I started off in business back in 1986, some 24 years ago. During that time I have had the opportunity to do work in a number of countries: the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Canada and the USA. And I have done so many different types of work in many different industries. Yet, today, when I think of my life in business all I care to remember is the personal: the times, the conversations, the encounters with my fellow human beings.
I remember the staff working in the Dixon motor dealership in Morecambe back in the early 90s. The Dixon Motor Group had gone into receivership so one morning I turned up unannounced and told them something to the effect “as from now you work for the receiver and that means me”. I had never done this before and was feeling nervous, yet, the people were gracious, warm and worked with me to run their dealership. When the time came to go on to my next assignment I felt that I was leaving my family behind. I cannot remember their names, I do remember their faces and their personalities.
I remember the variety of people who I worked with at the London Arena when it went into receivership. I remember the security guards, the sports centre staff, the cleaners, the admin folks and the sales and marketing professionals. As I sit here I think of the time when I persuaded some of them to join me and my friends to go paragliding. It was a fantastic day spent laughing and playing together. I remember the team spirit – when we all pitched in to stage events such as Smash Hits.
Then there was the Fine English Hotels. On a cold, snowy day I made my way over to Kent to take over the day-to-day management of this chain of hotels as they had fallen into receivership. What a bunch of characters I found there – both from the PW team (my colleagues) and from Fine English Hotels. It was whilst the three of us from PW were working very hard that we got a visit from one of the senior partners. I remember him today because instead of waiting for us to serve him, he actually served us. Noticing that the three of us were totally occupied with matters that had to be dealt with there and then – as we had a business to run – he made tea and coffee and served us. He was leadership in action – rather than talk!
Two events stand out whilst I was at IDV. The first is stopping and saying hello to the folks that had been recruited to fill the posts that I had helped to create. And in the process making a friend and then two friends. This friend is Christoph (a German) and through him I made friends with his girlfriend at the time, Peggy. What led to this friendship was the simple recognition that it cannot be that easy to move from your country to another country. And so I invited Christoph to have a meal with me and my girlfriend. Many years later when I was looking for work as an independent consultant, Christoph, who at that time had an influential role in HR, helped me win an important piece of work for the next two years. He has gone back to Germany and yet I remember him as it was yesterday.
The second event that stands out, is one that lifts me up every time I think of it. I had the good fortune of having an influential role at IDV and being able to use it to do good. During the course of my work I came across a 40+ year old man (Peter) who had come in as a contractor to do some treasury work in the finance function. I struck up a conversation with him and learned that he had family – wife and several young children – and had experienced a difficult six months as a result of having is role made redundant at a former employer. So when I recognised the time was right I told my boss the Finance Director that it would be a smart decision to employ Peter full-time as he knew his stuff. And as Peter did know his stuff, he got the job. To this day, this is one of the acts that makes me proud of myself: I remember the look of gratitude in his face – not to have the worry of asking yourself “how am I going to take care of my family?”. Wherever, you are Peter I wish you and your family the very best.
I remember fondly my time consulting with Remy Cointreau when I worked for some 18 months with an international team. I remember Gaeton, the Marketing Director; I remember Stuart the Dutch Finance Director; I remember Jean-Claude the European Supply Chain Director; I remember Linda, Nicola and so forth. What a great time we had holed up in Hammersmith designing and then implementing a European shared services centre. It was an engagement where the business and the personal blended into one. I remember having a meal at the flat of one of the Italian team members. Most of us were there and we all cooked and ate together. Wherever you are friends, I wish you the very best. I thank you for special memories.
Then there are the folks that I worked with at Sage Publications and Virgin. I value each of them and consider it my good fortune that some of them are now my friends – at least I am their friend!
I could go on and on – so many people, so many conversations, so many fond memories of the human encounter. The joy of conversation. The joy of laughter. The joy of eating a meal with work colleagues who no longer occurred simply as work colleagues.
So why I am writing about this today. Well in the late 1990’s when I was co-building the Siebel Consulting practice in the UK, I interviewed many people and had the privilege of offering some of them employment. As we were struggling to recruit skilled IT consultants within the timeframes and the salaries that were acceptable I came up with and got agreement to recruit suitably skilled graduates – straight from university. One of the people who I interviewed and then recruited is wonderful chap by who goes by the name of David. Last week, some 11 years after I recruited him and gave him the “toughest interview of his life” (his words) I had the joy and honour of helping him and his wife to celebrate the arrival of their daughter into this world. What a privilege to meet Dave and Sarah’s family and friends – to get to know some of them. I thoroughly enjoyed my day today: thank you Dave and Sarah for a wonderful day.
I have never agreed with the thought that business is business it is not personal. For me all of life is personal. What I value most in business is the opportunity to create relationships – even friendships – with my colleagues, with my clients, with partners in the game of business.
Sartre was not on the ball when he said “Hell is other people”. Yes that can be. And it is also true that “Heaven is also my fellow human beings”.