FOR his loyal employees there has only ever been one Michael Owen in Newcastle. Never mind the Magpies’ former England striker who has scored 40 times for his country. Step forward the other Michael Owen, Mike to his friends and colleagues, who found his 15 minutes of fame – well, an hour to be precise – on Virgin1’s documentary, The Naked Office.
The very same project instigated by David Taylor, who persuaded the staff of Mike’s company, OneBestWay, to get their kit off to improve relationships, morale, and ultimately, their business. It was a resounding success and, more than a month on, Mike has absolutely no regrets.
‘It was the best thing thing we’ve ever done in 10 years,’ he announces without a hint of hesitation. ‘People thought it was just a case of walking around with your bum out but it wasn’t about that at all. It was about removing barriers in the workplace for the good of the company.
‘Everybody was comfortable doing it and it was important my staff all felt safe and nurtured. I didn’t want them to come to me and say they did it for me, they had to do it for themselves.’
So how did Mike’s staff react to being asked to go naked for a TV documentary? He insists the choice was theirs. ‘They respected me for allowing them to be an individual and to make their own minds up,’ he adds. ‘I gave them a choice, and it was important they knew I didn’t make them do something they didn’t want to do. I think they were thinking, “wow, Mike respects me as an individual as he is asking my opinion”, which was great.’
Has the feedback from people in the city been positive? ‘It’s been around an 80-20% split,’ he says. ‘The 80% has been positive and the 20% negative. On twitter, I had some people texting me saying we were stupid. But when I texted them back and said, “that’s fine, it’s your opinion and it’s not for everyone”, they then came back when it was one to one and said, “actually, good on you”, so they changed their opinion. One guy did that and I actually ended up donating some money for a fun run he was doing, even though I didn’t know him, once we’d spoken one to one.’
One BestWay has gone from strength to strength since the start of last year. Redundancies were inevitable if the business was going to survive – then the TV documentary changed the outlook still further. ‘We were systems heavy and wasteful. It was the simplicity of the nakedness theme,’ says Mike. ‘David would say, “what are you doing that for?” and “what are you doing this for?” and I would say “I don’t know”. Then he would just say “don’t do it then.” It was so simple.’
Mike is finding there is a far more open approach from his staff to situations that arise at work. They are happy to approach him, expressing how they feel, getting it out in the open, and quickly moving on and putting any problems behind them. So much so, that he can’t thank David enough for changing the communication aspect of his company.
‘It’s so much better now,’ he adds. ‘And I don’t think it’s because they’ve all seen me wandering around the office with a sock on my willy.’