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,