Lesson #4: Don’t be frightened to employ people that may be smarter than you.

In today’s lesson, why you need to get over your own ego when it comes to hiring.

Things were going well at Newbourne Publications. The company was growing and we were making good profits. With a few stern words and being put back in my place regularly by Lionel, I was learning fast. And I had just learnt what compassion really meant in terms of driving a company’s culture.

As I was getting more and more involved in running the business, we determined that we needed a new sales director. And not just any sales director, the very best – although this would be a very large investment for the company.

We had narrowed the candidates to two. Both were very good but one was outstanding: a really intelligent and savvy guy. The trouble for my part was that I felt intimidated. I was worried about him being smarter than me, taking some of my ground that I’d worked so hard to earn. So when I was interviewing him, I could sense that I was trying to challenge him and find faults in nothing – I was certainly not being fair to him.

When it came to the discussion on which applicant to hire, I wanted the very good candidate, not the exceptional one. All my life up to date I had felt insecure, and that insecurity was pushing me away from the making the right choice. But Lionel knew me all too well by this point: he knew what I was doing and how I felt. So he called me into his office, lit a cigar, and told me the following.

“Newbourne has come to what I would call ‘the make or break time’,” he said. “We can stay as we are – comfortable, making profits – or we can go to the next level. But to do that we must surround ourselves with the right people; smart people; people that can think for themselves. People that will challenge us and question our decisions. If we stay with current staff structure we will continue to grow, but slowly. Or we can accelerate that growth by investing in the very best staff we can find.”

As always Lionel was right (how long, I wondered, before I would ever be as smart as Lionel). So we employed the right person, and wow did he make difference to the company. Was I comfortable? No of course not, particularly early on. But ultimately I now had Lionel and the new sales director (who was 10 years my senior) educating me and helping me to grow the business.

After taking over the helm of Newborne several years later, I went on to sell the business for a not insignificant amount of money). If it hadn’t been for surrounding ourselves with the very best people a successful sale at an excellent price would never have occurred.

So please, if there’s one thing to consider if you want to know how to hire well: don’t be frightened of employing people that are smarter than you, because ultimately they will make you look better.

On a side note: Sometimes when a young company is growing fast and money is tight, it is not always possible to take on the very best staff, because they cost too much. However, there are some very young and clever people that are just waiting for time to prove themselves. Yes they maybe raw, and often inexperienced, but when you give then that opportunity just watch them go for it. So finding the best does not always mean paying for it. Ignore youth at your peril.
Next: Don’t be afraid to change course, even when you are in front.

Would you like a business confidant who could help you improve your ability to run a successful business? Why not join our mentoring retreat in Tuscany this October? Contact me for a chat to see whether I’m the right fit to help you with your business challenges.

This is an article series based on lessons learned from my great mentor Lionel Morely Joel. Read the first article to understand the background and then dip in and out of the lessons as you please.

Lesson #3: Let the revenue dictate the costs (not the costs dictate the revenue). Here I look at the danger of letting vanity drive your decisions rather than business sense.

After short period with Lionel as my mentor I started to become more confident (many in the office probably felt over confident), so I had an idea for a new publication. It would be my first launch; and show everyone that I knew how to launch a magazine. The ‘business plan’ was ready (well my first attempt at a business plan, Post-It note might have been nearer the mark).

After Lionel had read it he asked me where the revenue figure had come from.

“You said we needed a 20% return, so I worked out the costs then added a revenue figure that would make us the 20% margin,” I replied.

My launch was based on a producing a very high-end magazine; being my first launch of course I wanted to impress. So the revenue figure was pretty high.

“Is that revenue figure bankable or is it a stretch,” came the next question from Lionel.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Can you guarantee the revenue figure, or has it been based on what revenue you need to cover the costs, plus our 20%?”

I told him the revenue figure was entirely based on the costs so he rejected my business plan.

He told me to come back with a cost model that still showed the 20% margin but off a revenue figure I knew I could deliver. I realised the sense of what he was telling me: Yes I wanted great-looking, expensively produced product but the revenue I was forecasting was simply too optimistic .

So I did exactly as he asked. I determined the realistic revenue I could expect and then looked at every line of the costings and tightened up almost every cost. The only thing I did not compromise on was the content, but every other cost was taken back until I had cut them by about 30%.

It was no longer the Rolls Royce magazine I had dreamed up but the revenue figure was a much more achievable level and would cover all costs plus deliver a 20% return.

After six months the magazine was successfully launched; revenue still fell short but only by 5%, so we still made an acceptable margin. If we’d gone ahead with my original revenue figure, it would have been a bloody disaster.

What had I done wrong? I had allowed vanity to get the better of me. (There is even a term in publishing – “vanity publishing” – that refers to magazines that have more looks than business sense.) From that day on I have always let the bankable revenue dictate the costs – and not the costs dictate the revenue.

This is an article series based on lessons learned from my great mentor Lionel Morely Joel. Read the first article to understand the background and then dip in and out of the lessons as you please.

business people

Lesson #2: Always treat people the way you want to be treated. Or why you must treat people with respect to earn their respect.

I arrived at Lionel’s office for my daily round of mentoring. Just a normal day at the office, so I thought. As I walked into his office I could tell he was not happy. Before I could even say “good morning”, he let me have it, tearing into me about a mistake I had made the day before. He made sure his voice was carried beyond the office, so everyone knew Eddie was getting an ****kicking.

I returned to my desk and waited for the call to go back to his office so I could explain the mistake (grovel). The call never came.

I went home distraught. I couldn’t sleep; I kept thinking about what had happened and how hurt I was. How I hadn’t been given a chance to explain.

The next day, the call came. As I entered Lionel’s office, I found a very different (normal) Lionel.

“How did you feel about how I treated you yesterday?” he asked. He said to be honest, and so I told him how upset it had made me.

“Last week, one of the girls in the office made a small mistake,” he said. (He knew everything.) “So you went over and in front of everyone pulled her apart. What makes you think that she felt any different than you did last night?”

His message was clear, and I have never forgotten it. Treat others as you want to be treated: with compassion, consideration and fairness. I would never have got that message so clearly if Lionel had not done what he did to me.

We all deserve courtesy and respect in the workplace, and I had just become too big for my boots and let my position (and arrogance) get the better of me. I would like to think it has never happened since, but only others could tell you that.

It’s a basic lesson that seems almost too obvious, but how easy it is to forget, especially in the heat of a stressful moment. But remember this, staff will walk alongside you for a while, if told to. Treat them badly and they’ll walk away. Manage them well, with compassion and respect, and they will walk alongside you for a long time. Not because they are told to, but because they want to. And those are the staff you want at your side. Less obvious is that this can’t be turned on and off. I’ve often been asked over the years how it can be that staff will go out of their way to meet tasks or challenges I’ve set, where other managers face an uphill battle over every request no matter how nicely they ask. The currency gained from treating staff with respect can only be built up over time, and it can be destroyed within a minute.

If you’d like help getting the full weight of support of your team behind you why not explore this on our mentoring retreat in Tuscany this October? Contact me for a chat to see if the retreat could be just what your business needs.

This is an article series based on lessons learned from my great mentor Lionel Morely Joel. Read the first article to understand the background and then dip in and out of the lessons as you please. 

Lesson #1: Getting the best from your staff comes from teaching them how to swim.

In the first lesson in this series I explore how you can mentor staff to enable them to contribute more to your business.

The day after Lionel had surprised me with his offer, I had my first mentor session with him (I was no less petrified at this stage.)

“Before we begin Eddie,” he said. “I think it would be a good idea if you could get rid of the gold rings, the gold necklace and the gold bracelet.” I thought I looked good, but clearly my attire was not working for me.

Lionel then said he was going to teach me how to swim, which I thought was a most unusual start to our first meeting.

However, I soon learnt with Lionel that he was never just going to tell me anything without a story attached.

“There are three ways I could mentor you,” he said.

“I can take you to the pool, throw you in walk around the other side and wait for you, but you may drown on the way across.

“I can throw you in, jump in with you and hold you up until we reach other side, but that would mean you would never learn to swim alone.

“Or I can throw you in, jump in with you, swim alongside you and when you start to go under, gently lift you up.”

As I had nearly drowned several time in my uninspiring career to date the first option didn’t look too good to me. The second sounded ok, but clearly that was not going to work for Lionel. So we settled on option number three, as of course he’d intended us to.

And that is exactly what he did in those 10 years. He left me alone but never let me drown (though I came close several times). He was always there for me, helping me when he realised that I could not make it alone.

We all make mistakes and as a mentor Lionel knew I would make mistakes – and needed to make mistakes in order to learn – but he was clever enough to minimise those mistakes, ensuring limited harm to the business. He knew I could only learn from my own mistakes. If you cannot accept mistakes will happen with staff then you will have a difficult time developing them.

Just like me, every successful businessperson can name the person/people who helped them achieve their success – who’s yours? If you’d like to talk to me about our mentoring retreat in Tuscany this October contact me for a no-strings chat to see if I’m a good fit to help you and your business.

This is an article series based on lessons learned from my great mentor Lionel Morely Joel. Read the first article to understand the background and then dip in and out of the lessons as you please.

Next: Always treat people the way you want to be treated.

Lesson #0: Behind every successful businessperson is the person/people to whom they owe their success. Meet mine.

After being in media for some 40 plus years, you wouldn’t think deciding upon the theme for an article series would be that hard. But with the proliferation of digital content it seems everything has been said 100 times and so many new post merely a rehashing. The last thing I wanted to do was add to the noise and waste business people’s time. As a business advisor, time is the very commodity I help clients use as wisely as they can. But yet here I am, with some 40 years in business, hopefully a wealth of knowledge and experience that I wish to share. What to do?

And then it hit me. The very premise of my business now (mentoring business leaders) is learning from another’s experience. Not dry business articles that after nodding your head in agreement you forget 10 minutes later. Another person’s very human experience and the knowledge they have gleaned from that experience. Learning from their successes and their mistakes. For success in business has as much to do with learning what not to do as much as what to do. When I reflect now on my career the thoughts are more often about the mistakes I made, rather than what I got right.

So in the ensuing blog series I have decided to share my experience with you by telling you my story… It’s pretty colourful, so I hope you’ll like it.

All stories must have a beginning and there’s only one way to begin this one, and that’s by introducing you to my great friend and mentor Lionel. The person that had faith in me, saw something in me that no one else had, and then put all his experience into teaching me, every day for 10 years.

I had left school young, very young. I didn’t really even leave; I just simply stopped going and no one seemed to miss me. My dad was in the merchant navy and my wonderful mum probably just thought I was still going to school. Not that I was doing nothing, I had a great variety of jobs although most of them are probably best not discussed here.

When I was 19 my older brother said: “You cannot continue being a **** all your life, you need a real job… and I have one for you.”

The job was as an office junior in a publishing company in Stoke Newington, London, called Newbourne Publications. And so it was that I started there in 1968. In the following four years while I moved up first to production assistant and then to production manager, I was still wheeling and dealing on the side (but that’s also a story for another day).

Then came the day that I will never forget, the day that changed my life.

I was sitting at my desk when the phone rang. It was the chairman’s secretary. “Lionel Morely Joel would like to see you in his office,” she said.

“Oh God,” I thought. “What have I done?” Had tales of my wheeling and dealing got back to the chairman? After four years at Newbourne I had hardly ever spoken to the man. I was bloody petrified, my usual veneer of confidence (or arrogance) drained right away.

After knocking at his door, I was admitted into the office. There was Lionel – 6’4”, Van Dyke beard, long grey hair swept back – smoking this huge cigar. As I sat down in front of his desk that was bigger than the room I was living in at the time the fear really set in.

Now up until this point I thought I was pretty sharp. How wrong I was. The first thing he said to me was: “I’ve been watching you.” (Yep, I thought, I’d been caught.)

Then, he continued: “You know there are three owners of Newbourne, and we are all about the same age.”

Confusion danced at the edges of my fear. I had not yet said a word (rather hard when you are petrified).

“We need someone one day to run this business,” he went on.

I still had no idea what he was talking about (I must have looked so naive!), when he dropped the bombshell.

“I think that could be you.”

So, he told me, “I am going to mentor you for the next 10 years and if in 10 years you are still here we will give you 25% of the business.”

And almost every day from that day we would talk, and I would listen.

Ten years on, I was called back to that big desk, where Lionel and the other two directors gave me a sheet of paper. It said I now owned 25% of the business. And outside in the car park was a brand-new Jaguar. Well, didn’t I just think I’d made it! In fact I’d only just started.

Over the coming weeks I am going to try and pass on to you the wisdom I learnt from Lionel during those 10 years that has so guided me in my business life thereafter – and I hope it may help you in some way. It would be very sad in life if what we are taught by people like Lionel is not passed on. These lessons cross the borders of industry, business size and hierarchy. These are fundamental skills that will help business people perform better and achieve more in their business lives. So please, read, digest, and do let me know what you think, I’d love your feedback.

All the best,