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Daily Nation : January 28th 2014
14 smart company business life How to make your own luck and succeed Businesses generally considered luckier than others are usually led by teams that are willing to take the greatest risks golfer Gary Player once mused, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.” While no amount of practice T SERENDIPITY, LUCK, COINCIDENCE, — CALL IT WHAT YOU LIKE... IT INVOLVES A LOT OF HARD WORK, CAREFUL THOUGHT AND RAW COURAGE Richard Branson seems to improve my golf game much, I’ve found that his observation also applies to business and entrepreneurship. In descriptions of startups that have survived and thrived, luck is one of the most misunderstood factors. Many people seem to think that whether or not a startup succeeds is something over which an entrepreneur has little control — like being struck by lightning. But anyone who wants to make the effort can and will improve their luck. This may sound impossible, but it is about the same principle as improving the odds of lightning striking. During a thunderstorm, you can stand in a field holding a metal rod in the air — a golf club would work well. If someone tells you that he was lucky because he was in the right place at the right time, it’s likely that he decided where the right place was and made sure to be there. MANAGEMENT » DAVID MUTURI How competent and motivated is your leadership team? AT THE START of the new year there are always inevitable questions that you must ask yourself, as a leader. These are questions that help you interrogate the direction you are headed with the people you have. The questions will help you evaluate the degree of success you are likely to realise, based on the people and the plans laid out. They will be questions that help you tell the preparedness of the people and even the worth of your plans. They will tell you the level, amount and quality of communication that is being done. They will also tell you of the leadership competence. This is when you ask, “Do my key people un- derstand the strategic plan and are they able to successfully set departmental goals in support of the strategy? What is the depth and breadth of their understanding of the greater picture as guided by the strategic plan? This is the key determinant of how the details are then set out. To set departmental goals that support the strategy you must be clear on where the organisation is headed and how that is to be achieved. To have key leaders within the organisation that do not understand that is definitely a set up for not only unnecessary conflicts and fights but a recipe for failure. Strategic issues You seek to understand the kind of discus- sions that will dominate operation issues. You may want to ask yourself whether your key leaders lead meetings in which strategic issues are discussed in relation to operations. Are the strategic issues broken down into the day-to-day activities? How well are they communicated to the very bottom of the ladder such that each operational issue is tied up to the bigger pic- ture? It is also a time ask yourself how well your pri- ority issues that are directly related to strategy implementation are understood by those responsible and what level of urgency they assign to them. It tells you the degree of ownership and willing- ness to go beyond the minimum. You get to see how their subordinates’ goals and objectives are aligned to the strategic goals that relate to their operations. Reward scheme This is the time you get to know how the managers evaluate, reward and promote their people with strategic goals in mind. Who is to be rewarded and why? What kind of prejudice might there be in determining the reward scheme? When you get to answer these questions and align the answers you determine the direction for the year. You align your expectations. You limit your frustrations. You largely know what to expect. There will be cases where success is almost guaranteed because of the effort and creativity in planning. There will be others where all the energies are aligned and focused. There will be where all are in tandem; where people have thoroughly communicated with each other on their plans and their expectations of each other are clearly known. There will be cases where huge efforts will be required, because none of the above has happened. However, even then you are only at the beginning and much can be done to correct what was is not in place. Mr Muturi is the executive director, Kenya Institute of Management Richard Branson ENTREPRENEURSHIP Those businesses that are generally considered luckier than others are usually led by teams that are willing to take the greatest risks: They accept the consequences of failure, and carry on with their plans anyway. In contrast, entrepreneurs he great South African and business leaders who play it safe rarely seem to bring a new product to market at the exact moment that customers want it, nor do they ever seem to make that lucky connection with the right investor. To an outsider, it may appear that Virgin has had more than its share of lucky breaks over the years, but in every case we worked hard and took risks to make sure we were in the right spot when luck struck. One of our first serendipitous moments involved Mike Oldfield’s album Tubular Bells, which was Virgin Records’ first release. We took a huge risk by putting out an all-instrumental album, but much to everyone’s surprise it became a No. 1 hit in Europe. Despite the album’s popular- ity, American companies weren’t interested in releasing it. One person I tried to persuade was Ahmet Ertegun, head of Atlantic Records, but despite my phone calls and letters, he just didn’t get it. Then one day, Ertegun was playing the album in his office (he must have been trying to figure out what all the fuss was about), when in walked the director, William Friedkin, who was putting together the soundtrack for a movie he was working on. Friedkin loved what he heard, and that was that; he had his track and we had our deal. The movie was The Exorcist, which became one of the greatest box office hits of its day, bringing Tubular Bells to a global audience. Some people would just call it luck, but I had spent a lot of time thinking up ways to bring the album to Ertegun’s attention, hoping that he would change his mind. If he hadn’t been intrigued enough to listen to it just one more time, it would never have been playing at that critical moment. Tubular Bells went on to sell 20 million albums. In the ’90s, when we started up Virgin Atlantic, our airline was much smaller than British Airways and British Caledonian, and in 2000, when we launched Virgin Blue, the Australian marketplace was dominated by Qantas and Ansett. In both instances, conven- tional wisdom dictated that we’d be hard-pressed to survive. However, within a few years of our arrival on the scene, the competitive landscape changed dramatically: British Airways acquired British Caledonian and, after a last-ditch attempt to buy us, Ansett went bust. Were we just lucky to be in those markets at the right moments, or did our market pres- Tuesday January 28, 2014 DAILY NATION QUOTE » SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURS AND BUSINESS LEADERS ARE OFTEN NOTED FOR THEIR PERSEVERANCE PHOTO | FILE Lightning flashes over the statue of Christ the Redeemer, on top of Corcovado hill in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many people seem to think that whether or not a startup succeeds is something over which an entrepreneur has little control — like being struck by lightning. But No. Anyone who wants to make the effort can and will improve their luck. ence push two big airlines over the edge? I genuinely believe that we manufactured our own luck. This is why successful entre- preneurs are often noted for their perseverance in pursuing their vision: If we had been the ones to fail, no one would have said that we were unlucky — instead, we have been accused of showing bad judgment for entering those markets in the first place. Luck, coincidence, serendipity — call it what you like — it involves a lot of hard work, careful thought and raw courage. The Roman philosopher Seneca said that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That’s it exactly! If you’re an entrepreneur, what have you done to make your own luck? Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Send them to RichardBranson@n ytimes.com.
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