David Logan: The Psychological Challenge of Growing a Business
“Psychological needs are every bit as important as their technical and commercial competence.”
Our latest blog comes from David Logan, author of Corporate Citizenship: The role of companies as citizens of the modern world. With a vibrant career in supporting ethical business and social responsibility, as well as practical experience co-Founding The Corporate Citizenship Company and turning it into a global operation, David explores the importance of supporting the physiological needs of entrepreneurs.
When I first met David Irwin and David Grayson in the early 1980’s as they were founding ‘Project North East’ (PNE), I was struck by their passion for re-kindling the type of entrepreneurialism that had made the North East of England a world leader in technological and business innovation in the 19th Century. At that time, I was working for Levi Strauss & Co as a Community Affairs Manager for Europe. The company had a plant in North Shields and I was responsible for developing a community grants programme and working with the start-up PNE was a good decision. It was well run and focused on helping the people of the North East create employment; a matter of great importance in 1982, as it is today.
Little did I think that 10 years later I would be founding my own small business. A consulting firm in corporate responsibility and sustainability, one which with the help of partners; has grown to be substantial with offices in the USA, Chile, Singapore, Australia and London. I had left Levi Strauss & Co in San Francisco after working for the company’s Social Responsibility and Ethics Committee and took what I had learned to the market place, I began selling consulting services in the same field. Initially I was a sole trader in the USA and the business grew from there, back in the UK it was formalised when my partner Mike Tuffrey and I set up The Corporate Citizenship Company in the early 1990s.
Having launched the business in the USA I can wax lyrical on how, at that time certainly; the administrative and tax systems of the country were so supportive of founding a new business compared with the UK. But the important lesson I learned, was that when you found and run a business you need to be a grown up. You are in charge it is true, you have the power to decide on so many things; who to hire, what clients to work with and how to structure your tax affairs for example. However, you need to have a spirit of self-reliance and the mental toughness to see these decisions through, and if they don’t work out there is no one to blame but yourself.
In his famous book “Self Help” Samuel Smiles discusses key psychological traits such as inventiveness and perseverance, that were so important to the Victorian entrepreneurs that helped build the economy of the North East. In California in the late 1980’s these ideas were again explored by Paul Hawken in his book “Growing a Business” and his writing influenced me to go into business. In no small part because it seemed to me that if you left behind the status of employee and became your own boss; you took an important step towards developing your own character.
I certainly worked for me as I was forced to address a whole range of technical and emotional issues that never came up when I worked for a large multinational company. My employer was very good and looked after me very well. It is hard and often lonely work setting up a business, and another good lesson I learned in California was to be much more forgiving about my failures. So much about setting up and running a business is the psychological adjustment people need to make in order to be successful, and it is probably not discussed enough.
In Britain today, Department of Business statistics tell us there are 4.2 million businesses that are sole traders and 5.6 million with less than 50 employees (There are 7,510 “large” businesses with more than 250 employees). It is these start-ups, sole traders and small businesses where people are wrestling with so many of the challenges that come with being independent in the market place, and their psychological needs are every bit as important as their technical and commercial competence.