What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Matt Storey, director – business development at Media Powerhouse, talks
I wonder how many of our successful industry figures have clawed their way up from the carnage of a previously-failed business? There’s a whiff of shame around going under, or of teetering close to the abyss, but (with a few glaring exceptions) I actually look upon a failed business as a badge of honour and feel enormous respect for the survivors who managed to pick themselves up and start again.
This line of thinking was prompted by a chat I had recently with a business owner whose previous company went bust overnight through no fault of her own. Impoverished, scarred, but undeterred, she painfully succeeded in turning her fortunes around.
I reckon we can all learn something from people like her – about determination, self-belief and tenacity, and the wisdom that comes from bitter experience.
I’m not of course talking about those barefaced and inept individuals, who’ve either lost, or never actually possessed, a moral compass. These are the people who send their companies to the wall, conveniently leaving a trail of debt in their wake, setting up under new colours within a matter of hours. We’ve all seen it.
But there’s comfort in the fact that the event industry is small. Memories are long, and people talk (especially me) so the net effect is that the stink never leaves a dodgy company or individual. We know who you are. We won’t forget you.
Rant aside; we have to accept that you can’t build a business without taking risks. And the early days are the riskiest of all. Death and glory can be just a phone call apart; just ask those optimistic entrepreneurs who staked their mortgage on a monster-sized order that suddenly evaporated as soon as they’d invested in the resource to service it.
And bad luck can cripple the most well-established companies. We’re all links in supply chains and if a partner or client sustains a fatal financial blow, the pain will reverberate up and down the line. My own previous company, Gallowglass, was one of several sub-contracted firms that nearly crashed when a client went into voluntary liquidation in 2015.
We were owed more than £700,000 and were within 24 hours of being shut down, with the directors personally liable. Thankfully, we pulled through. Gallowglass chairman, Paul Grecian, believes what saved the business was having a team that could demonstrate resilience.
Back in 2007, as the owner of a thriving events agency, Gary White wasn’t overly concerned at the initial murmurs of a financial downturn. But when the recession started to bite, damaged by slashed client budgets and the withdrawal of the fair-weather banking umbrella, he took the decision to close the business before anyone got hurt.
Today, his advice would be to put a plan in place at the earliest signs of trouble, not to shy away from making tough decisions – even if they involve painful redundancies – and to hold on to cash.
It seems to me that fear of loss can be the most destructive factor in crisis management. But having spent eight years working as an actor – probably one of the most precarious occupations known to man – the prospect of being out of work has never fazed me. I can do that.
When I left school, people said: “Go out and get some experience.” Now I understand what they meant. The woman I mentioned earlier has run several widely diverse businesses across three continents. One of which she spent 10 years putting her heart and soul into before it went bust, putting £70,000 of personal money in the hole. Amazingly, she rallied. Which suggests that the broader your experience, the better equipped you are to deal with whatever life throws at you.
UNLESS, of course, you happen to be the organisers of the almighty car crash that was the Fyre Festival. Will they have a rosy future to look forward to? I doubt it.