RICHARD Hughes’ rousing, humble and authentic speech at the Yorkshire Fastest 50 awards was the perfect riposte to the bland language which seems to dominate corporate life.
Apart from expressing anger at the politicians’ inept handling of Brexit, Mr Hughes was refreshingly honest about the burdens of leadership. He struck a chord with an audience which often faces a sea of troubles from unreliable suppliers, red tape and problem staff.
The Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50 awards honour the firms that are bringing jobs and investment to Yorkshire. They are from a wide range of sectors, but face common challenges.
Mr Hughes is the founder of Zeus Capital, which is best known for floating around 30 per cent of all businesses on AIM (the Alternative Investment Market) each year. He knows what it’s like to witness the growing pains of a great business.. The speech was perfectly tailored for his audience. He was their ally because he had once walked in their shoes.
Over the years, I’ve listened to countless tiresome business speeches full of self-serving waffle. But Mr Hughes left nobody in doubt about what motivated him.
He left school with modest grades but has still managed to become one of Britain’s best known investment bankers through sheer determination - or “hunger” - to succeed.
“I basically just wanted to be rich,’’ he said. “And I was watching the telly and it was the era of the yuppie, which was champagne and stripey braces and big shirts, and I thought,’I can do that.’
“So I wrote to six stockbroking firms and I got a job offer from five of them. I took the one that offered me the least money but it actually gave me the best career path.”
He joined in early 1987, just before the great stock market crash.
He said: “The firm was reduced from 300 people in Manchester to about 80 people. It gave me one of the most valuable lessons that I ever had in life. I never had any debt from that moment onwards.”
After the turmoil of 1987. Mr Hughes matched his lifestyle to his earnings.
“All the founders of the firm lost their houses because they had overstretched themselves,’’ he recalled. “It was a really valuable lesson at the age of 19.”
He learned about the importance of looking after a company’s best staff, because if you don’t they will simply leave.
The public face of business is usually bullish and relentlessly positive. However, behind many successful enterprises are executives who have endured sleepless nights and hours of private agony.
“What you don’t realise is how many times you nearly go bust,’’ said Mr Hughes.
“You are waking up in pools of sweat under the stress of growing that business and nearly getting it wrong and being let down by suppliers.”
Rapid expansion can also lead to a hiring spree and, inevitably, you sometimes appoint the wrong people.
“Every person in this room who has grown a business will know what it feels like,’ Mr Hughes said.
“You know what it is like to have your house on the line and the kids’ schooling on the line. Everybody deserves credit for going on that journey.
“From the outside, everyone thinks it’s a one way bet. Everybody these days looks at social media and sees these perfect lives. And we do have great lives when it works.
“But what we don’t appreciate is how hard it is to get there and the pain and suffering that you go through.
“I haven’t met many entrepreneurs who haven’t been through that journey.”
A successful business cannot be a democracy, according to Mr Hughes. Mr Hughes’ speech made me think of US President Harry S Truman, who placed a sign saying “The Buck Stops Here” on his desk in The White House.
Truman once said: “The President--whoever he is--has to decide. No one else can do the deciding for him.“
Leadership takes you to a lonely place, where you can experience glory and anxiety on a grand scale.
Success is never guaranteed and the journey is rarely painless.
But fortune favours those with drive and the humility and insight to learn from their mistakes.