Looking back at my formative years, I was generally a boy that did just enough to get by.

I’d say I did fairly well at school, but I was more interested in going out on my bike than doing homework. I guess you could argue that this was a student’s guide to the work-life balance!

After leaving school at 16, I fell into an apprenticeship role with GEC Telecommunications — not out of any lifelong aspirations to move into telecoms, but mainly because my sister worked there and could give me a lift into work each day.

Having failed my first year OND qualification by 0.25 per cent, I was hauled in front of the training manager for a right royal telling-off.

Whilst it could have been easy to huff and puff at the time, it was the first kick up the backside I needed to make me invest the time and effort required to reap the rewards — and probably the biggest learning of my career.

After a while ‘on the tools’, I began to realise that I found reward in seeing other people do well and growing in their own careers, which eventually led me to switch over to a role in people management.

Looking back, I spent too long sitting on the fence trying to be both technical with the ‘doing’, whilst also line managing staff; it just didn’t gel as things would get missed.

I had to make a difficult choice, so after a long hard look in the mirror, I decided to move into full-time management.

This, for me, was the most poignant move in my career. I had found my purpose and wanted to do the right thing for my colleagues, however, this was not all plain sailing.

‘Don’t be so comfortable in your job that you miss bigger opportunities’

When working on a technical operations centre transformation programme for NGW – moving it on from old ways of working – the project turned into a revolt of the people.

Things I was doing which I thought would bring real staff benefit were taken in the completely wrong context by the teams.

This is where I learned a hard lesson in leadership. While your intentions may be good,  if you do not take colleagues with you on the journey – and clearly communicate the why and the how – it can lead to mistrust, discord, and unnecessary stress for your people. A life lesson that will stay with me forever.

I guess I didn’t really make the move from a manager into a leader until I joined Airwave in 2008.

If you had told 16-year-old Dean that he would be directing a joint action group of senior leaders at the London Olympic games for Airwave – effectively running the operational business – he wouldn’t have believed you.

But there I was, instructed by the CEO of Airwave that: “The service cannot fail. You’re at the Olympic Games, and what needs to be done needs to be done.”

This tested my resilience and courage, but the support I got from everyone around me was amazing. The feeling of true comradeship was continually demonstrated by everyone involved – an experience I will never forget and I am so humbled to have been a part of.

On reflection, I think it’s important to look back at a colourful career and pick out the positive experiences from peers and fellow leaders.

It’s often far too easy to focus on just the negatives, but it’s about balance and ensuring we take our learnings from both the ups and the downs and apply them in what we do every day.

I never considered myself to be a CEO, so when I was asked to interview for the role at Flomatik, it was very humbling.

In all honesty, I didn’t think I would get it, but decided I would enjoy the experience of the whole interviewing process and treat it as a new learning.

After all, it’s not everyday you are invited to apply for such a role. To my shock (and my wife’s) I was successful, and boy oh boy, what a journey I was about to embark upon.

‘I wish I’d realised I didn’t need to be a workaholic in order to succeed’

That’s why I firmly believe in the importance of enjoying every experience, whether personal or professional, good or bad, because every event is a new chapter in your life’s journey.

So here I was, the newly-appointed CEO of Flomatik Network Services after being with the business for just three months. This was to become a very steep learning curve. By no means was it an easy journey for me, as there was lots for me to get to grips with, particularly full end-to-end accountability, and deeper resilience building.

It’s also a surprisingly lonely place to be, as you often can’t discuss some of the key decisions with colleagues – something which is especially challenging for me, as I’m naturally a very open and transparent individual.

Sharing regular business updates with the team helps me fulfil that innate desire to take people on the journey with me because, ultimately, Flomatik isn’t about me, but rather those that bring the business to life. I answer to them, not the other way around.

The reflection I’ve done to write this has helped me realise that I wouldn’t trade where I am, or how I got here, for the world.

All the stress, challenges, and late nights have built my character and resilience. Yes, there were times when I could have simply packed it all in for ‘an easy life’, but it’s hugely rewarding to look back and see your own growth — and celebrate the big wins just as much as the little ones.

What’s more, some of the biggest challenges in life can eventually turn out to be the most important.

In 2021, during my first year as Flomatik CEO, we saw a reduction in profit. At the time, people had doubts – myself very much included — but I had faith that it would work out.

Luckily, it has, and we have made significant inroads in 2022 in the way we operate, the method in which we communicate with colleagues and customers, and how we view our business within Teleste.

Our customer base has grown significantly and the feedback we receive from them regarding our work ethic and focus on quality often leaves me with a sense of pride.

It’s also taught me to be absolutely steadfast and believe in what you do – it will all turn out right in the end.

At the same time, I’ve also learnt the importance of being humble and accountable. We all have moments when we must acknowledge that not everything will go our way.

I’d also say that I’ve learnt the meaning of, and need for, greater levels of patience – although my wife would probably disagree there.

I joined Flomatik with big objectives, but two years in – and despite being ‘bolshy’ at times – I’ve come to see that my projected timescales were unrealistic, particularly with cultural and business change. Another learning to put a tick against.

Both my parents were what you’d traditionally call ‘working class’, and they worked so incredibly hard to provide for my sister and I. Even when my dad was made redundant after 40 years, he didn’t sit and sulk, he dusted himself off and found a different role in a new organisation that he could apply his ability and skills to. He taught me there is no age limit to learning.

Much of my resilience, and drive to achieve, came from watching how they dealt with life’s challenges. No matter what has gone before, or lies ahead, anything is possible when you apply yourself.

If I could implant anything into my 16-year-old brain, it would be that we have the power to be both our own worst critic, and biggest cheerleader. It’s important to look inwardly, but not let it turn into procrastination and self-doubt — balance is the key.

I never set out – or wanted – to be a company CEO, but that’s probably because I underestimated what I was truly capable of. Two years on, I’m there and I’m doing a good job. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s hugely rewarding too. And, while I’ll forever have imposter syndrome, I’ll never let it hold me back.