Sat, Aug

Do we matter?

Comedian Rufus Hound said 2016 was the answer to the question: what’s the worst that can happen? It can feel like that. The words ‘President Trump’ still sit oddly on the tongue. Every time I see him, I wonder, as somebody said of John Major, “If you were a self-made man, would you make yourself like that?” Presumably, the Pentagon people aren’t dumb enough to give him the real nuclear codes.

Unless he blows the world up, Trump won’t have much of an impact on my business. Protectionism will harm the global economy but as almost all of my work is in the UK I’ll be insulated from those shocks. The reaction from the customers I spoke to the morning after was kind of “what you do you expect from the Americans?” Once you’ve had a president (Reagan) who joked about bombing Russia in his spare time - you get a bit blasé.

The world is getting a bit like that corny slogan you used to see on mugs - about having the courage to change what you can, accept the things you can’t and the wisdom to know the difference. So in this case, the best option is to redouble our focus on work.

I was reading a business magazine the other day - it was a long train journey - that featured an interview with a Harvard professor that intrigued me. The prof said her mentor used to floor seasoned CEOs by asking them: “If your company didn’t exist, would anybody notice?” The mentor was getting them to hunker down and think about whether their business really made a difference.

I asked the question myself on the train and struggled for an answer. So did my colleagues when I asked them. It’s one of those questions we gloss over in our everyday business lives but it began to gnaw at me. Eventually, we thrashed it out in a board meeting. It was nothing fancy - no Powerpoints, or Venn diagrams, just a simple, paragraph-long mission statement that clarified what our business was about. I could tell you what it was but then I’d have to kill you.

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