Show them who’s boss

I get the feeling many businesses often survive despite themselves. There are some pretty mediocre management practices, products and customer service levels out there all too often. Whether by neglect or plain laziness, too many businesses eek out a living with tired employees hanging on for grim death, unapplauded, unmotivated and unrewarded for their efforts. Worse, the best people leave, and the business goes into terminal decline lurching from one crisis to another. Often the change is so slight, as to be unnoticeable, and that’s where an outsider’s eyes can look and say “Hey – why is this like that? or that like the other?”

Maybe this is why I love watching those TV shows where an experienced business person walks into businesses and sorts them out. Whether it was the ex ICI Chief Sir John Harvey-Jones straight talking with Morgan Car family in the 1990s (Troubleshooting), or Gordon Ramsay sorting out some disgusting restaurant business (Kitchen Rules), often some straight talking is all they need. Yet the person that needs the advice refuses to hear the truth.

My favourite such show at the moment is ‘Show them who’s boss’, a rerun of something that aired in the UK 8 years ago, but I’d never heard of it (or seen it) til last week. I’ve watched 3 of them already, and the hero, ex Coke and Granada Chief Sir Gerry Robinson, has a fine way of sorting (in this case family) businesses out with his usual short shrift. Shift someone in there, move that person out there, and hey presto, all is fixed. His withering stare and cold blue eyes cut any one down to size, and often, that is exactly what is required. Dressed all in black, he sweeps in wearing his customary long trench coat, like he’s breezed in from the trenches. Woe betide anyone in his path.

It’s compulsive viewing. Every episode pretty runs the same way, with Gerry quickly sizing up the main issues. The paternal head of the family business is invariably either floundering and/or won’t let go, has picked the wrong person to take over (or not at all) and Gerry sees immediately who it should be. Exit patriarch, enter the proper leader, and off the business trots in a happier direction to more profitable climes. I marvel not at how Gerry knows instinctively what needs doing (it seems to be fairly obvious at the outset), but how he uses a mix of charm and determined argument with the key players to make it happen. This is the main take away I enjoy from the programme.

Here are some classic Gerryisms:

“Everyone should already know what the business’s mission is. If you have to write it on a brass plaque on the wall, you’re probably already dead!”

“When you see a successful business, it’s usually a sign that someone has had the courage to take a bold decision, to try something new.” [Ergo, a business that is struggling, needs something new.]

“People will believe it is impossible at first. But change things and the very same people will be there, making a go of it.”

“Focus on a few things at once, and bang on about them at every opportunity.”

“Business skills can be acquired just as any fool can learn to play the piano. But the ability to see an opportunity, the alchemy of turning that into a profit, is a god-given talent just as surely as perfect pitch.”

About the author

Charlie has spent more than 20 years in Perth’s tech and startup sector, firstly as a founder himself, through to exit, and more recently as a writer, advisor and investor. Originally from the UK, Charlie worked in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999 he set up online real estate business, running it for 10 years before selling to REIWA, whereupon Charlie ran In 2013, he moved to Business News to lead their digital transformation as CEO, and then worked for the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program, funding pre-revenue startups and innovative businesses. He now works in an advisory capacity for multiple tech and other businesses, is managing editor of Startup News and co-host of the Startup West podcast. He also writes a column for Business News on startups. Charlie sits on the advisory boards of WA Leaders, TEDxPerth, WAITTA, the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and the full board of Rise Network.

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3 Responses
  1. Jonathan

    I love it !
    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “they make money despite themselves” about a business.
    Also for ref watch “Tabith takes over” when it’s on, she’s the Ramsey of hairdressing.

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