Big personalities are often at the core of what makes a business special. Would Virgin be Virgin without Richard Branson’s antics? Would Amazon be the same without Jeff Bezos and his signature cackle? Would an Apple product launch be as buzzworthy without Steve Jobs on stage sporting his signature mock turtleneck?
Undeniably, an entrepreneur’s character can be an asset in company building. But when you’re ready to sell your business, having a big personality may be a liability, unless you can find a way to inject your persona into your business when you’re ready to leave.
I asked Rohit Bhargava, the author of Personality Not Included: Why Companies Lose Their Authenticity and How Great Brands Get It Back , how business owners can make sure their personality becomes ingrained in their business.
Here are three of Mr. Bhargava’s ideas:
1. Publish your philosophy
Mr. Bhargava works at the advertising agency Ogilvy, where he has seen first-hand how his company’s namesake ensured his ideas would stick around long after David Ogilvy himself sold his interest in the business and moved to an estate in Touffou, France.
Mr. Ogilvy, who died at his French retreat in 1999 at the age of 88, published his philosophies in Confessions of an Advertising Man in 1976 and later in Ogilvy on Advertising in 1985. These books are still essential reading for new Ogilvy employees to ensure they understand the personality of both Mr. Ogilvy the man and Ogilvy the company.
2. Create physical reminders
One of Mr. Bhargava’s favourite ideas is a famous Ogilvy quote: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
To reinforce the idea, Mr. Ogilvy bought a set of Russian matryoshka (nesting) dolls, which can be opened up to reveal dolls of ever decreasing size. Those dolls can still be found in Ogilvy offices as a reminder for managers to hire people who are smarter than they are.
3. Celebrate your backstory
When James Dyson developed a bagless vacuum that didn’t lose suction, he went to visit all of the vacuum manufacturers of the day and asked if they would license the technology. All refused, in part because they liked the ongoing revenue stream of selling bags.
Not content to let a better solution languish, Mr. Dyson spent 15 years developing prototypes on his own before he started his company to bring the vacuum to market.
Among Dyson employees, the backstory of the company and Mr. Dyson’s 15-year odyssey became legend. To keep it alive, Mr. Dyson created the James Dyson Design Awards, which celebrate new industrial designers and their commitment to finding better solutions for life’s problems.
What are you doing to make sure your personality will live on in your company after you’re gone? It could be the key to getting the best price for your business when you’re ready to sell.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company.