The Commandments of Business Growth

By Mark Graham, an EO Toronto member and president of Right Sleeve Marketing, Inc.

When I graduated from college in 1997, I started my business career in investment banking. I lasted four months. While the experience was rewarding (I learned how to use Microsoft Excel like a pro!), I found I was more suited for entrepreneurship. I always wanted to build something I could call my own, and it turns out I have a mind for sales and marketing, not finance.

Given my time in investment banking, I was interested in how Goldman Sachs—the industry’s 800-pound gorilla—grew from a mid-tier firm to a global powerhouse over the course of a few decades. To learn more about this magnificent rise, I’ve been reading Charles Ellis’s “The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs,” a book that sheds a lot of light on growth management.

Admittedly, I have very little connection to the investment banking industry these days, nor do I endorse modern-day Wall Street. However, what I find interesting about this book are some of the timeless business principles that can be applied to almost any enterprise, regardless of industry or company size.

This is not a commentary on Goldman Sachs per se, but rather a look at how one company within one industry was able to grow by applying some surprisingly simple principles. In 1970, long before sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps, John Whitehead, a co-head of the firm, wrote the following 10 commandments that guided their business development efforts:

  1. Don’t waste your time going after business you don’t really want.
  2. The boss usually decides— not the assistant treasurer. Do you know the boss?
  3. It is just as easy to get a first-rate piece of business as a second-rate one.
  4. You never learn anything when you’re talking.
  5. The client’s objective is more important than yours.
  6. The respect of one person is worth more than an acquaintance with 100 people.
  7. When there’s business to be found, go out and get it!
  8. Important people like to deal with other important people. Are you one?
  9. There’s nothing worse than an unhappy client.
  10. If you get the business, it’s up to you to see that it’s well-handled.

As an entrepreneur, I reflect on these commandments all the time, and many of them make perfect sense, especially for an organization that wants to be outstanding. In my case, I have built my business by putting integrity first, even if it seems at times we sacrifice short-term profits. We have always held the belief that a client relationship is something to be nurtured and encouraged to blossom into a profitable and enjoyable affiliation. However, it is not easy to develop relationships like this if one is always out for the quick sell.

Many people in business waste a lot of time chasing opportunities that simply don’t make sense and distract from what really matters: establishing relationships. By focusing on the principles listed above, I am able to create more value within my business, establish stronger connections and become a better, all-around entrepreneur.

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