£50 million down the pan

To be successful in business and in life you must respect people more than money. I know it’s a controversial thing to say in a world so deeply invested in capitalism but there we are. It’s a well-worn fact that people are happier, more satisfied and more productive when they are valued.

In the early 90s, I made more than £50 million a year every year for five years. I didn’t do it all by myself, of course. The people who worked for me were dedicated and professional and although the workload was punishing, the office was an energising place to be. We also had fun.

We were at the rock face of customer service, sweating bullets for an organisation that posted millions of pounds in profits every quarter. And that’s the point because even though we were emotionally and physically invested in the organisation, it was not our Company and although salaries were reasonably good, ultimately the Company, particularly the hierarchy of managers, was indifferent to its staff. The very same staff who brought in the actual money, that paid the CEO his outrageous salary, that fluffed the egos of irrelevant division directors and other senior managers and contributed so spectacularly to Company profits.

I was lucky enough to be able to just walk away following a dispute with an incompetent senior manager (who was sacked soon afterwards). By the end of the year, most of my team had also dispersed and finally, within two years, the division was axed. £50 million a year down the pan and thousands of abandoned customers! Go figure.

I learned a great deal from this episode in my business life. In particular, it clarified a principle that had been germinating for quite some time that, contrary to popular convention, money does not talk. Your accomplishments in business rely upon respecting and acknowledging people as the source of success. Do that and the money will follow. If having money is your ambition.

The division directors in my old firm were too puffed up by their own self-importance and preoccupied with enhancing their own careers, to realise they were in effect insignificant to the process of doing good business. In almost every respect they failed on a magnificent scale.

You see, individuals do not achieve success in a vacuum. This is as true for corporate managers as it is for tycoons. For example, the business a typical entrepreneur may set up will have staff, contractors, customers, suppliers, financiers and mentors, it is irrational therefore to describe anyone as being “self-made.” Clever, perhaps, at co-ordination but not self-made.

Elon Musk is not self-made. Jeff Bezos is not self-made. In fact as far as Amazon is concerned, notwithstanding the legend of him starting his business in a garage (most entrepreneurs I know started out by working from home!), a vast number of ordinary people like you and me have participated in making him a very wealthy man indeed by using Amazon’s services both as customers and suppliers. So, he relies on us, amongst many others, for his success. Perhaps he should acknowledge that debt by rewarding his staff with a living wage and paying his taxes.

It’s worth considering the fact that no matter what type of business an organisation is involved with, the Company itself is always the middleman, the broker of particular resources (including the expertise of its staff) to individuals and organisations it sells to. In this universal equation, the staff who do the work are far more valuable than anything or anyone else. And, that includes CEOs, managers, shareholders and financiers.

Comment below or write to me: brainspark@rivenrod.com

© Rod McRiven 2017

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