I rarely watch the news, or pay attention to tabloid newspapers, I much prefer non-fiction, so I was saddened to learn of the passing of Lord David Young (aka David Young, Baron Young of Graffham) in December.
Firstly, I just wanted to express my sincere condolences to his wife Lita and their daughters Judith and Karen on their loss, of a Husband and Father.
Secondly, I just wanted to share some words about Lord David Young, as he was a mentor of mine over the past decade.
Before 2015, I had never really had a formal mentor, beyond working alongside and learning from talented people. I had arrived at a crossroads in my career, my life and I decided to proactively find mentors, who I could learn from.
I was privileged that several highly successful people made time for me and all of them I’m still in touch with and frequently meet up with to this day. One of which was Lord David Young. I’m sure it will be quite surprising for many that a person who was previously a key member of Margaret Thatcher’s government during the height of the troubles, would be someone that I would even know, let alone receive mentorship from.
I don’t believe in, or participate in the illusion of choice we call politics, whilst being from Co.Derry and standing strongly against all of the evil acts which took place during the troubles (including those carried out indirectly and directly by the British government) So for sure, Lord Young and I were in many ways chalk and cheese.
That being said, I truly believe that it’s important to proactively step outside of bubbles, echo chambers of our personal, professional and social networks, to interact with, or ideally get to know people from all backgrounds and with different world-views. That’s how respect and understanding is built and quite often you’ll find those interactions become hugely symbiotic.
For me, I’m privileged and proud to have cultivated a wide circle, from all walks of life and stretching around the entire planet. So Lord Young wasn’t alone in the eclectic aspects and randomness of my circles.
I vividly remember my first conversation with Lord Young, or as I used to refer to him, David (I told him that unless he called me King Henry, I wouldn’t call him Lord, which made him laugh) It was in the weeks after my son’s funeral and I had thrown myself into work, but having previously been part of the team that built the tech unicorn Just Eat, I had a burning desire to go again and build something special and this time much more meaningful to society. (My entrepreneurial itch, wasn’t fulfilled or satisfied by being an operator, although I embraced the value of operator experience, as I knew I had much to learn).
I had several ideas for products to make the devastating experience of grief easier for those who had lost someone to manage, due to experiencing various inefficiencies and problems myself. When I spoke with David, I told him what my aspiration was and he said “I’m 95% certain you’re absolutely crazy, especially because in my twilight years I plan to stay as far away from that space for as long as possible, but I see something very special in you, I resonate with your energy, passion and I would really like it if we could keep in touch and meet up again”
Now, given that back then he was in his early 80’s, I didn’t take it as a huge compliment being told that he resonated with my energy and passion, being over 5 decades younger than him lol, but getting to know him during our meetings at his office in Marylebone for the best part of a decade, it was actually me who was in awe of his energy and passion. He was always excited about his new ideas and he would say to me that our meetings were more like mentorship for him, which I don’t disagree entirely with, our meetings were mutually enjoyable and symbiotic.
David had seen it all, he was someone who beyond politics, had been an operator, built and exited companies and became an investor, so with so many decades of experience, it was fascinating to discuss business and even current issues with him like Brexit and economic cycles, as he had lived and been successful prior to the creation of the European Union and also many economic cycles.
So whilst we may have had different opinions about the impacts of issues like those, it was hugely valuable to hear a different and importantly, an experienced viewpoint.
Likewise, as someone who has quite wide career/life experience and knowledge, plus understanding the complexity and impacts of issues like socioeconomic inequality etc, he too gained a very different and experienced viewpoint.
I think there is an important lesson there given that nowadays there are so many polarising issues and the dominant narratives are becoming socially unacceptable to debate or disagree with, meaning that if people hold different opinions it in turn limits those who they end up interacting with. Without being able to disagree and openly differing opinions, how can any of us expect to find common ground, or learn?
Anyway, In our last meeting earlier in the year, it was clear that at age 90, David was slowing down somewhat and he openly told me he was getting “his affairs” in order.
By this stage I was well under way with building Send-Off and when we discussed that, he said “Henry, you know how I used to say you were crazy to even consider building in a taboo space, I didn’t actually think you were crazy in a bad way, I knew the mission is close to your heart because of your tragic loss of your son, that’s a great type of crazy, which an entrepreneur needs to succeed” he continued “I finally understand how important it is that you do this, I know my time left is limited and I realised recently, I’m not sure who will look after my parents and grandparents resting places when I am gone, because my daughters might not be able to do it, it all finally makes sense”
We then spent a couple of hours discussing Send-Off, his love of his family, spending time on the South Coast, his work in the Jewish community and various other things, at the end of our meeting, he said to me with a twinkle in his eyes “If I had more time, I would be joining you as Chairman, but I don’t know how much value I’d provide at my age and with limited time left, but please promise me one thing, give Send-Off all you’ve got, I’m proud of you and that you’re finally both put feet in and I know you can make this work”
I cheekily replied with a wink, “Dave, I’m not so sure about Chairman, maybe if Lita allows it, you can interview to join as an intern, if you earn your stripes, who knows you could still have time to work your way up to Chairman” He laughed and then I promised him I would give Send-Off my all.
Sadly, he died aged 90, on the same day we announced our launch in December, so I didn’t get to let him know.
— Send-Off (@SendOffUK) December 9, 2022
I know he did a lot of work to champion the business and tech ecosystem in government and also directly in mentoring and investing in talented founders like Duane Jackson and Nick Katz.
The reason I wanted to write these words is not to endorse David, or his publicly known achievements, but to give some added context on another side of him, the time he made for entrepreneurs like me and to stress how important it is we make time to get to know different people, nor delay chasing your dreams, or lose the sparkle in your eye!
I really want to make that point on how important mentorship is, so much of it goes under the radar.
Over the years, I’ve personally mentored >200 founders for the likes of Seedcamp, Techstars, Pi Labs, to underrepresented founders and operators literally all over the world.
It’s never too early to share experience or help others, nor is it ever too late to proactively seek mentorship yourself, I strongly recommend it. I don’t really mention who my mentors are publicly, but take it from me, there are hugely successful people out there who will be willing to make time for you. Not to mention the symbiotic value from mutual mentorship with those from your peer group.
So don’t be scared to ask, people can only say no and some will say yes!
David Young was a rarity in that he became a mentor of mine organically, but I’m very grateful for all the time he made for me over the years, he was a fantastic sounding board and I’m sure after such a busy, eclectic life, full of achievements, he’s resting well, or knowing him, if there is a heaven, he’s probably pitching a crazy new idea to whoever is in charge!
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