In the Beginning


In early 2000, when the world was breathing a collective sigh of relief that aeroplanes weren’t falling out of the sky, my boss called me to a meeting. I’d recently been promoted, had young kids, had some vague plan regarding the next couple of years.

That was blown up by the news that Lex Retail Group was being sold to Pendragon. All a bit inconvenient for the Copeland household plan.

I didn’t see myself working in an organisation that was solely car dealerships. I also decided it was time to move away from Lex. And I’d had a hankering to do something myself.

Help – What Next?

I took the next three months off, obviously with the support of my family, to think about what was next. I learned some great lessons during that period, and into the first few projects as a freelancer.

  • Taking a break was great to reset my head and have a breather. Three months in a 40 years career is nothing and I always advise people to do the same if they can.
  • My most recent boss, the dear departed Don Aitkenhead, by then at Hyundai provided my first piece of work. I learned that maintaining good relationships with people and businesses, whatever the circumstances, is vital once you leave the corporate comfort blanket.
  • My attributes, skills, knowledge and experience work across sectors. I learned that, thanks to the faith shown in me by Paul Johnson (an interim provider) who secured my first assignment which was in the Public Sector.

Professor Stonac

We had lots of help from other freelancers and small consultancies, especially Mike Churchman and Hilary Coldicott. Mike helped us with the proposition – “Process Improvement, Project Leadership”. It wasn’t just the strap line – it is the still the basis of our services today.

The name came from STuart and FiONA Consulting. My two year old niece called Fiona ‘Ona’. We did the usual checks of companies house, for domains and Google to make sure it wasn’t a swear word in Polish or something. In fact, it threw up a Professor Stonac from an episode of Scooby Doo which was the clincher.


Keep in Touch

The ‘keep in touch’ process has evolved. I attended every networking event going when we started. I learned that they didn’t really work for what we were doing. As a result, our ‘how’s things’ process was born which is a simple way of staying in touch with people, informally and via email, phone and Costa coffee shops.

I recently saw that I joined LinkedIn on 23rd February 2004 which has become increasingly useful for staying in touch and knowledge sharing.

We have initiated a few meeting programmes for freelancers. We ran quarterly meetings for ‘people like us’, then under the auspices of Institute of Interim Management Local Meetings, then formed The Collaborators group.

There have been numerous another ad hoc gatherings including for former colleagues, some on the golf course, of course.

On this journey, customers and colleagues have become pals and has morphed into trips away and long running golf fixtures and golf tours. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and people just like playing at Woburn GC.

Entrepreneurial Adventures

We have also experimented. I worked with a great group of people to set up a franchise operation under a new brand Daisy. It didn’t proceed and used up some revenue but was an amazing learning experience.

There have been other explorations too. An attempt to establish a service for sufferers of diabetes, an opportunity around user experience measurement, and now Atonic4.

These experiences helped me understand the mindset of true entrepreneurs. I gained an insight into how you establish a social enterprise. I learned the paradigm shift required (in my head) to move from swapping time for money, and the difference between a capital and revenue based business model.

Becoming an Author

Photo of the book cover

When we started the business, I didn’t ever expect to become an author. People say everyone has a book in them but this one had to dragged out of me, kicking and screaming.

It was John Niland’s suggestion to provide a marketing vehicle to increase leads into both our project leadership and mentoring offers.

We worked up a topic based on my direct experience of working with people who had to balance project work and their day job. It is very common and nothing had been written about it, so I started the project.

It was a collaboration with Andy Coaton that ensured the book was finished. His skills at writing, especially creating the synopsis, helped us secure a publisher. We published in April this year.

Programme Express

Fiona met Nick Wilson while out with our young sons in the playing field nearby. It turned out we were all project managers working in large corporates. Shortly afterwards, we were all project managers working for new start ups.

Nick devised the first prototype of Programme Express shortly afterwards and we received a sneak preview. A couple of years later, Fiona started working with Nick to support new implementations in some impressive customers.

The social and business relationships continue to the present and include several mutual referrals. A great and long lasting collaboration.

Track Record

Someone said “The important thing is not how many years in your life, but how much life in your years!”

I’d like to think it’s s bit like that for Stonac. We are a small business but, through doing a good job and building good relationships, we have packed a great deal into our years.

We’ve worked in many sectors including automotive, public, hospitality, engineering services and several others.

We’ve worked with some of the most famous brands including Audi, Babcock, Bureau Veritas, Costa, SSE and Volkswagen. In fact, we have worked with over 50 customers since 2000.

We’ve worked on some fascinating projects too. It would take too long to pick all of the highlights from 150 projects. However, examples are Olympic preparation at Heathrow, opening new world class facilities, implementing new business models and transitioning operations following successful tenders.

What’s Ahead?

Project Leadership

OK, so out comes the crystal ball. We have seen a few down turns so while there are no guarantees the current recession will be exactly the same, there are some inevitable similarities.

Organisations will have to cut their cloth according to demand for their products and services. They will have to focus on building sales and making sure they look after their customers. Their pre-covid project list will shrink to those that are business critical.

But they may have to re-shape their business model to meet a changed market place. They will have to ensure their business is more resilient – I don’t believe anyone was ready for what has happened.

Therefore, it is likely organisations will require highly skilled, external support to help them make business critical business changes. In this environment, you really want people who really know what they’re doing to minimise risk associated with these changes.

Inevitably, people focused on sales and customer service will be working on projects too and we have a book that describes how that can work!

Support for Project Managers and Project Teams

I have helped a small number of people over the years. I believe the need will only increase over the next couple of years and an experienced guiding hand will be invaluable.

Our service is designed to support project managers (in organisations or freelance) and project sponsors. Everyone is different, so we tailor the programme accordingly. We provide support across the whole project life cycle, helping them solve their own problems and learn how the methodology can be their friend.

Where they are Freelance, we help with their business development and reduction of famine and feast.

For project sponsors, we act as a sounding board and provide an external perspective. In some cases, this extends to support for the project team too.

Automotive Omni-Channel Direct Sales of Cars

This is a bit of a mouthful but I’ll explain. I recently wrote about the change in the automotive sector here which should provide the context. Most car manufacturers are on a journey to online sales and some are going to direct sales or agency. We have teamed up with three other like minded consultancies to help manufacturers go faster and you’ll find more details at Atonic4 Commerce.

Learning from Traumatic Events

Very shortly, the Atonic4 team is launching our second proposition. This is designed to help organisations understand how their values are affected by a traumatic event. From that we’ll build the lessons learned and through to an action plan. Watch this space.

In Summary

It has been a great journey of ups and the occasional down, working with some great people, in some great organisations and running some great projects.

Here’s to the next twenty!