Thursday, May 24, 2007/
Like interest, mistakes compound. In this case, from a stressed-out business partner to resignations en masse, from court cases to a new beginning.
The catalogue of errors
My business partner, suffering from a failing marriage and a struggling business, had developed a twitch.
When under stress, one of his eyelids would gradually and involuntarily descend, like an automated garage door, only to return to its original position at precisely the same speed. It was the world’s longest wink and he was barely aware of it.
It was funny at first. He’d lost control of one bodily function, and staff would speculate on what might fail next. ‘Do you think I should order an AquaVac?’ pondered the office manager while compiling the next stationery order.
But the jokes masked a more serious matter: it wasn’t hard to imagine my partner falling victim to a stroke or heart attack.
As the editor of our little publication he had a regular deadline and three very bright but wayward sharemarket analysts working under him. Each morning, in their separate office, they would plot and scheme and canvass ways to undermine and ridicule him further.
He had lost their respect and each morning, as he walked through those office doors, he must have felt as if he were about to be fed to the lions. Something had to be done.
It was at this point that we flicked through our autobiographical catalogue of Classic Business Mistakes and landed on the chapter titled ‘Don’t fix a problem yourself, employ someone to fix it for you’.
Frank lacked the authority to get the analysts under control and I lacked the time and the inclination to do it myself. The situation was further complicated by our personal friendship.
We were conflicted: what was good for the business wasn’t necessarily beneficial for our friendship. As a good friend I felt a great deal of empathy for Frank’s predicament and, as a bad businessman, was prepared to do incredibly foolish things to help him out.
We resolved that the circus needed a lion tamer, someone sharp, forthright and with a journalistic bent. We’d call this person the Managing Editor, intending they would manage the analysts and develop the editorial offering. They would be a buffer while Frank zoned out.
I foolishly let him undertake the search for his replacement. Phone calls were made, interviews arranged and a short list developed. A meeting ensued. One morning, Frank and I sat down at a café table in Bondi Junction with his favoured candidate.
The discussion was cordial if not warm, until the candidate looked at me earnestly.
“How do you feel about TV?” he asked.
Apparently, he had his own cable TV show and thought that this would have some influence on our decision-making (in retrospect and with much embarrassment, I’d have to admit he was right).
“Don’t watch it much myself,” I replied, thinking that this bloke could well be a prize w*nker.
The conversation progressed, if that is the right word, until he popped another question:
“What would you guys think of a signing-on fee, say, about $50k?”
I must admit that I was a little stunned. We were a small, unestablished business and this bloke was talking to us like we were Manchester United. He wanted us to pay him a hefty wad of cash merely for him to join us. He thought he was George Best or someone. I made my excuses and left for the toilet, just to give me the time to check that I had in fact heard what I thought I had.
These two questions were ample evidence of his unsuitability for the position and a personality that, shall we say, “wouldn’t be a good cultural fit”. His out-sized ego appeared to have colonised those parts of his brain traditionally used for thinking. He was a prize w*anker.
A month later, on his first day, he wandered into the office 10 minutes late. In my next post, I’ll tell you how this calamitous mistake was the making of the business.
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Sandy at Skydancers writes: Thanks for the cliffhanger! Can’t wait…