What fuels a serial entrepreneur? What motivates a founder who, having sweated blood and tears to launch, develop and exit a business, repeats the exercise, swerving the beach in favour of more early morning wake up calls and interminable spreadsheets? In the case of Mark Wilcox, the answer may surprise you. This serial entrepreneur says his second multimillion-pound company came about because his wife kicked him out.

Mark, co-founder of both AGS Risk Solutions (launched in 1999) and Activate Group (founded in 2015), explains: “Building AGS was full on and took determination and sacrifice. So after selling it to ExamWorks Group [a New York Stock Exchange-listed company] in 2013, I thought: ‘Great, now I’m going spend time with the family’. But after my second week at home, my wife said politely but firmly: ‘Mark, we love you dearly but please go back to work. Our new lifestyle isn’t working.’ So I did.”

The result of Mark’s cordial domestic expulsion is Activate Group, which now employs several hundred people and provides accident-management services to insurers and fleet providers. In 2021, the company – which Mark chairs and daughter Hannah runs as CEO – posted sales of £192.8m. This year – thanks to the exceptional stewardship of the CEO and her team, supported by their workaholic chairman – it is on course for £215m-plus. “I’m immensely proud of what Hannah’s achieved,” says her father.

Mark’s anecdote about Activate Group’s origin always raises smiles, but deeper factors sit behind the company’s creation – elements that fellow entrepreneurs will instantly recognise: “Look,” says Mark, “I’m wired a certain way and my daughter has inherited that wiring. So if I’m in a business, that business consumes me. Today I experience the same roller coaster of emotions I did when launching my first company. Yes, I play a bit more golf but – fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it – my business drives my life. It is literally me.”

These comments show why Company No. 2 was inevitable. They also explain why some people can’t just take up yoga and gardening after exiting. Many serial entrepreneurs don’t just wantthe cut and thrust of business; they need it. Remove the waggle dance of commerce from their lives and they lose their raison d’être – they become like bees without flowers. Their buzz is lost.

Happily for Mark, he, Hannah and the entire Activate Group team are buzzing like never before because their business is racing forwards at an awe-inspiring rate. Indeed, having smashed the £200m sales threshold, Activate Group is one of the first companies to be inducted into the FEBE Growth 100’s Hall of Fame.

So, how have Mark and his team made it happen – not just once, but twice? We asked the founder to share his pearls of wisdom.


First, Mark is crystal clear about the basis of success. For him, good businesses are built on honesty, kindness and trust. Without these foundations, his companies wouldn’t be where they are today. He says: “Over the years, I’ve developed a fantastic list of contacts. In fact, my contacts are my most prized asset because they allow me to make things happen by simply picking up the phone – but that’s only because I’ve built up good relationships based on mutual trust. There are no shortcuts to building trust – only honesty, kindness and integrity over time do the job.”

The second cornerstone on which Mark and his team build businesses is brute determination – an attribute that comes naturally to both the chairman and his daughter. He puts it like this: “I’ve always had a driving determination not to fail. It’s a mindset that means you will do almost anything to reach your goals, even work 24 or 48 hours on the spin with no sleep. When I started my first business, nothing was going to throw me off track; the same is true today. I really believe in self-determination.”

Lift off

Laying sturdy cornerstones is all well and good, but you need to build a profitable structure on top of them. Identifying business ideas and developing them is a process Mark finds easy to describe: “I take a sector and watch what the players in that sector are doing. Next, I do a gap analysis and determine what the businesses in that sector should be doing in the next five to ten years. Then I fill those gaps. It’s as simple as that.”

Mark warns against overthinking and overcomplicating: “The core ingredient that’s paid dividends is this,” he says, “always look five years ahead. I don’t think it’s difficult to do. First, you look at your sector’s landscape and see what improvements are needed. Then you do whatever it takes to provide those improvements.”

Clear thinking, decisive planning and intense focus have served Mark, Hannah and the Activate team well. Whatever walk of life you’re in, there’s a tendency to get bogged down in detail and over-analysis. The chairman’s advice is to avoid that and keep things simple, clear and straightforward.

Gathering momentum

Activate Group’s outstanding growth – not to mention that of AGS Risk Solutions – shows that Mark, Hannah and the team know a thing or two about turning plans into profit. So what’s their secret?

Interestingly, this serial entrepreneur talks about “decorporatisation”. He says: “Getting the right team is vital – you’ve got to bring in good people who are more skilled than you in all areas. But for consistent growth, you need the right culture too. To get that, we ‘decorporatise’. The difference between corporates and entrepreneurial companies is agility and speed of decision-making. If you’re a senior employee in a corporate, you don’t get to make decisions. As a result, corporates get dragged down. So we drive home our competitive advantage by streamlining everything – reducing bureaucracy, making quicker decisions and doing things faster than our competitors.

Paul and Hannah continue to build a best-in-class team that transcends Paul’s stewardship. “We do whatever it takes to reach our goals as fast and efficiently as possible. We partner with companies to go quicker; we occasionally buy competitors for the same reason. Gathering momentum requires a combination of having the right people and culture, finding good partners and investing at the right time.”

Embracing technology

Investing cannily and identifying good partners is especially important for tech, argues Mark. “Making the right technology decisions has been vital for us,” he says. “You’ve got to decide when it’s best to build proprietary software and when it’s more effective to partner with others. For example, at Activate Group, we’ve built a proprietary case-management system, and we’re about to launch a proprietary bodyshop-management system. However, at other times we’ve chosen to team up with others and use existing best-of-breed solutions.”

Staying on track

But how do Mark and the team stay on track? As momentum grows, options lengthen and the risk of taking a wrong turn increases. Mark, like every entrepreneur, has endured the odd minor derailment over the years, so what have these occasional prangs taught him?

First, he says it’s important to listen as keenly as possible to as many people as you can, whether they are interns, cold-call salespeople or non-executive directors. He says: “Of course, you’ve only got so much time and bandwidth, so it’s impossible to give your attention to everything. But one lesson I’ve learned is to avoid dismissing people or ideas out of hand, even ones coming from unexpected places. Instead, listen as much as possible. For example, I was offered a technology solution in the early days of AGS but ignored it. In hindsight, it would have benefitted us greatly. That misfire has stuck with me.”

Mark continues: “It pays to listen far and wide, but it’s critical to focus on the expertise of key people. For example, I ‘courted’ a guy called Paul Pancham – now a non-exec chairman at Activate – for many months because I knew his knowledge would be transformative. Paul’s a serial entrepreneur and an accident repair industry expert, so I was determined to bring him on board. Making that happen has been key to our success.”

Second, Mark warns against resting on your laurels: “One of the best lessons I learned was at the beginning of my business career. After about three and a half years, things were great. We’d enjoyed a fast start, had good clients and a full order book. So I sat there with the proverbial cigar and Champagne, patting myself on the back, thinking we’d smashed it. But not long after congratulating myself, I lost my first client, which hurt. It took me seven years to win that client back. I learned that things can go south if you relax and fantasise that you’ve ‘made it’. Today we have a simple rule: our smallest client is as important as our biggest client – that means we never take things for granted or take our eyes off the ball.”

And finally…

Now, let’s return to our original question – what fuels a serial entrepreneur? Mark’s answer was, to paraphrase, “I launched Business No. 2 because my wife told me to get out of the house”. But in truth, Mark’s answer ducks the issue. The real reason Mark launched Activate Group, having only just exited his first company, is because he thrives on the buzz of business building. His wife simply spotted that a life of lunches and holidays minus entrepreneurship would never cut the mustard and so she took action.

And therein lies the answer: serial entrepreneurs are fuelled by a need (not just a desire) to create, build and hustle. They are the addicts of the business world because taking that hustle away from them removes a vital part of their lives, which they struggle to replace.

So, for better or worse, Mark returned to the drawing board and his daughter – cut from the same cloth as her father – soon joined him at the helm of Activate Group. What they have achieved by hitting £200m in just seven years has exceeded all expectations.

To conclude our interview, we invited Mark to choose one piece of advice to offer fellow entrepreneurs. His reply was this: “Most important of all, listen well. Good listening is such an important skill. Listen to smart people because, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing new under the sun. Then, once you’ve listened, don’t overcomplicate it: the best solutions are almost always simple.”

So, keep your ears open and keep it simple. Do that, add tons of determination and, in time, you may, like Activate Group, find yourself in the FEBE Growth 100 Hall of Fame.

Disclaimer: The statements made by our interviewees are an expression of their own views and opinions and in no way reflect FEBE Ventures’ views or opinions, nor are such views or opinions endorsed or supported by us.