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So much from so little

Exclusive feature for Sorted magazine.

Fortunes in business. First, he established and built the Lind motor business, which became one of the UK’s larger and most respected car dealership groups. Graham sold the business for over £100 million just days before the market collapsed. Parallel to this he built and retains an equally impressive commercially let property portfolio.

Over the years, he has donated the greater part of his income to various charitable causes. Through the Lind Trust, he acquired the magnificent former regional headquarters of Barclays Bank in Norwich and invested over £10 million in turning it into what has been described as the finest youth provision in Europe. This is but one example of many.

But what drives the man who likes to drive fast cars? Quite simply, his faith in God.

He says it best in his own words:
“Getting started in business and making your mark on the world can be exciting, adrenaline-fuelled stuff. Entrepreneurs get a buzz of satisfaction from clinching a new deal, breaking into a new market, launching a new initiative. It’s only natural. It’s what they were born to do.

“I have not been a typical entrepreneur in that my faith in God takes precedence over the need to grow a business and make money. Yes, I was driven to succeed. Yes, I wanted to make money. But early on God got my attention and helped me to see something vital. While being successful was, in and of itself, a laudable goal, he had much bigger plans in mind. I needed to grasp the fact that I was living for a purpose bigger than myself.

“Herein lies one of the greatest revelations I’ve learned over the years. We are more joyful, more peaceful and more prosperous when we are living for something greater than ‘me’. If the only purpose of generating enormous wealth is enormous self-indulgence, where is the meaning in that? But in living beyond ourselves, we truly live.”

What was Graham’s ‘greater’ cause? Initially, it was to make sufficient funds to plant a church, equipping it with unrivalled facilities. When that dream eventually came to pass, he turned his attention to funding many other worthwhile ventures.

In his recently published book, Graham tells the full story of his highs and lows in business, but he is more interested in passing on to others the principles he has learned. Here’s a small taster:

Live for something bigger than yourself

Life is worth nothing unless we use it to finish the task that God has assigned to us. Life is meaningless unless we are living for a higher purpose. If I can offer some valuable advice, it would be this: Find your greater purpose in life and live for it. If your purpose looks easily achievable to you, then that’s unlikely to be it. If you can’t imagine your purpose coming to pass without some kind of divine intervention, you’re probably on the right track.

There is a great joy to be found in living out what you were born to do; being the person God made you to be and doing the thing that you are passionate about. As someone once said, “If you love what you do, you’ll never do a day’s work in your life.”

Throughout the lifetime of what was to become the Lind Automotive Group, life was exciting. It got us out of bed in the morning. It didn’t feel like work. We didn’t just survive from day to day; we thrived. We were doing something with our lives, and it had a bigger cause attached to it. It gave us purpose and a reason to excel. It satisfied our need to do something worthwhile, and together we celebrated its growth and success.

Purpose = hope

I’m the sort of person who is always looking forward, seeing where I can progress. Ironically, after all I’ve managed to achieve, I still don’t feel I’ve arrived. One characteristic of a good leader is to celebrate the small wins. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to do that. But I do look forward optimistically with hope.

Living with purpose gives you hope because it means you can constantly look forward to the bigger, better things to come, and you don’t dwell on the past, whether the past contains failure or success. Once we lose hope, we lose our direction in life; after that we plunge into hopelessness.

When I became a BMW dealer, taking over a failing business, I had high hopes. I hoped we could turn the business around; hoped and prayed we’d survive; hoped we’d make some money. I hoped I wouldn’t be a one-hit wonder. But this was all ‘negative’ hope, as you can see.

Positive hope is grounded elsewhere; founded in something that is secure; in something that cannot fail. Just as God gives me purpose, he gives me hope. As a Christian, I have a sure and certain hope in the future. I have a hope that is not dependent or reliant upon me, but upon him.

I came into a relationship with God and found hope. Great hope. Certain hope. Sure hope. Once I lived without hope, but not anymore. Today, I am hopelessly hopeful. Here’s hoping that you will grasp this truth for yourself and begin to live a hopeful life, investing your efforts into a purpose far greater than yourself.

 

Take a leap of faith

Those not from a Church background may find my perspective on faith and its role in business hard to accept. All I can say in response is that my faith is an integral part of who I am. It defines me. Therefore, it plays a central role in all I do. Faith dictates who I am, what I do, why I do it and how I do it.

Frequently, faith appears illogical to others. I agree. The concept of giving away money and somehow receiving more back than we’ve given, for instance, is entirely illogical. But then many things about faith appear illogical on the surface. Yet, they prove to be true in due course.

As a man of faith, I believe that God speaks to me. Sometimes he will ‘plant’ thoughts in my mind; pearls of wisdom that couldn’t have been generated by me. God can give you insights that, if acted on in faith, can provide the key to unlocking otherwise intractable situations.

On one such occasion, God woke me up early one morning and gave me the strategy to turn around a business that was haemorrhaging money and needed a massive cash injection to get it out of debt. They owed the bank £1 million. God’s big idea? Simply go to the bank and explain to them that it was in their interests to write off the debt, in full. What? Surely not? But that is exactly what happened. You can read the full story in my book.

This single, ludicrous move helped launch the Lind business. It goes to show that if you – whatever you are doing – are prepared to hand your business over to God and allow him to become its CEO, I promise you will be amazed at what will happen. What would have happened if I had chosen to ignore what God spoke to me? What if I had stopped at, “No, wait a minute, that’s ridiculous. There’s no way…” Right there and then I could have put paid to plans to grow an incredible business that would become an incredible resource, funding all kinds of worthwhile humanitarian projects. The fact is, no business grows without the principal taking a leap of faith at some point. But instead of taking a leap of faith with some new marketing initiative, a new product or service, or some financial risk – take a leap of faith and trust God. You will never regret it.

 

Learn tenacity

In business as in life, there is a need for tenacity. We must have sticking power in order to see ventures through to their logical conclusion; to push as hard as we need to see the results we desire. There is also the need to remain agile, able to respond to changing circumstances, and to take calculated risks when necessary. Sometimes in life, you just have to stick your neck out and go for it. Make a plan – even an audacious plan – and put it into action; throw everything you have at it. Plan to succeed and not to fail.

At times, we need to be tenacious by taking calculated risks. One can argue the case for business being scientific – consisting of certain principles that, when applied, will achieve certain results. To me, business has always been more of an art than a science. I’m more interested in gut feeling, instinct, a sense of the right way to go and whether something has the right feel about it. Without good instincts, you can apply all the principles you want and still not achieve the desired results. That’s why I am always much more interested in developing character than expounding business principles.

 

Mistakes help us to grow

If you are an entrepreneur, you will have made mistakes. If you’ve never put a foot wrong in building your business, you are either completely unique, a total one-off and should celebrate the fact, or you have never taken a risk. The odds are overwhelmingly stacked in favour of the latter.

The most important thing about mistakes is simply that we learn from them. Mistakes happen. Mistakes are inevitable. Yes, they may make us feel stupid. But the only really stupid thing is to make the same mistake again. Here is my advice regarding mistakes:

  1. Learn from the mistake. Be better prepared next time. As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘Success does not consist in never making mistakes, but in never making the same one a second time.’
  2. Don’t punish yourself. I made a decision never to pay twice for my mistakes. Mistakes happen – you don’t need to torture yourself emotionally.
  3. Don’t let it ruin your life or sap your confidence. Ok, so you made a mistake. Now get over it and move on. One mistake, however bad, doesn’t cancel out all your success.
  4. Don’t give the matter undue head space. Don’t allow previous bad decisions to dominate your thinking.
  5. Carry on as though it never happened. Success is not just something that happens to you; it is a state of mind. Get back on the horse. Get going again. Stay positive.

As the singer Johnny Cash once said, ‘You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. Don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.’ Sound advice.

 

Build character

Finally, people often ask me to give them business advice. Frequently, I suspect they are looking for me to impart ‘secrets’ that will fast-track them towards success with the minimum of hard work and effort on their part. I don’t believe in quick fixes. Over the years, I have come to believe that the character of a person is by far the most important component in the formula for business success. In fact, it is by far the most important component of the mix in any context in life.

  • Motivation is more important than marketing
  • Perseverance is more important than PR
  • Faith is more important than finance
  • Character is more important than commercial ability or cash flow

Every entrepreneur, regardless of their level, faces essentially the same challenges: being forced to think on your feet; trusting your gut feeling often; accepting that with big gains come big losses; remaining agile and being able to adapt to new circumstances; making mistakes, quickly learning from them and moving on … the list goes on. What will sustain you through all of this and more is character.

So Much From So Little is published by River Publishing, available from March 2016.