What does it take to make a successful business? Reflecting on his career this far, we asked Principal of Kinstair Consultants and LUX Assure board member, Martin Anderson, what advice he would give his younger self.
Congratulations on completing your mechanical engineering degree; it was a hard slog, but trust me, all your work will pay off and provide you with a good starting block in your career. I write this letter to you as I reflect on my career and the advice I wish I had when I was younger.
I started my career as a Project Engineer in the oil and gas industry and soon progressed through a series of operational and management roles until I became a CEO. As you move into managerial positions you will start to play a big role in the evolution of the companies you work for and during this time, you’ll gain a wide range of technical, operational and managerial experience which leads to your first CEO appointment. This role brings new challenges, including your first acquisition process – don’t panic, this letter will provide you with the advice I wish I had!
As CEO you will be responsible for the group’s growth though further acquisitions. In this situation, the initial priority needs to be on identifying synergies and working out how the businesses will operate in the existing group structure. Following the acquisition process, many owners choose to step aside and hand over the reins to a successor. Who that successor is, will be critical to the success of the business going forward. You need to ensure the right person for the business is appointed, and they may need to come into the business completely fresh. They’ll bring new ideas and energy to elevate the business to the next level. It is worth remembering that long service at a company doesn’t necessarily make someone the best candidate for the job.
You will be the one to make difficult decisions that will impact the business and its personnel. Internal communication will be a major part of this position and everyone wants to hear good news stories, but that’s not always possible. There will be a major downturn in oil and gas which begins in 2014, and it takes a while for some companies to realise the severity of the crisis, and that it wouldn’t resolve itself overnight. It’s easy to paint a positive outlook in these situations, and say that you just need to be optimistic, but for many organisations who delayed making the tough decisions, their business and its personnel suffered. The same was true during the 2007 financial crash, so make sure to learn from that when it comes around.
If I had my time again, I would advise you to cut deep and cut fast. You need to face the facts early and make decisions accordingly. If you cut too early or too deep you can build-up again; delay and the resources have already been spent. There was a high performing division of a company I was involved with and the CEO decided not to deliver the bad news at a townhall because everyone was expecting to hear good news. In this situation he was hampered by sentiment and shied away from the hard decision. There are two sides to the CEO coin and to be successful you need to balance the good with the bad, making the difficult decisions at the appropriate time, in order to do what is best for the business.
If you’re going to take anything from this letter then remember, in a senior position you must put the needs of the business first. Making the difficult decisions early will often avoid having to make impossible decisions later down the line.
In the meantime, enjoy graduation – I wish I could do it all over again!
Slightly Older Martin