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20 years on, and 20 things I have found out along the way

As part of our 20-year anniversary celebrations, we asked Andrew Holden, Managing Director and Founder of Parliament Hill for his reflections on the last 20 years.

The first thing I have learned is: doesn’t time fly? Crazy to think how much has changed during that period. And to look back on how much more hair I had at the start

More by luck than judgement, I stumbled on a sector where there was a need that was not being well serviced. For various reasons I just had to jump straight in, and the second thing I realised was, to quote Napoleon Hill : ‘Start where you stand and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along’ (no offence to any employees of PH, past or present emoji_3).

Running a small, young business is going to be stressful. So, the third thing I learned was to ‘fortify’ myself. This was through making time for developmental reading, no matter what. (Top recommendations would include Carol Dweck: Growth Mindset ; Stephen Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ; Daniel Pink: Drive ). I developed a system to read and then repeatedly review books like these, to try to ensure that the key points did eventually seep into my conscious and subconscious mind.

Fourthly , I realised early on that, sadly, there were unlikely to be many shortcuts. That plain old hard work was likely to be the only safe way. To do the hard yards, and accept the principle of ‘delayed gratification’.

Something I read relatively early on in a book [ Rachel Bridge, My Big Idea ] related to people who’d set up their own businesses. And an excellent principle that came from it was [#5] to recruit people who are better at stuff than you are! Then listen to them….

That’s all while bearing in mind a useful quotation [#6] from author Douglas Adams 1 : ‘Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others , are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so’.

I knew early on that I can be prone to distraction, and overwhelm, and over-analysis. So, the seventh thing I learned was to actively engineer  systems that would lead to positive outcomes. I’m quite a naturally compliant person – so once there’s a system in place, I tend to follow it. Thus, there were specific daily habits and requirements in terms of business development, and Tasks in Outlook. The habits I developed would be trivial over a day or a week, but over years and years they became central to our success. There’s a quotation I’ve heard attributed to Orison Swett Marden that holds a lot of truth: ‘The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably thought and act’.

Once our systems and habits started getting us in front of potential clients, it wasn’t too long before I realised the value of expressing our message through a story [#8], rather than just some dry list of features and benefits. This led to the development of the legendary (according to me) ‘Parliament Hill Story’, which has caused much eye-rolling amongst my PH colleagues over the years. But it has been a really effective way to express (with some humility thrown in) our mission and approach. To my mind though, you have to earn the right to put across your approach and what you can offer: the critically important thing to do is [#9] to listen first, until you can understand and repeat back your client’s position almost as well as they could. Talking of clients, it’s helpful if you can work in a brilliant and important sector [#10] (in our case, ‘membership’), full of lovely people. And I’m proud to say that at least 2 of our current client base have been with us for the complete 20 years.

For all the positivity though, I have also realised that not everything works. I’ve heard success defined as being made up of an overlapping series of failures, or even (by Churchill) as ‘going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’. I’m not sure it has to be quite that bleak – but a thick skin is required, along with arguably the most critical ingredient of them all: perseverance [#11]. One has to stay friendly and positive – even when you don’t feel that way. And I am often reminded of the (allegedly Chinese) proverb which says: ‘A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.

We all know how vital people are for any business, but I heard a useful distinction a while back (from Jim Collins, in Good to Great ): ‘People are not your most valuable assets, the right people are’ [#12] . That will include all sorts – including people who are very different to you… but much better than you at doing certain things. I’ve always been a fan of development [#13] within our team too, and we’ve been fortunate to have a brilliant coach for many years (thanks Christine!) who introduced us to a brilliant tool – the Enneagram [#14] . I was also personally very lucky to find a mentor a number of years back; highly recommended! [#15]

It took me a while, but I came to realise that it’s OK (and even healthy) for people to move on! [#16] The company will survive – and generally thrive. But that when you’re fortunate enough to find great people who you really enjoy working with, you really need to work to retain them. There’s fair pay and benefits of course. And opportunities for development and growth. There’s injecting as much fun and silliness into a working day as you can (see ‘Releasing your inner idiot…’ for more on this) [#17] , and breaking it up with little rituals. When it’s come to leadership, especially in a small business, I’ve always favoured pragmatic kindness and flexibility [#18] over dogmatism (eg for those with small children, bereavements and so on).

Outside of work, it took way longer than it should have, for me to realise the importance of having a life outside of work. And to set boundaries [#19] to protect time spent with family and on other interests.

Overall, and looking back with the benefit of my extreme old age, I think our moderate success comes down to a mixture of resilience and luck [#20] . I’m not sure quite how it’s happened, but we’ve had the privilege of working with some genuinely fabulous colleagues over the years, and some brilliant clients. And the great thing is that after all this time, I must be due a carriage clock about the size of Big Ben….

A few final pearls of wisdom, if I may:

  • One thing I must admit to struggling with, is to avoid pontificating about all the important things you’ve learned along the way [#21] .
  • Stick with a LinkedIn profile photo where you still have some hair, even if it’s clearly from 1986 [#22]
  • Always under-promise, and over-deliver [ #23 and #24 ]



Andrew Holden is Managing Director and Founder of Parliament Hill. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew with your Parliament Hill memories or to find out more on the work of Parliament Hill, please email

To find out more on what else Parliament Hill have planned to celebrate our 20-year anniversary, please click here .

1 Quote taken from ‘Last Chance to see’ by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine, 1990.

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