Lessons learned for Master Cutler after heart attack

The installation of the new Master Cutler David Grey,pictured, sees the procession walk from Cutlers Hall across to Sheffield Cathedral.
The installation of the new Master Cutler David Grey,pictured, sees the procession walk from Cutlers Hall across to Sheffield Cathedral.
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Looking forward: new master cutler David Grey talks about how he changed his work-life balance after his health suffered a knockback 13 years ago

Let David Grey’s heart attack be a lesson to all those 24/7 bosses out there – it certainly was for him.

Master Cutler 2014 David Grey MBE

Master Cutler 2014 David Grey MBE

“I haven’t worked a weekend since it happened,” he says. That was 13 years ago, he’s now 57 and looks as fit as a fiddle.

He describes what happened in manufacturing terms: “Your body is like a piece of machinery. If you run it 24/7 days a week it will break.

“I was fit – the day before I’d played 90 minutes of five-aside football. But I was getting four to five hours sleep, racing from one thing to another.

“It made me re-evaluate my life. The biggest con perpetrated by the digital world is that it’s a good thing to always be contactable. You’ve got to have a balance.

Master Cutler 2014 David Grey MBE

Master Cutler 2014 David Grey MBE

“I tell all my managers when they go on holiday to turn off phones and not to take their computers.

“It’s a very poor management that can’t cope without one person for two weeks.

“It’s so easy to get sucked in with technology, it’s a mistake. All you are doing is mortgaging your future ability. You need breaks, time off, family time.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, if you own your own business, the greatest thing it gives you is freedom to make decisions.

“Surround yourself with the brightest people you can find. And empower your management teams by building them up and supporting them.

“You can’t sit in the middle of a spider’s web hoping to tug every strand. I used to be in that category.”

These days he has time to fly his Piper Saratoga aeroplane, has only recently given up a single-seater car racing and counts skiing, scuba diving and football among his hobbies.

But he says the best thing he’s ever done is marry Ruth in July this year – in the Cutlers’ Hall naturally.

* Related article: Master Cutler relishing task

‘Being young is a fantastic time to set up a business’

He’s held so many positions on business bodies the Queen gave him an MBE for services to industry and the regeneration of Sheffield.

But David Grey doesn’t think he’s unusual.

“The Big Society already exists in this city. There are an astonishing number of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I’m just lucky I have got a platform.

“Titles don’t interest me, although I love my MBE, it’s what you do that matters.”

He has just resigned after a three-year stint on the Local Enterprise Partnership to concentrate on his year as Master Cutler. He’s also the High Sheriff in waiting for 2017.

But inspiring youngsters to set up in business is one of his great passions.

He’s been chairman of the BiG Challenge since it launched eight years ago. For the challenge teams of secondary age students try to make as much profit as they can from £25, with a five-star holiday for the winners.

“I want people to think about going into business when they are really young so they can make money to do the things they want to do, or employ people.

“It’s a concept that’s alien to many. But when we started the BiG Challenge eight years ago and we went into schools we found 90 per cent of children were entrepreneurial and only 10 per cent didn’t get it.

“I think it gets beaten out of you when you get responsiblities. So if you’re young it’s a fantastic time to set up a buinsess.

“It’s fun, the freedom of decision making is fantastic, when you make those deals – there’s nothing more heady than that.”

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Hectic schedule lined up for a year in office

It’s a wonder that anyone wants to be Master Cutler.

It totally dominates your life for a year – about 500 appointments is usual – making it impossible to work.

Great if you’re retired, very tricky if you aren’t.

And on top of that you have to pay your way. Trips to London and all over the country – the last MC even went to Zurich – travel expenses, accommodation, everything.

This year’s Master Cutler, David Grey, is the boss of six companies and it’s taken him three years of planning to be able to take the year off. There’s also the risk that it’ll go badly without him.

So why bother?

In his installation speech David Grey said all Master Cutlers share three passions: manufacturing, the Cutlers’ Company and Sheffield.

The set-up ensures he means every word.

He said: “You will not get a demotivated Master Cutler. You absolutely need to want to do it. I will still get the reports and attend any of the board meetings I am able to, but that’s all.

“I’ve been planning it for three years and I’ve got a fantastic team, I’m really excited.

“I told them to do well – but not too well – without me.”

‘If you’re in business you’re constantly making mistakes’

He is not normally stuck for words but he’s ummming and ahhing a bit after being asked about his biggest mistake.

Will he say it was the time in 2008 when he bought a company “three-and-a-half minutes” before the global financial crash?

Or are there so many he’s struggling to pick one? At this point his press officer reminds him he doesn’t have to reveal all and after a moment he says: “If you’re in business you’re constantly making mistakes. I’m pretty tolerant provided I can learn from it and it’s never the same one.

“The trick is to spot it very quickly. We made our biggest acquisition three-and-a-half minutes before the world collapsed. Credit stopped, we were pretty highly leveraged. We’ve spent the last four years changing the business, de-risking it and de-leveraging it.

“We’re in a great place at the moment, the acquisition wasn’t the issue, it was the collapse of the markets. Thanks to bright people we got through the recession well.”