I have invested in or acquired a lot of businesses over the years, but there have been only two companies I’ve been totally involved in building from scratch: CIA and now, The Ingram Partnership. In both cases, I’ve used the principles of momentum management, which I believe is of huge value in a rapid growth business.
So, what is this momentum management? Well, it’s all about getting your enterprise to a position of critical mass by substituting speed and mobility for size, and creating an aura of success that becomes self-fulfilling. Easier said than done you might think, but humans are animals. We instinctively send signals of leader and follower. And just as people can smell fear, they are easily able to detect the sweet scent of success.
Consultative dictatorship is the only option
How you lead though is very important. My preference is for consultative dictatorship. Democracy doesn’t work – certainly not in business. It has to be absolutely clear who is boss – every step of the way. But, having said ‘dictatorship’, it’s a special sort of dictatorship.
If you want to build a great business then, unless you’re absolutely confident you have a monopoly on all wisdom, you had better take on board other people’s ideas. That’s the consultation bit.
You need to be always greedy for the very best ideas. This is done by watching your competitors and what they are doing very carefully. In addition, read all you can about business and the way it’s done – real business, not theory. Above all, hire outstanding people and listen to them.
How to really motivate people
I emphasise this last point because, as I’ve grown older I have become a lot better at listening. Whatever I am doing, I want to hear all the ideas, select the best with the help of my team, and then drive them through.
If you really stick to this it’s great, because the message goes out that anyone’s idea can ‘win’ as long as it’s the best. This is a huge motivator to people, particularly the smart ones. If you make it work throughout the organisation it motivates at every level. It makes people come with you every step of the way. And if you’re moving fast, you need the entire team to be absolutely in step. In short, with consultative dictatorship, you debate, you decide, you go. All of you!
Decide or die
Momentum is fundamentally important here too. To generate it, you have to keep taking decisions – quickly.
I like to remind myself that seven or eight correct decisions out of ten is a good result. And it’s immeasurably better than taking only five decisions, even if they’re all correct.
As for the guy who’s terrified of making mistakes and over-analyses everything; well, he probably takes one correct decision to my seven, so his company is going to get left way behind. In fact, I don’t think any of us would regard that person as an entrepreneur anyway.
You must believe this or you won’t make it. Of course, you and your team must do your homework in advance as much as possible or consult with people who can give you valuable advice or insight. But the momentum manager never confuses collecting information with taking decisions. And they certainly don’t judge their importance by the number of emails they get every day.
Nothing is impossible
As with many entrepreneurs, my attitude to achievement has always been that ‘nothing is impossible’ and I have always tried to imbue those around me with the same belief.
The Nike slogan of ‘Just Do It!’ captures this spirit perfectly in many respects.
In my previous company, CIA, we worked with Nike closely and that attitude really ran right through their company. It was a great experience and it rubbed off. CIA went from being a merry band of three people in 1976 to 2,600 souls in 67 offices across 29 countries by 2001. In one three-year period we went from £250 million turnover to £1,250 million. A great contributory factor to this growth was that it was drilled into everyone that we were going to become a global company and nothing was going to stop us.
When people really believe, you can achieve anything. And, as CEO, it’s your job to make them believe. Think of Arsenal football team: 49 games unbeaten. They believed and they were inspired by their manager, Arsene Wenger.
Undiluted positive thinking
To underpin the ‘can do’ attitude, it is crucial to create an unequivocally positive environment that is not compromised at any level.
What you want is problem-solvers, not whingers. One of my techniques to really ram home the point is to pick up anyone who uses the word ‘problem’ and say, “We don’t have ‘problems’, we have ‘challenges’.” Challenges are there to be overcome, problems not necessarily so. I’m sure it makes people groan behind my back, but you are sending out a clear message that negative thinking is bad.
I know of someone whose style of management is more brutal: he uses the saying, ‘If you have a problem and you can’t solve it, then you’re the problem.’ It’s a bit too bullying for my tastes but underlying it, he has a valid point.
A climate of expectation
For momentum management to really succeed you need to create a climate of expectation – both internally and externally.
The rapid growth company is always on the move – to the place where things are constantly happening. Moreover, it uses this activity to create a high profile – and why not? Give people something to talk about. People need to think: “What are they doing next? What have they won? Who’s joining? They’ve opened another office! They’re rumoured to be buying Company X…”
At CIA I used to convey that to clients and suppliers – “You know we’re going to be bigger, the only question is by how much.”
This was a great substitute for size: clients like to be associated with success. In the case of suppliers, if their largest clients are bullying them and/or they’re not growing, then the smart new kid on the block looks very attractive by comparison.
Chris Ingram has considerable experience of building and managing rapid-growth companies and is widely regarded as the inventor of the modern media agency. He started CIA in 1976 with 3 people and £10,000. It grew into Tempus Group and was sold to WPP for over £430 million in 2001. In 2002 he launched Genesis Investments, a private equity business, and in July 2003 he launched The Ingram Partnership, a strategic brand building and communications consultancy.
See also: Six key success factors of standout SMEs