• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on Graeme Dixon

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Here at Spotlight, we had the chance to chat with Graeme Dixon, Founder of Octopus Intelligence. He spoke to us about overcoming setbacks and the biggest lessons he’s learnt during his career.


I was born in Cumbria and joined the army as a Military Intelligence analyst around the same time the Berlin Wall was collapsing. My first tour was Cyprus for two years, and it was downhill from there and culminating working on the end of a Lincolnshire airstrip. I left the military then eventually set up Octopus Intelligence.

After a few years in the Intelligence Corps, I learned many analysis techniques and the discipline required for Competitive Intelligence and background checking / due diligence.

Overcoming setbacks

Being defrauded back in 2007, losing the house when my wife was seven months pregnant with our second child and then getting back up again and carrying on. The case was in the papers, and they went bankrupt and to jail but were soon free, and with no financial recourse.

We got back on our feet and doing well, and a friend and client offered to invest in the business. Three months later he had the company for himself. He is a reasonably well known local entrepreneur. Another lesson learned, and I am sure given what happened to the company since he has come to regret it. Mistake made on both sides, but ultimately my responsibility. It has to be, and you have to learn to let it go, or it will eat you up. But on a plus note going through it makes current predicaments a walk in the park.

To overcome this you have to get back up and start swinging again. You have no choice really. What else are you going to do? You will not curry or favour from anyone. Get that next project, however small and build and build. Also, have people around you to talk to, Solid family situations and those friends that tell you to get a grip when you are sick of it all.

Drive and Determination

I think I was born with drive and determination. When growing up, I played rugby, and my most significant success was as an athlete—400m county champion for four years, school record holder and the like. I learned what it was like to win, but more importantly, a more significant life lesson. I was average until changing to a professional coach.

He really wanted me to be a training partner to the Scottish female 400m champion. But he showed by doing things right, putting the work in, going that extra mile and working with the right people brings success. Over the winter I took 4 seconds off my 400m personal best. Four seconds is significant in a 400m race.

The biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way

I still tend to be too nice, helpful and accommodating. And in business, you have to be careful with that characteristic as people do take advantage. In business, I have learned:

  • You can only do one thing at a time.

  • You have to keep it simple.

  • Swim with the big fish.

  • Don’t be an idiot and don’t deal with idiots.

  • Network in the right places

Advice for others

Some advice I would give to those starting their career is to travel the world. Listen, work hard; do more than is expected. Respect your leaders but not so much you consider them as walking gods. If they ask your opinion, tell them what you want to say, not what they want to hear. And don't be a sheep.

Those who are aiming for a leadership role make sure to remember those you meet on the way up. Remember how it is on the shop floor. Be firm, decisive, calm and kind. Do more listening than talking, do your MBAs if you feel you want to and network all the time.

When managing a team recruit people who are better than you. Let them get on with their job. Allow them to breathe and be there for them when they ask for help, don’t take credit for other people’s work. Be sure to surround yourself with people better than you. You should never micromanage, It shows your insecurities, not your teams.

Best & worst part of your job

The best part of my job is when I get the chance to travel. Ideally, foreign travel. Going to places and finding stuff out. I love hanging around factories and seeing what’s going on. It beats desk-based research and you can find so much out. Finding information your client doesn't already know is brilliant.

The worst part of my job is the financials. Nothing else. If I had a million in the bank I would still be worried that we didn’t have enough cash. Running your own business is all about making sure you have money in the bank to survive next month.

What would you say to your teenage self?

Stop being lazy, practice your sprint starts more and get round the first 200m quicker! Relish crossing the line to first with the cheers as nothing will ever come close to it again. Also, I’m from Carlisle and then university was for just certain people. Now I would say get to university and get a law degree. Neither was really open to me when I was a teenager. But it was. Just expectations were not high enough.

The future

We are working with a couple of investors to offer a Competitive Intelligence, Market Analysis and investor readiness package. Many companies looking for Series A and B funding have zero chance of getting any because they are not prepared. We have access to some great Investors and Family Offices but they are serious players and just sending a third rate ill-thought-out business plan with a copied financials just doesn't cut it.

If you’ve found Graeme Dixon's story insightful, make sure to keep up to date with Octopus Intelligence, by following them on Twitter. For more blogs like this head over to our other blogs, here.

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