UK challenger bank Monzo’s founder Tom Blomfield is leaving the firm he built at the end of January, he has revealed. In an interview with TechCrunch, Blomfield says that the growth and change challenges associated with bringing the bank to a strong market position led him to suffer mental health difficulties, which impacted upon his overall experience of being its CEO. (TechCrunch, 20 January 2021)
“I stopped enjoying my role probably about two years ago,” he explains, “as we grew from a scrappy start-up that was iterating and building stuff people really love, into a really important UK bank. I’m not saying that one is better than the other – just that the things I enjoy in life is working with small groups of passionate people to start and grow stuff from scratch, and create something customers love.
“And I think that’s a really valuable skill – but also, taking on a bank that’s three, four, five million customers and turning it into a 10 or 20 million-customer bank and getting to profitability and IPO-ing it, I think those are huge exciting challenges, just honestly not ones that I found that I was interested in, or particularly good at.”
Blomfield told TechCrunch that he discussed his plight with Monzo chair Gary Hoffman and Passion Capital founding partner Eileen Burbidge – one of the bank’s key investors – after coming to the conclusion that he was “doing too much and not enjoying it.”
Although he and his business partners talked about how his responsibilities could be reviewed to provide him with the help he needed, the coronavirus outbreak of last year became the final straw, exacerbating his mental health issues.
As Monzo shuttered its Las Vegas office, cut staff and worked to secure top-up funding, Blomfield notes, “I was really struggling.” In May, he and his partners agreed that to open up his time, he would move from CEO to the new role of president and leave the Monzo board. However, Blomfield eventually decided to “hand over the baton”.
He says, “I’m very happy to talk about what’s gone on with me, because I don’t think people do it enough,” and heaps praise on his colleagues and investors: “I was really grateful that when I put my hand up and said, ‘I need help,’ they were super receptive to that.”
What do Blomfield’s mental health troubles reveal about the personal challenges leaders face around managing growth and change?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s chief executive John Mark Williams says: “For me, there are two things that stand out from this story. Firstly, we have the unusual levels of humility and authenticity that Blomfield has displayed. One does not often find such quantities of those traits within large corporates, so we should unreservedly applaud him for his honesty.
“Secondly, his account shows us how rarely growth is acknowledged as the single biggest challenge that any organisation must face. Most people think that managing decline is difficult. But managing growth – especially to the sort of level that Monzo has achieved – is extraordinarily hard. Indeed, in many ways, Blomfield has highlighted the crucial difference between scale and size. Some leaders may be tempted to think, ‘Oh, I’ll just grow this business and it will be the same as it is now, only bigger.’ But actually – as Blomfield has clearly discovered – scale and size are not the same.”
Williams notes: “Tackling that problem in practical terms is especially challenging within a field such as financial services – a sector that is both brutally competitive and highly regulated, and in which the incumbent players are some of the world’s largest businesses. So, the personal challenges that leaders face around managing growth and change are beautifully illustrated by Blomfield’s willingness to be honest and authentic about what those hurdles represent.”
He adds: “I hope that Blomfield’s openness on these important points will prove to be an exemplar for other corporates. Better that than any scenario where someone struggles beyond the point where they feel comfortable and happy doing their job.”
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