“Is it weird being back?”
That’s the question pretty much everyone has asked me since I returned to Green Tomato Cars (‘GTC’) as MD in October last year. Having co-founded GTC, London’s environmentally friendly car service in 2006, I stayed at the helm through sustained growth before selling in 2010 (to international transport group, Transdev), and then until leaving for Washington DC to set up the US sister business in 2013. I returned to London in 2015 to work as a consultant to various start-ups, SMEs and PLCs. “How come you went back?” is almost as common.
To answer the second question first – it was all about timing. Serendipity. I was thinking about my next project and emailed a few business contacts to ask whether they needed my consultancy services. Amidst the polite not-just-now and let-me-think-about-its, Julia Thomas, then MD at GTC, replied to ask if I could meet for a coffee. I knew Julia well, especially since she had led Transdev’s acquisition of GTC seven years earlier.
With more than a hint of history repeating itself, Julia informed me that she was relocating to the US and would I be interested in taking over again at GTC. There were plenty of talented staff on board, but my return would be a boost for the business in its own right – her kind words, not mine – and would mean it wasn’t necessary to back-fill another senior role. Long story short, I accepted her offer and returned the week after my 41st birthday, almost 13 years to the day after I’d first sat down with Tom Pakenham to plan the launch of the business.
Steve Jobs | Copyright © 2018 Vox Media
Steve Jobs, Jose Mourinho and me
As to the weirdness of returning to the helm of an organisation, I’m one of relatively few who have had the experience. Obvious parallels can be drawn with Steve Jobs and Jose Mourinho, although those comparisons don’t bare serious scrutiny – I left GTC under much better terms than they left Apple and Chelsea.
But I suspect our experience of returning would have been similar in many ways. Returning to GTC, I found three things had changed significantly – the industry, the business, and myself.
When I left GTC London in 2013, Uber was barely launching in the UK. By my return, it had tornadoed its way through a business lifecycle including novelty, unparalleled expansion, multiple PR tsunami and having its operating licence withdrawn.
As for the GTC business, and not least because of Uber’s dramatic rise and [time will tell], it had gone through contraction, attempted re-invention (for example, we now offer a business taxi service), stabilisation and, in recent months, sustained improvement and growth.
As for me, in 2013 the only business I’d ever known was GTC – from pure start-up to established player; learning how to manage on the job; and never with the opportunity to view the business from the outside. Over four years later, I was an entirely different person to the naïve ex-lawyer who started GTC on a shoe-string. As well as the experience of building businesses and consulting in various sectors, I now had the life experience of building a family and relocating to the US and back. Critically, I had also enjoyed learning business theory through hundreds of hours of reading, podcasts and great chats with mentors, peers and experts I have been lucky to meet over the years.
So, is it weird being back? Not at all. The first five minutes, perhaps. Plenty of friendly faces; sitting in the same chair in the same office with the same view; a business card with a new design but all the same details as before. But that aside, it’s more like going into a new business than the old one.
New me, new challenges, new opportunities.
Jonny Goldstone MD and Original Co-Founder of Green Tomato Cars | 2018
Back to our roots
Ironically, the main business lesson I’ve learned over the years is to focus 100% on what makes your business special. For GTC, that means going back to our roots, to redouble our efforts to differentiate ourselves from Uber and the other private hire operators: to renew our commitment to using the most environmentally friendly cars available; to ensure we’re treating our staff and drivers as well as possible, so they know we care about them as much as the customers who sit in the back of the car; and to play our part in the local community, and London more broadly.
Not just returning to the company, but returning to the founding principles of Green Tomato Cars, to make the business better and stronger.
Going back, to the future.
Jonny Goldstone MD and Original Co-Founder of Green Tomato Cars | 2012
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