Category Archives: Olympic Values in Business

Did friendship play a part in the Olympics? Does it have a role in business?

This article is due to appear in Business2Business a magazine for Banbury, Bicester and Buckingham

Everyone who attended the London Olympics this year has spoken of the marvellous atmosphere. There was excitement, entertainment and also a sense of comradeship. There was friendship – as well as rivalry – among the competitors. In fact, that’s not unusual as any Olympic athlete will tell you. Roger Black recalls a competitor in one Olympics stopping to help a fellow runner who had fallen and injured himself. There are many other stories of competitors either helping each other or at least behaving comradely to one another. None of this should come as a surprise to us, for friendship is one of the seven Olympic values according to the International Olympic Committee.

What can we in business learn from that example? Does friendship have a place in business? If so, is it an important one? I discussed this with Jason Cobine, who runs seminars and courses on networking. If anyone knows about the value of friendship in business it’s Jason Cobine.  Friendship plays a big part in business, he says. “When you trust someone in business it makes the sales cycle much shorter; they readily accept some of the things you have to tell them and they are happier to introduce you to other people. The shorter the sales cycle, the more profit you make.”

He adds that friendship is vital when a particular sector is having a tough time with its reputation tarnished. He explains: “You will trust your friend whatever sector they are in, regardless of what is being said in the media about their sector, because you know them; so you will give them the business. But if you saw an advert from a competitor you’re unlikely to respond to it.”

Many people network in order to make business friendships, but with varying degrees of success. Why is networking such a struggle for most people? “Ah,” says Cobine, “making friends takes time. The challenge is following up the first meeting and then keeping the relationship going. Most people don’t do that.” He adds: “ Another mistake that some people make is that they think networking is about making sales. It’s not. It is actually marketing in a subtle way with occasional sales thrown in. When you’re networking you’re marketing, because you are giving people an idea about your brand, what you do, and the benefit of what you do. That’s marketing. Sales come later.”

The one thing that most people forget time and again is that when they meet someone, they are not just meeting that one person, they are potentially meeting that person’s whole circle of friends and contacts. Many people just don’t understand this.

The next time you meet someone new remember that It’s not the person you are talking to who may give you business but their friends or associates.  If you like them, find them interesting etc, make friends with them regardless of what may come of that connection. And then nurture that friendship. Keep in touch. Be a genuine friend. If you take time over such friendships, your life will be enriched and your business will prosper.

And finally, to return to the Olympic theme, does making friends with your competitors in business make sense?  Yes , it can. If you get to know a competitor and trust them, you might find that they help you out sometimes, you may collaborate, you may swap clients, you might even join forces.

In business there are more possibilities for friendship than you probably imagine.

For more information on how you can improve your networking contact Jason Cobine on

Can Business Learn From The Olympic Ideal of Equality

This is an expanded article from BusinesstoBusiness, a business magazine for Banbury, Bicester and Buckingham.

Equality is one of the seven values that are central to the Olympics according to the International Olympic Committee. Each competitor is treated equally regardless of race, colour, creed or nationality. Everyone makes a contribution to the event. What can businesses learn from the London Olympics experience? Is there a message there for business owners?

Yes, there is, especially when you watched the Paralympics, where disabled people played a whole range of sports including wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. That should really make us think. This is certainly the view of Ian McCleave, who specialises in helping organisations see the value of disabled people both as customers and employees.

McCleave doesn’t confine the term disabled to the physically disabled but also to those who have behavioural difficulties, for example, those who are autistic. Autistic people in the right environment can make an amazing contribution to a company.

When companies say they have a positive policy in helping the disabled they usually mean that they have favourable employment practices. But McCleave argues that disabled people are a significant group of customers. The potential market for goods and services to the disabled is £8bn a year. However, the market could be larger if companies changed their advertising to be more inclusive. He says that market surveys show that most marketing and advertising does not appear relevant to disabled people. So a lot of companies are missing out on a key customer base.

McCleave makes the telling point that diversity can strengthen an organisation, and nowhere more so than in employment practice. Race and colour are aspects of that but so is disability. What so many companies forget is that disabled people have learnt to live with adversity and to overcome it. “The disabled have faced difficulties that you and I don’t have to deal with. Because of their circumstances they have learnt to be very innovative and imaginative.” It is this ability to improvise and come up with unusual solutions that can make a disabled person such a valuable contributor to a business.

McCleave cites the case of a blind woman who made an exceptionally good receptionist. Because she was blind she tended to engage staff and visitors much more in conversation than a receptionist normally would. This proved valuable on a number of occasions, as she was able to suggest solutions to some of the issues that she was told about.

In another example an autistic young man proved so useful as a programme analyst for a software company that it now prefers to employ autistic people. McCleave comments: “It’s said that autistic people can’t see the wood for the trees, but sometimes you need someone who only sees the trees.”

Many of the best-run businesses thrive on the Olympic ideal of equality. Their diversity of staff makes for a stronger organisation. and broadens their outlook, rendering them more adaptable in an ever changing marketplace. So cherish those who are different from you. It could pay you dividends in more ways than one.




Winning by Design

This is a guest blog by graphic designer Denis Hanlon

Like so many others I was entertained and enthralled by the spectacle and magnificence of the 2012 London Olympic Games. It seemed that the very best of human endeavour was on display each day, whether it was a runner leaving the rest of the field behind, a jumper managing to clear the bar or someone coming back from injury and against all the odds win a medal!

Apart from the sheer pleasure of watching this great event, where the very best of the very best competed against one another, to either go faster, jump higher or be stronger than one another, I couldn’t help being fascinated by the post event interviews, especially when it was the new “gold medal” Olympic champion saying how they felt, straight after the event.

Almost without exception, each of these “winning” athletes talked about the years of hard work and training that had helped them get to their triumphant moment. They often spoke about the “planning” that had gone into their last four years, leading up to the Games. It became clear that their whole lives had been “designed” for the success they had achieved. They had won by design.

As a graphic designer I was very conscious of the role that design had played in those Olympics. I couldn’t watch the Games, without being blown away by the sheer innovation and beauty of the buildings that had been conceived not only to house the events but also the athletes. They were a wonderful blend of design, innovation and practical purpose.

What impressed everyone who viewed the Games was its organisation. In particular, the opening and closing ceremonies wowed all the spectators. So many visitors have said: ‘this is the best Olympics I’ve ever been to.’ A lot of thought and imagination lay behind that success. It didn’t happen by accident. It was designed.

All these examples show that good design counts. As a graphic designer for the last 20 years, I know only too well how true that is. Good design not only counts, it also pays.

When it comes to marketing your company, organisation or products, it is the well-crafted marketing material creatively designed, that will stand out from the crowd. Poor design can blur a reputation, but brilliant design can help to make it.

Your marketing material has to inspire, capture the imagination and grab the attention of your target audience. It must make the viewer think, elicit an emotion and response.

You must get your message across (immediately if possible!) and engage your reader. To achieve this takes great marketing planning, but equally it requires great marketing design. Then you and your products will have a real chance of success.

See your marketing endeavours as an opportunity for you, your company, your services and products to shine! When it comes to your marketing, put in your best performance, beat the competition and go for gold! Let good design take you there.

Denis Hanlon, September 2012


Guest blog by Andrew Knowles, copywriter in Weymouth

Thousands lined the shores of Weymouth Bay to watch Ben Ainslie in his bid to achieve a record-breaking Olympic sailing win. Pumped up by Team GB’s ‘super Saturday’ haul of six gold medals, the crowds sought to experience, first-hand, the thrill of being in the presence of sporting history.

They weren’t disappointed, and when Ainslie won his prize the thousands roared their approval.

Only minutes earlier, the same throng had witnessed Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson’s failure to retain their own Olympic crown, won in Beijing. Despite being awarded silver medals, they felt crushed. “We’re hurting so much inside,” said Percy.

Winning isn’t everything. But so often it feels like everything.

Weymouth is no stranger to winners and losers, both in sport and in business. The town is home to international fashion retailer New Look and to the builders of aspirational yachts and cruisers, Sunseeker International. But the high street is suffering, having lost so many national retail brands, and an Olympics festival went out of business a week after opening.

Unlike Olympic competitors, where the losers still secure a medal, or can at least say, ‘I was there,’ the owner of a business has little consolation.

But in the same way as Ainslie’s success on the waves is rooted in negative experiences, anyone who aspires to run their own business can enjoy growth from adversity.

n his youth, Ainslie was taunted for having an allergy for sunlight, which affected his skin. Despite being bullied, he gained confidence through his sailing. That confidence is at the core of the single-minded winner he is today.

Winning in business begins with being confident about what you are doing. If you’re unsure, hesitant or not entirely committed, success will elude you because you simply won’t try hard enough to catch it.

Winning is also about learning from failure. Successful entrepreneurs carry the scars of poor decisions, or simply circumstances that didn’t work out as they had hoped. “You learn by doing and by falling over,” said Richard Branson.

As a business owner, you have one massive advantage over Ben Ainslie. He had one shot at that historic gold in Weymouth this summer. You can go for gold over and over, and you can set your own finish line, measured in income, quality of life or any other terms you choose.

Winning in business isn’t easy. But it is achievable. So go for it!

Andrew Knowles





(This article will shortly appear in Business2Business, a business magazine for Banbury, Buckingham and Bicester)

How often were you impressed by someone’s performance in the London Olympics? How often have you witnessed spectacular performance in business? A key factor in outstanding performance  is usually determination, which is one of the seven ideals of the Olympics according to the International Olympic Committee.

You need to be determined when others say ‘you can’t,’ or ‘it won’t work,’ or ‘it’s not worked before,’ or ‘there are too many hurdles,’ or even, ‘it’s too late.’

One of the most determined business people I have come across is Jonathan Tuck, a metallurgist and engineer. I met him five months ago. He is now a friend, and an inspiration to me – and I hope to you.

When he was aged eight he crashed his bike while cycling one afternoon with a friend. He cracked his head open, and was in a coma for two weeks. When he awoke, he was paralysed, unable to move or talk. All he could do was see, hear, think and twiddle some fingers. He was scared. Once he had recovered he was told that he would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But he thought: “I jolly well won’t.” And he didn’t.  He did, however, have to undergo many operations for the next ten years.

That early courage and determination has remained with him ever since. It has enabled him to survive several reverses in his career. A few years ago he invested in a business venture that collapsed. Undaunted he picked himself up and strove on. He tells me that he always wins in the end, and he does.

A much more public example of business determination is that of Sir Stuart Rose. When he took over as CEO of M&S in 2004, the company was losing market share, and Sir Philip Green, CEO of Arcadia was eyeing up the company for takeover. Rose knew he had a battle ahead. He took up the challenge head on, infusing new energy into the business and refocusing it. His major decision was to make M&S more appealing to younger more fashion-conscious buyers. He did this by bringing in new designers, followed by a new advertising campaign. Suddenly M&S was no longer the store that your auntie went to but the shop where your daughter just had to go. The result was that M&S’s profits leapt back to more than £1bn, which it last had in 1997.  So, don’t be daunted by your difficulties. Vision and determination will win through.



(This article will shortly appear in Business2Business a business magazine for Buckingham, Banbury and Bicester)

When you watch the Olympics are you inspired? Does its theme of excellence make you think about how you are competing in the business world? If you hadn’t thought of that, think again.

The athletes are physically fit. Are you? Jon Denoris, personal trainer to many business people, argues that to be excellent in business you need to be physically fit. “All the successful CEOs that I see, take their health very seriously. They know that their success depends upon it.”

Successful CEOs, like Olympic athletes, make excellence their top priority. To achieve that they become goal-oriented, efficient and utterly dedicated to what they do. Above all, they are totally customer-focused. But what does that mean? It means thinking about everything you do from the customer’s point of view, and that usually means taking care of the details.

Some years ago Sir Philip Green, owner of Debenhams, was visiting one of his stores and on walking out of the door turned to his staff and shouted: “Where are we?” His staff were mystified. What was he talking about? “We’re in Debenhams!” “Yes I know that,” he said, “but if I am the customer leaving the store, where does it tell me that?” The sign, ‘you are now leaving Debenhams,’ went up within days. That is excellence.

If you want to be known for excellent service, then think yourself into the minds of your clients. Don’t just do the minimum, just doing what you’ve been asked to do. A client will often miss some of the things they need or they may not explain fully what they require. Clients often need advice and usually welcome it.

Research your client’s needs. I recently hired a graphic designer, Denis Hanlon, in South Warwickshire. At our first meeting he astonished me with his depth of knowledge of myself and my business. He had done all the research he could possibly have done and then arrived at some great solutions. Now that’s what I call  excellence.


(This is an expanded version of an article in the latest edition of Business2Business, a business magazine for Banbury, Buckingham and Bicester).

In the Olympics the value of respect is on show everywhere: respect between competitors and between national teams. Respect is one of the seven values established by the International Olympic Committee. Without mutual respect the Olympics couldn’t function. So what can we in business learn from this? Is it time to show more respect for each other, our customers, our partners, our shareholders?

I discussed these issues with a former colleague, Banbury-based Bernard Goodchild, an experienced business advisor for more than fifteen years. An ex-banker and father, he knows the world of business inside and out, and understands its human as well as its financial side.

Goodchild believes that respect really has four key components: integrity, professionalism, behaviour and presentation. In the business world this means, above all, looking professional and acting so. “Take the trouble when you meet someone to be smart and well dressed. That can speaks volumes about how you treat business matters.” If you look the part, you will play the part, he says.

However, behind the surface there has to be real integrity and respect for the other person. He argues that we should take time to reflect before and after we meet someone. “Reflection is a big issue for me,” he says. “Ask yourself, what is important to the person you are meeting? Make sure that you listen, accept them, even though you may not completely agree with them, don’t be too keen to plant your own point of view on them. And afterwards, ask yourself, how well did I do?” In other words, he is saying be client-centred, have an open mind and put aside any preconceptions and prejudices that you might have.

A key theme of his is, respect the other person’s experience. He explains: “Don’t be antagonistic, don’t be argumentative. It won’t help you. I just wish young people could see that sometimes.”  He adds: “Acknowledge other people for who they are. You’ll achieve much more if you do that. It is so simple, yet it is something that we forget sometimes.”

Respecting your customers and respecting your competitors is also important. Goodchild agrees that when you start to lose respect for your customers, when you take them for granted, you begin to lose your way. “I’ve seen it,” he says. “A company can become complacent over a period of time. It’s quite common. You have to keep coming up with new ideas, with good reasons why your customers should stay with you. If not, they will drift away.”  It is a lesson that many companies are learning during this recession.

It is also worth respecting your competitors. Don’t underestimate them which some businesses tend do. Don’t be arrogant, assuming that no one can touch you. Moreover, don’t bad-mouth your competitors. You may need to work with them one day. I know of many businesses that work with a competitor from time to time for the simple reason that it suits both parties. So respect your competition just as the Olympic sportspeople do.




(This article originally appeared in Business2Business, a business magazine for Banbury, Buckingham and Bicester)

 Of all the Olympic values courage has to be a cardinal one. Each and every one of the competitors has to have physical, emotional and mental courage. It also takes courage to found a business.  In the early 1960s a Canadian newspaper and radio station owner, who was well past the age of 60, came over to the UK and bought The Scotsman. It caused consternation in Edinburgh, but the buyer, Roy Thomson, could point to having a Scottish grandfather.  That purchase was an act of courage.

But Thomson didn’t stop there. He bought other Scottish newspapers and then followed that up with buying The Liverpool Post a couple of years later, and then more English papers. Nearing the age of 70 he bought The Sunday Times, and several years later he bought The Times. 

When he died as Lord Thomson of Fleet he left behind the Thomson Organisation, which today is part of Thomson Reuters. If all those years ago he hadn’t shown that courage to fly the Atlantic and buy a paper that was up for sale, we would never have heard of him.

What Thomson had going for him was deep pockets of cash and long experience of his industry. Some business owners start with neither. That shows even more aplomb. Not all such people succeed. But one who has is Bicester-based Melanie Patterson, owner of Patterson & Patterson, hamper makers.

Paterson is a blonde, gutsy, larger-than-life Aussie. Her attitude to something new is ‘let’s give it a try.’ In 2011 she launched her hamper business, almost by accident. She had started to make hampers for her friends, then for friends of friends. She had always enjoyed making things, she says, doing craft work , designing clothes etc.  But the big world of hampers was new to her.  Undismayed by that, she launched herself as a commercial hamper maker, buying the best and the most nutritious food and drink (she’s a qualified nutritionist), and slowly built up her clientele. She was quick to learn from her mistakes. “I had to learn about stock control pretty fast,” she says.

Using all her imagination she has constantly innovated. Bespoke hampers have become a speciality. When I last spoke to her she was creating lavish Valentine hampers, with mouth-watering contents. Her enthusiasm shines through everything she does. But it all started with an act of courage.  Courage, plus intelligence, pays dividends.



(This article originally appeared in Business2Business, a business magazine for Banbury, Buckingham and Bicester)

According to the International Olympic Committee, seven values will underpin the 2012 Olympic Games: excellence, respect, courage, inspiration, determination, equality and friendship. These are not just sporting values. they can equally apply to business as well. The more you think about them the more you realise that they have immense relevance in the commercial world of today.  We’re kicking off this series with Inspiration.

Within every successful athlete there is a well of inspiration, and behind every successful business there is an inspirational idea or motive. When I was writing my book about entrepreneurs in the 1980s (Secrets of Success: what you ca n learn from Britain’s entrepreneurs), I found that the more inspired the business owners were the more likely they were to succeed. Those who set up their own company principally in order to have their own business but without some inspirational idea behind it or those who set up  solely in order to have a higher income were not always as successful as those who were motivated by some inspiring dream. Obviously a knowledge of their markets played a big role in both scenarios, but those who were driven by an inspirational concept tended to find their feet more assuredly. They were more motivated, and they were more able to survive early difficulties.

What I’ve also learnt from talking to successful business leaders is that they are not only inspired, they are also inspirational. That, for me, is a key element in business success. It is what really distinguishes a great business owner from an average one. If you can be inspirational it will pay you dividends. You will be amazed. This is something that so many business leaders overlook, yet it is so simple.  Let me explain.

If you are inspirational with your colleagues and inspire them to do their best, then you will really drive your business forward. They will be fired up to do more than they thought they could, and maybe even more than you expected. If you are inspirational with your suppliers then they will understand your needs better, and you are much more likely to have your requirements met exactly as you want.

You need to be inspirational with your clients and potential customers. They need to see just what a difference you can make to them. All too often we assume that this will be obvious. We know our own business so well that we take what we do for granted. I know I do this a lot.. But  your clients will never know everything about you, and they will never completely take on board how you can help them with their specific needs unless you tell them, and then inspire them with the results that you can produce for them.

Another thought: surround yourself with people who inspire you. I have rarely met a successful business person who has not had an inspiring mentor. In fact, they usually have had several, and they make sure that they keep in touch with one or two people who help them to stay focused on their goals and reach them.

So who is going to inspire you?  How will you inspire others?