Five minutes with Tom Blofeld
Think it, build it and write it – that’s Tom Blofeld’s approach to business.
Opened in 2007, Tom invented the fictional universe of BeWILDerwood – a treehouse adventure park and children’s book series. “I created a children’s park and wrote a series of books about the creatures which live there,” says Tom. “I then became CEO of a company that has since won almost every award available to it, including a TEA from Anaheim, Los Angeles – an Oscar in this industry.”
“A business has a social contract with the people around it”
Although no business should attempt to flourish without clearly understanding how it is profitable… we need to be part of the community. I feel really strongly about that. We have employed vast numbers of local people in their first jobs. I think we create a very happy and healthy vibe, of everyone pulling together to create something beautiful and worth delivering. We carry a moral message within our brand values, and actually I think that makes the staff very happy.
“When you are making a business it is almost entirely about the people you work with”
If you don’t invest in your staff in this way, and show people a world that they think they are making better, they won’t do a very good job for you. [The most important thing] is that people are secure; that they feel that the world that they live in is going to persist and get better, so they have the confidence to spend money and to take chances with their money.
“One thing I’ve noticed about business is that success isn’t always about making money”
It’s a silly way of keeping the score. If you’re really successful, it shows that your idea really was as good as you thought it was. Actually the pride is more important than the money, in lots of ways. I think that people do think about business a lot that way, but they often think that the money is the way they keep the score – so they often have cars they don’t really want just to demonstrate how well they’ve really done, when people would admire them anyway.
“The relationship between business and society is not just important, it is the watershed change of our generation”
I think in the old days, the general view was that if you got rich enough, you could bypass your moral obligations towards society. I no longer think that’s the case…If business doesn’t wake up and realise that it must take the moral responsibility itself, then we will find ourselves faced with politicians who see business as the enemy and who will decide to control businesses.
“Sustainable is a word that almost has no meaning now”
We wanted it sustainable precisely because it had to reflect the values of the story. So, sustainability was never much thought about; it was always going to be an organic, sustainable style of business anyway, because that’s the right thing for the brand.
“I wanted to do something that genuinely delighted me”
I started BeWILDerwood for a very un-businesslike reason, which I think is at the heart of a lot of successful business. I wanted to express myself. So, although it was clearly intended to make money, it is also about doing something of which I am proud.
“Regulations should not prevent you”
They should not permanently put you in fear of what you’re trying to do next. I think sometimes, areas of planning and social mobility can actually be negative. We’re moving towards an excessively regulated world.
“I think economies should be regulated to the benefit of society”
It’s that balance between allowing people freedom to express themselves while retaining security in the general economy… Some planning requirements are essentially taxes on the unaware. I think that it can be far too expensive and far too unaided by local government to show you what is the necessary requirement and what isn’t. Some local authorities will demand surveys not because they need them, but because they are on the tick box list.
“I’m all pro-planning regulations, but I think that the process could be hugely eased”
I think getting things to change can be unnecessarily expensive. On occasions where I’m building something new, the cost of persuading authorities that this is allowable to happen can be 1/3rd of the project. If you’re starting out, that’s pretty tough to face…I would love to see a government look at that.
“I know how I want to contribute”
My son is on the autistic spectrum and I’m vice president of Autism Anglia. It is quite clear that with a certain amount of adjustment on the part of businesses, people with autism can be very useful additions to your working team. We asked our own staff, and they unanimously said they’d love to get involved and to allow for the changes that might need to happen in our working practices to enable people on the spectrum to join us. I think that we businesses need to lead the way in these areas. Government can legislate, but it’s hard. It’s much better if we see this as one of the things that we do in return for the good fortune we have as being successful businesses. And in the end, we may make money out of the whole situation, so it may be a win for everybody.