The Start of It All

learning

It’s mid April in 1981. We have two children, a daughter who is seventeen months old and a son of four months. Lou and I are really happy, the children are our pride and joy and my work as a consulting design engineer is going well. Our only worry, that the girl was pushing herself up but has stopped doing so, is being checked out by a doctor. He has told us not to be concerned while he investigates what could be happening … “it’s probably OK”. The door bell rings and the doctor is there. He says he was visiting the hospital round the corner from us and had some news so he thought he’d drop by. A consultant. Making a home visit on spec. We ask him in … too polite to be scared yet.

Tea is made and the doctor spends two hours very gently explaining that the news he has is not good but, despite appearances to the contrary, the sky has not just fallen in. He names what he thinks it is not … Werdnig Hoffman Syndrome … “but don’t look it up because I’m almost certainly wrong”. Looking it up means going round to a library, no internet, so harder to do than nowadays.

It was good advice, the eventual diagnosis, Intermediate Spinal Muscular Atrophy, is also hereditary but less lethal.

Still drinking tea, still chatting, and he says “she’s going to need wheels”. He can’t remember saying it but he did; I know, it’s a major thing in my life and I was there. So now I’m a practising design engineer trying to find the thing which will help my daughter … I expect to find it, the thing that some other dad has made to help his kid so that I can help mine.

It’s not there.

I’m really angry. “Why can I not buy a wheelchair for an eighteen month old child? … because they couldn’t drive it! … Why could they not drive it? … Because they’re only eighteen months old! … Has anybody ever tried it to see if they could? … No! … Why not? … Because they’re only eighteen months old! … WTF?”

So now I’m a design engineer who’s angry and can’t buy the thing his daughter really needs. What next? So I build the machine which got christened ‘The Yellow Peril’ after the nick-name for smoked haddock in our family … Ruth, our daughter, had insisted it should be painted yellow. She learned to drive it in a few weeks which pleased the large number of my engineering friends who had been hugely helpful in getting it designed and built (CCL I can not thank you enough, nor Rog, Paul, Steve, Roger, Alan, Dave, and many, many others for their input and encouragement). I should also mention that the prototype was built and Ruth started to drive it by mid August of that year … didn’t get painted for a bit, though. I might also say that they were taking bets as to just when I would be admitted to the local mental hospital … I may have become a little single minded!

Then I was going to build a red one.

Sam, Ruth’s brother, had driven the Yellow Peril once … I know, I have film of him doing it. He did ‘Round and Round Backwards’ really rather well. I never got to make it for him though as he fell foul of one of the things which can get you when you have SMA, a sudden chest complaint which turned into pneumonia and stopped him … it took one day.

So now I’m an angry design engineer and there’s other kids who can’t get the thing they really need. What am I supposed to do next?

Dan

Life in a family business… with the wrong second name.

FamilyPhoto
The Everard Family… or some of the Board plus Alice depending on your perspective.

 

18 months ago I joined a Family Business. For those who aren’t familiar with Dragonmobility, I joined one of the most ‘family’ family businesses there is. It’s warm, friendly, intimate… and most importantly, more than a little idiosyncratic. While I could go on for pages and pages about Dragon – it’s dynamics and characters – I think I can make far more use of myself sharing my general experiences of the joys (and some of the pitfalls!) of working in the unique environment that is family business.

Why You Should

Genetic Telepathy

I didn’t know at the time, but when I was interviewed it was by a mother and a daughter. For the first 15 minutes they hid it well: calling each-other by first names, referring to demarcation lines between their roles and blessed with an overall professionalism. Quickly, though, it became clear that there was something else at play. There was an eerie level of joined up thinking. There was an ease and clarity to everything, which I now know comes from a literal life time of sharing ideas together. It was only at this point (clever me!) that I started to notice the physical similarities in the people sat across the table from me. This is something I’ve continued to find at every level. You would be hard pressed to find strategic discord at Dragon.

Life Under A Wing

It should be made clear that in a true Family Business family/company cohesion never ever feels exclusive. Here, never do the staff sit around complaining of how we’ve been shut out of decisions taken over a dinner table. And that’s because pains are taken to welcome each and every one of us into the fold. Without meaning to sound saccharine, whether it is through dinner with the chairman and his wife or gossiping with the sister who’s unexpectedly dropped by, we’ve all been given our place in the family. This adds an extra level to all aspects of company life: professional development becomes more important, HR becomes more compassionate and respect stops being a line on the company’s mission statement and starts just being part of life. This is a huge part of what makes working in a Family Business so special.

The Frankness

It’s no secret, though, that families have arguments. However, I would challenge anyone to find a disagreement between a Chairman and a Managing Director that can be resolved as quickly (or as suddenly loudly!) as when the pair are father and daughter!

Things to look out for

I’ve got my own dad!

No matter how many times you tell people, or no matter how glaring the lack of physical resemblance, people are going to mistake you for one one of the family. Get ready for a lot of “Oh God, I thought you were so-and-sos son/daughter”, “Is your dad around?” and “So are you the youngest?”. Flattering as these comments are, you’ll soon get tired of telling people you have your own set of parents who work in entirely unrelated fields.

Your Daughter’s driving me mad

Once upon a time I sheepishly and tentatively broached a very Family Business issue with my boss. How, I asked myself, do I tell her I’m slightly annoyed at the Technical Director when he’s her dad? To my relief she laughed and said “Try complaining to your dad about your Sales and Marketing Director when she’s his wife”.

Tragedy equals tragedy cubed.

At any company it’s awful when a director’s brother is sick. While the human side of any story like this is obviously the most important, it goes without saying that a company will suffer three times as much when the brother is another director’s uncle and another’s brother in-law. This can be something that’s tricky for staff to navigate: do you carry on regardless or do you go risk grinding day-to-day running to halt.

All said and done, if you get the chance to be a part of one of these unique organizations, take it. Put in the most simple terms possible, it has more benefits than costs. Even the costs are endearing in their own way and you’ll quickly find yourself letting them slide. In other words, no one minds spending when you’re spending on family.

 

Seth

A Designer at Naidex…

NaidexCrowd

Another year, and another successful Naidex for Dragonmobility. Personally, this was my first time at the event and it was a great opportunity to see so much of our industry under one roof, albeit rather a large one!

First and foremost, it was a pleasure to see a number of familiar faces and Dragons. It was also a pleasure to meet new faces we look forward to welcoming into our community.

As a design engineer by training, I’m not too embarrassed to say that wandering the hall did offer up the occasional mini nerdgasm. So many great products to look at, so many interesting conversations to be had. This line of work can, occasionally, feel like a never ending battle against the same design conundrums that refuse to go away. I have always found that expos are a great cleanser for this, an opportunity to appreciate innovation and seek inspiration. In this sense Naidex had its hits and misses.

There were a number of companies that I was particularly admiring of. In terms of innovation, Aergo and their adaptive support seating stood out as a really neat concept. At Dragon we take huge care with our bespoke seating, ensuring each client is seated exactly to their own, individual requirements. We know this can change considerably as each client grows, so a view to adaptive seating is critical. I believe that Aergo have landed on a solution that could have great potential to improve the comfort of wheelchair users.

From more of an engineering ‘fanboy’ perspective, Loopwheels hit the mark perfectly. We all take the humble wheel for granted. Genuine advances in this area are few and far between. Loopwheels are attempting to break the mould with a shock absorbing wheel that seems to be a great product.

In terms of powered mobility, there seemed to be a trend towards exhibiting all conquering, all terrain, mobility vehicles. Whether it was mud, stairs or even the Sahara desert, there was a product to overcome the problem. These machines are quite a feat of engineering. However, in terms of practicality, for all their prowess over tricky obstacles their bulkiness limits their use. Yes, whizzing across sand dunes would be fun, but it would be frustrating not being able to get behind a desk once your done. The purpose of these machines seems to be to offer ‘something different’ rather than offering any real improvement to the lives of disabled people.

It is true that powered mobility has appeared to struggle to catch up with the technical advances of some other industries. The practical and engineering challenges have meant that the historical essence of the powerchair has endured. And this is quite clear at Naidex, it can be a little tough to distinguish between the market leaders. This is one of the reasons we are so proud of our elevator, a fairly unique design and distinguishing feature. Having said this, there were companies that are putting great looking products in the marketplace such as Genny mobility, whose products are powered by Segway.

NaidexStand17

As with many exhibitions these days, away from the stands there were a broad variety of seminars. Speakers ranged from Paralympic athletes to parking experts. Particularly engaging for me was a talk on brand management and protection by the chief marketing officer of Wildbore & Gibbons. The speaker emphasised the importance of branding through customer experience and community, an approach we are always keen to employ and improve here at Dragon.
Overall the the experience of Naidex was very insightful. However, it can be challenging to project the full culture of a company in such a controlled environment. This can be frustrating for consumers as well as exhibitors. In anycase, the show definitely highlights the reaches of our industry.

Angus

We’re off!

So, after much flexing of creative muscles, frustration at online templates and a few arguments about fonts, Dragonmobility’s blog is here!

We hope this will become a place for us to share the insights/blow off steam that we’ve built up after years in our industry. We want it to be a place where you, our clients, colleagues, supporters and friends can get a better picture of how we think and can also share your own experiences.

To begin with, posts will come from Dan, Ruth, Seth and Angus, giving a full(ish!) picture of the range of perspectives, skills and challenges we have here. As we settle in, though, we’d love hear more from you, really giving this something from every corner of Planet Dragon.

Anyway, here’s to a happy blog and a closer company and community!

Seth