value-add it brought to colleagues and customers. Promotions – and challenges – soon came his way.
When it became clear that rising through the ranks to take on a top position at the bank would be slow and likely frustrating, Dave changed course and onboarded new skills. He learned about computing and found work implementing systems, which was a gamechanger. He quickly picked up coding skills and – even more than the technical skills – found a passion for the strategic business aspects of working with clients.
IT as a Passport
His technical skills wound up placing Dave in close proximity to people in high-ranking roles at Gardner Merchant Ltd, exposing him to management styles and examples of high-octane leadership methods that have informed the rest of his career.
Dave hit his stride as a trouble-shooter and crisis manager of sorts at Gardner Merchant. Because of his versatility and people skills, he was assigned challenging tasks that showcased his ability to get the job done: He was asked to produce health and safety metrics in the wake of the tragic Piper Alpha offshore oil disaster in the North Sea that claimed the lives of 167 people, including a significant number of Gardner Merchant employees.
He also built out stock control and order processing systems under harsh conditions at a gas and oil site in Kazakhstan when tech applications were in their infancy. He took on a long-term assignment in Melbourne, where he was tasked with proving that the local FD had misallocated funds and establishing a new accounting control system for the Australian operation. He was part of a six-man team that won a £77m USD contract for camp management at Chek Lap Kok, an island off Hong Kong.
Points of Contact
Dave created his progress by looking for – and taking – opportunities. It’s not just about making noise, but about asking the right questions, being curious and inquisitive about how and where you can be of use. He also demonstrated resilience in the face of onsite challenges and ingenuity, where required, to get the job done.
Timing Is Everything
Change became appealing for several reasons, which prompted Dave to take on a series of contract consultative roles. At RAC he tailored technical interfaces and acted as an intermediary between senior management and their counterparts at customer organizations. When that contract had run its course, he jumped to Northern Electric, where he served as a Project Manager and Business Analyst. His roles in all instances developed because Dave leapt on opportunities to expand his portfolio of skills.
A stint at EDS wasn’t a career high point, with projects that were demoralising, under-resourced and unpleasant. It was, however, instructive as to what NOT to do as a Manager. And when the company became E.ON he did get a lot out of a 10-month assignment with a highly skilled, cohesive team whose management style enabled them to shine.
Blu Sky Chartered Accountants
With a certain amount of naivety, Dave decided to co-found his own business in 2005. The illness and death of his mother in 2006 inspired a commitment to building a team – colleagues that Dave could trust to have his back. That realisation has resulted today in a vibrant partnership and growing national business.
It’s critical to do your due diligence and determine that match-up of skill sets, temperament, goals, styles and levels of ambition.
Whether dealing internally or with clients, having a clear and transparent playing field is critical. Dave insists on straightforward communication among players at every level: What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Everything must have a defined jargon-free purpose.
Blu Sky’s hybrid work model was in play at the company well before pandemic upended traditional work conditions. They were early adopters, understanding the power of cloud-based computing and the remote options it opened up both for clients and workers alike.
Right on the heels of a recent strategy session to set a five-year agenda, Dave and his team have set ambitious goals for themselves but at the same time remain committed to growing the business right. They want to make sure that all stakeholders are satisfied, engaged and happy within the overall work environment. Equally, clients need to feel a sense of commitment and a healthy evolution of services.
More than anything else, Dave has derived satisfaction from people – those he has helped, those he has learned from, those who have contributed wisdom and humour all along the way. It hasn’t hurt that Blu Sky has been a national award-winner that fosters positive energy and motivation.
As he has always done, Dave encourages his employees to grab opportunities, collect experiences, learn from others (whether their management style is good or bad) and always, always to join in with conversations from a place of genuine curiosity.
“Treat people like people. Build them up and they will work hard for you.”
“There’s always a way and even if you can’t achieve perfection you can achieve something that is better than a risk to take. From a personal point of view, just try to be a little better tomorrow than you were today.”
“If you’re going to sit in a corner and not take opportunities, then you’re not really going to progress … The noisier you are the greater your chances – so long as you’re not getting on people’s nerves!”
“A bad manager will try and put you down, in which case try a new thing!”
“The ability to move from site to site and business to business (when doing contract work) can really help give you more experience and understanding.”
“You’re only going to get better if you’re playing a better team. It’s very true in business. You’re going to learn off good people.”
“To get the best out of people – particularly clients – you need to communicate properly.”
“If the client is remote, what does it matter where the employees are? It took time to germinate … But we’re a national business now with clients and employees nationally as well.”
“The way to (love what you’re doing) is to be interested in what you’re doing and how it fits into the service of everything else.”
“It’s okay not to know where you want to be. You just have to put yourself in the best position you can to take advantage of any opportunity that comes along. It’s all about communication skills rolled into commercial skills and an interest in what’s going on.”
About Blu Sky and Dave Gibson
First established in 2005, Blu Sky Chartered Accountants is a 16-strong, award winning team that provides a range of advisory, accounting and tax services to around 350 businesses across the UK. Organic growth has been delivered through excellent client service.
Blu Sky has a unique brand based on the mantra: We are a people business, not a numbers business. Dave’s role within the business has focused on business growth and development, development of the service portfolio, client relationship management and, of course, good financial and HR management.
About the host, Nicky Acuna Ocana
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Managing Director of Ambition UK, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.
If you're a Leader with Ambition from a professional services firm and would like to feature as a guest in a future podcast, please email:email@example.com.