Lessons in life and business: Sean Donkin
Chief executive of The Inn Collection Group, Sean Donkin, shares his advice, insights and anecdotes.

Chief executive of The Inn Collection Group, Sean Donkin, shares his advice, insights and anecdotes.

The best piece of business advice I’ve ever been given is to think like the other person. It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but whatever task you are undertaking, whether it’s from customer, an employee, a competitor or a vendor’s perspective, it’s so important to put yourself in their shoes if you have any hope in satisfying their demands.

My dad has been my biggest teacher in life. He’s a great bloke, who is much more of a friend than a father. From a pretty young age, I was taught that everything has a value – and very rarely a cash value. Family, friendship and loyalty are massive drivers for me and things which I treasure dearly. Dad had a pretty firm belief in listening more than speaking – he used to say you have two ears and one mouth for a reason – and I think that holds pretty true, which is why a lot of people probably find me quite quiet when they meet me.

One of the most significant things I’ve learned about succeeding in business is to surround yourself with people who inspire you, or provoke private thinking. Ourteam has been incredible through our journey at Inn Collection Group. It’s amazing how many good ideas come from those closest to you, so having the right people by your side is pretty high on the list of what it takes to succeed.

As I reflect on my life so far, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m pretty resilient, caring and tend to put other’s interests ahead of my own. Sometimes that can be seen as a weakness, but I’m a pretty big believer in getting out of life what you put in.

When I think about who has been my one of my biggest teachers in business, my thoughts turn to our founder, Keith Liddell, who was instrumental in guiding me through my early career and believing in me to take the business forward. Working under him for over a decade gave me a solid foundation in how to conduct myself in the wider world, specifically following the mantra of “when you’re wrong admit it, but when you’re right, fight”.

When it comes to life lessons, I’ve learned that my wife is always right and there is zero point in fighting that. It’s always nice to go home after a busy period and see the family and no matter how many ‘important’ decisions are needed to be made every day at work, my wife will always find a way of putting me back in my place. Oh, and nothing good ever happens after 2am – that’s another good lesson I’ve learned along the way.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in business is to accept that no matter how good you think you are, you can’t do it all on your own. Everyone needs a sounding board and support system to get them through the ups and downs that we all encounter. The trick is to find people who you trust and believe in and be there for them in return.

Life tests you sometimes – but you always learn something from it. Being a parent has its challenges. As much as I love my kids, they can be testing and certainly don’t follow the two ears belief of their grandfather. Trying to make the right decisions for them are possibly the most important ones I will ever make and those are more often than not pretty unpopular. I think that follows through into business; having a guiding hand on direction is so important, even if, in the moment, those who it immediately affects can’t see the reasons just yet.

When I think about what it takes to succeed in life and business, I realise that the requirements are exactly the same. Ask yourself what success looks like to you – try to define it – and measure yourself by that and not what others tell you it is, or should be.

When it comes to progressing in business, I’ve learned that thinking you have a ladder to climb is probably the wrong way to look at it. It’s more about learning each and every day so each rung is a lesson learned or experience gained. The idea that you must climb a ladder to get somewhere tends to lead to short termism. Focus on the overall goal, or your own definition of success, and each step you take will eventually get you there.

You learn a lot about people and how they operate throughout your life and your work. One of the biggest takeaways I’ve discovered is that it’s ok not to get on with everyone you cross paths with. I’ve learned that it’s best not to talk poorly of people you don’t care for or respect and just do your best to avoid them.

One life lesson I wish I’d learned sooner is no number sixes allowed. If you know, you know!

If I could give my 35-year-old self some advice, knowing what I know now, it’d be to maybe start to look a bit further ahead. Looking back, I think I tended to have a narrow vision, whereas now I tend to look long and wide.

Posted 17th April 2024

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