Three minutes with Simon Shepard

Be creative, says physio Simon Shepard whose company has been shortlisted for a prestigious award.


Are you a natural entrepreneur?

I wasn’t quite sure what an entrepreneur was so I consulted the dictionary. It is ‘a person who sets up a business, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit’. I have set up a number of businesses, exposed myself to financial risk and tried to create value more than profit so I probably am an entrepreneur.
More than anything I like a challenge – creating an efficient staffing structure, for example – and have been described as a ‘disruptive innovator’. I do like to look at different ways of doing things.

What you do on a typical day.

I am lucky in that I rarely have a ‘typical day’. However, I am a morning person so up at 6am and working by 7. My company, Optima-life delivers into the health, corporate and sporting sectors so there is plenty of variety.
My main focus, however, is with workforces. I spend time delivering programmes on resilience, wellbeing and performance to businesses and organisations in the UK and internationally. In the UK our biggest client is the NHS where we are using physiological monitoring and seminars to help staff.
We have been commissioned to deliver a project to junior doctors at the hospital where I trained. It’s a large London teaching hospital and I’m not sure I envisaged the day when a physio would be teaching medics how to look after themselves. An ideal day involves a run, which I find to be a great way switch off.

What does it take to run a business?

An understanding of the values that drive the business and the team working in it; a clear understanding of what you have to offer; a well structured marketing plan; and, I guess, belief, authenticity, luck, patience, energy, support, imagination, humility, focus and timing. Imagination and creativity could also be useful.   

Did your physio background help you spot a gap in the market?

I don’t think so, and, while acknowledging that this is a generalisation, I think too many physios spend their time ‘looking inwards’ at the profession, rather than looking outwards and seeing how they can use their tools and skill sets in new arenas.
It seems that we can react to situations rather than predicting, pre-empting and taking a proactive view. This is a shame as I believe that our training and development engenders good communication and leadership skills. If we could put the leadership alongside creativity that would be interesting.

Do you have a mentor?

I have several. I have been very lucky to have worked in sport, health and business and all of these backgrounds have taught me an enormous amount. When I started working at Middlesex county cricket club – an association that continues – our captain was Mike Gatting. He taught me much about leadership.
Many players taught me about desire and hard work. I worked with some great coaches who taught me much about motivation, clarity and focus. About five years ago I heard a talk by a certain Karen Middleton. I liked her thinking and how she challenged and energised the audience. I asked her if she would mentor me and she said yes.
I did the same with Mike Farrar when he was a regional NHS chief executive and the physical activity ‘tsar’ – again I was lucky and Mike now works with Optima-life as a technical adviser. I guess I have not been shy of asking!

Optima-life is up for an award?

We are a finalist in the AXA PPP ‘Healthtech and you’ awards in the ‘most innovative provider’ category. We have taken a technology called Firstbeat and integrated it into an education and coaching programme. The technology collects heart rate variability data over 72-hours and is mapped against a patient’s diary.
We then use a series of algorithms to show people a whole host of physiological reactions such as stress, recovery, quality of sleep, energy expenditure. In my view this is a genuine ‘biopsycho approach’ as we are bringing the two together. We have used the technology with groups ranging from international rugby teams to businesses and cancer survivorship.
If we want a view on lifestyle and the way multiple factors influence it we now have a technology that gives us data. As a physio I now have an approach that is personalised and objective and has moved me from ‘fluffy messages’ to fact.
Simon Shepard

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