By Professor Dr Maurits van Rooijen, Rector and CEO, London School of Business and Finance (LSBF)
Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to meet many entrepreneurs, captains of industry, professional high flyers and leading politicians. I have had many intense discussions with chief executives of large multinationals and with those starting up their own venture.
In all those years I’ve realised there is no silver bullet to succeed in business, but there are a number of things you can do to make it much more likely that you’ll be a success.
One of the most common misconceptions I hear from people is that your business must have a great idea to stand out. Shintaro Tsuji founded a silk company in 1960 and, after expanding into rubber sandals, noticed that sales increased when cute characters were placed on them. Hello Kitty was just one of the characters placed on the sandals but some four decades later it is a global phenomenon. It would be difficult to argue that “Hello Kitty” is a genius business concept.
Similarly people seem to think that you need to be super smart and have a huge IQ score to be a high flyer in business. Not always. We have seen time and time again examples of business people who have achieved a lot in their careers despite not being academically gifted or highly talented.
So if there is such thing as a secret recipe for business success, I’d say it has three key ingredients: perseverance, willingness to learn and some people skills.
Firstly, perseverance. Business is hard. Put simply, if you are lazy you are never going to be stand out. Too many who start in business think their career is a lottery ticket and they are on a smooth path to success. This is the worst base for business success. You’re going to suffer setbacks – this is a given. The important thing is that you persevere and don’t give up.
Which brings me neatly on to point two – because if you don’t learn from your mistakes you won’t succeed. You need to always be willing to develop your knowledge and skills. That might be informal learning – like reading about your industry or analysing what learnings you can take from a particular project. Or it might be more formal learning like obtaining additional qualifications through further study. Some might say: study allows you to learn from mistakes of others. But, best of all – it might be a mixture of both.
The third point is the most important one – people skills. This often is wrongly understood as ‘gift of the gab’. Actually, it is primarily about a willingness to listen. This links with a willingness to learn as the best business people I have observed are always willing to listen to peers, colleagues and other experts. That is about learning from them in several ways – first they’ll be keen to share their experiences but they’ll also have advice for what you should do in your current situation. These people can be wells of sage advice.
There is also a secret spice for the secret recipe – luck. You can do everything to ensure your success, but sometimes success does just come from being in the right place or having the right idea at the right time. However, throughout my career I’ve found that the amount of lucky people in business are dwarfed by the amount of people who persevere, learn and listen. Sure, luck still plays a major role, but via study, hard work and the right attitude, you stack the odds in your favour.