Thursday, 25 February 2010

Do Business Bullies Win?

The debate about alleged bullying at Number 10 has got me thinking about bullying bosses in the business world and I am in danger of drawing the conclusion that bullying bosses often win the battle! What do you think?

Business bullying takes many forms. I've seen managers who shout and swear at their staff and suppliers. I've worked with the subtle psycological bully that wears you down and leaves you in tears. Jovial bullies who steamroller right over the top of you whilst smiling and laughing. Nasty pieces of work who get a kick out of making your life hell in the office. They are all out there in the business world and if you are going to hunt in the business jungle you are going to encounter these hateful beasts, so steel youself and figure out how you are going to deal with them.

The sad truth is that over and over again I've seen these people rise to the top. I know an entrepreneur who literally screams out loud at his staff, kicks over the flipchart if the meeting isn't going well and f's and blind's at suppliers just because he can. What happened to him? Sold his company for tens of millions, that's what. I know City traders who hurl keyboards across the room at support staff. What happens? They collect multi-million pound bonuses. I've worked with smooth snake-like operators who slither to the top leaving wrecked careers in their wake. Sure, stupid bullies get their come-uppance. But the smart bully bosses often barge their way to the front. It's a shame.

But what can we do about it? Become a business bully yourself? An eye for an eye? No, that's not the right route. If we go down that path, the whole world ends up blind. Confront the bully head on? Yes, definitely. We must drive this awful behaviour out of the world of business. But pick your fights carefully. You have to be smart in this business game and this isn't Tom Brown's Schooldays. If you stand up to the bully and punch him on the nose, he might not run away crying. He might wait for you in an alley with a baseball bat.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Making the Grade

This week was half-term. The roads are quieter, the schools are closed and the kids are at home. Well most of them are.

Some of the more ambitious young people are out and about doing work experience. So it was that I came to be shadowed by a couple of exceptional young people during this week. I enjoy sharing what knowledge and experience I have gained over the years. I feel that I missed out by not having these opportunities earlier in my career, or perhaps I just didn’t look for them hard enough.

The only downside is that young people today are so focused and driven they make us (well, me, at least!) look like right slackers. My hotchpotch of school qualifications pale into insignificance in the face of today’s determined young people driving firmly towards huge numbers of A*’s.

But perhaps us older folk can pass on some tips and tricks about navigating life. In fact as entrepreneurs wrestling with the day to day struggles of building your business it is so important to do more than just watch the balance sheet and count the numbers. Giving something back gives meaning to what we do.

On Wednesday I gave a speech to 180 Masters students at Cass Business School, London (which is where I did my MBA, although I was horrified to discover that most of the current students were not born when I was there!). The questions they ask you as an entrepreneur make you think about what you do and why you do it and that’s very healthy. As an entrepreneur I encourage you to volunteer to speak to students at your local school, college and university. You will get a lot back.

Being a start up guy is more than about keeping score, be it your sales, your business’s size or even your personal wealth. There must be more to life than that. As one of the young people said to me, with wisdom beyond her young years “at the end of my life, I want to be able to say ‘I had a good life’ not ‘I got good grades’”.

What will you be able to say?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Moving Office

Garlik is in the process of moving office. After an extensive review of the options, we are planning to move from one part of Richmond (10 minutes from where the Chief Exec i.e. me, lives) to another part of Richmond (also 10 minutes….).

Property, leases and sorting out offices for your start-up are things that they don’t teach you at business school. You learn on the job but if you make mistakes it can be very costly indeed. I have seen businesses fold because they have ended up lumbered with a bad lease.

The key is flexibility. That’s why it is best to spend the first few years of your life as a start up in serviced offices. You will pay a premium, but you can scale up and down at the drop of a hat.

There was a time that companies in serviced offices were not taken seriously but those days are long gone. No-one, clients or staff, with any sense cares anymore.

Then when you feel ready, you move to your first office on a longer term lease. The most important things are (a) get a lawyer who really understands commercial leases to advise you (it will cost you £5k and you probably think you can sort it out yourself with your wife’s brother-in-law’s cousin who did a bit of law once, more fool you) and (b) get a 2 or 3 year break-clause. Make sure you have the flexibilty of that early break-clause and don’t trade off a tempting rent-free period for an early break-clause.

Also think through what happens if your team suddenly expands by 50%. Can you still fit in the office? You don’t want to have to move that quickly. Or if you shrink by 50% – can you sublet to help cover costs?

If it all looks good then go for it. Get yourself a real office, a home for your start-up that you can call your own. But make sure its still 10 minutes from where the Chief Executive lives!