Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 21st 2014 Contents AUGUST 2014 • WEEK THREE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG19
m always startled to
hear about young peo-
ple going into consult-
ing right after school,
without having a lot
of real-world work
experience under their
belt. Making this sort of jump is
unparalleled in most professions.
Imagine boarding an airliner and
learning that the pilot at the con-
trols has only ever flown a flight
You d be more than uneasy!
Similarly, there is a reason that
aspiring heart surgeons spend
years in operating rooms assisting
and observing other surgeons
before they operate on their own.
Yet every day we place the fates
of thousands of companies, large
and small, into the hands of peo-
ple who have never successfully
run a business (let alone crash-
To make matters worse, anyone
can call himself a consultant
nowadays---no qualifications are
Before you take the plunge and
enter the world of business con-
sulting, consider these four ques-
tions that I would ask if a con-
sultant knocked at my door
looking for a client:
1. Have you ever run a business?
After launching hundreds of
ventures across four decades, I
know firsthand that there isn t
anything like hands-on experi-
ence when it comes to running
When starting out, the learning
curve is steep, since you have to
master a variety of fields all at
once---from supply-chain man-
agement to marketing, to
accounting, to customer service.
I don t think any course of study
can truly prepare an entrepreneur
Don't jump from college to consulting
Q: I graduated from college with a degree in entrepreneurship from a Nigerian institution. Thanks to my
course of study, I have generated several of my own business ideas. However, friends and colleagues often
ask me to assist them in developing their own ideas, or they ask for advice in determining the feasibility of
potential enterprises. To my knowledge, this sort of advice is best given by business consultants. So rather
than focusing on being an entrepreneur, should I become a consultant? ---Charles Aduloju
to successfully handle all of these
important aspects of an enterprise.
So as a consultant, unless you are
an expert in a niche field relevant to
a very specific consulting need, I
would expect you to have an abun-
dance of entrepreneurial experience.
And this sort of experience doesn t
come down to merely understanding
the nuts and bolts of the business
world---it s also about having funda-
mental people skills. Show me that
you understand how to inspire, moti-
vate and lead others; this is the single
most important factor for success in
2. Do you know what failure feels like?
Failure is simply indispensable to
the entrepreneurial experience. At the
Virgin group, I don t think we d be
where we are today if it hadn t been
for the many small and large ventures
that didn t do as well as we had hoped.
Remember Virgin Brides? Or Virgin
These ventures feature prominently
on our list of epic failures---yet they
helped us to build better businesses.
The reason is a simple one: There
is more to learn from mistakes than
from successes. Understanding what
went wrong, where instincts failed,
or what internal and external factors
were responsible for taking an enter-
prise off course are all vital lessons
Understanding the failures of the
past is key to having success in the
3. Do you have the guts to call a bad
idea a bad idea?
In the case of Virgin Brides, our
failed entry into the wedding and
bridal wear sector in the 1990s, we
jumped into a highly competitive,
crowded market that we knew little
about, and our product failed to attract
customers in the same way that other
Virgin brands had managed to.
We learned that when people are
in the market for a wedding dress,
tradition prevails over Virgin-style,
red-hot disruption, so we weren t the
right fit (so to speak).
In many ways, we hadn t done our
homework---and we also allowed our
overblown expectations to get the bet-
ter of us.
In this situation, a good consultant
might have raised some red flags early
on. But it takes courage to rock the
boat, and many consultants tend to
shy away from confronting their
clients with painful truths.
4. Are you hungry for knowledge?
Businesses, markets and societies
are constantly evolving. When we
started Virgin Records in the early
1970s, we were living in an analog,
fragmented world, selling vinyl records
that catered to niche musical inter-
Fast-forward four decades, and we
are in a globalised, interconnected
business environment that has very
little in common with the world that
Virgin was born into. Global supply
chains, electronic commerce, the
arrival of social media and changing
demographics have radically trans-
formed the way that we do business.
For a consultant to be successful in
this quickly evolving world, he needs
the ability to adapt frequently, a zeal
for lifelong learning and a willingness
to embrace an even greater degree of
specialisation than ever before.
Just think about the armies of con-
sultants who have found ways to make
a living by working in search-engine
optimisation, social-risk assessment
or stakeholder management, to name
just a few of the options.
So, Charles, by all means, give your
friends a helping hand in starting their
businesses. But before becoming a
consultant, give entrepreneurship a
(Richard Branson is the founder
of the Virgin Group and companies
such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Amer-
ica, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog at
You can follow him on Twitter at
twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn
more about the Virgin Group:
(Questions from readers will be
answered in future columns. Please
Please include your name, country,
e-mail address and the name of the
Web site or publication where you
read the column.)
Distributed by The New York Times
When starting out, the learning curve is steep,
since you have to master a variety of fields all at
once---from supply-chain management to
marketing, to accounting, to customer service. I
don't think any course of study can truly prepare
an entrepreneur to successfully handle all of these
important aspects of an enterprise.
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