My first business started when I was 8 years old. I sold individual packets of tea which I had bought in bulk, at a 20% mark-up.
I was hooked.
I was good at sciences at school and was drawn to studying medicine. It seemed a big challenge. Knowing I wanted to “help people” somehow increased the motivation to study.
It was a big privilege to study at med school. I learnt the discipline of diagnosis.
To my surprise the doctor teachers weren’t always too friendly. In fact going on a “teaching” ward round was frequently a humiliating experience!
For sure, it taught me to know my stuff. There was the incident with the glass eye, which I will go into sometime, but what I really began to realise was that the relationships between people on the team is what intrigued me the most.
Why were some bosses so awful?
Business was never far away from my mind in those days. Many of the doctors had Harley Street private practices. I was working in London too, right at the heart of UK commerce.
To me, you couldn’t do both. Medicine and business that is.
With breathtaking naivety, but a slightly larger passion, I headed off into business at a convenient point after qualifying in medicine.
Making just about every mistake in the book, I did my own thing for a few years. I had enough to go back into mainstream medicine but never did look back.
I drove the van, swept the floor, designed the goods, made the sales. It was good but tough. Still is.
I closed that venture down, a difficult decision, but an important one.
The world of finance beckoned. Again very lucky, I was offered a place to train in audit.
All numbers you might think? Not a bit of it. To be sure you need to get your head round some tricky technical stuff in chartered accountancy, but once again it was the relationship stuff that interested me most.
I discovered a link between prickly people and stuff they were “hiding”. This was never in the manual, but served as a route to success in unearthing some pretty big errors.
Did my success make me popular? Well not exactly. “The client pays the bills Steve”, was the message I heard. As a trainee, you pile into the work without thinking through the bigger picture.
Moving into advisory work and sales you begin to meet Principals. These were people I intrinsically “got”. They were entrepreneurs, risk takers, passionate but weary.
Almost without exception they were good at what they did, but painfully unfamiliar with how to handle some of the most expensive and costly issues business throws up.
So bad were some of these landmines they had stood on, they had almost given up. Conflict, disputes, pay-offs. “I never signed up for this”. But curiously some of the most successful people were the most amenable to advice.
Working in professional advisory firms, household names too, it wasn’t just the clients with these issues. Partners and directors, they too had the same issues.
I had a first-hand look at many colleagues over the years. I made a good few mistakes myself in leading people.
Is leadership a gift? I think so. But like any gift, you have to unwrap it and use it. Again, I’ve been lucky to have had many opportunities to learn how to do it.
I’m convinced good leadership is very important in business, church, charity or government.
The best leaders I have worked with get the best out of people.
The worst problems people face are the greatest leadership challenge.
The way people’s minds work and the way our ventures work is inter-related. That’s what I believe after studying theory and practice.
I think we relate using techniques that are 3 decades old or more. And more is needed.
We are scared of honesty and yet that is our best bet. Looking back with what I know now, I could have helped. I could have saved some of my own (costly) mistakes, and could have helped others.
And that’s what I signed up for.
These days I work for myself again, usually, and specialise in leadership and tackling these costly areas.