Survival of the Happiest


Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano

Those of you with a classical education will recognise the words of Juvenal. ‘You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.’

But was the Roman poet satirising those things unwisely sought from the gods – wealth, power, beauty – or was he dispensing business advice a good 2,000 years before Messrs Carnegie, Covey and Robbins?

So why ‘healthy mind’ and – specifically this week – ‘healthy body?’ It’s because I spent a large part of last week reading about the great and good gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos – the annual gathering of business leaders, politicians and gurus, sprinkled with the odd dash of celebrity. Last year the delegates listened to Leonardo di Caprio attack corporate greed – and then went off to drink Cheval Blanc at £290 a bottle.

Tuesday January 3rd – the first working day of the year – was the day when the vast majority of the British population must have said, “Right, this it” and, along with quite a few people I know, I’m doing my best to have a ‘dry January.’ Yes, it’s a wrench to give up my Friday night bottle of Cheval Blanc, but sacrifices have to be made…

…And dry January – plus increased visits to the squash court – mean I’m feeling fantastic, as the resting heart rate on my Fitbit testifies. I can’t think I’ve ever reached the end of what’s supposedly a depressing month and felt so fit or so focused.

There’s no doubt about it: exercising and eating well – having a healthy body – is a fundamental building block of happiness. It’s also a key part of your business success, as evidenced by this report from Davos: as it says, the kind of drive, discipline and determination needed to push yourself to work out and compete are exactly the same skills needed to get to the top.

I might quibble with the BBC’s wording: I might replace ‘skills’ with ‘mindset,’ but the sentiment is spot-on. The determination you need to maintain an exercise regime is the same determination you need in business: it’s consistent effort that counts, not the results on a single day.

After all, any of us who play golf/play squash/go running know there are days when it just doesn’t ‘click.’ But – like business – there are other days when it magically comes together. The skill is to trust yourself: to know that if you consistently do the right thing the results will come.

So exercise is good – and it follows that the more exercise you do the better it must be. After all, look at the story of Chip Bergh, CEO of Levis who – along with rescuing the 163 year old jeans brand – does a mixture of swimming, running and weights every morning from 5:30 to 7:00. “No-one is as intense as me,” the BBC quote Chip as saying.

As an updated version of Animal Farm might have it, thirty minutes good, ninety minutes better: so should we all increase the time we spend working out?

I’m not so sure.

I look round the tables at TAB York and I see a group of people who are almost certainly fitter than the average entrepreneur. There aren’t many members who don’t do some form of physical exercise.

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But I also see a group of people who are happier than the average entrepreneur. They may have spent January re-thinking their fitness regime, but the people round the TAB York table also know that it’s about balance: not just work/life balance, but keeping every aspect of your life balanced. And if you’re committed to an exercise regime that consumes you from 5:30 to 7:00 and ‘no-one is as intense’ as you, then somewhere down the road something has to give.

There’s a fine line between dedication and addiction – as I suspect one of my new followers on Twitter knows: she’s called LycraWidow…

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The Chef’s Recipe for Success


I seem to have become addicted to chefs. Barely a weekend goes past when I’m not reading about the latest culinary superstar. You know the story: started off washing veg in Macclesfield – 20th restaurant just opened in Macau.

This may have something to do with my continuing attendance at the Star Inn the City (don’t wait a day longer: go and eat the White Whitby Crab right now) or the simple fact that getting it right in the restaurant trade means ticking every business box there is.

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So this week it was Jason Atherton in the Guardian. And the journey was Skegness to Shanghai, so I wasn’t far out…

There were three comments in the article that really struck me…

I’m a big fan of David Beckham. He wasn’t the best player in the world but he worked like a dog on the things he was better at than the others and became the best footballer he could be. To be honest, I didn’t know where I was heading [as a teenager] but everything I did want to do, I wanted to be the very best at.

Doesn’t that go right to the heart of everything we all try and do? Whether it’s with our families, in our businesses or round the TAB boardroom table, ‘being the best you can be’ will take you a very long way.

I remember Beckham’s first season with Manchester United – a talented midfielder who scored a wonder goal in the famous ‘you win nothing with kids’ season. Looked like he’d go on to have a good career: but captain of England, owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Unicef ambassador and net worth (as of June last year) estimated at $350m? Jason Atherton is right: in sport and in business, Beckham is a superb example of making the very most of your talents.

Once, I thought I was impressing him [Gordon Ramsay] by saying, ‘I’ve not had a day off in four months.’ He replied, ‘Then you’re stupid. A kitchen should run just as well without you as with you, Jason. I’ll look at you as a success when you haven’t got more bags under your eyes than I count at Heathrow.’

Another theme that runs throughout this blog: you haven’t built a business if that business can’t run without you. One day you’ll have to walk away from your business: and if the business can’t cope – if you haven’t trained your sous chef – then the business doesn’t have a value.

…And you can’t build a business if you’re exhausted. I see that some of the world’s top business people have just trekked to the top of a mountain in Davos to hear Sebastian Vettel tell them that you can’t drive an F1 car – or run your business – without sufficient sleep. Huh! They could have stayed in the bar with a gluhwein and read the blog…

Rather than go to school I’d sneak off to Boston to go fishing. My parents went ballistic when they found out, but it’d given me time to be alone and daydream and thankfully I discovered the idea of being a chef. I’ve always found daydreaming useful; nowadays I carry a Moleskine book to jot down ideas. A lot of people are too scared to follow dreams, therefore they don’t achieve. What I mean is, if you do have big dreams, don’t be afraid to chase them.

I’m not suggesting that there should be a few empty spaces at the next TAB meeting: “Sorry, Ed, they’ve all gone fishing at Filey.” But we all need space – and time – to dream. Then we all need the courage to follow those dreams – and it’s that courage which separates the successful people from the ones still saying, ‘Someday…’

To repeat the Tim Ferris quote from last week: ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.

Let me finish with one more quotation from Jason’s interview – and it applies to all of us, whether they are ‘eating your food’ or buying your widgets…

I feel really privileged and honoured to have a job I love, a family supporting and enriching my life; that customers are eating our food and I have a great team with the same ethos as me. So that’s as good a work/life balance as I can think of.

…It’s also as good a definition of success as I can think of. Until next week: have a great weekend – and spend some time daydreaming!