I have had a lot of conversations recently where we have talked about our business journeys and how they have led us to where we are today. Most of the conversations have been with women, and despite being successful in their fields, they would not have imagined they would be where they are today. Their own journeys were supposedly destined to end with more modest outcomes and so they put on their imposter syndrome overcoat and carried it around with them.
A lot has been written on imposter syndrome and I am not trying to give any advice on that particular subject matter. I am not really qualified as I have not quite managed to throw that jacket away myself. It creeps in just like a well loved but tattered piece of clothing that we just don’t want to send to the incinerator that it belongs in.
What interested me were the journeys all these women had been on. I am not saying that it is any different for men but my reference points have come from my discussions with women. It got me thinking about my journey and how I would have never imagined that I would be here. If at 17 you had told me that I would be the Managing Director of a £21million turnover business, had bought and sold many other businesses along the way and was now heading my own acquisition arm, I would have said that you were dreaming.
At 17, I was still negotiating being allowed to go to university.
I started off as an optometrist. We were called ophthalmic opticians in those days and paid quite well for our expertise. It wasn’t a job I was suited to. There are only so many times you can say “better with or without”; “clearer on the red or the green”; or “better with one or two or the same” before it loses its charm. I also hated being stuck in a dark room all day - especially in winter. What I did enjoy was talking to our patients and styling them, so they went out of the door looking fantastic in their glasses.
At 22 I had taken, the then very bold and uncertain step, by becoming a locum in an age where everyone was looking for stable, lifelong employment. I loved the freedom of working in different environments and working with different people and more importantly, for me, the freedom to choose where and who I worked for. In essence, running my own one woman show. My biggest learning at this time was how successful practices were always run with a vision and genuine caring for the staff. These were practices where all the staff thought about how they could provide the best service for their customers while keeping their focus on sales. They understood their wellbeing was a direct result of the wellbeing of their business. Conversely, there were just as many scrapping through with disengaged and uninterested employees.
My business journey started with me opening my first practice. It is where I realised that I enjoyed running and growing a business much more than being in a dark room all day. I liked the interaction with customers and staff, talking and negotiating with suppliers and finding solutions to problems. I enjoyed offering the best customer service and seeing smiles when the spectacles someone had chosen were not only visually correct but made them feel stylish. The whole process of overseeing the direction of a business was enlightening and exciting. My decisions and how I reacted to problems made a difference to bottom line profits and growth. I watched my staff thrive and grow with mentoring and training, and the loyalty and love from the staff will stay with me always.
The skills I learnt then, formed the basis of all my other ventures, whether it was running a food business, consulting work or running fuel forecourts. What I learnt was that was that it didn’t really matter what the business was, the foundations of all successful businesses have the same building blocks and principles. You can learn the nuts and bolts of an industry, you can learn all the technical details, you can even learn to operate machinery, but if you don’t have the basics right then it is an uphill battle.
So, what do you need to do as a business leader?
You need strategic focus, but this is just one of the elements of good governance leaders need to succeed. You also need to have values and beliefs to guide effective decision making; the right culture in place to get engagement from your own people and other stakeholders; processes and procedures governing things like operations and communication; having the right people in the right roles and developing others to reach their full potential; and last but not least, you need the right checks and balances to ensure the good financial health of your company.
What I have found though is that business leaders, especially those who have founded their companies and are used to working on gut instinct and alone, putting together all these elements can be difficult. We all have our particular skill sets and none of us are brilliant at everything.
I remember being terrified the day before I took over as Managing Director of KSC Worldwide. What did I know about running fuel forecourts? I had decided that I would watch and listen for the first month before I started changing things. This wonderful sentiment lasted a week, and whilst I realised that I may not know a lot about bunkering and how a veeder root worked, I did know when a business was in slow decline and needed a sharp kick up the backside. I knew that I had to take the helm of this big ship immediately if it was going to avoid the iceberg.
Six and half years later, with substantial growth in the meantime, I can focus mainly on strategizing instead of operational problems. We have an amazing management team that understand and implement our values and beliefs to create a culture of can do. Our large team of employees work exactly like that – a team that lifts each other up to do the very best they can for themselves and their colleagues.
Sounding very much like a boastful parent, I can truly say that I have appreciated every moment of it – the good and the bad. It is why I now love helping other businesses, who have lost their zest and drive, to turn around that corner.
If you think that I can help or even if you just want to chat, please Contact Me.
Two heads are often better than one and sometime clarity comes from just talking about your problems.