As a business development expert, Peter Harrington thought he knew all the big hitters. But then he went on a very special trip…
It all started with a cold call.
“I’m sorry but Nick never gives interviews” I was informed. The PA on the other end of the line was pleasant but firm. “But please give me your details. Someone in PR will be in touch I’m sure.”
Two days later the phone rang. To my complete astonishment I learnt my wish had been granted. Even though he had a hectic schedule, the world’s greatest entrepreneur wanted to meet me in person; and he had even insisted on making all my travel arrangements.
The overnight flight might have been a bit of a blur but on arrival at his private office I had his undivided attention for 2 hours. And the secrets of how to build a global empire of unparalleled scale from humble beginnings were shared with a cheery smile and hearty laughter.
How to build a global business
“It’s no good thinking about what you want,” he said. “You have to focus on the market and provide products that people want. But that’s only one small piece of the jigsaw. Everything we make is always packaged so it looks attractive, interesting and creates real desire.”
Pausing for thought, he looked over at the large open fire burning away in the corner of the room. “You see,” his words had softened, “the packaging adds so much to the product because it creates that all important ‘dream’. Even the most mundane of things can be completely transformed by the wrapper. We don’t give people products, we give them dreams. You can write that down!”
Hanging on each word I marvelled at his commitment to every detail of service and the “just-in time” delivery processes his organisation used. In terms of international product distribution the sky it seemed was the limit. But how did he open, maintain and grow so many channels that allowed him to operate on both a local and worldwide scale?
“Over the years” he explained, slowly stroking his beard, “we’ve managed almost like magic to build up a network of agents in every single corner of the globe. But to be honest, the real secret to our success is the unspoken bond of trust between our organisation and the agents with whom we work. The operation is so good now, it’s become seamless.
“Every single person who delivers goods in our name believes one hundred percent in what we do. This relationship ensures our distribution methods are highly efficient and effective; which I have to say has really helped me to manage my own stress levels!” As he finished his sentence so laughter filled the room once more.
Throughout our meeting various people came in and out of the office and each one was treated with the same level of courtesy and respect. This tycoon was a real people person.
Love what you do
Looking through my notes I fixed on a question I was really keen to ask. What advice would he offer entrepreneurs that were just starting out?
“Find out what makes you sing, and follow it!” He replied without hesitation. “I didn’t set out to become famous, but over the years things worked out for me I because I just love this job.
“I’d also advise people starting out to find time to give without expecting anything in return. People really like givers and over the course of time they will give back – sometimes far more. Reciprocation develops huge amounts of trust. The truth is, that’s our organisation in a nutshell.
“Our passion for what we do,” he continued “and the goodwill we generate has also helped to keep us in the media especially at this time of year. Free publicity is a key energy source for this operation. I don’t know what we would do without it.
“It used to be the people in print media who wrote stories and features about us. But once Hollywood started making films it all went crazy. And since that Interweb thing came along,” he said with a chuckle, “well that just sent everything into orbit.”
I had my story. The focus, commitment, values and absolute consistency of this man’s approach to work was inspiring. His last words had provided the perfect conclusion to my interview; it was the icing on the cake.
We said our goodbyes and I left the meeting knowing two hours of my life had seldom been so well spent. At the reception I collected my return travel documents before leaving the building. Snow was falling heavily but the doorman who I first met on arrival greeted me with another warm smile and asked where I was headed.
“Yorkshire,” I replied. He immediately waved his hand in the air and clicked his fingers. As if by magic the bells that had accompanied my journey over once more filled the air.
Wishing you a Happy Christmas.
- Peter Harrington is founding director of business education software SimVenture and is based in York. You can read more of his advice at The Hitchhikers Guide To Entrepreneurship