I wrote this little biography for more than one reason. Firstly I wanted to document my journey for my own sake, because it’s easy to forget sometimes where you started and how far you’ve come whilst still focussing on all the stuff you still want to achieve… It’s also quite cathartic.
Until I was 21 I thought life was a breeze. I had a strong family unit with my Mom, Dad and sister. I had lots of friends and a huge extended family. I was always successful at school and went to the University of Liverpool where I graduated with an honours degree in History and Politics. I represented the West Midlands at football, had trials for various football clubs; represented Warwickshire at Cricket and generally had ‘a ball’.
On March 17th 1984, St Patrick’s Day, I was watching England play Ireland at rugby at my house in Toxteth, Liverpool when the police knocked on the door to tell me my father had died. It was 2 months before my finals. I queued at the local phone box to ring home; the number was engaged. It took me hours to get through. Bizarrely, the first question I asked was, ‘The police just told me Dad has died. Is it true?’ A friend drove up to collect me and took me back home that night. My family and I were devastated and in shock. He was 46. The church was packed. My Mom used to joke my Dad lived in other people’s houses. One of his friends ‘The policeman from out the back’ and his colleague arrived to give him a police escort on their motorbikes from the church to the crematorium.
After the funeral I was aware I had a Mom and sister to look after and still had to study. Life was a blur. To this day I don’t know how I managed to concentrate, focus and pass with honours and a 2.1. Possibly because Dad had always taught me ‘Never to quit’. He’d always been so proud of me as the first from my family to go to University and couldn’t wait for my graduation day. The pressure not to fail was like nothing I have felt before or since. His death was my first experience of life kicking you in the teeth and is probably something I have never truly recovered from. A few months later my girlfriend of 4 years and the first ‘love of my life’ left me for another man which at the time appeared almost incidental.
Overall the next 18 years or so were a breeze again: I lived and worked in Denmark; Became a Graduate trainee at the ‘Royal’ Insurance in London; Had a company car at 21, a Company Mortgage at 4% when interest rates were 14%; Studied to get a degree in marketing and then got my then dream job working for the top advertising and marketing consultancy in the City, The Moorgate Group.
I was responsible for ‘Chase the Best Mortgage’ for Chase Manhattan and managed Multi Million Pound accounts for HSBC, Aetna and Lloyds TSB delivering Brand, TV, Radio, Press, Events, PR, ‘Brochure bashing’ and Direct Mail integrated campaigns.
I met my wife there before leaving to set up my own business PAR plc at age 26. A Direct Marketing Agency with clients like Amstrad (a supplier to Alan Sugar for 4 years – there’s a learning curve) NCR, Compaq and Kodak. We created leading edge bespoke inbound and outbound marketing products way ahead of their time. We discovered with a minimum of 25% paid up shares and 50,000 issued you could become a plc so the 3 directors (I was one) put in £5,000 each and there we were, directors of a plc.
5 years on, a boardroom battle won and with business acumen; mainly thanks to Bob Townsend’s ‘Further Up the Organisation’ and a basically vertical learning curve, the 2 remaining directors (me included) sold the business in 1992 to a US firm based in Detroit.
Lara was born in 1990 and Peter in 1992. Their births were 2 of the 4 best days of my life and the subsequent time we have spent together has been priceless.
In 1994 I spent many days travelling the USA and Europe working on Predictive Modelling projects for the likes of GM, Amex, Esso and Microsoft. This was cutting edge stuff. You know the routine if you’ve done it before: plane, taxi, hotel, meeting, taxi, plane, home… Then you realise that it wasn’t worth it. Time with my children was priceless as was their quality of life.
We moved to the Midlands in 1995 to try and achieve that quality of life and bought a beautiful home in a picturesque Worcestershire village with a great local school. After my 3 year earn out, I had decided to leave and start my own business again; a Direct Marketing Consultancy called AIM. My office was a converted barn complex in the picturesque Teme Valley and clients swiftly followed, along with the 3rd greatest day of my life with the birth of Sam (That’s 3 equally good days, NOT a ranking Sam).
Clients included Computacenter, IBM Worldwide and Hewlett-Packard but much of my time was joyously spent taking the kids to nursery (Tiblands Nursery school which was part of a working farm. Idyllic.) and primary school, spending time with them, having fun. Professionally, I was delivering some state of the art projects and personally, I was having a fantastic time with my family.
In 1996 I set up an Internet Company called AIM Internet, as a separate entity, to take advantage of the internet opportunity. This was rapidly followed by the the 4th equal best day of my life; the birth of one of my 4 favourite children, Ella in 1997. (OK Ella? Ah, the politics of being a parent.)
Looking back, I was really able to put the children first; enjoy a fantastic quality of life and run my own business just 4 minutes down the road.
In hindsight, I still can’t believe I had an office there with those views. We had wonderful times playing in the garden and around the house – camp fires in the garden; indoor winter picnics, slip ‘n’ slide down the slope. We had lots of friends and many more good times.
By then I had become one of the world’s first Chartered Marketers and got an MBA from Aston University. ( 2 evenings a week).
Then came the 2nd significant kick in the teeth. I was in the process of merging my business, AIM (fortunately not AIM Internet), with 2 others to work on a worldwide risk management project for IBM. The sale was to Martin Sorrell at WPP in 1999/2000. The Internet bubble burst on March 10th 2000, the day Martin Sorrell was due to sign the contract. In the preceeding 12 months the other 2 businesses had effectively folded due to concentrating on the deal, only being held up by the other business. I had started to borrow to ‘protect the deal’, do work at cost for the other 2 businesses to keep them going and generally to keep their staff as well as my staff in a job. I won an £11k a month consultancy project with Xerox and it basically kept the other 2 businesses going. The WPP deal fell through and I chose to re-mortgage my house to pay off creditors instead of hiding behind the protection of limited liability. My dot com shares had fallen through the floor but I refused to quit and go into liquidation. My suppliers and staff had families to support too and I wasn’t prepared to let them down.
Next, my wife ‘fell out of love with me’, although I am sure the debts had something to do with it, and we divorced. We sold the house and I remember the day she drove off from the house with the 4 kids and 4 cats in our Shogun like it was yesterday. I was gutted.
My mind drifted back to my Dad. I swear to God I heard him say ‘Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start again’. So I did.
I was left with nothing except a small regular income from AIM Internet. I saw the kids every weekend whilst living with my mother. From the kids’ perspective it was one of the best things I ever did. For 12 months we spent every weekend with my Mom, my sister’s family, including her husband and their 4 children, and had plenty of wonderful times that year. In the week I was working in London on 2 Consultancy Projects and saving like mad whilst the kids were with their Mom. – I had school fees and maintenance to pay too.
AIM Internet was a growing steady source of income, my Mom helped in the business and I picked up various Consultancy Projects In London and built from there. The next 7 years were again a breeze. I ended up working for our biggest client for share options and receiving a good income; Spent 3/4 days a week working in London and weekends with the kids. More brilliant times followed. I became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a Fellow of the Institute of Direct Marketing. AIM Internet was a good solid business in the background and Mortgage Brain was a great company to work for as it was so pivotal to the mortgage sector. A lot of the learnings were passed across to AIM Internet.
A significant moment came in 2008 when I climbed Kilimanjaro with 7 friends. I had prepared well, could swim for 2 hours at a swift pace comfortably non-stop. I knew I was fit. Climbing Kilimanjaro is actually an ‘altitude lottery’. No one seems to know why you could climb it one year without an issue and fail the next due to altitude sickness and the famous ‘wall’. On summit night we all started off – tiny steps at a time. Half way up I hit the ‘wall’. It was like nothing I have ever known. I could walk for 10 paces and would then keel over on my sticks for about a minute recovering. ‘Good Luck’ the Guide took the others on leaving me with the other 2 Guides, Mwamba and Jamail, because he knew I wouldn’t get to the top. Everyone thought I’d make it to the 1st Peak, Gilliman’s, and then quit on the next hour and a half hour climb to the top Peak at Uhuru. Little did we all know…
It’s disconcerting battling altitude sickness whilst climbing Kilimanjaro with people being carried back down in wooden wheelbarrows in a very distressed state. I could see the top of Gilliman’s Peak and was sitting on a rock gasping for breath. A man and his wife walked up and passed me. ‘Seemed like a good idea at the time,‘ I joked. He put his hand on my shoulder smiled and walked past. I felt resurgent and determined. I don’t know why.
The Guides kept telling me to stop; They were carrying my rucksack; My water had frozen and I could hardly breathe. I kept saying ‘I haven’t been sick yet and I look Ok, don’t I?’ to Mwamba and Jamail. The weather was coming in, sleet, and visibility was poor.
I got to the top of Gilliman’s peak after 3 hours and the guides told me to stop. I didn’t… Wouldn’t… Couldn’t…
2 hours of 10 paces and 20 seconds rests later and I had made it to the top. I met the others on their way back and most of them came back with me. A big commitment from those that did considering that hey were all physically exhausted.
Altitude sickness is horrific and debilitating, I was beyond physical exhaustion. For 4 hours I was in a bizarre state where my mind had completely taken over my body. I got to the top through nothing but willpower and my parents and kids voices telling me not to quit. It was a surreal state to be in.
Good Luck told me I was a very brave man at the top; My friend Tim said ‘Unbelievable. You can do anything after this.’ I walked slowly with severe chest pains from Uhuru to Gilliman’s. Mwamba and Jamail then frogmarched me down the mountain. 10 chunks of 100 paces – everyone else was practically skiing down the scree as it melted. After each 100 paces I lay down for a rest… I became sleepy but recovered very quickly. All the guides came out of base camp to carry/drag me about 500 yards into camp on their shoulders. They then danced around chanting tribal songs. Good luck told me that they were saying that I was a hero for going through what I went through and beating Kili. (By the way, you can only call it Kili after you’ve climbed it. If you haven’t it’s Kilimanjaro.)
Good Luck said ‘We can take you down in a wheelbarrow or you can walk…’
2 hours later I did a 5 hour walk down the mountain with no problem at all. I was as right as rain. As Mom and Dad said: ‘Never Never Quit.’ After that I genuinely feel I have the resolution and determination to achieve anything. There is nothing I can’t overcome. There’s a big chunk of me on Kilimanjaro and I’m not going back for it.
2009 gave me my 3rd major kick in the teeth. My Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumour in November 2008 and was given 12-18 months to live. My sister and I did everything we could to keep her alive and the sense of helplessness as the tumour ripped her life away from her was devastating – I couldn’t do anything… My sister looked after her in the week and me and the kids took over at weekends. I used my holiday entitlement to take her to hospital every few weeks. We tried to spend as much time with her as we could taking her out in her wheelchair as often as we could. I used to lie on the sofa with my head on her lap, talking and talking whilst she still could.
When it got to the point that me and the kids had to carry her everywhere, we put her into the nursing home she’d worked at for the previous 10 years. Her friends there doted on her, gave her the best room in the place. No one has ever got better care nor will do so again; they were her former colleagues, good friends and they genuinely adored her.
Visitors were endless. Mom thanked me for taking the day to day stress of walking and eating etc. off her. She was very proud, fiercely independent and, as you can imagine, she hated relying on us all. I used to go and stay overnight in the spare bed her friends had put in there for us. For the last 2 weeks she was unconscious. I endlessly played Connect 4 on my phone for some reason. Unlike with my Dad everything had been said that needed to be said. It made me realise that even though I lost Dad suddenly, he knew; we both knew; you just know. Mom died on November 16th 2009, 3 weeks after being admitted (She was on morphine for the last two weeks). When we got the call to get by her bedside on Sunday morning, metaphorically speaking, you couldn’t get in the huge room she was in for all her family and friends. Strangely, that was positive occasion… I think everyone was relieved that Mom’s suffering was over I think… but she fought and fought all day.
She kept fighting… wouldn’t quit. Over night Lara, myself and my sister agreed a rota. She died to ‘Lost’ by Michael Buble, her favourite artist, whilst holding Lara’s hand. Rainbows were always symbolic, especially during her fight to live. ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ became her song, especially fitting as one of the only videos she had at her house was ‘The Wizard of Oz’, we watched it countless times with her. On the day of the funeral there was genuinely the biggest, strongest rainbow you’ve ever seen and the large Church was packed, just like for my Dad. As she told me when she was first diagnosed, she’d gone to live with my Dad.
Peter and I spoke, Lara sang ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ and ‘Ave Maria’. It was the most personal, intimate, warm funeral I’ve been to. Everyone said so.
I guess, that was my kids 2nd kick in the teeth after my divorce. They worshipped her and still do.
Mind you, as Peter said, compared to others I’ve been quite lucky. He worked in a Childrens’ Hospice before he went off to St Andrew’s University to study medicine. That’s perspective.
AIM Internet, however, has continued to thrive, delivering marketing projects for SME’s and entrepreneurs. My business partner Sarah and I are a strong team and we both compliment each other and work well together. In July 2012 having successfully supported households and funding the kids’ education through being in the ‘zone of competence’ I was in. Earning six figures, I decided to leave Mortgage Brain to focus on AIM Internet and follow my passion. In the first 9 months we achieved 75% growth over the previous year. By 2014 Sales had trebled
After 29 years of working at the sharp end of marketing I’ve finally discovered which 30% works – for now. Digital Marketing is simply Direct Marketing on steroids. To be successful in marketing these days you must have an analytical brain, all the data is there. As Google, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter compete to become ever more measurable for advertisers to truly grow and keep their shareholders happy, they need SME’s and local marketing. I am ‘in the zone’ and following my passion.
This is combined with 25 years of running my own business and understanding the basics. You can only sell more, improve your margin or reduce your fixed costs. If you communicate regularly with your customers and prospects you will put yourself ahead of 95% of your competitors. Most importantly, you need to measure where your business comes from.
A fusion of these insights and the data available on the internet means that I can effectively deliver profit for SME’s entrepreneur especially manufacturers, engineers and financial services.
Why now? On April 2nd 2013, I wrote my car off and could’ve died. My best mate I’ve known since I was at Primary School is very ill. Life’s a one way street and you aren’t coming back. We become what we think about. So…
I resolved that day to focus on that vision of delivering profit for SME’s using Strategic Marketing whilst investing all the time I can in my children, family and friends… Which is the bit I figure, having written this, I’ve always got right.
Now I have to build on the strength of my kids, friends and family ties. I am following my passion, which has always been leading edge marketing, and fulfilling my pathological need to put others first… ’I am in the zone’ and so I built this website, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.
My name is Mike Raybone, the best father, family member and friend I can be. I genuinely increase the profits of SME’s using strategic marketing and I specialise in manufacturing engineering and financial services.
Thank you for your time.
P.S. This photo was taken on 26th February 2011 after Birmingham beat Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley to win their first trophy since 1963. As the 8th best supported club ever (relatively under-performing) ‘my tribe’ and ‘wider tribe’ deserved our day of glory…