Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Friends Reunited

Friday, October 6th, 2017

The squirrel in the garden this morning made his usual tour of the more verdant patches of the garden but on his way home, he made a stop at a less verdant area that was once one of his favourite hunting grounds. Turning over a few empty conker nut shells, he found a couple of worms drawn to the surface by the increasing cover of autumn leaves and increasing soil moisture. It reminds me in business, how easy it is to forget the converging value that lies with past friends, past school and university acquaintances, past customers, past investors, past employees, past business partners, past media contacts and so forth, who we have ignored for a good few years. Yet circumstances change in some of theirs and our lives causing our interests to increasingly converge rather than diverge. Yet for most people that is an accidental occurrence. In a world with greater connectivity, there is no real excuse unless you are poorly disciplined. My advice, on a quarterly basis throughout the year, trawl through 2014 and prior email inboxes, client and prospect files, personal photo storage boxes or albums. Write down a list of 40 names. Over a gentle two hours, perform a maximum 3-minute google or social media search, highlighting those that are of “known” and “questionable” converging value. Make a diary note to call the top half of your list (“knowns”), and at a minimum, drop a brief four sentence “re-connecting” email to the rest.

Explain that “I’ve been remiss in keeping in touch but I heard/read/saw something of interest (new job announcement, award, an interview) and thought it might be an opportune time to talk? Recently, I have undertaken ____ assignment/project/deal/experience with ___ (high relevance to the other party)  and it reminded me of our past relationship. I would love to hear your news and what you are priorities are today and share my news.  I am in your neighbourhood visiting clients/friends on dd/mm, would you have 30 minutes or time for coffee/breakfast or lunch?”

If 50% respond, you have 20 people of interest. If you are accurate with 50% in terms of their mutual interest, you have 10 new people of short-term interest. Meet two of them a week, you have 10 valuable relationships to nurture over the next month, where you at a minimum start with some meaningful trust, past affiliation and a discernible interest in how you might be of help.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Warning Light!

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

 

When an entrepreneur or his/her Adviser overlook or cannot clearly articulate in 3 or 4 sentences, the greatest anticipated weaknesses in their business growth plans (markets, products, technology and relationships) given competitive market trends, you have a plan that won’t survive serious investor scrutiny. To pretend otherwise is to start driving a car where the wheel nuts lie strewn on the ground.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Inconvenience Squared

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Sitting on a EasyJet plane last night in Nice’s Côte d’Azur Airport minutes after boarding and the Captain gets on the microphone apologising that due to inclement weather on route, we must wait 55 minutes on the tarmac in Nice because “he needs to free up the gate”. He then invites those who would like to look around the cockpit to pay him a visit when the engines are off.

Kudos for the leader of the ship for addressing the audience and his openness to entertaining the frustrated passengers (quite how that is squared with EU security protocols preventing access to the cockpit is something of a mystery). Yet the obvious thing to ask is why would you ask 170 customers to be inconvenienced to a great extent in boarding a plane that you know is going nowhere for a considerable amount of time? Why couldn’t you move the plane 200 metres to another stand?

Perhaps you don’t care or perhaps the airline’s priority is more important than that of its’ customers comfort?  I see the same thing in a number of businesses.  Think about the unnecessary inconveniences that you are asking your customers to tolerate for your benefit? What stops you changing your behaviour and applying common sense? Is it a material or immaterial reason (safety or Company Policy)?

Too often our best intentions to manage customers expectations are largely overlooked because we insist on dumb decisions which are clearly not in our clients’ best interests.

© James Berkeley 2017.

 

Uncommon Culture and Family Office Direct Investing

Monday, March 27th, 2017

 

I often ask CEOs in high growth investee businesses controlled by sizeable Family Offices,  a simple question: “Are you being treated as you would treat others in the business? Be honest, in reality, how often is that the case?” The single most common underlying issue, is conformity to the prevailing belief system.

CEOs have differing levels of propensity to conform to the beliefs that govern the behaviour of a Family and the key people in its’ Family Office (the culture). At one extreme, highly inflexible, and at the other end, highly flexible.

The most successful families in direct investing have adopted a belief system that is highly similar to outstanding for profit and not-for-profit organisations. Think of Weybourne Partners (James Dyson’s Family Office), MSD Capital, (Michael Dell’s Family Office) or Grosvenor (the Duke of Westminster’s family entity).

In contrast, where direct investing has historically been a very small part of a Family’s wealth but a decision is made to ramp up its’ activity, culture is a huge issue. The Family Office wants to increase control and involvement of the capital deployed in profitably growing the portfolio businesses. Yet, the operating beliefs that pervade the Family Office rarely change or not quick enough, to support the new or enhanced direct investing strategy.

Take a recent example, the newly installed CEO in a European luxury business, who arrived with a strong industry reputation but zero experience working within, distinct from consulting to Family Offices. The coterie of key people in the Family Office, what I term the “protectors” sought to immediately reinforce and immerse the CEO in the existing belief system. “This is how the Family has always done things….” “This is what Mrs X expects…” “This is how you communicate with her….”  Yet, if the luxury business was to achieve the shared vision of the Family Principal and the CEO, some quite radical changes needed to be made to the Family Office’s typical direct investment approach – changes to governance, speed, communication, rapid access to resources and so forth. The “house style”, wasn’t going to work in a fast moving, highly competitive sector.

Does the CEO conform or push back? If they do the latter, how do they do that without upsetting the apple cart? How do they accomplish that if the protectors, and the Family Principal, consciously create distance? How do they stop the protectors “playing” the Family Principal (self-interested feedback) and not projecting their biases?

There are three means of the Family Office getting the investee company’s CEO to conform: by coercion (threat), by peer pressure (“the in-crowd”) or by self-interest (personal benefit). Only one alternative works, self-interest.

Ultimately, it requires

  1. A CEO with a high level of self-worth and the skills to not only formulate strategy but implement it.
  2. A flexible and intellectually honest CEO. Not to the extreme of absolute conformity and equally never compromising where it is detrimental to the critical and highly important aspects of their strategy.
  3. A Family Principal and their key people with the volition to listen and act appropriately.
  4. A willingness to adapt the Family Office belief system to the needs of the new direct investment strategy and where appropriate, the performance, accountability, feedback and rewards systems.

There is a lot of talk about an inability to change family culture, most of it is rubbish. Of course, the Family Office can change but does it possess the will to do so? If it doesn’t that needs to at the top of its’ direct investing criteria in selecting portfolio businesses and the leadership traits it hires in.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Five Family Office Traits That Throttle Success In Portfolio Companies

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Patient private capital is arguably more in demand today as a source of growth capital than at any time this century. CEO roles in businesses backed by ultra high net worth family offices (Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Jorge Paolo Lemann’s 3G or Azim Premji’s (founder of Wipro) Premji Investment) are arguably more in demand than at any point in recent history. Free from the demands of quarterly reporting for public stockholders and the constraints of the private equity investing model, why, here is the “perfect” career option surely? All we need to do is focus solely on growing and nurturing the business and its’ brand, take prudent risk and never have to worry about the cost or availability of capital. Wonderful. What am I missing? Actually a huge amount. In an article published today, in the market-leading Family Office media publication, Family Capital, James draws upon his experiences with over a dozen families around the globe. Learn about the Family Office/CEO relationship dynamics and the consequences that are often overlooked by many Family Offices and CEOs until it is too late.

http://www.famcap.com/articles/2017/2/27/insight-five-family-office-traits-that-throttle-success-in-portfolio-companies

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Holiday Etiquette

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

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When you tell me “I am sorry I cannot get to this until I return from holiday”, what you really mean is I am not your priority. Fair enough holidays are for rest, relaxation and time with family and friends but if you aspire to a high level of routine discipline – setting aside 20 to 30 mins to respond to brief email, calls and so forth, at the beginning and end of the days is surely not impossible? What is more depressing is coming back to work with 600 unanswered emails and copious voicemail messages with increasing levels of frustration. Walk in with a smile not a frown on your face.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved

 

RPM II: The Cornerstone Client Walks

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

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In the second in our weekly series of Resilient People & Momentum (“RPM”), James discusses how to lessen the impact of a key client exit on the firm’s profitable growth plans. No seriously, clients aren’t for life!

Situational Overview: The Cornerstone Client Walks – you have done a fabulous job. It is not personal but the buyer has decided that they can live without your product, service and relationship. You have a cashflow problem. You have a potential reputation problem within (direct reports and peers) and outside the firm (customers and business partners). You have a potential employee problem (productivity and morale). You have a potential investor problem (earnings and value). Is your first thought to seek blame or come up with a great response? I’d say in 80% of these situations I have been privy to the former explodes virally.

Resilient People & Momentum Mindset: I subconsciously expect this to happen in a growing business when I least expect it. How I respond is more important than what has happened. I earn others respect by displaying the right mix of skills, behaviour and expertise. I am willing to be intellectually honest about my own performance. I will listen to and respond sensibly to solicited feedback while ignoring unsolicited feedback that is largely for the other party’s benefit.

Resilient People & Momentum Questions:

  1. Cashflow: where can we create more short-term revenue, not where can we take money from?
  2. Reputation: where can we earn more respect (new ideas, reciprocal opportunities, return the favour), not how can I save face or pass the blame?
  3. Employees: where can we more productively deploy and offer more gratifying work to our employees, not who needs to be harangued or worse, fired?
  4. Investors: where can we display and exude greater confidence in our talent and judgement to investors such that a short-term set back, is just that, a blip on a road to riches, not a mind numbing defeat that forces investors to thrown their hands up in the air?
  5. Development: what can I learn from the treasured client’s reasons for the decision to walk away that I can apply for the future benefit of the firm (better client communication), its’ existing clients (prioritising investment) and our prospects (market positioning)?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Behind The First Meeting: The Activist Investor Within

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

I detest the way the debate about activist investors and their motives has descended into a force for good or evil. It is corporate pantomime. A round of boos please after the activist has said their lines. Cheers and name calling after the “innocent” CEO or Board Chair rebuttal. AIG, Sothebys, P&G, Yahoo, and the list goes on. The myth is that the activist investor has an agenda and management and the Board don’t. Sparks fly at the first meeting because that is what the activist wants to see happen. This is rubbish and not supported by hard evidence in many situations. In a lively debate on CFO.com this week, titled, When The Activists Attack  here is a perspective I shared from my first hand experiences with businesses and management brought to book by activist investors:

When the Activists Attack

Tell The Truth: You Don’t Know Your Clients Well

Monday, February 15th, 2016

We think we know our clients but many of us are kidding ourselves or unwilling to be intellectually honest. If the objective is to profitably grow our business, we can help ourselves by having a finer understanding of the logic and emotion that drives our clients’ decision-making. I am talking about the individuals with the ability to approve, fund, veto or set major strategic initiatives for their organisations and the tactics to implement it.

You don’t accomplish that in a mid or large client organisation by placing yourself in a subservient position to a Risk Manager, an HR Director or a mid level banker. When did they last sit in, and contribute to, the firm’s strategy meeting? How would they be privy to the inner most thoughts of the firm’s top management, the Board and its’ owners? How would they be in a position to influence those individuals’ decisions?

If you must exclusively hang out with these shared service experts or mid-level managers consider the risks. You are placing your future well-being and financial condition at the behest of individuals, who rarely get “air time” with the ultimate decision-maker(s). They have a vague understanding of the competing priorities in the executive office. You are left to sort through the information they wish to share with you, their interpretation of events and their biases. So what is the alternative?

Shoot For The Top.

A senior figure at a Big Four consulting practice admitted to me “I sit across the table from C-level execs all the time but I don’t really know them.” Another, Vice-Chair of a market-leading brokerage and advisory firm, revealed how distant he and his colleagues are from the strategic decision-making process at major European insurance companies, yet they have billion dollar trading relationship. Faced with increased competitive threats, both individuals talked about the increasingly precarious position their organisations are in. In both cases, the businesses haven’t placed sufficient accountability on key people to build relationships with the right people and provide them with immediate and impressive value. Rather they have stayed in the transactional layer of the firm, cultivating relationships with mid level managers, convincing themselves that getting closer to these individuals will enhance their well-being (improved top line revenue, happier clients, stronger brand).

Getting There Fast.

Here is what my best clients do,

  1. Identify who those key people are in Board, ownership and management positions that you ideally need a relationship with to exploit exciting and anticipated needs?
  2. Who do they hang out with? (peers, friends, acquaintances, media and so forth)
  3. Where and with whom do they like to be seen? (professional, personal interests, charity etc.)
  4. Where do they speak, publish and support events?
  5. What are they passionate about? (hobbies, innovation, people and so forth)
  6. How might you meet them and increase your prospects of establishing a peer level relationship? (referral, charitable or professional association boards, shared experiences etc.)
  7. How might you provide immediate value? (a name, an idea, a sponsor, a success practice and so forth)
  8. How might you parlay that into a continuous conversation with reciprocal value? (each time you meet, you both leave with exciting ideas and impressive value, looking ahead to the next social or business gathering)

I find there are a great many people who “get” and studiously study the logic. However they fail due to poor credibility (entry path, lack of substance), an inability to build a rapport (intellect, social skills and chemistry weak) or a lack of trust in themselves (blow up the relationship with their transactional buyer). They can be coached or mentored but many are reluctant or their boss doesn’t see it as a priority. Lo and behold the organisation will forever be at risk to client strategic decisions that it has zero control over and an unwillingness to influence.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

An Investor’s View: Attracting Intelligent Capital to Innovative Ideas

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

I am thrilled to announce that I have been asked to be a contributor to VC-List, the pre-eminent online source for advice on turning innovative ideas into billion dollar businesses from people, who have invested in, led and advised real businesses. Here is a link to the first article “Getting Started in Raising Venture Capital” drawn from my war stories, experiences and insight with over 75 businesses in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia that have successfully attracted funding from corporate venture capital, traditional VCs, HNW investors and so forth at various stages of their journey:

Getting Started in Raising Venture Capital