We were lucky to get hold of Adam recently.
Despite being busy as Partner at EatBigFish, he somehow found time to tell us about his favourite brands, his best advice, his first job.
In short, his career story.
And what a story it is.
What was your first-ever job?
I started as a bellhop at a French ski resort, many years ago. It was called Hotel Mont Blanc; a very swish place. I used to get up early in the morning and just stand by the door all day as guests arrived, bringing their luggage in. Those were long days: I did that from 7.30 am to 8.30 pm every day. While it was hard work, it was also really fascinating. I learnt a lot about customer service during my time there. The very sophisticated clients would tip you at the start of their stay so they knew they would be treated well, meaning you quickly learnt how to anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations.
Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?
Since I’m about to start a new project centred around interviewing thought leaders, I would have to pick one of the great interviewers of our age – such as Louis Theroux. He gets people to talk very frankly and openly, and I admire how he is able to adapt his questions to get his interviewees to elaborate. I’ve also heard that he tends to stand up during his interviews because you get a different frame of mind to when you’re sitting – presumably more creative and free-thinking. I’d love to hear more about his various strategies over a cappuccino.
Highlight of your career (so far?)
Discovering that I love being an entrepreneur. I never expected I would become one – and it never occurred to me how much I would enjoy it. The idea only occurred to me by chance. The first book I ever wrote was during my time at an agency. They had encouraged me to write it but when it was finished, they no longer wanted it. I was really frustrated, so I decided to leave and start my own business – effectively out of anger and petulance. I was pretty hesitant at first, because I didn’t think I was a natural entrepreneur. But when you start getting the kick it is being an entrepreneur you can’t go back, and I threw myself into it headfirst, surprising myself in the process by how much I loved it.
Nature or nurture?
As the happy father of twins, I’m constantly struck by how different they were, right from the beginning. As soon as we came home with them from the hospital we noticed one of the boys, for instance, was for always somehow rolling up his sleeves – and the other didn’t. One spoke with American English when we moved back to the UK from LA where he had spent most of his childhood – while the other kept his British English during our entire stay in the states. There was clearly a difference in language affinity at play – despite how similar they were in many other areas of life.
Certain kinds of culture obviously prompt certain types of behaviour. This is what’s at play when you hear leaving speeches praising a company for making team members nicer people than they were before they started working there, for instance. The social context amplifies more latent qualities and behaviours.
What book do you most recommend to others?
I’d recommend the book that I read when I first started as an entrepreneur, called ‘E-myth’. It argues that it is a mistake to think that because you are good at doing something you will make a successful business out of it. That in fact there are three key factors in being a successful entrepreneur. The first is that you need to be a good technician: if you are starting a pancake business, you need to be able to make a good pancake. The second is that you need to be a good manager, of cashflow and of people. And the third is that you need to be a good entrepreneur: you need to be able to make the deals and secure the investment and bring the business in. And the point the book makes is that very few people are good at all three of these, so the trick is to be self-aware of what you’re good at, play to those strengths, and then find those who complement you with the other skills you don’t have. In my case I was a good technician, but hopeless at managing finances and people. But I started with a friend who was brilliant at those things, and I found to my surprise I could, in my own way, be a good entrepreneur as well. But I’ve never forgotten the book.
What last impressed you at work?
I was very impressed when I worked on a project with a casual dining business. I facilitated workshops as part of the project. These are often quite stressful, with little downtime – when the participants take breaks, the facilitators need to prepare for the next session. During one of the lunch breaks, I was standing in the facilitation area with the other strategists, and we’d been preparing for the afternoon. After the busy lunch stampede of participants snacking and networking in the hallway, there wasn’t much lunch left. To my surprise, the CEO of the business had spotted that there wouldn’t be enough food for us and ran out, completely unannounced, to buy food for us. herself I was really impressed by the kind gesture and by the CEO’s hands-on approach. To me, it just spoke volumes about how much they valued their business partners.
Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?
Looking back, I would say that we as a young company didn’t help clients make the case for change clearly or compellingly enough. And we didn’t in those days link the case for commercial change closely and consistently enough to the strategic recommendations, sometimes undermining the long-term impact we could have provided. I always keep that in mind now.
What do you want to do when you retire?
I’d love to learn French again; a nod to my first job! But I can’t really imagine myself retiring. More likely, I think I’ll scale down the hours when I’m older. Working part-time would be ideal, allowing me to set aside time to work on the various charity projects I’m interested in. I am, for instance, struck by the loneliness epidemic in big cities like London and would like to help tackle that.