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Fireside Chat with William Makant
- My name is William and I am the CEO and co-founder of Plumis. I am a mechanical engineer and worked with automotive engines before starting Plumis 11 years ago, as part of my MBA course.
At Plumis I have led the development of a number of award-winning (Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation, Red Dot etc) domestic fire suppression products with private and Innovate UK backing. I also contribute to the FIA/BAFSA watermist working group and help liaise their activities with the International Watermist Association (IWMA).
- How have you been affected by COVID-19?
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted sales as a number of our installations are in the homes of vulnerable occupants, many of whom are self-shielding. Obviously, their safety and the safety of our staff is paramount. We are ready to resume work on installations when conditions are safe to do so, and our customers are comfortable with work resuming in their homes. This is, however, just part of our business: our R&D and marketing efforts have continued at full capacity with a swift transition to remote working and online activity (including many successful webinars) while our production planning has been adapted to ensure safe working including social distancing and additional hygiene measures. We were also fortunate as we had just completed another equity investment round giving us the backing to continue investing in the future while mitigating some of the impacts of COVID-19.
- Do you have any pets?
Not currently no, I have three children aged 9, 8 and 7, which is enough on my plate. The last thing I need is a pet that they won't take care of. If I was going to have a pet it would probably have to be a Golden Retriever which is the dog I had during my teenage and university years.
- What’s your favourite movie of all time?
Back to the Future, I love it because it's about engineering, innovation and gadgets. Also, my personal hero is Doc from the movie due to his amazing bodges (technical solutions).
- Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Always disassembling stuff
- What is your biggest pet peeve/hate? If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
Not being considerate of others, being considerate is something I've always tried to teach my kids.
- If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
Probably the Renaissance era due to Leonardo da Vinci and all the other crazy stuff that was going on at the time; or perhaps, the Industrial Revolution. Whilst it isn't as romantic, I'm interested in the steam engines and other inventions of the time.
- If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
If I hadn't decided to leave the automotive industry, I would have probably remained in that industry like many of my friends have. I remember being told by my manager at Ford to look up at the vice president role and saying “this could be you in the future”. I remember thinking that there was no work-life balance and it was an incredibly stressful job. So, I thanked my manager for bringing this to my attention because it made me realise that that way of life was not something I wanted for myself or my family. I also have a passion for bicycles whether that be mountain bikes or road bikes, so I would probably want to be doing something with those although that industry is very tough to break into as it is already ultra-saturated, whereas the fire industry isn't.
- What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
At the moment it tends to be chosen by the kids. Fortunately, they are passed listening to ‘Baby Shark’ and they are learning piano and guitar at school. As a result, they just want to listen to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Guns and Roses and Queen - so I am very happy.
- If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
One would be Nassim Taleb who wrote ‘The Black Swan’. He is very intelligent and offers a very interesting perspective on the financial system of our society. His views on entrepreneurs expressed in his book ‘Skin in the Game’, are also very interesting. I would sit him next to another smart guy called Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, as I like his philosophy that you develop ideas, you will get things wrong and you will be criticized for going against the mainstream but by focusing on your principles and putting all your effort into an idea it will be worth it. Finally, it would be Richard Feynman who is an author I like. Having those three people in the same room would be fascinating and the best thing is I wouldn't have to say a lot, all I would do is listen to what they were talking about.
- What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
My Swiss army knife which I take with me everywhere, as it’s so useful and can fix a lot of problems. My second item would be something that could easily start a fire.
- Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
One book would be ‘Why we sleep’ by Matthew Walker. It absolutely changed how I go about my days and more importantly how I sleep.
- If you had a spirit animal, what would it be and why?
I can only think of my golden retriever, as the idea of being a dog and jumping into the sea on a lovely beach seems fantastic.
- What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
Anything that my sister has given me throughout the years has always been an amazing gift. If I was to give a more spiritual answer it would be children because whilst it is hard and parents have to bear such a heavy load, being able to see yourself in your children and how you can positively affect them is so worth it.
- What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
It was actually a present my sister bought me, a Lev Yashin sports top - he was a great Soviet goalkeeper. I love it because it has CCCP on it and as a kid I dreamed of being an astronaut so I would draw astronauts with NASA and CCCP space suits. It was such a thoughtful and unique present. I've had it for quite some time and it has a fair few holes in it, so maybe it's time and I frame it now instead of insisting on wearing it.
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To be able to fly, as I have always wanted to learn how to fly a plane or a helicopter, which is something I am yet to do. But flying without a machine would be even better.
- What's the best piece of advice you've received?
Pick your battles. This advice was given to me by my sister and I have used it both personally and professionally. Some battles are not worth fighting, so you have got to pick the ones that are critical to what you are trying to achieve.
- What time did you get to work this morning?
07:30 this morning, as I was writing a document which is for one of the battles that I've decided to fight so, was finishing in the morning before networking at the LGA Conference in Blackpool.
- What does your usual day look like?
There is no usual day. I might be working from home writing documents, doing my emails, presenting or talking to stakeholders, or taking part in FIA meetings and groups. I have found that my job has turned into educating customers and stakeholders about our products and the principles that drive them more than anything else.
- What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
The fire industry, when compared to the automotive industry where I came from is very slow in adopting new technology. In the life safety side of the fire industry, there is a huge opportunity to drastically improve it. Our view is that innovation can be transformative because when a solution is able to add so much value to stakeholders (end-users, property owners, insurers) they will want to voluntarily adopt the technology instead of being told by regulation that they must have it.
- What do you like about the fire industry?
There is so much opportunity for improvement in the fire industry; for innovation that can be implemented to improve fire safety and the fire industry as a whole.
- How does your work and family life come together?
I guess one of the benefits of owning a company is that you can work in a more flexible way. I am able to collect the kids from school or from their activities when needed and I also work from home quite a lot which has allowed me to spend a lot of time with my family. It does also mean, however, that I take phone calls on the beach during my holidays, there is no free lunch.
- What matters most to you?
Generally, for me, it is integrity and this goes back to Nassim Taleb’s book Skin in the Game and it is about doing the right thing, so not abusing any powers that you have over others and acting with integrity. In a professional sense, it could be making sure that our products are working as we say they will. Integrity is a huge part of Plumis’ culture.
- What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
It is harder than you think - whatever it is you are doing. If you want to take things seriously and do really well then it will be hard. Don't choose to innovate in the fire industry if an easy path is what you want, some would go further and say it is a naive thing to do.
- What motivates you?
Knowing where I want Plumis to be in the future motivates me. Having the clarity of where I want to go and what I want motivates me on a day-to-day basis. This clarity has only come with age and gaining a greater perspective on what I want from life. Planning ahead and creating a long-term objective makes things easier in the short term because everything you do now is linked to the long-term goal.
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I would like to see us realising the vision that we have for the product. I would be happy to not even be involved professionally in the company if I have achieved the goal of where I want the product to be in 5 years, which I think is very doable. I would like our company to be the Tesla of residential life safety, not only in terms of the automation, user interface and remote software updates but in terms of disrupting the status quo to lead the way for a better industry and society.
- Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
I have had a very positive experience with the FIA because we didn't have involvement in the industry. The mistake that we made was that we didn't join the FIA sooner and as a result, we couldn't get involved in the committees and industry discussions that FIA promote. e Being involved in the FIA working groups has helped us, as a business, understand where we are situated within the industry. It also allowed other stakeholders within the industry to understand what Plumis does. The FIA also helped me get more involved with international associations such as the International Watermist Association because the FIA highlighted the importance that taking part and engaging with trade bodies and trade associations can have for businesses.
- What do you want to say to the people reading this?
You managed to get to the end - congratulations.
In the next edition of Fireside Chat will be with Simon Routh-Jones, HM Chief Inspector of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
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*All answers given are not reflective of the FIA views and thoughts and are that of the individual who was interviewed.
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