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Have you heard of Lord Alan Sugar? Probably if you watched the UK version of The Apprentice. Almost certainly if you live in the UK. I recently completed his autobiography What You See is What You Get and rather surprisingly I loved it. Why was this a surprise?
Not So Scary
From the snippets of information, sound bites and superficial news that I encountered about Lord Sugar over the years I assumed he was ... how to put this? A rather unpleasant person. But having read his book and a follow up ... I have to say that I rather like his lordship.
An entrepreneur by nature. A tough guy who does not back down when a principle is at stake. But there is a soft side to him too. He is a human after all. Having said that I am sure he can be a rough character to deal with at times. Anyway I am not trying to be a cheerleader. It is after all his autobiography. I looked for lessons to apply to my own journey.
Here are a Few Nuggets of Wisdom:
Be Your Own Boss: If there is one bit of advice I can endorse it is this. Be your own boss. This can mean literally starting your own full time business. It can also mean changing your mindset even if you are still employed. Take responsibility for your present and future. Start thinking for yourself and find ways to improve your situation. Start a side hustle. Go fully independent when you are ready.
Sugar learned very quickly that chasing his tail for an employer was a losing proposition. No matter how hard he worked at sales he took home a tiny fraction of the income. When he tried to sell his own products he made a week's pay in a few hours. The solution was clear to him. Start your own business.
This follows other ideas that I picked up over the years like pay yourself first from Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame. By setting aside money for your own investments before you pay the bills you are investing in yourself. This way you build up your economic strength. From this base you can make things happen with time. Instead most people pay others out first then blow the rest on trash. Result: precariously living paycheck to paycheck.
Of course you need to trim your lifestyle to meet this change of mindset, but it is quickly learned if you are determined to raise yourself.
Lord Sugar started out in the electronics business. He would buy wholesale and sell to the electronics stores. Margins were slim. Competition fierce. Things like car aerials and radios. Then hi-fi systems and so on. Until one day Sugar realised that if he could manufacture things like the hifi cabinet the profit margin would be much higher. He sourced local cabinet makers who could do this. The quality was better than the imported cabinets too.
Now this took place at a time in England when innovation and initiative was not the norm. Especially for a young lad from the "wrong side" of London. Everyone followed the usual path. Get a job. Collect a pay packet on Friday. Spend it. Not Sugar. He looked and learned. Took calculated risks and followed through.
In this case by deciding to manufacture the products he could make them better, cheaper and scale up his business. The lesson is not to simply accept the status quo.
Improve an Existing Product
You have heard the phrase steal like an artist. All it means is adopt what has been done and make it your own by adapting, improving and building on something that works. You produce a better article. Or a work of art that is your own.
Sugar had a nose for innovation. But mostly this was based on something already out there. For example when tape decks first appeared on music centers it was Sugar's idea to add a second tape deck. This was a killer idea. Controversial maybe as the music industry accused him of facilitating pirating music. Of course we never copied one music tape to a blank tape! That would be naughty. The idea was a hit. Years later Sugar came up with the double VCR tape deck as well. Another hit.
Be Yourself (It is Not a Popularity Contest)
Sugar could also innovate. A natural entrepreneur sees gaps in the market. Problems that need fixing. He went with his gut instinct in many cases and remained true to his nature. Take action and make things happen. Even if it upsets a few bystanders.
For example when the computer age arrived Sugar saw opportunities. Lord Sugar innovated and improved on the existing computers. He also undercut pricing dramatically. He came up with the killer idea for an electronic word processor. Goodbye typewriter. Another massive hit.
By creating solutions and manufacturing the product at a great price Lord Sugar's business grew quickly until he took his company public. Suddenly he became a multi millionaire before he was forty.
Those contemporaries of his who continued to buy and sell products at low margins remained pretty much in the same place. Some resented Sugar and tried to undermine him. Not everyone likes a success. Another lesson Sugar learned. But he forged ahead nevertheless.
Keep Your Focus
Alan Sugar was not infallible. He made the mistake of purchasing a football club called Tottenham Hotspur. He spent ten miserable years struggling to build up the club. Facing a barrage of media hatred, defamation and crooked football characters that beggar belief. Sugar would not back down and on many instances fought protracted court battles. Sometimes it was the tabloids that defamed him or someone tried to cheat him.
The result was the Sugar lost focus on his business. Football took a massive toll on his energy, enthusiasm and family relationships. His business suffered and he missed many opportunities. Why did he carry on with the venture? Sugar struggles to understand his motivations too. Probably ego and a dogged nature kept him stuck. Giving up was not an option. Eventually he was able to extricate himself without making a loss. Unfortunately his electronics business had lost its edge and never quite got back to its heyday.
Never Become a Rip-Off Artist
Despite Sugar's penchant for improving on the products made by competitors he did not rip them off. His company was not into copyright infringement and other dodgy practices. He was also scrupulously honest, admitted mistakes and kept himself out of trouble. A handshake and his word was his bond.
Remember that he has the tabloids watching him for any opportunity to trash his reputation. Plus he had a public company's reputation to protect. This credibility and his achievements in promoting entrepreneurship led to his knighthood and eventually he was admitted to the house of lords. Not bad for a kid from Putney, as he would say.
Conclusion: Your Values Matter
I think that values are important these days especially since so many people seem to be dropping them. You can achieve great things and apply old fashioned honesty and manners. Even online.
These basic lessons can be applied by anyone. You do not have to become a millionaire businessperson. But by applying these lessons to whatever path you follow you will have a more fulfilling life. More fun too.
Read the Book:
Check out Lord Sugar's autobiography on Amazon. An excellent read even if you are not a businessperson. It is also a fascinating glimpse into the seventies, eighties and nineties as the world began to change.
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