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Think like a winner and you’ll become one

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“Think like a winner and you will become one.”

It sounds a bit “US management speak”, doesn’t it? But when a client told me this was their corporate management training theme for 2011/12, I starting thinking about it: can you become successful just because you act like you’re successful?

I was recently introduced to a fairly well-known businessman in the personal-grooming market. As I would have expected, he was very well turned out, with an embossed business-card as thick as a nail.

We arranged to meet to talk about a transaction. He arrived in the obligatory soft-top Bentley and we went to a well-known London eatery, notorious for being booked up months in advance. No expense was spared and small talk was of private jets and luxury villas. The man oozed success. The guests, including myself, hung on to his every word.

Therefore it came as a substantial shock when, on pulling the latest accounts from Companies House, I realised his business was barely solvent after yet another third year of disastrous losses.

Never, at any time, had our entrepreneur alluded to his financial predicament. Indeed, he wasn’t planning on selling his clearly failing business or even attempting to raise a recovery fund. Oh no. He wanted to buy another company!

At our next meeting, this time at his palatial offices, we had a rather different meeting. Acquisition, he told me, was the road to recovery. He needed to attract money to “prop up his empire”.

It was an interesting strategy with one obvious flaw – no money (and the prospect of raising any, based on his historic performance, highly unlikely). And, in a strange display of arrogance, he suggested I could help him because “it was an opportunity to show my own capabilities”.

Success, or the appearance of success, is often built on sand. Sometimes the sand turns to cement. Sometimes, and particularly in this economy, it turns to silt.

On the other side of the scale is a computer gaming entrepreneur I recently met. Still in his twenties, he had just sold his business for a little over £40m (and he was no geek: Hollywood would have been glad to have his face on a billboard). He told me, quite surprised, that Coutts were pursuing him to open an account. “I’m amazed they want me,” he said. “I’m hardly a classy guy!”

Between these two extremes sit most of us, proud of what we have done but English, and therefore reserved enough to know that bragging is not acceptable.

Sure, a little bit of balanced bravado can go a long way if appropriately used. But make sure you are competent enough to carry it through.

Jo Haigh is head of corporate finance for Corporate Finance Services. She can be contacted on 01274 868 958/07850 475878 or at Jo.haigh@corpfinservices.co.uk 

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