30th April 2009

Yesterday I attended the Institute of Directors Annual Conference. This is always an interesting affair and attracts speakers of the very highest quality. Reflecting on the day I wondered what delegates thought about the conference and what they will change when they get back to running their companies.

As is to be expected, the speakers provided a wide variety of views and opinions and some were of course contradictory! When I attend any conference the major selling point for me is “will I learn one thing that I can implement to improve my business”? If the answer is “yes” it is a success, if not then perhaps it was not worth it. Sometimes the learning points come via networking and casual contacts others through some inspiring or thought provoking comments made by a keynote speaker.

I have learned that it is unlikely that I will gain insight from a politician of any colour as they are all scared of making a definitive statement – a sad albeit understandable reflection. You can be entertained and informed by these individuals but will it change what you do? Not in my experience. The best speakers are usually those with less to lose in terms of career prospects etc and hence for me the highlight was Tim Smit the founder of the Eden Project. He articulated many of my values and was a resounding champion for ethical capitalism. It is not all about maximising profit but optimising profit and taking a wider view of impact on local areas. This is true sustainability. Those organisations that show scant regard for their customers or employees have a limited life – when it comes to the crunch they will be the hardest hit.

I noted three points which I think are good lessons for anyone in business:

1. Optimise profit not maximise profit
2. Do not shy away from the hard decisions
3. Stay away from the negative people – wherever they may be found

Nothing earth shattering but points that are all too often forgotten in the day to day operation of a business. Follow this guidance and you will most likely run a good operation.

There was a mood of underlying determination in the audience to prosper despite the mess that we are in through no fault of our own. I still maintain that this is an excellent time to start or grow your business and this view is shared with many commentators at the conference. I just wish that our political rulers could follow the guidance above and then we could all move forward with confidence.

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