BEN CHERITON – KEEP MOVING FORWARDS
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye, Photography by Nick Hook
Ben Cheriton is an Exeter man through and through. Having been born and brought up here, he has only left for any significant time, for holidays, competing in sporting events and going on business trips. Otherwise, he has always lived, studied and worked in the city. However, this is not the result of some small-minded fear of the ‘big bad world out there’. Rather, it is proof of his firm belief in the city and love for the area. In his words, “Why move elsewhere, when everything that you could want is right here on your doorstep? Exeter is a brilliant place to live and work and it has a huge amount going for it.”
In many ways, Ben is your average twenty-something; an avid Exeter Chiefs fan, with a full-on work schedule and a healthy social life. If you saw him walking down the street you might even mistake him for ‘just another young professional’, but he is quite the opposite. In his late 20’s, it is fair to say that Ben is a man operating far beyond his years. He has personally started six successful businesses to date (all of which he is still the majority shareholder of) and has a proven track record in securing funding and raising investment for these ventures. He is one smart cookie.
I’ll come back to that in a minute though as, outside of work, one of the most fascinating things about Ben is his lifelong passion for Tae-Kwon Do. As a practitioner of the Korean martial art since the age of 8 (and having taught others since the age of 16), Ben is now a fourth Dan Black Belt Instructor.
He has taught and mentored students who then went on to become world champions and, in a moment of vulnerability, spoke openly about how a serious back injury suffered in a skiing accident, coupled with a long-term spinal condition (Congenital Stenosis), temporarily threatened to end his martial arts journey. Defiantly, he stated,
“It’s going to take a lot more than a damaged back to stop me doing what I love.
The sport of Tae Kwon-Do is fantastic and I really enjoy it. The sport and the martial art are very different things though as, in the sport, you are competing against another fighter but, as a martial art, you are competing against yourself.”
“It has taught me a huge amount as a person and as a professional. One of the main principles that I have learned from Tae Kwon-Do is that you have to keep moving forward. I have applied this principle to all of my businesses as well as passing it on to my students who I teach at the Dojang. No matter how hard you get hit, you just have to keep moving forward.”.
Having studied at West Exe School as a teenager, Ben explained how grateful he was for his education and his early experience of the business world, working in a few retail outlets in Exeter. He explained how his experience in his first few jobs was just as valuable in terms of learning as his time spent in education. Ben also spoke openly about his main motivator in business being that same forward-motion; not necessarily in terms of personal financial gain but more the knowledge that he is building something of value, offering excellent employment opportunities for his staff and doing the very best job for his shareholders and investors.
As someone who tends to operate more from the heart than the head, he explained how numbers have become an excellent friend in business, providing consistency, logic and reality when sometimes his vision or enthusiasm dials are turned up to full volume. Finding that balance has been key to his undoubted and replicated success.
It was, in fact, his Tae Kwon-Do business (and their lack of a training space large enough at the time) that led to the eventual setup of one of Ben’s other businesses, the Exeter Sports Academy (ESA). The ESA is a venue on Marsh Barton which acts as a base for multiple individual sports clubs, with three sports halls, two dance studios and a gym. Having only envisioned finding a small studio solely for the Tae Kwon-Do club this is proof that, sometimes, things pan out differently than expected in business.
Ben also outlined how working with an investment model not only reduces personal risk from a financial point of view but also opens the door to working with truly skilled and experienced business people. The skillsets, knowledge and advice of his investors have been just as valuable to him as their financial investment.
On top of his Tae Kwon-Do business and the Exeter Sports Academy, Ben also owns and runs iBounce (a group of Trampoline Parks in the South West), The Cauldron Inn (an Augmented Reality, magic-themed pub on Gandy Street) and his newest venture, the Pynes Hill Business Centre (a premium multi-tenant business centre based in the prestigious Pynes Hill area of Exeter).
In fact, we’re proud to announce that Grow Marketing Ltd is one of the first tenants to have moved in. But that isn’t what this article is about…so back to Ben. When I asked what motivated him to pursue such a variety of impressive business ventures and extra-curricular activities, he paused and went on to explain how, following the death of his Dad when Ben was just 20, he focused his attention and energy into his first business.
Ben clearly seeks inspiration from a variety of sources, recounting a fact that he heard a few years ago that, if you listen to an audiobook on all of your car journeys, you will gain the equivalent knowledge of a University degree every year. Evidently, Ben is ‘all ears’ as, throughout our conversation, he quoted motivational books, autobiographies of famous business people and even a poem called ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling.
Whilst expressing his desire and pursuit for balance in business, he recalled Kipling’s advice to “let all men count with you, but none too much”, an encouragement to collaborate and include others but never be unhealthily beholden to them. He explained how, with every business venture he has started, he has had different people tell him that it was a bad idea. Being receptive to feedback is vital in business but sticking with your gut and backing yourself is also essential if you are entrepreneurially-minded.
Another piece of astute advice that he has absorbed, this time from the late American entrepreneur Jim Rohn, is “Why be fine if you can be super-fine?”. He has adapted this phrase for his different businesses; for example, ‘Why punch fast when you can punch super-fast’. At a fundamental level, Ben is a firm believer that ‘Why do anything unless you do it properly?’. He is also committed to lifelong learning and knows that you can never know everything, so constant self-education is vital if you are going to keep moving forward in life (and business).
Whilst discussing his various business ventures, it became clear that Ben has embraced the ethical approach to leadership that says, ‘don’t ask your team to do something that you wouldn’t do’. Whether cleaning the toilets, working out rotas or changing the bins, Ben has made a habit of getting stuck in and showing his teams that he is willing to be involved on a regular basis. I asked him why he had this approach and he recounted an inspirational story that he had read, about Tana Umaga and Joe Rokocoko; star players in the New Zealand rugby team. After celebrating their biggest ever victory against the British & Irish Lions, they went to the cleaning cupboard of the changing room and restored the mess of the changing room to the spotless state they had found it in before the game. To coin the phrase used by the New Zealand rugby team themselves, win or lose you have to ‘sweep the shed’ and no man is too big for that job.
And when asked what the future holds for his growing business portfolio, Ben drew our conversation to a close, by saying, “People might assume that running six businesses would put me in a financial position to start taking my foot off the gas. Quite the opposite. I feel like I am just getting going and, although some of my different businesses are maturing and starting to show healthy profits, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.”
As I walked downstairs, away from the breakout space on the first floor of Pynes Hill Business Centre and towards my office, I found myself feeling like I had found yet another person to be inspired by in Exeter. It really is a city where visionaries and entrepreneurs can realise their dreams. Godspeed Ben – keep up the good work!
To keep an eye on Ben’s multiple business ventures, follow @ESAFitness, @TheCauldronInn and @ExeterEaglesTKD on Twitter.