Jim Duffy: the importance of giving people a chance

I'm heading to lunch today in Glasgow. Glasgow? I'm reminded of a top entrepreneur who once said to me that Glasgow makes the money, while Edinburgh banks it. I'm not sure what to read into that one, but I'm sure you will have an opinion. Mind you, I thought Aberdeen was an economic titan at one time '¦ not to mention the mighty Ullapool.

Take a chance on a new start but be warned they may mess up and scratch a Jaguar

Anyway, one is doing lunch in Glasgow at a posh hotel. Of course, one is not paying – one is a guest and one will enjoy a set three-course luncheon with coffee. No alcohol mind you. I just don’t get these folks who can guzzle two glasses of wine at lunch and end up sleeping in the broom cupboard at work in the afternoon. I’m a mess if I do that – so I abstain and save it up in the bevvy bank for the evening. But why is one doing lunch you may ask?

Some years ago, I started a business. Like most early stage entrepreneurial types, I had it all sorted in my head. I called up a few big car dealerships to see if I could get my feet in the door as a contractor. Not the smartest way to conduct business development, but hey ho, I always liked the direct approach. On my second call, I spoke to a guy called Brian Herlihy. Brian was the general manager at a well-known prestige brand in Glasgow – Taggarts Jaguar. The timing was perfect as Brian was looking to develop his business and seek out new partnership opportunities or, in Glasgow parlance: his current guys had let him doon and he wanted them off the gaff tout suite. I do like a bit of good timing and opportunism.

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I rocked up the next day. To be honest, I had never been in a posh dealership before and like all new interviewees I was excited and apprehensive. I was offered tea or coffee. Nice touch, I thought. Then Brian came out his office and greeted me warmly. I could see that he was full of energy and looked très professional. He was slim, obviously looked after himself and shook my hand with his right hand, looked me straight in the eye, while he touched my left arm with his left hand. It was as if he had known me for months. I later found out that this method is a tried and tested car sales technique that makes the customer feel wanted. The old rogue.

I sat in his office and did my pitch. I was professional, reliable and would not let him down (I spouted). It was a good meeting and I left the dealership thinking good things. A few days later, I was back in Brian’s office where I was now being interviewed by him and his sales manager. I obviously said all the right things as I landed a start and my new company was in. I developed a great relationship with Brian over the next few years. He was a champion for me and my new business and helped me grow and expand until I sold it and put a few bob in the bank. Yes, an Edinburgh bank! And here is where I want the learning opportunity for you all to shine through on this Friday in a chilly, but beautiful Scotland.

Sometimes young people or young businesses come across your radar and they spark something in you. You just like the cut of their jib. You see something in them that either reminds you of you or reminds you of a value or energy you just love. This is the moment to make a decision. A decision that might not sit with internal politics in your company. It might not sit with human resources. It might not sit with supply chain. It might not sit with institutional rules that are set in stone. But, you have to go with your gut and take the young person or company on board and just give them a bloody start! What’s the worst that can happen?

But, don’t end it there. This is where so many of us fail to develop
 talent or really nurture new and emerging businesses or entrepreneurs. If you have found a good egg, then it’s your responsibility, I would argue, to sit on it and keep an eye on it. Sure, your new mentee, protégé, new start or fledgling company will screw up. Crickey, on my first week, one of my team scratched a £65,000 Jaguar XJ that was just about to be put on a transporter for a photoshoot with Sir Steve Redgrave! Thirteen hundred pounds worth of new paint needed. We were the talk of the steamie, but with Brian steering me through it, we got it all resolved and lived to fight another day.

It’s fair to say I’m looking forward to lunch today with a man who gave a start-up a start. Mind you, I’m not buying any more Jaguars Brian, you already sold me three!

lAgitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark