DM MD and Wessex

Breathe Out – Series 2, Volume 1

DM MD and Wessex

We’re pleased to share that following the incredible success of our BreatheOut initiative last year, we are back with a brand new series filled with some incredible guests and some remarkable stories. Episode 1 sees our Del McGee and Mark Day joined by Mark and Luke Powell, co-owners of our longest standing supplier. A huge thank you to the guys from Wessex for sharing their story and being so open and honest.

Tell us a little about who you are and the job you both do? 

LP – I’m Luke Powell I’m one of the Sales Directors for Wessex cleaning equipment. I predominantly look after the machinery side of the business and have done for 28 years, ever since I was 16.

MP – I’m Mark Powell, I’m Luke’s brother and like Luke I joined straight from school. I started at the bottom like we all did, then found my feet in the janitorial side of the business, so everything from toilet roll, hand towels and sacks.  Basically everything that doesn’t involve machinery or anything needing a service, I’m the one that covers that.

How long have you been in your industry?

MP – So at the beginning it was our Dad’s company and sadly he passed away in a car accident in 1996 and had only been running the company for 5 years. We then found ourselves in a not so great situation being dealt those cards. This was a 100% sink or swim situation, Luke was 16, my sister was 18 and I was 13. I was still at school, Luke had just joined the company. Like any kids, we’d had no business experience or company experience.

LP – Lucky for me, I’d been working with Dad for almost a year as I was nearly 17 but certainly no business management. I was just picking and packing in the warehouse.

MP – What we did have was some really loyal customers and we still have some of those customers all these years on. I feel without them, they saw us through this incredibly difficult time.

LP – The main reason I got into the machinery side of the business is the janitorial side of the business is quite ‘cut-throat’ we feel we’re building relationships and go back a few months of giving a great service and they’ve decided to go somewhere else due to finding someone a couple of pence cheaper on their toilet rolls.

MP – We sort of accidentally found our love for different sides of the business. At one point though we found ourselves writing the theme tunes, singing the theme tune, loading the vans and unloading the lorries. Although the business wasn’t the monster it is today we can confidently say to all our staff that we have experienced everything and all elements of the business over the years. Due to what happened, in me it ignited a fire inside of me to safeguard my family and prevent what happened to me happening to them. If the same thing happened to me they wouldn’t have to go through what we did. It’s crazy because I don’t actually see Wessex as my business, I still see it as Dad’s and I don’t mind that and find it quite nice as I’m doing what’s right for the business and not being selfish.

LP – We still act in a way every day to do our Dad proud. When we first took over the business we always started the thought process of what would Dad do. As times developed we had to stop thinking like that, times have definitely changed but we’ve done this long enough. We’ve actually been involved for 25 years which is 5 times longer than Dad had it. I remember we had a contract with the MOD and I remember having to go and meet with them at 17! It’s crazy because as much as we’ve been dealt a crap hand there’s people worse off than us, some people lose both their parents but we haven’t let this define us or anchor us. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t think of him but we power through knowing it could have been worse. I still think like that today, if I’m having a particularly bad time or period I think back to when it was really tough and know I can get through it.

What makes the company you represent unique in relation to mental health?

MP – I think there’s a number of things that makes us unique. The first is the experiences we had when we were younger and how we can relate to our younger team members.

LP – we are sensitive towards it as it’s relatable to us and want to pass our support and guidance on through an empathetic attitude.

Tell us something most people won’t know about you, something fun. A fun fact or past life. 

LP – I can’t believe I’m saying this but mine would probably be, for the last 25 years I have watched an episode of Only Fools and Horses every single day. I religiously watch an episode before I go to bed. I don’t know why I’m telling you this but that’s my fun fact.

MP – a fact that most people won’t know about me is that during covid my wife and I did all the training to become foster parents. Not long term but more for weeks or months at a time. We wanted to make a difference. At the moment it’s on hold while our own kids go through some important periods of their own lives. We will definitely pick it back up. We’ve had kids now on a number of occasions, the longest being for 18 days and some are just for a couple of nights in the event of emergencies. We’re fully approved and will be getting back into it.

As part of the BreatheOut initiative, which highlights the positive impact of talking to someone, especially if you are struggling and also being active. How important are these two factors of combatting mental ill-health to you?

LP – I remember struggling a little while back, I was working really long hours and not looking after myself. I wasn’t eating properly, I wasn’t sleeping properly and I was over working. Those three things were a recipe for disaster and to help get through it I was kinder to myself and it really helped me. I cut back a little bit, stopped arranging early morning/long distance meetings and made a conscious effort to look out for me.

MP – For me we were both workaholics, I worked hard enough for a sustained period and knew I couldn’t maintain it without it doing some damage. We’d built the company up to a decent size and I’d been able to safeguard my family. I found fitness, now I’m the type of person that if I’m doing something I have to do it to the best of my ability. It’s all or nothing…always. 7 years ago I started doing the gym and I think every day since I done some form of physical exercise.

LP – When the tragedy happened, I remember people always saying to me, how are you, have you spoken to anyone. I’d remember saying, I can’t be doing any of that, I’ve got a business to run. At the time I thought Wessex became my total priority and I felt it helped me through it as it gave me a focus, drive and purpose but it also maybe stopped me from dealing with it. In retrospect and maybe if it happened now, when I’m older and wiser I think I’d talk to someone. People who I speak to who may have gone through something similar tell them they went on to speak to a counsellor and felt better for it. If I’m being honest, I think I probably should have.

MP – I’m the opposite, I’m happy I didn’t and don’t regret anything. In certain circumstances I’m happy on my own and in my own thoughts – although I think some professionals might be able to have a field day with me. I won’t let it rule my life, we’re not supposed to drive down the road that it happened and I do and did a long time ago. My dad was driving a red car and mum never wanted any of us to have a red car but I went and bought one. I don’t buy into superstitions and don’t let it rule me.

LP – I say this all the time and to my partner but nothing’s ever as good as it was when they were around. You can have a great occasion, Christmas, holiday and it will never be as good as it was.

Have you ever personally struggled with your own mental health. If so how did you or do you deal with it?

LP – so I’ve definitely struggled, around 10 years ago we were buying another company and it coincided with our Grandad dying and it was just too much for me. I was over working, I wasn’t eating properly and wasn’t sleeping. It got to a point where I couldn’t even get saliva into my mouth to eat. I lied to my partner about a made up ankle injury to get an appointment with my GP who took one look at me and said, do you want to tell me the real reason you’re here. It was really bad for 3-4 months, I opened up, looked after myself better, I was kinder to myself and the improvements followed. I remember driving up the A34 at 4am thinking, it’s a straight road and I can close my eyes for a little bit. That’s how bad the situation was. I was really bad, lucky if I got 3 hours sleep, booking meetings first thing in the morning miles away from home, over working, not eating. You can’t put diesel in a formula one car and expect it to perform and that’s exactly what happened. I remember saying to Mark and Sarah that I’m sorry and feel as if I’m letting you both down, they both immediately reassured me but opening up helped.

MP – For me it’s about not suffering in silence. My wife’s great and knows me very well. I like to sleep on things and see how I feel about it in the morning as things for me are not as bad as they seem the next morning. Exercise is key for me, it helps me work things out especially getting fresh air.

In business there is a stigma attached to people with mental health issues. Why do you think that is?

There is still a stigma attached to people with mental health issues. You need to be able to adapt to get the best out of your team and colleagues, sometimes it’s only a small adjustment that’s needed to create the best environment for people who may struggle. The way I look at it is if one of our colleagues came to us and said they have a bad knee and would like a desk downstairs we’d thank them for coming forward and make the exceptions for them. We should be doing the same for people with mental health issues. We have someone within our business who sometimes struggles with their anxiety and if it gets to a bad level they can’t come in.

MP – the world is a different place now, social media is a big part of our younger generations’ lives and with that comes more difficulties. Mental health support needs to be at the forefront of what we do in business and in life in general, suicide is affecting people more and more. A family I am close to lost their daughter recently. These social issues aren’t just things you’re reading about in the paper anymore it’s everywhere and we’re all affected by it so need to be more conscious and supportive of it.