Keep your business feet on the ground

05 June 2008
Keep your business feet on the ground

Richard Ball, Master Innholder and managing director of Calcot Manor, says inspirational leaders are all well and good but insists hospitality managers must have business sense

Last month I was in London and found time to watch Sir Richard Branson being interviewed on stage at a Business Forum event.

As I sat in the auditorium among hundreds of tie-less would-be entrepreneurs furiously checking their Blackberrys I had a sense of unease. I squirmed as we were "entertained" by the warm-up act - a bizarre, motivational guru who rapped out the message that he was success on legs and we too could be like him. Nobody told him one trouser leg was tucked into his sock.

Branson then came on stage to a pop-star welcome - but he looked strangely uncomfortable and shy for a man who has built his brand on PR stunts. The interview was more GMTV than Newsnight and we learnt how he deals with his busy schedule, how many PAs he has, how he keeps fit and what his shoe size was. I found myself warming to this man who showed such a human approach to business, mixed with huge humility.

Then the audience got their turn and things got more interesting. Someone asked why Virgin had never got its sparkling teeth into the hotel industry. I sensed some discomfort as he skirted around the answer with a vague hint that city hotels were a possibility for the future.

Then someone asked how he manages to keep control of so many disparate businesses. He told us that business was not about profit and loss (P&L) accounts or balance sheets, and that if you provided a good product people wanted to use, the accountants would mop up the rest later.

I left feeling briefly inspired and determined to clear my desk and spend more time leading, motivating, innovating, creating, team-building. And then I arrived back at the hotel to find a forecast of the next three months' business on my desk waiting to be studied for signs of an impending recession, and last month's P&L to analyse to see why good sales growth was not coming down to the bottom line.

I realised perhaps why Branson has yet to make a success in hotels - and why I will never be a serial entrepreneur.

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