Years of experience at the cutting edge of commerce make for a great analysis of business success, finds Piers Cain
Britain’s decision to leave the EU by March 2019 creates the prospect that all businesses in the UK may face a tougher, more competitive trading environment. All the more reason that we should care whether our businesses are capable of accelerated, sustained and profitable business growth – the subject of Built to Grow.
The author, Royston Guest, started his career as an apprentice in the construction industry, aged 16. He rose to manage large-scale construction projects before moving on to participating in the privatization of the UK rail industry, mergers and acquisitions, and finally management consultancy. As one might expect with this background, Guest takes a practical, no-nonsense, if sometimes schematic view, of how to develop a high-performing, profitable and sustainable business. Written in an approachable style, Built to Grow makes few assumptions about the business knowledge of the reader and explains concepts clearly. Overall what comes across is that Guest sees life in business as a big adventure that should be grasped with both hands.
Guest makes many key points. First, to be profitable and to grow, businesses should focus on acquiring, maximizing and retaining the right – the most profitable – customers. Too often businesses put excessive energy and attention into acquiring new customers and not enough into persuading their existing ones to buy more. Second, every business that aims to be outstanding in its sector must aim to be the provider of choice, the investment of choice and the employer of choice. In other words, keeping investors and employees happy is just as important as keeping customers happy for a sustainable, highly profitable business. When thinking about products and processes, or when thinking about ethical decisions, the question should be asked: “If our customers or our investors knew we were doing this, how would they feel?”
Third, companies need to take a holistic approach to their business and execute this approach in a disciplined manner. Guest organizes his book around his Business Growth Transformation Framework, which encompasses both the obvious (leadership, market potential, customers, marketing and communications, sales and business development) and the less obvious, such as the importance of sound governance to customer value. He also advocates the benefits of inverting the organizational chart to put the customer-facing staff at the top and the chief executive at the bottom as a way of changing attitudes. It is a comprehensive view of a business, and shows how the different parts of the business must work together. More importantly, Guest talks about the need for specific strategies to be developed that need to reinforce each other and be understood by the whole business.
Fourthly, Guest makes no bones about how challenging it is to be a leader who can create an outstanding business. He emphasizes speed of execution, a desire for action, and a mindset that “a life of mediocrity is not an option”. Leadership of a business is not for the faint-hearted. Leaders must “invest their time every day in being the best of the best”.
A final point. Guest asks the reader to consider “what are you building your business for?”, for example to leave to your children or to sell at a profit. Entrepreneurs ought to think about their exit strategy when designing their business. Sensibly, Guest points out that too many business owners create companies that are impossible to sell when the founder decides to retire.
If there is a message at the end of this book, it is that the pursuit of business growth may be important, but for the leader who wants to leave a legacy, it is not an end in itself.
––– Piers Cain is a management consultant
––– Built to Grow: How to deliver accelerated, sustained and profitable business growth Royston Guest, John Wiley & Sons