Words from the wise: Sean Valentine

01 November 2010
Words from the wise: Sean Valentine

Business secrets from Sean Valentine, managing director of venue hospitality specialist Aspire Group.

Go to the extreme - you can always come back This comment from management guru Tom Peters says a lot. Some people call it going the extra mile. You can always draw back to a lesser position; but unless you push things to the limit from the outset you'll never manage to deliver more than you thought you could. Energy, desire and enthusiasm are more important than pure skills.

Quality and commercialism must be kept in balance If you run around trying to please others, you'll end up a busy fool. The flipside to this is that if you spend the whole time delivering profit at the expense of the offering, you'll devalue your product and your brand. There's always someone down the road that can do it cheaper than you but, as they say, turnover is vanity, profit is sanity. Provide a high-quality offering and demand a premium price - but don't seek to over-deliver.

Employ people who are better than you Too many hospitality start-ups on a small budget don't allow for cash-flow. As a result they end up under-resourced and under-geared for borrowing. They don't see the need to grow human resources at a rapid enough rate to match growth ambitions. Never be afraid of taking on individuals with skills you don't possess yourself. Recognise you're not brilliant at everything and recruit skills your business requires to flourish.

Keep focused on your mission and your business vision Lots of hospitality businesses work on the basis of feast or famine and take on every opportunity that presents itself to them, regardless of whether it fits their business aims. If you stick to what you're good at and don't veer into other areas, you'll grow your business and be more successful.

You've got to believe in yourself It takes resilience, a focused approach, a bit of luck and a lot of determination to run your own business. Have faith in yourself and chances are you'll succeed.


Good Eight-and-a-half years ago I became an entrepreneur after nine years at Sodexo. I enjoyed my time there: the training was fantastic, and when I became an entrepreneur I used lots of the disciplines I had learnt there. But in corporate life, your influence on your business is quite narrow. By contrast, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to express their personal visions and abilities in driving forward their own businesses. You touch all facets of your business. The ability to multitask is what makes you successful, along with the desire to control your own destiny.

Bad In a young business, being focused on controlling costs is generally a good thing, but sometimes you have to invest in professional skills you don't possess. At times, when I've entered into contractual obligations, I've been slow in wanting to use lawyers. Because of this, I've made contractual errors of judgement and it has cost us. You learn from that. If you receive a contract from a client's lawyer, be sure to get a lawyer to act on your behalf.


1986-89 Chef de partie, Wheelers Fish Restaurant, Brighton

1997-2002 Sales and marketing director, Sodexo Prestige

2003-06 Managing director, Missing Ingredients

2006-now Managing director, Aspire Group


Always try to be nice. Try to do the right thing if you can. People say entrepreneurs have to be ruthless, and there's an element of truth in that, but it's still possible to do business with a smile.

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