It’s 9.32 a.m., the sun is shining and I’m already in a state of shock.
We’re just two minutes into the day, I’ve not touched my coffee and the swearing has already started.
There is a man in a black t-shirt with the words ‘One Man Empire’ printed across his chest, stood up and at the front of the room. Everyone else (one woman and 23 other men) are sat in silence – also in black ‘One Man Empire’ t-shirts.
That’s when it started.
One by one, the men around the table took stock, stood up and reported back to this ‘Iron Council’ about what the COVID-ridden boom or bust had entailed for them and their business since the last meeting one month ago.
“Gentleman, I was struggling to do £35k a month when I started here 17 months ago. Last month, and despite COVID-19, we had our first £60k month ever. Thank you all for your help, insight and support. It has kept me focused and motivated!”
A statement from 40-year-old Simeon Cattle, the owner of a classic car restoration business. A declaration that was received with a fierce round of applause from the room and the customary handing out of beers and back slaps in camaraderie to celebrate another man’s success.
These are the men of The One Man Empire Fellowship – an underground, closed-door environment for UK business owners who are in the process of “removing the stress, fatigue, and confusion from their situation by finally taking back control,” according to the group’s website.
A group where its members shell out £1,200 a month for the privilege of being part of this testosterone-dominated male band of brothers.
“Men crave brotherhood,” said One Man Empire Fellowship founder Charles Hutton, a 40-something who likes to swear (a lot) and acts like a cross between Howard Stern and Alan Sugar.
“Women are more united than ever and men are struggling to find their place. You see it everywhere from inside their business to inside their bedroom – driven but disconnected and dissatisfied men who want more.”
Charlie launched The One Man Empire Fellowship in 2016 to help headstrong males take back control of their businesses and their situations just like he did. At 28, he was running his own business and travelling around the world speaking. By 30, he was at the bottom of the barrel and on the brink of divorce as he relentlessly sacrificed home, health and happiness on a so-called mission of self-destruction trying to do more and more.
A few years later, after taking back control of his life from the business and turning it all around at home, he decided to use this unsavoury past to help transform the fortune of others.
“Now more than ever, men operating at the helm of their own business have been let down across the board,” said Charlie. “The Fellowship is 100% committed to changing that,“ he added.
The Fellowship is run out of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, and is a closed group of only 30 men. Its members, who travel the length and breadth of the country to attend in person, receive a mix of rapid personal development and business training with a focus on being able to compare notes and get honest and impartial opinions from other like-minded, smart and ambitious men.
“These types of men are the most misunderstood and underappreciated men on the planet today,” claimed Charlie. “It’s a worldwide crisis showing up in depression, divorce and destructive behaviour.”
“Truth is, this environment is an opportunity for men to be heard, to be understood, and to make their true feelings known. Far too often in life, it seems that our best course of action is muzzled by what others deem right or wrong.”
Members of this self-proclaimed ‘One Man Empire Brotherhood’ all operate their own businesses, have employees and range in age from 35-55.
Charlie added, “Most have got kids, some have been divorced and nearly all are at a point in their lives where something isn’t working. They are overwhelmed, fatigued and stressed.”
For those looking to apply to get in, the application starts with a lengthy pre-qualification questionnaire followed by an in-depth 60-minute phone interview.
“Only one in four who make it as far as the interview cut the mustard and are offered the opportunity to join,” commented Charlie.
“With such a tight knit group, I have to have a lengthy application process. We have a strict code of conduct, so it’s vital that only the right kind of individual makes it in,” he added.
“I’ve owned my own business for over 10 years and thought I knew it all,” said Ian Stone, 40, who owns an asbestos management business in Northampton.
He joined the group over 2 years ago. “This is a tough process that needs a thick skin. In my first meeting, someone had told me to ‘wake up and grow a pair’ because I was refusing to accept responsibility for the situation I was in. Something that I didn’t want to BUT needed to hear.”
Now, for those that haven’t seen or read about Charlie in the news before, he wasn’t always an authority figure. He grew up just outside of Birmingham and left home at 18 for Canada to play semi-professional hockey. At 28, after bouncing back and forth from Canada, he set up a marketing agency.
“Within two years, I was speaking all over the world and making more money than I thought was possible,” he said. He married Emma, with whom he had a son Barney in 2013.
That’s when the cracks below the surface really started to appear. “Just 48 hours after Barney was born, I was back in the car and back in the business. When I came home, my bags had been packed and I was out on my ear,” Charlie explained.
Charlie said he was heading for divorce, and despite being a new dad, all he focused on was work and the business.
“I thought I was doing the right thing to provide and protect. The reality was, I was a selfish pig who was never mentally present at home and only cared about customers. I’d lost all control to the business.”
He searched for answers in ancient Chinese philosophy. He started going to big ticket conferences abroad, doing fire-walks and reading a lot of old business books – anything to “help me figure out how to take back control.”
In 2016, he shot a documentary about his story and launched The One Man Empire Fellowship.
“I figured out that if you have other smart ambitious men around you that understand what you are going through, how to get where you’re going and will stand by your side no matter what, it’s powerful.”Charlie Hutton
His marriage with Emma is back on track and family is front and centre. It seems there are a lot of men in business out there who are looking for the same balance.
“Most men in this game that we call business don’t have a life. Despite what looks like success on the outside, most have never been more overwhelmed and alone on the inside. It’s why cracks appear and life begins to break down.”
According to Charlie, The Fellowship focuses on two principles: Rapid Deployment and Association.
“We tried doing it ourselves and just couldn’t seem to push forward,” said Neil Munro, 40, who lives in Moulton and has been in the group for over 3 years.
“Last year, we turned over £1.5M. This year, we have jumped to £2.7M. A massive increase and do you know what, we haven’t really felt that much busier. Pre-tax profit is up by 130%.”
Charlie preaches that deploying incremental changes fast is what allows those who are stuck to break free.
Chris Penman, a Scot who owns a structural engineering firm, took his seat around the table as the nationwide COVID lockdown kicked in.
“When COVID happened, my business ground to a halt. I thought that everyone else had stopped moving forward, too – that was until I saw what the other men in the group were doing to keep their businesses afloat and the money coming in. It forced me to see things from a different angle, start quickly deploying what needed to be done and as a result— even in a pandemic—make more money in 6 weeks than we usually make in six months.“
Charlie said that most of the men aren’t there just to make more money but rather to take back control.
“My 3-year-old daughter didn’t know who I was,” said Steve Timmis, an accountant and longstanding Fellowship member from Telford.
“I hired a coach to help try and plug the gaps in the business. But in The Fellowship are other REAL men who have gone through what you’ve gone through – rather than someone on a video call speculating what to do. These men are doing it and LIVING it.”
In addition to “standing by each other” – there is a commitment to regularly ‘purge’ bad customers.
One of the groups longest standing members, and a self-proclaimed ‘lifer,’ had this to say…
“It’s easy to lose focus right now. Customers seem to want more and more and pay less and less.”
His first challenge upon joining the group? “Sack All BAD Customers!”
“I literally sacked about 20% of my customer base. Funnily enough, it freed up 80% of my time. Meaning I could start to make more money and take Fridays off.”
“Whatever you do, don’t call The Fellowship ‘networking’,” Charlie told me as I left.
“Networking is a forced exchange over a shoddy breakfast,” Charlie corrected.
“The Fellowship is about belonging. About never being alone. About standing shoulder to shoulder with your fellow man to do whatever it takes…”
Charlie talks a lot about holding yourself to a high standard.
“I was scared when I joined,” admitted Matt Harmsworth, a 42-year-old surveyor from Inverness who drives over 8 hours every month to attend and to be held accountable and pushed further than I will push myself.
“It’s one thing to say to your wife things will change, it’s another to make a promise to 30 other men. These men hold me to a higher standard than I hold myself. Probably why I do more now in 90 days than I used to get done in 12 months.”
After spending a day inside of this environment, it started to become clear why some men were willing to commit to this kind of process.
For the men that I spoke to, The One Man Empire Fellowship is life-changing – even in a pandemic and even with all the swearing and male bravado.
Matt concluded by saying that the monthly enrolment was a no brainer. “Double, triple even quadruple the enrolment, and I’m still in.”