Please keep this a closely guarded secret because I might get into trouble with the big man himself but I thought it important that all of ella forums’ members, friends and family know that today is ella’s Executive Chair and Co-Founder, Brian Chernett’s 79th Birthday.
Everyone who is fortunate enough to work alongside Brian knows that age is but a number to the man who regularly ‘pulls all nighters’ (my language not his) to do yoga, watch the eclipse or to cheer on his beloved Tottenham Hotspurs or to, more likely, send emails. He is currently away on holiday in Uzbekistan and is defying my ban by regularly checking and replying to his emails!
It is evident to me from the time that I have spent with him that Brian has energy permeating from every pore, an energy that defies his age. I have spent many days trying to work out the ‘secret’ to Brian’s infectious energy and there seems to be only one answer; his desire to ‘give back’, pass on his wealth of knowledge and leave a legacy to the Third Sector. Along with partner in crime, Mike Burnage, Brian set up The ella Foundation, now known as ella forums four years ago with the aim of making charity leaders better than they ever believed they could be.
With ella forums growing by the day and new groups opening across the country, you may also be keen to find out more about this entrepreneur and expert leader. In 2010 Brian wrote a book entitled ‘The Entrepreneur Within’. In honour of Brian’s birthday below is the Introduction and First Chapter of the book. Hopefully, when he is back from Uzbekistan to give me his permission, we will regularly post quotes or chapters from the book on the ella forums blog and social media.
Please enjoy and be sure to raise a glass tonight to the man who has been labelled ‘my guide… a true giver… sharing, insightful… the ultimate source of inspiration and learning… very rare… passionate… a wonderful man with an incisive mind… focussed totally on helping other people achieve success’ in just a few of his LinkedIn recommendations (for those of you considering writing your own recommendation he told me that he now has so many that LinkedIn won’t take any more but I am more than happy to collect on his behalf! firstname.lastname@example.org)
“If you want to see change, be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
Why I wrote this book Not so long ago, a quiet voice within me began telling me it was time to share my knowledge and experience with others, to help them in their lives and in their business. Writing a book was not a conscious goal, but rather part of a growing sense of needing to give back.
Early in 2006 at a network Forum, I met a joyful and encouraging lady called Mindy. We were going around the table discussing what we wanted out of this Forum and Mindy said her company, The Book Midwife, was looking for someone, a businessman in particular, to help write a book. She had helped over a hundred people write business books, personal development books and novels. Now she was looking for a really successful business person to bring their book to life and document their success for the next generation of business people. Something inside of me, perhaps my ego, said that this was the moment. So I went up to Mindy and said ‘I have no idea what I want to write a book about. I’m not even sure I want to write a book and I don’t know what it would be called, but something inside me is saying the time is now right.’
During a three and a half hour coaching session with Mindy, I came up with the purpose of the book and the reasons why I wanted to write it. Or should I say ‘purposes’ because the more I started to reflect on what I wanted from this book project, the more reasons I found to do it.
The main purpose of the book is to provide a legacy for my family; my children, grand-children and their children. It will also be a legacy for those people who continue to work within the company that I created. There are many experiences that have been instrumental in my becoming who I am today. I believe that those experiences enable me to help other entrepreneurs become the best they can be. Some of these experiences have been shared in the past, but they have never been brought together and presented as a coherent model.
The secondary purpose was to remove the self-doubt, the belief that I had since I was fourteen and a half when I left school, that I was unable to write a book, that my English was not good enough and that I lacked the basis of a degree or any other academic award. If I could remove perceived limitations, then that would also be a true sense of achievement.
Leading up to that decision, I had been to several funerals where a eulogy was read about the person who had died. A very good friend of mine died recently and, at his funeral, I heard so much about that person, about how he thought, about his dreams and about his achievements. I found out so much that I had not known about him in his lifetime. Had I known about it, our relationship could have been so much richer, I would have learned so much more from him and understood more about what ‘made him tick’.
So this is my legacy. My purpose is to inspire entrepreneurs and business leaders to achieve their dreams and if they don’t know what they are, to help them find them. Over the period of my life and, in particular, over the last seventeen years, I have helped entrepreneurs achieve their dreams and goals and enabled them to spend more time working with family and friends to do the same for them.
It was my intuition that told me to speak to Mindy. It was a belief that I could do it and it required that I take action. It required me to move towards something that was outside myself and told me that Mindy was the right person to work with. It inspired me to write this book and, in the process, I have discovered even more – more insights, more stories that lay just under the surface and more empathy with business leaders everywhere.
As is often the case with these things, the process was to prove almost more important than the actual work. It has allowed me to gather and reflect on my own thoughts and beliefs in order to put them down on paper and, in doing so, I am able to share my very best insights with you – my ‘wisdom’ if you can call it that. If it helps you even half as much as it has helped me, then I will have achieved my purpose.
At a time when entrepreneurs are often depicted in the media as being ruthless and hard, I also want to make the case for becoming a business leader and entrepreneur while remaining caring and compassionately human. I hope that I can make that case in the pages that follow.
What is leadership?
Leaders take their teams, their followers, into new and unknown territory or into familiar territory but with unfamiliar or innovative products or services. There are many types of leaders ranging from those who stride out ahead and expect their team to follow, to those who encourage and cajole their teams to higher performance that takes the team to new places. I’ll talk more about leadership styles and approaches within the later chapters.
Leaders are not necessarily the same as managers, though a leader may need to function as a manager and a manager may also be a leader. It is less about the person and more about what it is they are doing. When we are acting as managers, we are usually working within a set of guidelines and aiming for known and definable goals, often within budgets and timetable constraints. When we are operating as leaders, there are no predetermined goals, other than those of improving and developing the business in as effective a way as possible. Leaders operate with a wide field of vision whilst managers are often narrowly focused. Having said that, it is easy to get hung up on these definitions and miss the point that all of us are leaders (or could be) in some aspect of our working and private lives. Leaders become entrepreneurs when they back that vision and create something that didn’t exist before.
We need entrepreneurs. Whether or not you believe that the leaders and entrepreneurs of the past have delivered us a world that we can approve of, we need entrepreneurs to take us forward to our dream of a future world. You may not achieve all of your dreams, but if you show no leadership at all, you can be sure that you will achieve none of them.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, if you want to see change, be the change you want to see in the world. Or to borrow a slogan from more recent times – ‘just do it!’
Leading with Caring and Compassion
We appear to be teaching our potential leaders a model of leadership that is mechanistic, has defined ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of doing things, is focused on money and treats human beings as resources to be hired and fired on a whim.
This is demonstrated in the BBC TV show The Apprentice, where each week candidates for a high powered and well paid job compete with each other to avoid being fired by Sir Alan Sugar. The show is based on the US Apprentice show featuring Donald Trump. Candidates are allocated to teams to complete a business-related task but, because one person from the losing team each week is fired, candidates often employ the strategies that further their own cause rather than those that best work for good of the team.
I don’t, for one moment, believe that Sir Alan’s approach on TV is the same as that he employs in his day to day business life. It is clearly exaggerated to create tension and thus entertainment. Sir Alan has been in business for many years and has built successful companies with loyal employees within them. The ruthless ‘no excuses, fire ‘em’ approach he takes on the show wouldn’t have helped him to do that. An example of this would be that, in a recent series of The Apprentice, the outright winner had openly lied on his CV and admitted the fact. When Sir Alan chose him as the series winner, it risked giving the impression that such an activity might be acceptable in business.
The problem is that a proportion of viewers believe that what they are watching is how business is actually conducted. So we get copycat ‘Apprentices’ arriving in business and thinking that they should play the same games with the same amoral attitude. Perhaps worse, we may miss out on the skills and talent of those who decide that business is simply not for them. Most leadership is about people. Leaders need followers, people who believe in their vision and direction. History is littered with examples of leaders who abused the trust of their followers and led them into places they would never have gone alone. Leading with humanity is about developing a relationship of trust with your followers and not abusing the position of power that they give you. I believe, and will explain why later in this book, that you need to love your team, even those who go out of their way to be unlovable.
The Entrepreneur Within
I have had a long and varied business career, so, in order to put a context for the rest of this book, I’ve set out my entrepreneurial journey in Chapter 1.
Leadership and entrepreneurship is about understanding what needs to be done and then doing it. It begins with ourselves and with taking action – for without action, nothing will ever happen. Chapter 2 looks at taking action.
Our beliefs can nurture us and help us move forward or they can root us to the spot in fear – Chapter 3 looks at our beliefs and how we can make them more helpful to us.
Chapter 4 widens the focus and looks at how we behave and succeed when leading a team.
The ultimate team is your own company. Chapter 5 looks beyond the brand and marketing image and into the spirit and culture of a business and the role of a leader in developing and maintaining that.
Chapter 6 returns to the personal and looks at the importance of energy and health in our role as a successful leader. My journey to ‘reverse the ageing process’ is also examined here.
This book will give you information, inspiration and insights, increases your belief in yourself and your abilities and helps you to take successful action. If it does, I’ve achieved my goal.
Chapter 1 My Entrepreneurial Journey
“Success is a journey, not a destination.” Arthur Ashe
It has been quite a challenge to summarise 73 years of my life and learning. I thought a lot about the value of doing this and I believe that the value is to demonstrate how despite my relatively lowly upbringing and my basic education, I was able to create an Academy for developing leaders and entrepreneurs. This chapter is the story of that journey.
I was born on the 18th October 1936, within the sound of the Bow Bells, which means that I am officially a Cockney. I am the eldest son (of four) born to Louis and Doris, who were children of immigrants from Poland and Russia.
Most of my formative years were during the Second World War, making my childhood very difficult. I was nine years old when the war ended and Lou was demobbed from the Royal Air Force. We moved to Margate in Kent where my parents ran a hotel. My education was very mixed. I went to several schools and I did not do well. I believe, in recalling this time, that I was a late developer. I left school at 14½ years of age, six months before the legal age at that time, as Lou and Doris moved back to London while Lou struggled to find a career. I was never pushed at school and I had no inclination to go on to college.
At the age of 15, I took my first job working for a certified accountant in the City of London at 21 shillings a week (just over £1 – a shilling being the same as10p). My travel costs were considerably more than that. I set about proactively educating myself by going to evening classes. Starting from such a low beginning, I never achieved anything at those classes. Lou and Doris then moved back to Margate and I moved with them. Once there I had a series of quite good jobs and always did well at whatever I did.
At the age of 17½, I volunteered to join the Royal Air Force, six months before I was legally required to join, as National Service was compulsory at that time. This was a totally proactive decision (which I talk about elsewhere in the book) and Lou and Doris were not even aware that I was going for interviews. Having successfully passed the examinations, the first I had ever passed, to join the Royal Air Force, my three years there were very influential in my character development. I volunteered for everything and started to pass small examinations and to manage other people, first in an office and later in Gibraltar, where I was responsible for furnishing the Officer’s Married Quarters. I passed further exams which gave me the responsibility for armaments and other stores.
I left the Air Force at the age of 20½ and soon met my wife Jaclyn. I very quickly found a new job and started working for the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) at the Peter Jones store in Sloane Square, Chelsea , where I was singled out by the Managing Director, Lionel Wharrad. I started on the junior circuit and quite quickly began to manage various departments, becoming a rising star in the store. I studied and was awarded a diploma in design and interior decoration then, after three years, made the decision to move to Canada. Although I was with Jacky, she was unable to go with me. Within one day of arrival, I got a job in Toronto in a department store for one year.
Three months later, I returned to the UK to Jacky and to the Peter Jones store, where Lionel Wharrad was delighted to have me back. I was continually promoted and the experience was outstanding. My self esteem blossomed. I learnt how to manage staff and was very proud of being able to place people in their best roles. Developing people was (and still is) very important to me. The training that I got at the John Lewis Partnership was second to none. However after 5 years, Lionel Wharrad left and joined Booker Brothers, McConnell. He called me and asked me to join him there. They were starting up a group of departmental stores and Lionel wanted me to become a buyer for them. This was a wonderful opportunity which I took. After a while, Bookers bought a small group of retail shops and a food cash and carry. I was asked to manage the buying for the whole group. I had a very large department to run and was again a star in the organisation.
At the age of 30, Bookers sent me to Guyana and Trinidad as a consultant to the department stores there with a brief to come back with a plan to develop the stores in England. Subsequent to this, Bookers decided to sell the organisation and offered me several internal jobs. Finally, I went with the small retail chain they had developed and joined up with Combined English Stores (CES) run by Murray Gordon. I worked with him as his trouble shooter as he bought several groups of stores. I was asked to appraise them before they were bought – quite something for someone at the age of 33!
After the wonderful culture of the John Lewis Partnership – especially the fact that all employees were partners – I found the culture of CES very disappointing and some policies were not in line with my business upbringing and philosophy. So I left and joined a smaller company that was about to go public. Initially, I was asked to join to bring some professionalism to the organisation. I became a Director of the company which was later floated on the Stock Market. I was firstly responsible for all the IT and had to learn as I introduced a large computer system into the organisation. The organisation then went into the food cash and carry business and I was asked to manage those. At the same time, I brought together 30 or 40 other cash and carries to form one of the largest food buying groups in the country called Landmark. A lot of my management skills and key beliefs in dealing with people fairly and openly were built during this period.
The holding company then got into financial difficulty and decided to sell the cash and carries which were by then up to 6 units. The holding company bought in a new chair, Roy Garner, who certainly helped me to develop my own skills to a new level.
Roy eventually helped me to do a Management Buy Out (MBO) of two of the largest of the cash and carries. For the first time in my life, I had my own business and had to put into practice all my skills of leadership and management in order to build a good team. I was very successful for five years. However in 1981, the company overtraded through a series of unfortunate events and went into receivership. I learned a lot from my auditor, Colin Wagman, who helped me to structure the company in the way in which I did not lose everything. I was able to come out with some money and start a new cash and carry which I ran for three or four years before I sold it at a profit.
In 1983, I went into the video business which was growing at a great rate. When the cash and carry was sold I started to develop this business separately and began to develop concessions within many of the major stores and cash and carries around the country, building a very successful video film renting company. When this company needed more cash, I sold a shareholding to Hillsdown Holdings, which enabled them to develop the business. With Hillsdown, I sold this business successfully and, in doing so, I learned a lot about the workings of corporate financing. The company purchasing the business did not want me to continue in post but allowed me to work on an invention which I had been developing for vending rental videos and this carried on for a year or so.
I contacted the Department of Trade and Industry proactively and was given the opportunity to be a consultant for them, going round various businesses helping them to get grants from the DTI. This enabled me to see many, many companies and evaluate their needs and also see how successful the consultancies were that the DTI paid for. After a couple of years, it became clear to me that I could become a consultant in business management. I did this for a couple of businesses free of charge and then became recognised as a consultant with the DTI. I used my skills in identifying problems within businesses, which were usually around people and communication. I specialised in helping accountants and solicitors develop their organisations and achieved two or three notable successes in this area. I didn’t enjoy the consultancy side as, with the DTI, it was the size of the report that mattered rather than the quality. This involved a lot of writing, which was not something I enjoyed.
An opportunity came up to join the UK operation of an American organisation called The Executive Committee (TEC) which developed leaders. I joined as chair of a group and eventually became the top chair within the organisation in the UK, running four groups, and won several awards from America for my work. After four years, I was asked to become managing director and it was something I really wanted. This was at the age of 59. The UK franchise holder then changed his mind and, after subsequent discussions, I decided to resign. The groups that I was very successfully running decided to help me to start up on my own, which, with the agreement of the franchise holder, I did. I then began building the Academy for Chief Executives.
The learning through the whole of this period has been profound, particularly when I reflect on the thousands of leaders that have passed through my hands. Many of them have become millionaires. As the whole business is dedicated to learning, I feel I have to be a model for that learning and therefore spend a lot of time on my own personal development. Even at my current age, I am still learning to bring value to people and I intend to continue doing that for many years to come.
The last two years have been very important to me as I feel that I am still delivering so much value to people and I want to carry on doing that. To this end I am learning a lot about health and wellness (see more in Chapter 6) which has resulted in my spending four weeks in India at the Jindal Naturecure Institute in Bangalore. I am learning how to avoid serious illness and, through yoga, diet and water, to ‘reverse the ageing process’. I believe that I am now achieving that.