Today we get the opportunity to find out more about one of the founders of WSI, Mark Dobson. This is a fascinating interview where Mark shares his drive and energy in helping create the largest network of Digital Marketing consultants in the world today.
Let’s find out more on how Mark has lead our organisation over the past 20 years.
How would you describe yourself?
Positive, entrepreneurial, energetic. Focused on how to make things work versus on why they won’t work.
What were you like in high school?
Most of the time I was bored in school. I enjoyed certain classes which I could see the value in but teachers always said I had great potential but seemed disengaged. During high school, I focused more on work and earning money. I would hitchhike to a job at a ski resort where we had a chalet (120 miles away) so I could be there for work on Friday and many times would stay over to work Sunday and hitchhike back. The times I couldn't hitchhike, I would get a ride with my parents. The position I had allowed me to earn as much as I wanted providing I put in the effort so I was entrepreneurial from the beginning.
How long have you been with WSI?
Since its inception as I was a co-founder.
What did you do before life at WSI?
My partners and I had started other companies, one of which was a training company. We had over 230 trainers with clients like Ford, Pepsi, McDonnell Douglas, Zerox, Monsanto to name a few. Prior to the companies we had started, I spent almost 20 years as part of the management team developing one of Canada’s premier resorts (Deerhurst Inn in Muskoka, Ontario). I also had a photography business doing weddings and portraits while working at Deerhurst, plus I had an art gallery brokerage firm buying and selling art to individuals and art galleries.
Why did you Join WSI?
It was an idea and a vision that we had back in 1992 that by starting WSI, we would be able to recreate the entire business world all over again - only this time it would be in cyberspace versus brick-and-mortar locations.
What was your journey like to get where you are today?
Exciting, challenging and rewarding. With WSI, we created something that had never been done before in an industry that never existed before. The thrill of the build has kept me coming to the office every morning by 7:30 AM for over 23 years. It’s been rewarding being able to affect so many people all over the world, giving them the opportunity to live their own dreams and own their own business. At the same time, it has also been rewarding watching our staff grow and prosper over the years. When I look at our team, I'm proud that a lot of the staff have been with us for anywhere from 14 to 24 years.
Looking back at 20 years with WSI, what are some of the highlights you remember most and why?
The opportunity to see the world. In the old days, before we could actually use the internet to explain WSI to people, we travelled. I remember we used to buy a plane ticket from British Airways called a 'Global Explorer' and as long as we were travelling east, we could stop as many times as we wanted for no additional cost. That way, we ended up travelling the world for weeks on end, prophesying about this thing called the internet and starting to lay the foundation to build the company.
As the internet grew, finally being able to finally market ourselves online became the next highlight, as it meant we could hang up our wings and work from the office.
Developing the eMarketplace and our supply chain, which has become such a valuable part of our business for our franchisees, has been a highlight as well. Ultimately, the relationships we've been able to cultivate with industry leaders has made the lives of our franchisees that much easier and more successful.
Aligning with the likes of Microsoft, Google, Adobe and so many others who see the value in what we have built.
Our Global Conventions and the quality of speakers and education we are able to bring to our franchisees.
The close friendships we have developed over the years with our franchisees.
The fun we have had with our staff over the years, whether it be events at the office, bowling, white-water rafting,etc.
Having people like Jim Amos sit on our Board of Directors. Jim has been the Chairman of the International Franchise Association, CEO of Mail Boxes Etc. and sits on Boards of companies like Proctor and Gamble but has been on our Board for over a decade. Learning from someone like him has been invaluable.
What has been your biggest accomplishment at WSI?
Building and sustaining a global company that has never had to borrow money and has always been in the black since day one.
Tell me how you've approached the change that has happened while at WSI?
Embraced it, as you really have no choice in our industry. If you are not inspired by change, then you are in the wrong business!
Describe your typical work week?
Speaking with potential franchisees, meeting with management and defining and executing on our objectives.
What is your favorite quote?
The first one that comes to mind is, "Good, better, best - never let it rest until the good is better and the better is best". The second is Covey's 5th Habit - “Seek first to understand then be understood".
Do you have any skills or talents that most people don't know about?
I'm fairly good at most sports, although most people don’t see it as I may be a little overweight! But I can still get down a ski hill, run around a tennis court, swing a golf club and climb a mountain.
What type of holidays do you like to take?
I head to the beach or the ski hill, depending on the time of year. I also enjoy travelling where there is history to learn about.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Spending time with family, whether it’s a walk with my wife or doing something with our extended family. Read biographies or autobiographies, relax with friends and family. As I get older, I’m trying to make myself relax more and get used to a slower pace. Someday, I may retire and have to learn not to be in the office by 7:30 AM - but this is something I'm still learning!
Could you tell us about an average day in your life?
Up at 5:30 AM, drop my wife off at the train station and be at the office between 7:00 and 7:30 AM. Get caught up on my emails from the night before, then head to the gym in our building for an hour to an hour-and-a-half then back in the office for meetings and phone calls with potential franchisees
What do you think are the best skills that you bring to WSI?
Ability to read people and help individuals come to decisions for themselves versus me telling them what they should do.
How would someone get your special attention?
Ask for it. Lead by example, humility, come to me with a challenge but also the solution for discussion. Go the extra mile.
Have you read any good books lately?
Lots of biographies lately: Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, several others. Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman is always a good one to go back to, as is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins. A couple of oldies but goodies include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Coveygreat and The Art of War by Sun Tzu, the list goes on and on.
On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?
Depending on the situation I could be an 8 to 10. I don’t have a problem acting weird in public just to see how people react! In a business situation, where I'm representing the company, maybe a 3.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
That has changed over the years. At one time, I would have said “driven” but today, at 65 years old, I have a little less drive and maybe the word is “caring”.
What goals do you have for yourself that you want to accomplish in the next year?
Get back in shape so I can get back under the 200lb mark. I’m getting close but there is always a reason to deviate from the path. Life has to be fun also and sometimes the things you have to do to achieve a goal may not be as much fun. Bottom line is, if the goal isn’t that important for you to pay the price , then it wasn’t a real goal.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Semi-retired, maybe sit on a couple of Boards and share my expertise. In general, being free of having to be on-call on a daily basis but still have my fingers in a couple of things to keep me alert and challenged
What do you hope to achieve in your next position?
Time, freedom, lack of responsibility, and the ability to work if and when I want. This probably won’t be in a high-profile position with a great deal of responsibility as my wife will be retired and I look forward to spending more time together.
How has technology changed the way you work?
It has made me more efficient, more connected, and able to work at a much faster pace. I have access to knowledge on anything instantly. Technology has obviously shaped our entire business model and what we focus on and what we teach.
What would be your personal motto?
“If your WHY is big enough, the HOW will come.”
If you worked in a restaurant, what role would you want?
Maitre D' or bartender - I’ve done both in the past and enjoyed them.
If we went to happy hour, what would you order?
A wet Sapphire gin martini on the rocks with lots of olives or a scotch on the rocks.
If you could be anywhere other than here talking to me - right this minute, where would you be?
In the meeting I’m late for! If not that, then on our yacht with my wife and family on the Mediterranean, probably at the harbor at the Olympic Village in Barcelona right next to the Arts Hotel. Or the Greek Islands!