NEW: John Addis

Someone once said, ‘The errors maketh the man’, or at least they should have. Which is why Nightmare on Spring St has a Hollywood ending.

Catalogue of errors IV

Six years in small business exacts a toll. As we stumbled from the enthusiasm needed to get the show on the road to the more intense and prolonged effort in keeping it going, all the usual suspects had made an appearance: court cases, errant employees, broken marriages, damaged friendships and declining health.

There are more enjoyable ways to ruin your life. But do I regret the experience? Not at all. There are some things of which I am immensely proud.

Warren Buffett says that it’s better to be in a bad deal with good people than a good deal with bad people. It’s great advice. Frank and I lacked the ideal combination of skills to run a publishing business but we more than compensated for that with our personal qualities.

Both of us worked hard on preserving the friendship over everything else and, ironically, it was this that allowed us to stay in business together.

It’s my view (but not necessarily Frank’s) that our partnership wasn’t a great deal for both of us. But because there was mutual respect and understanding, we managed to make the best of it. The bad deal came good.

Were it not for Frank’s personal qualities, everything would have collapsed a long time beforehand. And always at the back of my mind was the fact that it was his idea that got the business started, not mine. I wanted to keep my side of the bargain and see it through.

Our friendship, despite suffering some setbacks (including the writing of this blog), has endured.

It’s different now – our experiences have naturally changed us – but the fact that those things we first saw in each other 15 years ago are still there is something of which I’m very proud. Long-standing friendships with people who have seen you at your worst, and accept you for it, are to be treasured.

I’m still involved in publishing, but Frank has chosen a different path. He now makes a handsome living from something for which he has a rare and distinguished talent. No employees, no business partners, just him, his family and a computer in the bush. After suffering for a few years in a publishing business, Frank has found his metier and is all the better for it. In fact, he’s thriving.

The business we founded in 1998 was sold in 2004 to some very young but capable employees. Financially, we would have been better off holding on or selling to another party, but that wasn’t our priority. There were two greater considerations.

First, we wanted to sell to people who understood the business and would run it in the same way we did: no ruthless staff culls, no egocentric management (well, not much) and a sense of shared prosperity.

Second, exhausted by the struggles of the previous years, earn outs and consulting contracts weren’t high on our agenda. We wanted a rapid exit. Choosing to sell to some of our staff proved to be a great decision.

Despite some hiccups, the business is thriving and the new owners have plans for the future that I couldn’t hope to realise, and the intelligence and persistence to achieve them. I wish them well.

Paul Weller once sang: “They’re only clichés because they’re all true.” He was right. We spend too much time thinking about exit strategies, objectives and goals and not enough time squeezing the juice from everyday events.

While we wait for the call from the cashed-up competitor or private equity firm, life can slip by without us realising it. It’s our experiences that makes us what we are, not what we get on pay day. It really is about the journey.


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