Paul Gaudin is a serial entrepreneur, board chair and investor. After originally training in mechanical engineering and then working in furniture design, Paul’s extraordinary career led him to the life sciences industry. Paul has built up an incredible wealth of experience from working in a diverse range of industries across the world.

As part of our Inspiring Leaders series, we had the privilege of interviewing Paul to hear his story and learn about the importance of leading by listening.

Leading by listening

Throughout my career, I’ve learnt that for ideas to take off, you need to bring your team with you by making sure they fully understand and are onboard with your proposed concepts. Perhaps counterintuitively, this often requires listening to their thoughts, rather than speaking about your own. I’m known for my chairmanship style of leadership. To resolve any conflict, I promote a walk and talk approach – the fresh air helps people to walk the stress off and communicate in a calm state.

Good leaders lead with compassion, clarity and engagement so that people aren’t left behind. It’s also important to give team members control and provide regular check-ins. Most of all, honesty is crucial for effective leadership, as it fosters trust and accountability, making the team more likely to work towards the company’s goals. These leadership skills didn’t come naturally to me at the beginning of my career — I developed them with each new opportunity that came my way.

Adapting to change

The traditional school system didn’t fit well with me, so I left at age 16 to train in mechanical engineering. From this, I started working in our family business that was set up by my grandfather in 1927. I helped to design equipment to manufacture high volume food products, such as Bisto gravy granules and Walls Cornetto ice cream. However, my grandfather sold the business in 1980 due to the recession and wanting to retire. Suddenly, I wasn’t in line to become the future managing director of the business, so had to completely rethink my career path.

I left the company and began a fill-in job designing kitchens. During this time, my friend had just bought a new build home with a box bedroom. They were about to have a baby, so asked if I would design some ergonomic furniture for the room. After designing and making the furniture in my father’s garage, my friend was really pleased with the result. This prompted neighbours to ask me to create furniture for them too. Soon, word of mouth spread, and the site sales manager put me in touch with the managing director of the homebuilder, Barratt Homes.

Seizing opportunities

The managing director commissioned me to provide furniture for their homes, so I had to make a business plan, establish a company, and set up a factory. Fortunately, I won the Peterborough Enterprise Award, which provided me with the capital to set up the factory. By the time I was 25, I had won multiple awards and grown the business into 6 factories and 120 members of staff. The business also moved into commercial spaces, fitting out over 100 estate agency offices, as well as showrooms for BMW and Rolls Royce.

I then had a call from America to fit out a bagel bar. After flying to New York and getting their approval on my ideas, we set up New York Bagel Company in the UK. Bagels were unheard of in Britain back then, so I had to figure out a way to sell them to high-street retailers. I saw an advert encouraging Britons to reduce fat in their diet to cut the risk of heart disease, and this triggered my marketing idea to promote bagels as the new bread roll with a non-fattening centre. It worked and bagels took off in the UK market.

Diverging into the life sciences

To my surprise, I then got a call from the chief executive of the Health Education Authority, who had seen my promotion of the bagels and wanted me to sit on a consumer health advisory board at the House of Commons. I expressed that I was by no means a consumer health expert but was happy to contribute my thoughts. After sitting in several meetings, I explained that the way they were speaking, full of different numbers and technical terms, wasn’t going to resonate with the public. Instead, I proposed the idea of an algorithm that generated one number that showed the patient’s risk of developing heart disease or a stroke. With the help of academics, this number, QRISK, is now in every GP practice in the UK.

The Government then asked if I would set up the national screening programme for cardiovascular disease to identify people with undiagnosed hypertension and hyperlipidaemia. I applied an engineering approach to design a portable system with everything screeners needed, from blood pressure monitors and scales to a laptop and sharps bin. The screeners I trained were sports scientists and exercise physiologists, who went on to screen over 1 million people. We advanced this further by setting up over 2500 pharmacy clinics to measure the blood pressure of patients over three weeks to make the system more efficient for GPs. I also ran the national diabetes screening programme, which found 750,000 undiagnosed diabetics in three years.

Uncovering the root cause

After this I got a call from the Scottish Government asking if I could help them to reduce heart disease in Hamilton. At the time, Hamilton was proud to be the centre of heart disease in Europe, so I had a difficult challenge ahead. They provided me with £250,000, a nurse and an office to come up with a way to change the Hamilton community’s lifestyle. I started out by holding a meeting at a leisure centre to talk to the community and find out why the problem was there.

After peeling back the layers, I discovered that it was because Hamiltonians had no hope, as many struggled with reading and writing and therefore had poor career prospects. To rectify this, I gave them free access to the leisure centre twice a week for organised sports, along with a free bus pass to get there and a healthy meal at each session. They were also given access to wellbeing programmes and a health check every three months. As well as this, they were taught how to read and write and supported to get a job. Within 6 months, street crime had dropped by over 50%. Over 11 years, 27,000 people went through the programme, significantly reducing heart disease by giving people hope and potential. The programme was such a success that Prince Charles paid a royal visit.

Pioneering in healthcare

I then went on to further develop QRISK with Aviva to create the product ‘My Health Count’. In addition, Vitality asked me to run a national screening programme for its members. I took the algorithm globally and travelled the world setting up offices, building teams, designing pharmacy infrastructures, and building insurance products based around behaviour change and preservation. I also bought some private GP clinics in London, set up an occupational health business and ran many other national screening programmes, such as for HMRC and Royal Mail.

My next endeavour was working with a professor to set up a clinical entrepreneur programme to provide doctors with the commercial skills to create and spread innovative technology for the benefit of patients. Over 1000 clinical entrepreneurs have been on the programme – it’s the largest in the world. I have 24 investments across the programme, from medical devices to healthcare insurance and AI.

I then set up CareRooms, a care B&B model to take homeowners’ spare rooms and turn them into step-up and step-down care environments for patients to prevent them going into homes. The model prevents loneliness by keeping patients in the community. We’re taking it internationally at the moment.

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