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henry stewart

We catch up with Henry Stewart, chief happiness officer of Happy, the learning provider he founded almost 30 years ago

photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer H

enry Stewart’s company was originally called Happy Computers and focused on

making learning about IT an enjoyable experience. Te company has been widely recognised, winning awards for customer service and, for five successive years, for being one of the UK’s top 20 workplaces. Happy has twice won (and four times been runner-up as) the Learning & Performance Institute’s Learning Provider of the Year. Te company developed a

highly interactive style based on the age-old principle: Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand. Henry is best known for promoting

the concept of happy workplaces. His book, Te Happy Manifesto, was short- listed for the CMI business book of the year when it was published in 2013. In 2011 Henry was added to

the Guru Radar section of the Tinkers50 list. “He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business,” explains list compiler, Stuart Crainer.

Why training and how did you start?

I have always been fascinated by how people learn. At university I became

very aware that how intelligent people were academically had little to do with their ability to teach. Long ago, when I used to work for other people, I always became the one helping others to learn technology. I love that spark when people get it. I loved it when I was teaching Excel (or, in the early days, WordPerfect and SuperCalc) but I love it even more when people get that eureka moment around their own development or their management approach. When I decided to step out on

my own, a business based on helping people learn was the natural choice.

Who or what inspires you?

Ricardo Semler is the man who transformed my business and my work, when his book Maverick was published in 1993. We were only a three-person business but I was a typical micromanager. Even on holiday I would ring back every day to check how people were doing. In his book, Ricardo describes

how he took over his father’s fridge manufacturing company. He changed it from a factory where workers were searched on the gates every day to one where they were trusted to set

their own targets, organise their own workplace, choose their manager and even, in some cases, set their own pay. We implemented it straight away.

A year later I was off for three weeks with pneumonia and, when I got back, I had just two messages to deal with (this was before email). Everything else had been sorted and sales had increased. My aim was to make myself dispensable, and it was working. In business, I am also inspired by those who work for social change; people like Anita Roddick and Ben & Jerry’s, to activists from Harriet Tubman, Ida Wells, the street fighters of Cable Street to Nelson Mandela. Also, individuals who simply

showed huge courage to challenge despots, like Georg Duckwitz and Hugh Tompson (Google them!).

What has been your lowest moment and what your noblest hour?

In the 1980s I joined a project to establish a national, left-wing, cam- paigning tabloid newspaper. We hoped to change the nature of the media with News on Sunday. At first all went well. We raised £6.5m. But then it went less well. We lost the lot in six weeks. (Te book about the newspaper is called

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