Thursday 27 October 2016

'I regret not learning some things faster than I did'

Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30

A WORD TO THE WISE: 'Don't become too dependent on a small number of big customers,' says Emmet O'Rafferty of Top Security
A WORD TO THE WISE: 'Don't become too dependent on a small number of big customers,' says Emmet O'Rafferty of Top Security

'As chairman of the Top Security Group, I have been involved in the security and alarm monitoring industry for over 30 years. There is nothing that I regret not knowing before I started - but there are a few things I regret not learning faster once I did.

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"When you are developing a business, there are people who can stay the course with you and those who will struggle.

"There can be a tendency to promote staff for the wrong reasons in those circumstances - and sometimes, with the best of intentions, you can end up promoting good people literally out of a job. I will always remember at an early stage promoting a supervisor to a management position and it became evident very quickly he was out of his depth. I ended up losing a very good employee as it wasn't practical for him to return to his former position.

"Those kind of mistakes make it harder to build a team, and your staff, your most important asset, also suffer.

"Don't be too dependent on a small number of large customers or even suppliers as they can have a tendency to 'rule the roost'. At their worst, they can strangle you for cash or squeeze your margins. You can also end up spending a disproportionate amount of time on them and other customers may be neglected as a result. Never be afraid to say 'no' to them if it is bad for business.

"Regularly sit down with your team and examine each area of your business internally and externally to ensure that each area is resilient and that you are adequately protected.

"I can't stress enough the importance of focus. Once you reach a certain level of success, there will be a queue of people trying to get you interested in other projects or businesses.

"Some will be quite persistent - so always ask yourself that if you invested the same amount of money and effort into your existing business, would it yield a better return.

"Diversifying can be good for the ego but bad for your bank balance. I once acquired a company making security screens - because I thought their products related in some way to what we were already doing. However, it involved manufacturing and distribution, areas where I had no experience.

"It didn't work and I ultimately sold it, but the distraction from my core business came at a price. Any diversification should ideally be well thought through, strategically, and properly resourced.

"Business is always a risk and we shouldn't be afraid to back ourselves. Always take advice, always listen - but always make your own decisions."

Emmet O'Rafferty is chairman of Top Security Group, which operates in Ireland, the UK and in South Africa

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