MSP owners and their mental health – a very personal story

Every month, I’m publishing one secret from my almost best-seller, MSP Secrets Revealed.

Reflecting on it recently, whilst I had a brilliant time researching and interviewing and I learnt a lot (more) about business, it’s only when I started to talk to people about their ‘stories,’ the interviews became even more revealing. Some IT professionals were very happy to open up, in the hope of benefiting others.

The final chapter in the book is called “Personal Stories.” There are eight in total.

Today’s excerpt is one of those stories, from a well known name in the MSP community – Mark Matthews. <—  connect with him on Linkedin

I’ve admired Mark from afar for a long time. He’s one of the few MSP owners who has managed himself out of his own business. That’s not easy. We had a phone call recently, where he talked to me about the difficulties in doing just that. He is winning though.

What was his personal driver for doing this? Because of the story he very openly describes below.

If you’re struggling with the pressure, the day to day, your mental welfare, your life in general. Stop for a moment and read Mark’s story …

It’s not about the money

Five years ago, I was really unhappy. I was working 70 hours a week and I had staff issues. I couldn’t switch off, and it wasn’t in

a good way. I felt like I was going backwards. At that stage my business had been going 26 years, so it was a strange feeling to have. It wasn’t because the business was unsuccessful or unprofitable, but personally, I felt like I was going backwards.

I was always on the phone. Holidays were a nightmare. My phone used to be next to me on the sunbed. I used to hate holidays, because I’d always end up having to ring the office.

I felt like I was blagging it. People think if you’ve been running a business for as long as I had that I must be really successful, but I didn’t feel that way. I found everything very frustrating.

I’d had enough, and I felt suffocated. Suffocated enough that, one morning five years ago, I was driving on the motorway on the way to work. I was in a nice car, I had a nice house, my kids were successful.

“10 minutes into my half hour drive, I started to cry. I was 46 and crying on the way to work. What the hell? What did I have to cry about? Luckily, my dad’s a counsellor, so I rang him and asked what I should do.”

He told me to go home and make a doctor’s appointment, as only that weekend one of his friend’s sons who worked for a worldwide software company had taken his own life by jumping out of a 3rd-floor window, so I did. I live in a small rural village, so I was fortunate to get an appointment within the hour and the GP had a list of questions to go through with me, one of which was “did I have a shotgun at home?”. I curiously asked why?

“The doctor said that three people in my village had used a shotgun to commit suicide in the last two years.”

I’m sure you can imagine, this was a massive shock that he felt the need to ask me. After that, I realised I had to take my situation seriously. I was prescribed some tablets and went home, and then pretty much stayed in bed for six months. I’d go to work for a few hours, but when I got home, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I then got to the stage where I didn’t care if I didn’t wake up the following day, and I pulled the covers over my head. But the next day, I decided I was going to get my arse out of bed, go back to work and start to get my life back together. One phrase in particular helped me with that: ‘There will come a time when everything is finished. That will be the beginning’.

People who knew me at the time would never have known I was suffering. I used to think it was an owner’s mask we all wear, where we always have to say things are brilliant and going great. We never say, ‘Oh, it’s shit’, because we want our peers to think well of us. Nobody would have heard me say anything negative at all.

I would have never shown anyone how I was feeling, because I would have seen it as a weakness. There’s no way I would have ever spoken to any of the people I knew about anything, even individually, because I wouldn’t want to be belittled.

Turning things around

I came home one day to find a book I hadn’t ordered had been delivered. ‘The Fred Factor’, by Mark Sanborn, is about a postman who does lots of things for people without asking for anything in return.

Prior to reading it, I was the type of person who wouldn’t do anything for somebody without getting something in return. That’s what I thought you had to do to be a businessman. If you want to grow the business right, you’ve got to get what you can. But Fred went out of his way to help the people on his post route.

“You think it’s about money. It’s not. In the last four years, I’ve reduced my working hours from 70 hours to 26.”

We had a 24% increase in turnover last year (2018), and a 110% net profit increase. I’m now allowing people to do the job that they’re paid to do. Because we’ve got trust. If you think of Patrick Lencioni’s pyramid, we can’t hit the figures if we haven’t got trust.

The best thing in the world for me, out of all of this, is that I’m the happiest I’ve been for years. I’m earning less money than I did five or six years ago, because we were a much bigger company then, but I know where I’d rather be. I’d rather be where I am now, happiest spreading the word about trust and showing the difference it can make to you and your workforce …

… because it’s not about the money.


Mark Matthews is the CEO of ATG IT in the UK, and is the exec director of Network Group.

A big thank you to him for his honesty.