The business of life (chapter 14 – taking stock)

In August 1980 our Olympic Team made their way back from Moscow with a medal haul that included 5 golds (making us ninth in the table below Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria…..), the miners were once again threatening to strike (for a 37% wage increase), GDP had plunged by 1.8% and inflation was over 20% once more.  The Abba hit ‘Winner Takes it All’ was topping the UK singles chart reminding me that losers take nothing save what they learn from their experience.

My career had come to an ignominious halt at the age of 34, after 15 years of continuous success in each and every role I had undertaken,.  I had been fired, let go, out-placed, canned, released, suffered position elimination or whatever euphemism you care to use.  The initial emotions were a combination of relief from the stress of a role that had become hellish followed by profound shock.  These feelings of numbness then lasted for a few days before pure, frustrated rage took over.  My wife suggested that we take a short holiday to visit her parents in Scotland and I agreed.  Even after all these years I am still horrified at how I let my rage build up in my mind and show in my driving on the trip up to Perth on a busy Sunday afternoon.  I can only think that I was suffering temporary insanity and that someone or something was protecting our family that day.

The beautiful Scottish countryside soon started to work its magic on me.  Being a London lad who grew up surrounded by towering tenements, the joy of being amongst hills and mountains is something I never cease to find humbling in an extreme.  There is an incredible feeling of  the permanence of mountains that never fails to bring the fragility and pettiness of my insignificant life into perspective.  I slowly began to unwind and take stock.  Yes, I had been correct in my choice of communications strategy and all of its elements.  I had also been smart enough to monitor the return I was getting on every pound of my budget.  So I knew that I had achieved incredible value for money and results, not just by realigning brand image but also by raising awareness across the general public.  These improvements in awareness and image had resulted in dramatic increases in sales and allowed us to establish Akai in the vital new sectors of home video recording and racked HiFi systems. My financial planning had accurately projected our cash requirements and managed to keep the bank onside through the most trying times.  I had successfully planned and executed the moves to our temporary and new premises without a hitch and brought warehousing and servicing in-house.  These were the pluses.

Being brutally honest however, and looking at the negatives, I realised that there were aspects of my role that I had neglected or performed less than satisfactorily.   Without a shadow of doubt, I had simply been promoted too far, too fast and with insufficient training in a number of less than glamorous but key areas. My administration systems were woeful and unless I had a keen interest in an area I had tended to ignore it until it became a problem.  What I didn’t realise at the time was that, whilst I knew that a combative personality, intense competitiveness and ambition had driven me on and played their part in my success, other aspects of my personality conspired against me.  It took me many more years to realise that a lack of real listening ability, cultural understanding, guile and political skills had also played a significant part in my downfall.

Looking critically at my role at Akai I deduced, at the time, that not having total control of the business (as I had had in my two previous business management roles) had hampered me.  But when combined with an almost complete lack of political skills, I had been hamstrung.  Critically, I also  realised that I had not built a support group that I could rely upon for honest and appropriate advice as I had been fortunate enough to have in my previous roles.  The relationship I had had with Andy when he worked for me in the RAV business had never been one that I had been comfortable with; I felt that he had merely tolerated me.  With the move to Akai he had clearly sought to exploit the friction that grew between Yokose and me over strategy.  Whilst my relationship with Gordon had been a cordial one, and he had certainly been responsible for twice promoting me, his hands-off approach to the business and lack of guidance to me had not helped.  I probably made a convenient sacrifice once the going got tough. I had clearly been suffering from hubris and the inability to realise that which I didn’t know (the unknown unknowns that Donald Rumsfeld would admit to some twenty years later).

The more I tried to understand what had gone wrong (and this was something that I continued to mull over for many years), the more I realised that I had never taken the time to really analyse all the things that had gone right for me.   The intervening years have taught me that the actions taken in pursuit of a goal may not be the only factors that produce the result.  It has also become very clear to me that just because something worked once (or twice or more) it is no guarantee that it will always work.  However, I realised enough at the time that I had to become even more analytical and learn to take a far broader view of situations. I vowed to change.

Back in Henley a sense of calm and freedom settled upon me and helped produce some of the happiest months I can remember from that period.  I had time to share with the family, time for myself to regain fitness (rowing and running) and time to plan for the next stage in my career.  Yes, the UK economy was worsening as it slid into the deepest recession since the second World War but that didn’t worry me.  Despite the shortcomings I had become aware of and the hair shirt that I had donned, I knew that I had a CV full of solid results and that the business world more than ever required those who could prove they could deliver results.  I was confident that I would win that next step on the career ladder and pushed the doubts on my shortcomings to the back of my mind.  I had enough money to last a year or more and I was determined that the next role I got was going to be a serious step forward.

I had a single new goal to focus on.

 Image courtesy of The Guardian

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