14 December 2019
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Why are successful people so successful?

On Friday I spoke to a small group of business owners from Double Bay and buried amongst the aspirational business builders was a council employee! When each attendee was asked to tell us about their business, the council employee prefaced his remarks by basically saying he was not like everyone else in the room as he was an employee rather than employer/entrepreneur.

I later explained to him that I think his differences to everyone else in the room are not as great as he thinks. My argument was that the other people in the room were building their business brand while he, as an employee, should always be trying to build his personal brand.

This is how an employee gets promotions and pay rises. And it can even lead to head-hunting opportunities, if the personal brand really stands out from the crowd. An entrepreneur has to be objective about how his potential customers see him and I advise employees to see themselves as entities that are producing services that ultimately get bought by the business that employs them and then their customers.

The encounter made me think about the anatomy of successful people/entrepreneurs and Richard Branson’s name quickly was thrown up by my grey matter’s files on absolute business winners.

And significantly it comes as Saudi Arabia says it plans to invest $US1 billion  into the Virgin Group’s space companies! These include Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit.

The money will be channeled into Virgin’s space tourism and spacecraft and rocket manufacturing, companies but what shocks me is that Branson and the Saudis are seeing opportunities in space! But they’re not alone, with two other of the world’s most out there entrepreneurs — Elon Musk of Tesla and Jeff Bezos of Amazon — also aiming for the stars with investments into space travel.

Bezos is a great believer in space travel and other planet colonization and he’s putting his money where his mouth is. "My business model right now for Blue Origin is I sell about $1 billion a year of Amazon stock and use it to invest in Blue Origin," he told a CNBC conference on space in April this year.

Entrepreneurs like the ones above are at the extreme end and at the top of the long list of entrepreneurs who are driven by innovation to make unique products and services, but in different measures there is a bit of Branson in all business builders and the same should go for any employee who wants to build their personal brand.

Forbes.com looked at the anatomy of business success and came up with five must do’s.

“Great businesses need great entrepreneurs, persons without limits about possible or non possible things in the world where they are living,” the story argued. “They want to create something from nothing, and that something is not product or service, but the real company that will produce and sell products and services on a repetitive basis, again and again and again.”

This is so for Branson, Musk and Bezos. They’re living that line made famous by Bobby Kennedy who once said: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

So a great business will be driven by a great entrepreneur and there is an old but relevant saying that a fish rots from the head down, which says businesses that fail have usually only one person to blame.

The same often is applicable to employees who just don’t end up making it — it’s often their input or lack of input that explains  how high they go in business, academia, politics, sport, etc.

So the first step is to have a big dream and be energetic in making this dream become a reality.

When you’re strong, then the second step is to build a strong team around you. As we started building Switzer Financial Group, we looked for a business partner that not only brought money but also expertise.

Paul Rickard became a part-owner in Switzer and as the founding CEO and then chairman of CommSec — one of the greatest disrupting business ever in this country — we knew we were adding strength to our team where I admit I had some weaknesses.

The great business builders look for great partners, stakeholders, contractors, mentors, business coaches and, of course, employees.

Forbes says history shows that you need to create “your business team having in mind the real needs of your company, then train them, educate them, and show them what you and your company will expect from them in order to be able to build really great business.”

You can do all this for yourself in building up your personal brand. Look for great people who will give you a competitive advantage.

The third and final step to business greatness is once you have created a great business, ready for growth, make sure you have the systems in place that guarantee the business can actually do great things even when you’re not there.

The McDonald’s story was not about great hamburgers but great systems that Ray Croc brought to the business started by the McDonald brothers. And its successful roll out of nearly 37,000 restaurants in 120 countries is testimony to how great their systems have been (whatever you think of the product!).

Building a business involves having something to sell that adds value and that’s why people buy your stuff. Then to build the business you have to acquire customers and when that’s done, you need systems to ensure you reliably deliver, you have customer-centric staff and all members of the team are heading in the same direction.

The fourth step is to use the systems to magnify the value you can consistently create, which means adding more products, upselling to existing clients and inevitably attracting new clients.

Once those four great steps have been taken, then do as Steve Jobs did at Apple and assiduously research customers so you know what they want.

That’s what Branson and Bezos do in spades and it explains why they’ve become such great business achievers.

Once you really have created all the above, it then becomes critical that you learn to become a great leader. Many terrific businesses have come undone when the founder finds they aren’t good with developing people — employees and even customers.

John Maxwell in his book 5 LEVELS of Leadership begins with “A business executive. A softball coach. A classroom teacher. A volunteer coordinator. A parent.

Whether you’re one of these things or all of them, one thing remains true: “You are a leader.”

On the first level, people follow you because you pay them. On the second level, they follow you because they like you. On the third, it’s your track record that makes people want to jump on board with you but for the fourth-level leader your followers appreciate what you have done for them — your training, your encouragement, the mentoring, etc.

Here you are picking out leaders of tomorrow, who will not only self-develop, they will add momentum to your business.

At this level, Maxwell says “you need to make investing in leaders a priority, and take intentional steps every day to help them grow. Do that consistently, for long enough, and you may begin to reap the rewards of the next level.”

The fifth and final level is what John calls the “Pinnacle”. Here all the qualities of a great leader have been proven over time and you not only have a great business, products and/services, you’re churning out great people!

I guess Wesfarmers is a good example of a business that has done exactly that with its past three CEOs seen as legends of Australian business. Branson, Symond, Gerry Harvey and people of that ilk are Level 5 leaders. Every business owner and business employee should rightfully aspire to push themselves as close to Level 5 as possible.

I will let Maxwell conclude my weekend offering to you with this piece: “Leadership is about growth – for yourself, your relationships, your productivity, and your people.

“To lead well, you must embrace your need for continual improvement, and the 5 Levels provide a leadership GPS to help you with your journey. You must know where you are, to know where you’re going.

“Otherwise, as the Cheshire Cat told Alice, when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

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