Heading down to France on holiday last weekend, I realised we hadn’t downloaded the latest Jack Reacher audiobook to while away the 13 hour car journey – drat! So, I headed into my audiobook library and decided to have a re-listen to Chris Evan’s Autobiography ‘It’s not what you think!’.
Not least because Chris has sold us several Christmas trees for charity over the years – he used to live locally and donated all the trees on his estate for a charity sale and always managed to negotiate the price UP! – we were also great fans of his right from his early broadcast days on BBC Radio London. His is an interesting story of drive and ambition and is not without its – much publicised – ups and downs.
Whether you like him or not, there’s a lot any serious business owner can learn from his journey, in particular his ability for reinvention and a tendency to think big.
The ‘top tens’…
He starts each chapter with a ‘Top Ten’ – eg. Top Ten best DJs I’ve ever heard! – and these are very revealing as the story progresses.
I was especially struck with two of the Top Tens from the period when he was purchasing Virgin back in 1998. For those not familiar with the story, after a shock exit from Radio One, Evans saw an opportunity to buy Virgin Radio, which was already a long way down the road to being purchased from Richard Branson by Capital Radio for £87million. His subsequent successful purchase was both audacious and unexpected.
I asked myself, how could someone with little time (the clock was ticking and the Capital deal was almost signed), just £2million in the bank, no track record as a business owner, and with a raft of bad publicity behind him following the Radio One exit, successfully raise £85 million, successfully take on a massive corporation and win?
I think these two particular Top Tens help us understand the reason why this extraordinary deal went ahead…
Top Ten mantras…
10 – When opportunity knocks, make sure you are ready to answer the door
9 – The best way to beat the system is to invent a new one
8 – Ask now Why? Rather Why not?
7 – It’s easier to chase than be chased
6 – Every NO, brings you close to a YES!
5 – Imagination is more important than knowledge
4 – It’s not money that’s the root of all evil – it’s the LOVE of money that’s the root of all evil
3 – It’s not about the size of your gun – it’s about when you decide to pull the trigger
2 – First profit, best profit! First loss, best loss!
1 – Never negotiate out of fear – but never fear to negotiate!
What I especially love here is his absolute love of opportunism. You sense that ‘I can’t’ simply never features in his thinking. There’s proactivity and a determination to control the process. Persistence and timing. And, of course, utter fearlessness. Compare this to his thoughts on Capital’s position …
Top Ten reasons why I presume Capital never took us seriously…
10 – They were a £500million pound company
9 – I was a whacky DJ
8 – They thought the deal was in the bag
7 – We knew it wasn’t
6 – They saw it as part of their corporate masterplan
5 – We saw it as beyond our wildest dreams
4 – They didn’t want it enough
3 – We couldn’t have wanted it more
2 – For them, the heat had gone out of the deal
1 – For us, the heat was becoming unbearable
What I overwhelmingly sense here is his utter passion. Evans simply wanted it massively more than the other guys. Not only did this passion impact his absolute persistence in going for the deal, it’s clear it also made a huge difference when he was raising the finance – he secured a £20 million and a £45million deal – where he made such a compelling case regards the potential for the station, they had no choice but to believe in him.
He also persuaded Branson to leave £20million in the business when his plan had been to get out completely. He saw in Evans a kindred passionate spirit I feel sure.
Just three years later the business was sold for £225 million netting Evans a personal fortune of £75milion – the rest, as they say, is history. There is much to learn from this story and it’s easy to surmise that it’s all very well for the rich and famous to become richer and more famous, but that would be to miss the most significant point.
As ‘smaller’ business owners, we often find ourselves in a David & Goliath situation; up against more established competitors, someone with more financial clout, or with the more obvious track record to secure the deal. When you shrug your shoulders and decide there is nothing to be done about it, recognise that it is a choice that you are making.
You could just as easily decide on a very different approach – and it could be the best decision you ever make.