For the past week I’ve been awash in emotions, some of them quite dark and heavy. I’ve also been afloat on two small bottles of prosecco. The reason for both of those mood swings is the same.
The cause has been the conviction and imprisonment of Lawrence Jones, the former CEO of Manchester web hosting company UKFast, on two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault. Strangeways, here you come. For fifteen years.
I had a deeply unpleasant virtual encounter with Lawrence Jones in 2009, after I called him out for UKFast’s advertising strategy. If you don’t know what that was, that was getting his very young interns to dress up as even younger sexy spanking schoolgirls.
To sell web hosting.
I summarised what happened next in a Twitter thread here. Hint: it wasn’t pleasant. It involved online pile-ons, sock puppets, and defamation.
To be clear, I never met the man IRL, but as you can tell, I got the full measure of what he was capable of from 217 miles away. Manchester is my second home, and from 2009 on, every time I attended any tech event in Manchester, I had to scan the attendee list. Quickly. Just to make sure he or one of his arselickers wasn’t there too.
When the FT broke the revelations about his serial sexual predation in 2019, putting on the public record what literally everyone in Manchester already knew, my reaction of “I told you so!” was well justified. Pervert Turns Out To Be Pervert. Amazing.
My feelings over the past week have been more complicated to deal with.
I ache for the many people he hurt with his words, threats, and manipulation. I cry for the women he systemically pursued and sexually assaulted for decades. And I rage against his enablers – ranging from his apologists back in 2009, to his backslappers in the UKFast board, and to one person in particular – with an anger that should make them all glad that I’m nowhere physically near them. I suspect I am not alone in that.
To that end, I am working through a very long and difficult blog post about the Joneses, plural, grounded in what my 2009 encounter with him revealed about their depravity. What I am writing about is the fact that his predatory sexual violence was very much a team effort between Lawrence and his number one enabler, fan, and procurer of young fresh meat: that being his co-founder, managing director, business partner, and wife, Gail Jones. And that her participation in all of that wasn’t just willing and voluntary: it was far sicker than anyone ever realised.
It’s killing me to write that post, TBH.
Which is not a patch on what his victims must be feeling.
As I sift my rage into pieces that I can write about for more than a few minutes at a time without needing to pace around my flat in frustration, I find myself calling out all the things that showed the world exactly who they were all along, if the world had cared to look. All those behaviours and actions and habits which let them do what they did, in plain sight, in full public view, to rapturous applause. It’s one of those habits – a hard habit to break, in fact – that I’m going to sift out into this blog post.
And yes to the clients I owe things to, I know. They’re coming. I have to write and press publish on this so I can get back to you. I have to get this out of my system. After all, it’s been pressing down at me for more than 14 years.
For our purposes, today:
what I find myself focusing on is how Lawrence and Gail Jones were really into business awards.
So go on this side quest with me and stay to the end.
Awards are for losers
Now let me put my cards on the £1500 table here: I really don’t like business awards.
And for good reasons.
My disdain for them began twenty years ago, here in Glasgow, when I was briefly employed by a publicly funded ALEO which tried to compel me to nominate them for a business award. When I refused, they pulled me into a disciplinary hearing. My seemingly obvious defense was that we were a public sector organisation, not a commercial enterprise, and therefore we had no business using taxpayers’ money to pat ourselves on the back, much less through an awards scheme meant for for-profit businesses. That earned me five minutes to clear out my personal possessions and a month’s severance pay. After my departure, they proceeded to engage in all sorts of self-congratulatory back-patting, until Glasgow City Council shut them down for financial funnies on the management’s part.
The stonkingly obvious lesson there was that managers who are desperate to collect business awards are probably hiding something. Like, wow, who would have thought.
The year after that, I found myself working at a classic West of Scotland boys’ club which depended on its annual “glittering awards ceremony” – meaning a kilted piss-up compèred by an alcoholic dinosaur spewing sexist and sectarian jokes from the 1970s – to pay the organisation’s bills. The nominations process for the “glittering awards ceremony” consisted of the events manager phoning every single company in the local area and asking them, and I quote,
“em, are youse wantin’ to nominate yersel for wan o they awards?”
(Not exactly the Booker Prize longlist there.)
Years after I left that company (yes, it was that company, the one what I wrote about on Heropress), I learned that the events manager had started a turnkey vanity awards company, helping clients to set up and stage their own piss-up dos as their own moneyspinners. Em, scuse me, “glittering awards ceremonies” distributing “prestigious awards”.
What can I say, we all have professional skills, some more useful than others.
So no, I really don’t like awards, nor do I have a high opinion of people and companies that collect them, nor do I have any time for people who consider a night of sexist and sectarian bile, plus acrylic trophies and drunken applause, to be a cracking night out.
(Let’s be clear here: my beef is with business “awards”, the overwhelming majority of which belong in scare quotes. I’m sure there are meaningful business awards somewhere out there, honouring meaningful work and jobs well done, and which aren’t all built around enabling functional alcoholism and workplace sexual assault. Probably. I have no beef with them, nor with authentic awards for things like community volunteering, clubs, schools, grassroots projects, and the like. You folks deserve all the praise you can get, and more.)
As for what drives that aversion beyond my own professional experiences, maybe that’s because I’m that rare freak who is comfortable in my own skin and who cares not a jot for what others think of me. And maybe I’m that rare leader who believes that honouring your team is about supporting them to flourish in their livelihoods, as opposed to plying them with booze at a £1500 table before anointing them with the Best Underwater Basketweaving Company (10-50 employees) 2023 gong.
But still. I don’t get it. In fact,
<Carrie Bradshaw voice>
I couldn’t help but wonder:
</Carrie Bradshaw voice>
Whatever happened to being proud of a job well done? Why can’t people just be happy with who they are? Why to they need to rub their low self-esteem, and high egomania, all over the place? Why do they need an acrylic trophy and a piss-up do to affirm what they’re doing? What’s this craving for “prestige” about?
Look. If my career has taught me anything, it’s that business awards are a red flag about the leaders who covet them.
And so we come to Lawrence and Gail Jones, who are Exhibits A and B in proof of that fact.
You will applaud our strippers or else
Lawrence and Gail Jones loved a gong. Wikipedia tallies them up:
Between 2005 and 2009, UKFast won six Internet Service Providers Association awards and was named “Best Hosting Provider” for four years running. UKFast received the Data Centre Solutions Awards’ “Private Cloud Product of the Year” in 2012 and the DatacenterDynamics Award for “Innovation in Outsourcing” in 2013. In the same year, UKFast received the National Business Awards “Employer of the Year” award and the Institute of Customer Service “Employee Engagement Strategy of the Year” award. UKFast has also featured in The Sunday Times’ “100 Best Small Companies to Work For” and the Great Place to Work Institute’s “Best Workplaces” lists, placing 7th and 8th respectively in 2019, 9th and 25th respectively in 2018, and 5th in both lists in 2017. They placed 28th and 12th respectively in 2014, 25th and 5th respectively in 2013, and 45th and 7th respectively in 2012
Many of their victims have cited the “Great Place To Work” accolade, in particular, as one of the obstacles they had to being taken seriously when they tried to speak the truth about what happened in that place. Indeed, when the Financial Times broke the revelations, the first thing Lawrence Jones reached for was his
crusty office dildo his bag of gongs:
“Mr Jones in a statement emphasised that UKFast was a highly regarded business that had won several prestigious awards for its corporate culture. “We take great pride in the fact that our team have over the past 10 years been responsible for UKFast featuring regularly in the Sunday Times’ ‘Best Companies to Work For’ list and similarly in the ‘Great Place to Work’ list.” – source
In any case, that list is why so much of the coverage of the trials described UKFast as an “award-winning” business, and Lawrence Jones as an “award-winning” businessman. And not only an award-winning businessman, but an MBE too. Although that, apparently, was as bought and paid for as an acrylic gong at a piss-up.
As should have been obvious all along, collecting business awards and honours was part of the Jones’ predatory pathology. After all, who would dare question an “award-winning” business, or look beyond an “award winning” businessman-cum-MBE-here-have-some-more-cum?
The thing about predators is that too much is never enough, so when collecting gongs didn’t fill them up anymore, they moved on to shilling gongs too. They became the lead sponsor of an annual business award ceremony, and gave it what I can only hesitate to describe as the Lawrence Jones bad touch.
As it turned out, that night became the spark that lit the fire that resulted in last week’s criminal convictions.
The awards ceremony, held in November 2017, was by all accounts a titty show disguised as a respectable night out. Sexy dancing girls did acts that left attendees open-mouthed in shock. A reality show celebrity compère spewed out horny jokes from decades before he was born that weren’t even funny back then. (The Guardian reported that “the show basically revolved around ‘jokes’ about wives giving blowjobs to their husbands”). And so on and so forth.
The night was an ordeal of cringe and shame for people who’d paid a lot of money to be there and so they sat through it when really they just wanted to go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die.
And this all, incredibly, was in the context of honouring women in tech – which, after all, was the Jones’ cover story for their sexual procurement operation.
The night was so achingly, cringey, mind-numbingly bad that most of the awardees handed back their trophies out of sheer embarrassment.
That triggered Lawrence Jones’ trademark style of retribution which everyone in Manchester already knew all too well: threats, harassment, and a cease-and-desist from his white shoe lawyers.
The Joneses also apparently !! hired a private detective !! to investigate the people who spoke out against the event. Fucking hell. Literally.
But like a barely legal stripper jumping out of a cake, the events set in motion that night couldn’t be put back. For Manchester, the city that by God I love more than life itself, seeing the Joneses throw that tawdry awards do as a provocation to find yet more people to threaten and harass was the final straw.
Now how did Lawrence and Gail Jones respond to being caught out for who and what they really were? As they would eventually do in his rape trials, they tried to throw their personal wealth at it to make the problem go away. They set up a fund of £50,000 to “help carry on and widen the conversation of gender equality and diversity” because they were the *sob* parents of daughters *sob*, or something.
Over 50 actual tech leaders in Manchester signed an open letter refusing to take a cent of it.
(That incident is the one thing in this whole tawdry saga that I find funny. Imagine actual posh Tories trying to throw money at Mancunians to try to get them to shut up. MANCUNIANS.)
In the wake of the “glittering awards” do and their attempt to
bribe buy their way out of their reputational damage, people began to ask perfectly reasonable questions such as: what kind of businessman buys his wife and his PA matching hotpants and has them play around in each other’s laps? Yeah.
Or as a former employee said to me, “I worked there and saw him for what he is could see at the time. Zero morals and an utter misogynist. I resigned, bizarrely, after he spoke graphically about him and his wife.” Yeah, that too.
And so on and so forth.
Everyone in that city had heard things: rumours, whispers, things they themselves had witnessed, things friends of theirs had heard. Everyone knew. But enough was enough.
From that night on, no one was going to be quiet anymore.
Enough is enough
The Joneses’ depravity must force us all to pause, reflect, and find ways to prevent it from ever happening again, as it did, in plain sight.
I can think of no fitter place to start than by letting their behaviour mark the death of “glittering” business awards ceremonies, once and for all.
Kill them all off, kill off every last one, kill them off for good.
Let the wheezing, sexist, and sectarian dinosaur compères go extinct.
Let the 20th century backslapping boys’ clubs that depend on awards ceremony revenue follow them, quickly.
Let the executives that have spent too much time collecting too many gongs have a hostile eye turned on them.
Let that eye be as hostile as the cease-and-desist letters that Lawrence Jones’ lawyers sent on retainer.
Fuck ‘em. Fuck all these people and fuck the “awards” culture that enables them. Fuck business awards. Fuck your business awards. Fuck you. You helped to feed the beast that made this possible.
But while we’re there, let the incredibly rare award programmes that actually mean something, and aren’t egotripping moneyspinners at best and enablers of criminality at worst, and which really do honour deserving people for outstanding work, well, stand a little bit taller.
Let us also take look at the for-profit companies which help criminals like Lawrence Jones to play the honours game, cheapening what should be a rightful accolade into a shield against whispered allegations that turn out to be 120% true. Imagine if someone hacked a certain “awards intelligence” company’s client database and passed it to a decent investigative journalism outlet. Imagine if Lawrence Jones’ MBE was a breadcrumb. Imagine if there’s another “leader” out there buying an alphabet of letters after his name to cover for a lexicon of rumours.
Imagine if that person could be stopped, right now, before he hurts as many people as Lawrence Jones did.
We have to begin somewhere. So let’s start it there.
We have to make some radical changes here, now, on behalf of all of the people that Lawrence and Gail Jones destroyed, and against all the tactics and strategies they used to inflict that hurt. One of those tactics was gongs. I was sick of all the losers, incompetents, and crap managers using “prestigious awards” as covers for their idiocy well before I saw the Joneses using gongs as shields.
But then the world learned how they also used a “glittering ceremony” as a weapon in their systematic sexual assault of young female employees in plain sight. Enough.
Enough, enough, enough, enough, enough.
So as I said, in a life lesson I learned well before those two perverts darkened my path:
in business, awards are for losers.
Losers like Lawrence and Gail Jones.
You can stand alongside the likes of them, or you can stand alongside your team.
Pick your side.
(Quick note: I know a lot of you are waiting for the Part II of this post. Being bogged down with work, I’ve shifted it to publish on International Women’s Day. What better day to teach a lesson about those who claim to be allies of women in the workplace, but are anything but.)
Header image by me: one of my Manchester bees, in my snowy Glasgow garden, this week. I am very protective over my Manchester bees, both human and ceramic.
Postscript: Life lessons for young people just entering the world of work
Learn well, padawans:
- Remember that any “prestigious award” that you have to pay to nominate yourself for, or pay someone to nominate you for, is neither prestigious nor an award.
- The same goes for “awards” which require you to buy a minimum of one table for eight, starting anywhere between £1200 and £1500, to find out if you “won”. The number of tables you buy is how you “win” the “award”.
- If a company, or executive, is so into awards that they’re part of the business plan, make your own plan for your exit.
- Don’t trust any manager who aggressively collects these awards.
- Don’t trust any leader who puts a bit too much effort into describing themself as an “award-winning” leader of an “award-winning” business.
- Don’t linger too long at any company which aggressively seeks gongs and trophies.
- If your managers are aggressively pushing you to nominate them for awards, document it for your inevitable exit, which is coming quite soon.
- Don’t trust any business organisation that pushes you to apply for gongs, meaning theirs, at a kilted piss-up awards do. It’s the sign of a failing business organisation.
- If you have someone in your network who wants your assistance in nominating them for an “award” that is clearly either an ego exercise or a cover-up for… something, sidle away and don’t ever trust them again.
- Learn to be happy with who you are, personally and professionally, so that you don’t depend on external trophies for professional affirmation. And find employers who take care of you by looking after you, not by paying trophy peddlers to get you shitfaced.