Leadership skills in the frame at Optix conference

Speakers including William Hague share advice with nearly 300 practice owners at Celtic Manor event

Trevor Rowley and William Hague

Nearly 300 users of Optix practice management software attended the company’s ninth annual user group meeting last week (15–16 March).

The annual conference for independents was held for the first time at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, which hosted the NATO summit in 2014, and the Ryder Cup in 2010.

The line-up of speakers was a huge draw for the event, with a variety of inspirational presenters offering insight and advice that delegates could apply to their own businesses.

Keynote speaker, politician William Hague, opened his talk on Budget Day by recounting a humorous story of when he, along with the then Chancellor, Norman Lamont, smuggled a bottle of whisky out of 11 Downing Street in the Budget box that was held up in front of national press for the obligatory Budget Day picture. Lord Hague, then Parliamentary Private Secretary, had carried the actual speech under his arm, as there was no room for it in the Budget box, he revealed.

Lord Hague (pictured right with Optix Software managing director Trevor Rowley, left) discussed the current political situation with the uncertainty surrounding the EU and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. He described how we are living in very volatile and changing times, highlighting how this affects businesses.

“I think it’s very important for business leaders to be able to adapt to that increase in volatility,” he told delegates. “You need to build resilience into your decision-making,” he advised.

Lord Hague, who was First Secretary of State and leader of the House of Commons, gave an often-amusing account of the different styles of political leadership he had seen throughout his career.

“The style of the individual leaders and tone still makes a vast difference,” he emphasised, asking Optix users the unusual question “are you a Thatcher, or are you a Blair?”

He explained that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was focused and determined but didn’t listen to advice, whereas Mr Blair as Prime Minister was a good negotiator and had set himself the goal of bridging unbridgeable gaps, which had helped achieve peace in Northern Ireland.

In his talk, Lord Hague compared the difficulties of politics to running a business. “Have a clear idea about attainable goals in the time allotted to them,” was his parting advice to practice owners.

Creative thoughts

Energetic speaker Chris Baréz Brown had his work cut out as the first morning speaker following the conference’s gala dinner, which had included dancing to a live band. But he soon won over a rather jaded audience with a few unusual exercises for delegates such as writing down where they have their most creative thoughts on a piece of paper before scrunching them up and throwing them at him on stage.

He highlighted that the most creative ideas came when people were relaxed, and he encouraged practitioners to reconnect with their energy and enthusiasm.

“When we start out in a job, or business, we’re often fresh, energetic and naïve, then over time we stop being ourselves, but if you can connect back into that, you can start doing some amazing work,” he said.

Mr Baréz Brown, who has worked with Coca-Cola, ITV and The Guardian, added: “Some of the best leaders I know are very self aware.”

He urged practice owners to remain positive. “Positivity makes us more insightful and gives you chance to nurture ideas to see if they might work. If you’re not positive, nothing will work. We need critical thinking to know what needs fixing, then we need positivity to fix the problem,” he explained.

His parting wisdom to his newly acquired followers was: “Be yourself, believe in yourself and tap into your own uniqueness.”


Speaker Dave Fishwick, the man behind Channel 4’s Bank of Dave, told practitioners how he had left education at 16 with no qualifications after being bullied throughout his school years, but was now being a successful businessman with his own bank.

During his talk, he shared his secrets for success, emphasising the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity that comes along, and if there was an obstacle, then finding a way around it, which was how Bank of Dave was born.

In Mr Fishwick’s blunt Burnley style, he explained his rules for business – “Rule number one – never lose money. Rule number two – never forget rule number one. Rule three – never give up. Finally, rule number four – never, ever give up.”

He added: “Surround yourself with good people, treat them how you’d like to be treated and they will be loyal. Leave very capable people in charge.”

He told delegates: “Set yourself a goal. What do you really want to do? Not what you have to do.

“Self belief is everything, if you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything, then just remember rule number four, never ever give up,” he concluded.

British adventurer Debra Searle gave an emotional talk about her gruelling three-and-half month trip rowing across the Atlantic Ocean after her then husband, an international rower, had given up.

Ms Searle was awarded an MBE in 2002 in recognition of her achievement, and in 2010 she was appointed Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) for her work with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

“Being pushed out of my comfort zone made me come back and be better at business,” she told delegates.

Ms Searle explained that it was her mental determination that had helped get her through the ordeal of dealing with extreme elements, sharks, crippling loneliness and Barney the giant sea turtle who was determined to eat the weed on the bottom of the boat causing it to crack.

“85% of success is down to determination and mental traits,” she concluded.

The event’s gala dinner featured a charity appeal for the first time, with delegates pledging over £6500 to Vision Care for Homeless People.

At the conference, Mr Rowley updated users about the company’s new partnership with Optos, which will help them to share retinal images across multiple practice sites. He highlighted that their patients could also access images through the MySight portal on the Optix software.

Another new feature is the creation of a catalogue system and product hub, enabling a single point of contact for suppliers and customers. Frames, contact lenses and sunglasses can be added directly by suppliers to the customer portal, with Optix users getting real time alerts to advise them of new products.

Delegates at the conference were warned about the increasing need for better internet security in an unnerving talk given by Check Point SMB product manager, Aviv Abramovich, who had flown in from Israel to address the Optix conference.

He emphasised that one in five small businesses falls victim to hackers, often through staff inadvertently opening pictures or documents, or by using USB sticks, that contain a damaging virus.

Mr Rowley was delighted with this year’s conference, he told OT. “We promised to raise the bar higher than ever this year, and that was achieved in style. Celtic Manor provided a wonderful backdrop for our delegates to enjoy two days of education, stimulating speakers, and socialising with colleagues,” he said.

“None of this would be possible without the support of our industry partners and we are very grateful to the 22 companies that supported us this year,” he concluded.

The next Optix conference will be at the Celtic Manor Resort from 13–15 March 2017.