Entrepreneurship Future of HR Future of Work

Providing customised learning for hundreds of clients to life capability and culture globally

My first interaction with e-learning happened in 2012.

I was still running a recruitment business and the intent is to keep the recruiters sharp and let them level up themselves.

Given that I only know so much, I acquired an e-learning course.

Mobile learning wasn’t prevalent then and we only have one user license.

Hence it became a lunch-and-learn thing.

Food was catered while teams take turns to crowd in our meeting room to go through the videos.

The videos would range from 20 mins to 2 hours.

It it hard to keep up with concentration especially after the food sinks in.

E-learning has since evolved a lot going the way of mobile learning with platforms such as Alt Learning.

And platforms would require content – this is where a company like Inspire Group comes in.


For the readers who are not familiar, could you give an introduction?

I am the CEO of Inspire Group Asia, and lead on expanding Inspire Group throughout SE Asia.

I have worked for Inspire in New Zealand for 4 years, expanding our leadership development and learning products and services throughout NZ and Australia, and prior to that was a CEO in New Zealand and the UK.


What motivated you to start the Inspire Group?

Partly, my love of Asia!

I also wanted to learn, grow and stretch myself in a new challenge- and launching a new business in a new part of the world is a very big challenge.

But, on the best days, it is the most rewarding and enjoyable work adventure I have ever undertaken!


So what does the Inspire Group do?

We have a simple reason for being: better learning is life changing.

This challenges us to only work on projects where a client wants to make a real lasting difference to team culture and behaviour- we certainly don’t get involved in any ‘tick box’ work!

We work with teams from 50 people to 30,000 people and all over Asia and beyond- on leadership skills, wellbeing, mindset and communication through programmes, products and digital learning.

What drives us is our passion to make the 10,000 days we spend at work as enjoyable as possible- for us, and the teams we work with! Simple.


How did you get funded?

We have had some great help, advice and start up funding from the New Zealand Government but also from Inspire Group in New Zealand too.

This ensures that we are even more rigorous with our planning, forecasting and reporting.  Not always easy in a new and varied market like SE Asia.


Who would you regard as your closest competition?

That’s a great question.

On one hand, it can be the sole traders (after all, anyone can call themselves a trainer facilitator or coach)- but they do struggle to offer the range of products and innovation that we can, particularly through our hub back in New Zealand.

We also compete with larger franchised providers that sell a certain model or methods of learning, but here we have the advantage of being flexible- everything we do is tailored to the challenges, culture and pain points that the client wants to address.

By the way, failing to do this is the number one reason that learning doesn’t make an impact.

So, we have a great selling point here!

But, I would say that the biggest competitor to our digital mobile learning solutions is actually social media, or anything else that draws your attention away on the phone.

Our solutions therefore need to be as outstanding, appealing and visually attractive as all the other apps on your phone trying to grab precious screen time!


6. And your biggest customer to-date?

Our biggest customer is currently a large regional provider in telecommunications.

They were also our first customer, so that makes this even more satisfying.

Like many of our clients, they were unhappy with what other providers were offering for leadership, culture and HR tech solutions- they had tried many and didn’t see a lasting impact.

So, they were very interested to talk with a new and emerging company in Asia with almost 20 years award winning experience back in New Zealand working for 100’s of companies, and constantly innovating with fresh solutions focused on impact; or as we say ‘context over content’!


What has worked well for you in marketing Inspire Group?

We use a lot of the usual channels- social media, EDMS etc- but I think the biggest impact we have is still from speaking about what we do and our point of view: at events, conferences, any kind of gathering in fact!

And, making sure that we share this widely too on social media, of course.


What is your proudest moment in the history of the Inspire Group?

Many to choose from, and new ones continue to happen too.

It’s always great to start working with a new client and to visit new countries and teams- that’s really satisfying and uplifting.

But, I think the proudest moment that comes to mind recently is speaking at a big event in front of 100’s of people and having all of our team smiling and supporting me in the front row.

As ever, its all about the people we work with!


Has any failure, or apparent failure set you up for later success?

In our work with teams, we talk a lot about a growth mindset being simply the ability to view a ‘failure’ as learning a way not to do it next time.

And I do try to keep that view- even on the tough days.

I am also a big believer in fate: if it is meant to be, it will happen.

So, I would say that some of our ‘failures’ in the early days in terms of work we didn’t win definitely helped us reframe our offer and proposition for the market in Asia.

It’s a cliché, but we learn more through our losses than our easy wins.


Do you have anyone that is a major professional influence?

It’s from a while back and definitely not someone you can follow online (they are long retired!), but in my first ever senior leadership role in London, my Director taught me a lot about balance and perspective: and how that even on the toughest and most stressful days, we must remember that its ‘only work; and that our health, family and relationships are what really matters’.

I have to say that I absolutely love my job- so it often doesn’t feel like ‘work’ at all: but remembering those wise words has become even more important.


Any book or books that have greatly influenced your life?

Well, the funny thing is that I didn’t actually read that many ‘work books’ in the first few years of my leadership career: I simply didn’t have the time, or perhaps didn’t make the time.

Being based in NZ and Malaysia, I travel a lot and am making up for that now.

3 that really resonate are:

  • The One Thing by Gary Keller: I love the simple act of prioritising and reducing our daily task list to focus on the most impactful action.

  • The Founders Mentality by Chris Zook: packed full of great examples of how to scale, and sustainably too. I like the concept of rapid and repeated experimentation

  • Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis: Ok, so naturally I am loving books about founding and growing businesses at the moment, and this is another awesome playbook. I have it on Audible and regularly dip in and out for a boost!

In the last 12 months, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

I travel a lot, and that can mean too much time away from family- which is not good for me, them, or my overall mindset.

So, a simple tweak I made recently is to work as much as I can when away, maximising all the available time, so that when back in NZ, I can also maximise my family time.


Any part of your work that you are putting in extra hours to improve on?

Actually, I am not great at team based work or collaboration- so I feel quire well suited to what is often a quite isolated role of CEO (and particularly one that is often travelling!).

I work on this by trying to look at where I can best make an impact on team based challenges, its all about playing to our strengths really.


What’s one productivity hack you can’t live without?

So simple, buts its my daily to do list- all based through the notes on my phone and synced to all devices, the tasks are drawn down from a wider list of priorities for the month/quarter/year ahead- and using the One Thing principle, I try and prioritise where I can make most impact each day.

Recently, I have also began to schedule long daytime flights rather the overnighters as whilst it seemed counterintuitive to take up a whole day travelling, I found this was ultra productive time- many hours offline and undisturbed by the outside world- perfect focusing time!


[callout]Keen to learn more about James or the Inspire Group?

Go to their website at or check out their social media channel on LinkedIn and Facebook.[/callout]


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