Monthly Archives: May 2014

The scent of roses after the rain

It had been a long morning; long distance conference calls, spreadsheets and stress and it was only Monday lunchtime! The rain had finally stopped and the sun had come out, so I decided to stretch my legs and take a short stroll into the garden. The doctor said that I needed to take a break every two hours, so I was only following orders.

It was then the scent hit me, the smell of the roses as they opened their buds to the unexpected sunlight, distracting all my thoughts and cares away. It’s strange but these things are important. They are as important as making big decisions or checking balance sheets. If we fail to notice the nature that surrounds us, or appreciate the hard work that gardeners have put in to make our lives as pleasant as possible, then what’s the point of living with your senses switched off?

There’s been an election in Belgium and the opposing groups of politicians that have been fighting each other for so many weeks and months have miraculously overnight become ‘friends’, each conveniently forgetting all the nasty things their opponents said about them during their campaigns. And why this sudden outburst of understanding and respect?  Because they want to be chosen by the man with the biggest votes to form a coalition with him and to win a top job in government!

All I know is that one day they will all be gone and another group of politicians will have taken their place, and yet the ancient climbing rose on the south side of my old bake-house will most likely still be there. Why? Because it is so beautiful that I cannot imagine anyone wanting to do it any harm, especially if they have stood beside it just after the rain.

Wherever you are and whatever you do, try and always keep a sense of proportion. Do not get stressed on stuff that you have no control over but do care about the things that you have an influence on. Protecting an ancient rose is as important as making sure your customer is well served and your staff are appreciated for all the effort they put in.

Have a good week,


Harley

2016-11-17T08:24:04+00:00 4 Comments

Lazy people are good for business

If you spend enough time giving speeches, sooner or later you’ll end up saying something stupid.  This weekend I read that Bill Gates said “I always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because they will find an easy way to do it”. I suppose (if he ever said it at all) that it was designed to create a quick laugh but if you stop to think about it for just one moment you realize just how ridiculous it is.

My first reaction to this statement was:

Would I prefer a business full of lazy people or hard working people?

Experience tells me that a lazy person would either immediately delegate the task to someone else or would tell me that they will give it some thought and then do nothing with it. We all know that finding an easy way to solve a difficult problem takes extremely motivated people. People that are prepared to dedicate sufficient time to come up with a really good solution, and then to stick around to test it to be sure that it works. 

I believe that there are relatively few lazy people in business, but many demotivated ones. However there are some that seem to be ‘naturally’ lazy, no matter what you do. Every family, club or business has at least one. You know the type; while everyone is busy doing useful things the lazy person is just sitting there or making excuses to leave.

Lazy people never seem to be happy, I suppose it’s because to be happy they need to invest some energy?

I know a lazy person, more often than not he cannot be bothered to cook, to wash or dress himself properly, to tidy his house, go shopping, go on holiday or do almost anything in fact. From his standpoint, life has always been tough. I am not good with lazy people, if I cannot motivate a person into making an effort after three attempts I simply give up and leave them be. In a way, I guess I am lazy too!

Lazy people are good for business because they need loads of services to support them but they are bad in business because they waste time and money and try to drag everyone down to their level. I hope you don’t have any in your office!

Have a good week,

Harley

2016-11-17T08:24:04+00:00 4 Comments

Thinking like a shareholder

Anyone who has run their own business knows that most days are filled with worries about personnel or cash-flow, finding new customers, getting suppliers to supply what they promised and trying to find some time for the family in-between. And as the business grows, not much really changes, except if you are lucky, you do not need to worry about finding customers anymore but only how to keep them happy. And all the time your mind is not really on the topic that one day will become the most important of all - your company’s share value.

If you had just arrived on planet Earth, you might be forgiven for thinking that business leaders were simply the shareholders puppets.  What might miss your attention is the millions of small and medium sized businesses whose management teams are also the principle shareholders.

And while many multi-nationals struggle to get their employees to think more like their shareholders, many small businesses leaders do not think about their share value at all, or certainly not until it is too late.

In the naughty nineties many businesses focused their strategies solely on creating share value and that was in most cases a total disaster but today I believe we have gone too far the other way. I’ll tell you why:

  1. When you’re having a bad day, it’s always nice to know that you could, if you wanted to, sell your business.
  2. It’s good to be able to demonstrate to ones employees that what they are helping to build is going in a good direction and is ‘desirable’
  3. Investors like to compare between companies and to decide in which one they want to gamble their money. Sure they look at past performance and EBITDA and growth, but they also look for possibilities for creative mergers and acquisitions and trying to make two plus two equal five.

In my experience, too many small companies like to milk the profits in the good times, without really having a long-term strategy. But what is a strategy? It’s only a fancy word for a plan to achieve their overarching objective. The saddest thing of although is that most companies, when challenged, do not even have one.

Returning an end of year profit might be enough for the management team, but for investors, it is more a question of what would have happened had they put their money somewhere else?  Management teams fear comparison, shareholders thrive on it.

So perhaps it’s time to check your exit strategy, to look at your company’s true value and who might be interested in it? You might be surprised to learn that others may find value where you fail to see it and reject what you think as being the crown jewels as worthless trinkets, spoiling an otherwise beautiful opportunity.

Have a good week,

Harley

2016-11-17T08:24:04+00:00 0 Comments

There’s no room for friends in business

This was the motto I grew up with. Hardnosed businessmen would put their arms around your shoulders and smile as they tricked you into signing over-priced contracts that they would never fully deliver on. And if the bottom crashed out they would say ‘hey, it’s just business, get used to it!’  With the apparent demise of business on the golf course and the onset of Facebook many businesses want to be friends with not just a few of their customers but with all of them. They even want to be friends with their suppliers too.

It’s complicated. We all like to be liked, we all want to have friends and there is nothing nicer than spending a pleasant lunch with a business acquaintance that you could also consider ‘a friend’.  But I ask myself, what is a friend and is it possible to truly have business friends?  

I have many clients that I like very much. I have many suppliers too that I will happily spend an hour or more with. But who are my business friends?  The word friend implies something deeper about the relationship between two individuals, you could even be forgiven to imply that friends in business could be suspected for not making balanced decisions, or even of being corrupt.

When I need help, I often turn to a friend because I know they are there for me, as I am for them. I sometimes just want them to listen, other times I want them to give me open and honest advice. I don’t want them to tell me the niceties that I want to hear but the hard naked truth that I need to hear. Real friends dare to risk it all to help their friend in need. Business acquaintances most likely are not.  But there is a grey zone, and that’s the zone of the consultant.

The consultant and his or her client need to trust one another implicitly, if they are going to offer each other real value. They need to fully understand each other. They need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They need to know their limitations.  And when the client asks the consultant for advice the consultant must give it openly, honestly and to the very best of their ability. The consultant must even be prepared to lose their client, if the client does not like what they hear. So what is the difference between a consultant and a friend? After a meeting with a consultant, you can expect an invoice. After a meeting with a friend you can only expect radio silence until the next time you decide to meet up.

So the next time you’re having a business lunch or supper, don’t worry if the person you are with is your friend or not, but concern yourself as to whether they have told you what you wanted to hear or what you needed to hear. There’s a big, big difference.

And yes, consultants make the best friends because they care about you and they can never switch off from giving advice (I am told) even when it is not asked for. Thank goodness they conveniently forget to invoice their hours once in a while! :-)

Have a good week,

Harley

2016-11-17T08:24:04+00:00 6 Comments