The Commandments of Business Growth

Article by:
Mark Graham, EO Toronto
Mark Graham
EO Toronto

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:

  • Don't waste your time going after business you don't really want.

  • The boss usually decides— not the assistant treasurer. Do you know the boss?

  • It is just as easy to get a first-rate piece of business as a second-rate one.

  • You never learn anything when you’re talking.

  • The client's objective is more important than yours.

  • The respect of one person is worth more than an acquaintance with 100 people.

  • When there's business to be found, go out and get it!

  • Important people like to deal with other important people. Are you one?

  • There's nothing worse than an unhappy client.

  • 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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