I am 41 and going through adolescence again. Not in a mid-life crisis sort of a way, this isn’t that sort of blog. I’m not justifying a ponytail. The company I founded, GDS International, is 17 years old and progressing ever more quickly to adulthood.
There’s a lack of writing on this subject. Want to start a business? Enough books to build your first office building or warehouse. Suffering from a lack of motivation? Build a second home in the mountains, and pave the road to it. But coming out of your awkward stage and facing a changed, deeper set of responsibilities? You’re on your own.
Why is that? My best guess is most people believe that if you’ve been doing something for 17 years, you must be good at it: The Beatles-proved theory of 10,000 hours makes perfect.
The fact is it takes a long time to establish a business and, of course, business is constantly changing – so here is my current thinking on the subject of developing teenagers. (Because I always thought The Beatles were more interesting when they started hanging out with other artists and, y’know, sharing stuff).
Our staff are generally below 30, but getting older and – thankfully – staying with the company longer. Offering intelligent, experienced and talented people in their 30s a bright future – one where they can grow and add genuine value – is a challenge.
The banking climate has changed. The days of cheap money are over, which forces a change of approach to new projects. We were always strong on research, but increasingly our Finance Director is taking a stronger line where I see green lights and say go. Why? 17 years of growth – we currently turnover £40 million p.a. Why change the go-for-it attitude that has got us so far? Simple: adulthood.
A large percentage of GDS staff has always been aged 24-28, in sales roles. As we have matured, that has changed. Staff have stayed with the company and, as we built on their knowledge and experience, so we added more non-sales roles. That means we have a wider variety of careers to offer, meaning more staff stay.
It means we have stronger shoulders, which is good, because they must bear more responsibility. As a company, we cannot throw money at projects, so we have to be incredible straight out of the gate.
To get better as people, we have to focus as closely on training as we do on closing. To get stronger as a company, we must develop a collective responsibility for profit.
One huge advantage of increased staff retention is stronger products. Of course new staff don’t necessarily know their products are stronger – especially if you work in a niche area, business-to-business events, like we do. That’s why communication is to successful business what location is to successful real estate. So good they named it thrice.
All of which means my second adolescence is a bit like my first, and my Dad’s advice still rings true (doesn’t it always?): “You can always talk to me. Be honest with people. Take your opportunities and your responsibilities. Lock your bedroom door.” Hmm, maybe not the last bit.