A lesson in how to grab life with both hands


Attendees at our September InspiringBusiness19 seminar were captivated by speaker Leon McQuade’s talk about his journey to business success.

Here we look at the highlights of what the IT innovator – and founder of Hull’s chapter of a nationwide charity which aims to reduce suicide rates in men all over the UK – had to say to his audience.

Focusing on family values

Life may have had some ups and downs but it has certainly never been dull for Leon McQuade, co-founder of pioneering IT company ThinkCloud, and trustee of the local branch of the remarkable charity, Andy’s Man Club.

Now a proud husband and father-of-two, Leon reflected on his experiences at both a business and personal level, focusing on a series of ‘epiphanies’ he has had throughout his career which have shaped him as a businessman, friend, and family man.

He recalled the strong relationship he had with his entrepreneurial father who, despite having a varied career that engendered a swift series of house and school moves for the young Leon and his siblings, always prized the time he spent with his children and taught him about the importance of family values.

“By the time I was 13 I’d attended 10 different schools and had lived all over Yorkshire. I had a strong desire to be accepted by my peers and not rejected,” said Leon. “My parents were publicans for a time, and always worked very hard. Despite that Dad made sure he saw us all every day, and would take us to and from school. I lost my dad five years ago, and I miss him greatly.”

As a young man, Leon’s drive to be liked, coupled with a fear of losing friends that made him over-protective of them, almost cost him his freedom after he became involved in a fight at a stag do. He explained: “I was defending a mate who had been kicked unconscious, but was deemed in court to have used excessive force and ended up with a suspended sentence. I could’ve gone to prison.”

This brush with the law provided a major wake-up call and from that moment he vowed to stay clear of bad influences and always put himself and his family first. And with this new focus, he embarked on his career as a forward-thinking businessman, setting up his own double glazing company. Key roles in other people’s companies followed and, after developing an enviable track record for giving turnover figures a stratospheric boost, Leon branched out once again as a business-owner.

“My wife Zoe and I had by this time had our first child and I realised I wanted my business to work around my family,” he said. “As someone who has dyslexia, I was frustrated with the communication and collaboration challenges between different IT systems, and to cut a long story short I ended up forming my own tech company to create a solution!”

Some believed his vision simply wasn’t possible but with his signature tenacity, Leon proved them all wrong, and he is currently co-owner of this pioneering enterprise, called ThinkCloud, which is based at The Deeps Business Centre.

Ain’t no mountain high enough

Rugby has played a large part in Leon’s life since his schooldays, and he was devastated when his former coach took his own life without word or warning. “One man takes his own life every two hours in the UK,” he said. “Andy’s Man Club is a national charity that creates a space, physical and online, where men can talk without judgement. A lot of guys find it hard to reach out to others, and this is a way of being there for them. I wanted to get involved, and offered to set up a branch of the club in Hull.

“I wasn’t sure at first if anyone would even come! But they did, and now it’s the biggest Andy’s Man Club in the country. One of my rugby friends runs the Hull club now, and I’m a trustee of the charity.”

Leon was instrumental in the club achieving charitable status, and he committed himself to a major challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro to raise funds for the worthy cause. What he didn’t realise was that the expedition would prove pivotal to his own life goals.

“I went out there in the middle of a business acquisition, not knowing what I’d come back to. Instead of worrying about that, which was beyond my control, I focused on what I could control – which was reaching the top of the mountain,” he said.

“I listened to the advice from our guides, who kept telling us to go ‘slowly, slowly’ in Swahili. Faster is not always best, especially when you’re dealing with your body’s adaptation to altitude, and going so slowly and staying focused on my goal meant I ended up being the first in the group to summit.

“Climbing a mountain is a popular analogy for life in general, and it definitely applies to business. Teamwork, vision, focus, belief, facing your fears and accepting that doing what you love is scary, these emotions and skills are all amplified when you take on a momentous challenge.”

And the expedition taught Leon that, while his business was hugely important to him, his family was what really made him tick. He added: “I feel like I’ve reached an ideal work-life balance now. Money and success are not my main drivers, spending time with our kids is what matters most.”

The InspiringBusiness2019 campaign

First launched in 2017 as James Legal’s way of contributing to the vibrancy of the Yorkshire and Humber corporate community, our InspiringBusiness series has so far brought together hundreds of professional people to hear the personal stories of some of the region’s most inspiring ones, as well as offering one lucky business per year a support package worth over £20,000.

If your business is doing something special and you’d like to enter this year’s competition, request your application form from inspiringbusiness@jameslegal.co.uk

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