What I’ve learnt: Alison Thain

November 1, 2016

Business opportunities come from being out there and interacting with lots of different people – even in this digital age. Personal contacts, often chance encounters, can and do lead to real business opportunities. Even if it’s a wet Monday night in February, make the effort! You never know who you might meet, or what you might learn.

Be authentic and consistent. People can spot a fake a mile off, and if they believe you’re genuine, even if they don’t like what you’ve said or done, at least they know what you say is honest. Consistency is similarly important; people need to know where they are with you.

When running a business, you need to be really tenacious to get just about anything done, particularly in a big organisation. You also need resilience to cope with the setbacks and brickbats leadership brings. A stable personal life has also been critical for me.

Concentrating on the here and now is important. Keep customers happy and ensure you’re delivering for shareholders or stakeholders while keeping staff motivated. But in the role of the CEO, you also need to be constantly looking ahead, planning for the future and anticipating the changes inevitably coming. Building in time to do this is vital.

Resist the temptation to surround yourself with only likeminded people and fans. You need challenge and different perspectives to build a great business and not get a ‘God complex’. I’ve seen it happen and it never ends well!

Assemble an array of mentors and critical friends who’ve been there before you and whose judgement you trust. 

Understand what you’re good at and prioritise. It’s tempting to chase apparent opportunities but understanding your purpose and values will provide a filter through which you can judge which to pursue. You can’t do everything.

Be generous with your time and advice. In the North East, we all love our region; it’s important we make it stronger and even more successful by sharing and supporting colleagues to become successful themselves. My great mentor – and friend – is Margaret Fay [former MD of Tyne Tees Television and chairman of ONE, the Regional Development Agency abolished in 2010]. Her values, uncompromising approach to good governance, lack of ego, unselfish, independent and plain speaking approach are quite unique. I often think ‘what would Margaret do?’. It always helps. 

Tell your staff where the business is going, and what their part is in the scheme of things. You will get the best from them this way.

The most powerful comments I’ve received from colleagues, particularly when I retired from Thirteen Group, were about feedback I’d given them, both good and not so good, often from years earlier. It was never from formal appraisal processes, but the small, often casual comments made in passing that have clearly stuck with people and made them feel special and motivated.

Never underestimate the power of ‘thanks’ and ‘well done’, so long as it’s real. And it also never hurts if others overhear it, too. I’m still astonished at the things people remember.

Finally, have fun in business – everything will be better for it. 

Alison Thain

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