Three lessons that 30 years in business have taught me
30 years ago this month, I picked up my first pay-cheque. My monthly earnings, once the taxman had taken his slice, were less than £500.
I had no idea then that three decades on I would be running three successful businesses, loving life and still using the very same problem-solving principles my engineering apprenticeship taught me. Shhhh, don’t tell anybody, but I used to be an engineer!
I’m grateful to so many people for giving me the opportunities I’ve had and still have.
I’m grateful to the two MDs who took a chance on an un-polished 23 year-old and appointed me to head up a brand new customer service department after our company went from eight UK customers to 600 overnight.
And to the many mentors who also worked with me to help me hone my style and skills – despite my nickname having been Marmite for most of my employed career! Also to the great team and strong network of people I now have around me.
As you would imagine, I have learned plenty along the way, but here are my three big lessons.
Be like Branson
If you’re offered an opportunity, say yes and figure out how to deliver later. I did this when I took a chance and applied for the head of customer service role at my first employer. Many of the directors didn’t think I was capable, but the two MD’s saw raw potential in me and I didn’t want to let them down. I’ve repeated that attitude throughout my career and, teamed with a relentless desire to succeed, I have yet to regret saying yes. I’m always looking for ways to use what I’ve learned and while I haven’t had engineer in my job title for more than 25+ years, I still use the problem-solving skills I learned during my apprenticeship.
Let your results do the talking
I was always the kind of kid who climbed a tree because someone said I would never make it to the top. I’m no different as an adult. When people have said they doubted me, I’ve simply considered it fuel to the fire which has helped me succeed. When I moved sideways into a senior sales role with no formal experience, some doubted my ability to deliver. I ended my first year heading the top sales team over 25% ahead of budget whist my peers all failed to hit budget. I simply focused on building relationships, listening, championing the customer internally and delivering a great service – something I still do today.
If you’ve met me, you will know that the “status quo” isn’t really a phrase in my vocabulary. I am always looking for the next improvement, the next challenge, the next opportunity. On reflection I’ve been doing this since early in my career. The first company I worked for wanted to move into a new sector. But with a new product development sample lead times in excess of 12 months we just weren’t agile enough to meet their requirements. I wasn’t going to miss out on this opportunity, despite being told, “that is how long it takes!” Having been tasked with securing new business I restructured the product development team and processes so that when a major player gave us a shot at a contract but wanted to see a sample of the new product in just eight weeks’ time, we delivered. There was no extra resource, just a total change to processes, a new focus, energy and leadership.
Even though I’ve now been working for three decades there’s no way that I know it all. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learnt from every one. If you are not making mistakes, you are not pushing the boundaries enough. I have made decisions that some didn’t agree with (Marmite man) but you cannot and should not try to please everybody.
I continue to learn and surround myself with people smarter than me. I have a business coach and two business mentors and spend numerous hours every week reading, listening and learning. I thrive on helping business owners achieve their freedom to choose, which is why the time I do spend working is devoted to mentoring businesses and running peer mastermind dinners. I truly believe that collectively we are stronger and wiser.
What lessons have you learned during your career? What skills did you acquire that you still use today, even if it’s in a totally different context? What three lessons have you learned throughout your career? I’d love to hear them and how you have applied them.
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