Learning the business of business |
Arab News - 10 August, 2012
The largest selling e-book segment is that covering business. Thousands of new books about management, investment, leadership, finance and all the myriad other specialisms of business are published, in print and digitally, every year and the flow of new volumes never seems in danger of slowing.
Look around airport lounge and it is almost certain that you will see an executive busy consuming some aspirational tome, when he or she is not poring over paperwork to do with their current business trip. The range of topics is huge, from the self-congratulatory memoirs of star CEOs, who have made it to the top of the greasy executive pole, to sure-fire management or investment techniques, or 50 fool-proof ways to marketing success.
That such an endless wave of these books can still find an eager market, actually says something rather important about the business of business itself — that very few people actually know what to do for the best. Even allowing for the considerable talents of bazaari merchants, in general, businessmen are made and not born, and the making of a successful executive is often an haphazard process.
Therefore one must sympathize with the latest graduates from the Institute of Entrepreneurship in Jeddah, which has been working away molding young Saudi entrepreneurs since 2004. The best of them will have studied all their set books and then gone on to read around subjects, where they feel their future may lie. But given the sheer weight of contradictory advice — for instance that companies run best through team work with different corporate units acting as ‘partners” to each other, as opposed to those business writers who still insist on the “top down” leadership of visionary CEOs and management teams, who delegate and demand performance from those below them — given this welter of conflicting guidance, what is a young entrepreneur to think ?
Without turning this newspaper into yet another source of guidance for up-and-coming businessmen and women, the core qualities for success surely lie in honesty, good value and plain dealing ? Even the Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs), which still dominate the Kingdom’s economy, largely recognize that you get the best out of your employees by treating them fairly, and you build up your customer relationships by providing quality, value-for-money goods or services.
The budding young entrepreneurs in Jeddah will have been taught that when they establish a banking relationship and are extended loans, they have to disclose properly all the details that the bank requires, and then keep their banker up to speed with their business’s performance. For instance, if a loan covenant is in danger of being broken, it is important to tell the bank before it happens. This can lead to a renegotiation, which will protect the company’s cash flow and allow the business to carry on into more prosperous times.
The problem is that everyone knows that business around the world the world has become a cut-throat activity, in which gentlemen’s agreements are the ridiculed exception, rather than the rule. Business is treated as a conflict in which anything is fair, as long as it wins the deal and makes money. Indeed, one of the most enduringly popular business books is “The Art of War” by Tsun Tzu, a Chinese general who was writing 2,000 years ago.
Of course the majority of the young entrepreneurs, who are being trained in the Kingdom are more interested in learning how to start and make successful, altogether modest businesses. Only a few of them are ever likely to step into the bear-pit that is international deal-making.
They also enjoy a considerable advantage over their fellow would-be entrepreneurs elsewhere in the world. The Jeddah Institute has the support of strategic partners in the General Organization for Technical and Vocational Training, along with the collaboration of SABIC, Saudi Aramco, Saudi Telecom (STC), Alinma Bank, and Saudi Bank for Credit and Savings. Moreover, at the end of their training young entrepreneurs can look to financial support of up to SR 300,000.
Nevertheless, all the training and all the financial backing and encouragement from Saudi companies that know a lot about business, is no guarantee of success. In the end any business, whatever its size, achieves its aims through hard work and application. There are no short-cuts to these two key qualities, regardless of however many of the tens of thousands of business books you choose to read.