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What do top sportspeople and entrepreneurs have in common?

port and business might be two separate realms, but in fact it takes many of the same characteristics to rise to the top in both of these arenas. I’ve been thinking about this lately and, from the late, great boxer Muhammad Ali to high-profile entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, there are a few things these people tend to have in common.

 

An insatiable hunger for success

What separates a decent sportsperson from a true icon? There are, of course, a lot of factors that feed into this, but one of the things that propels the big sporting names to the very top and keeps them there is an insatiable hunger for success.

When these people win a trophy or break a record, they don’t sit back and think their work is done. Instead, their triumphs fuel their desire to enjoy future successes. From Serena Williams’ staggering seven Wimbledon championship wins to Chris Hoy’s 11 world championship victories and six Olympic golds, the brightest stars in the sporting world strive to continually improve themselves and achieve their next goal.

The same can be said for leading business stars. Take Virgin founder Richard Branson. There are now over 100 Virgin companies globally and the group employs around 60,000 people. Meanwhile, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg grew the social network from a small directory for his fellow Harvard students into a global phenomenon that has helped him amass a fortune. People like this aren’t content to sit back in the knowledge they have achieved ‘enough’. Their drive and passion always keeps them reaching higher.

 

A tough work ethic

A tough work ethic is a must in both the sporting and the business worlds. While lots of people would love to cross the finish line in first position or land lucrative contracts, it takes a certain kind of individual to actually put in the hard graft required to turn these dreams into reality.

For sportspeople, this could involve spending long hours in the gym or on the training field pushing their bodies to the limit. For entrepreneurs, it could mean working around the clock to set up and keep their companies on track.

As well as the mental and physical strain, this often means making sacrifices like cutting down on holidays and time with friends at the pub, but I have always tried to set aside family time, no matter how hectic work gets.

 

A passion for what they do

 

Because of the level of commitment needed to get to the top, passion is an essential part of the mix in both sport and business. The best athletes and entrepreneurs have a zeal for what they do and this helps to sustain them when things get tough. Having a genuine enthusiasm for their sport or business keeps them motivated to keep doing what they’re doing day after day.

The fact is, in both of these spheres, high profile successes are only a small part of the story. The on-going reality is hard work, much of which goes unnoticed. In many cases, it’s unwavering passion that enables people to keep this up.

 

Founder and chairman of The Cobra Group of Companies, Chris Niarchos knows what it takes to achieve success as an entrepreneur. He set up his first direct sales company at the age of 22 with the goal of building it into an international sales and marketing company. Appco Group, which is the sales and marketing subsidiary of the Cobra Group, now operates in 25 countries around the world.

How ParalympicsGB embody the principle ‘Be Something More’

Recently, tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Manchester and London to watch parades celebrating the extraordinary achievements of Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic stars.

 

These events came just weeks after ParalympicsGB recorded their best-ever performance. They ended the competition in Rio with an impressive 147 medals, which was 27 more than they picked up in London four years earlier and 26 above the target set for them by UK Sport.

What really astounds me about this feat is the adversity that many of the competitors have overcome in their lives to reach the top in their respective sports. To me, this embodies the principle of ‘Be Something More’, which is something I base my working and personal life on.

Amazing stories

One of the biggest names in ParalympicsGB is Dame Sarah Storey. The most successful Paralympian in the modern era, she won three gold medals at the Rio games, taking her career total to an incredible 14 Paralympic golds.

 

Born without a functioning left hand, Storey refused to let this stop her from achieving great things. Starting her sporting career as a swimmer, her first foray into high-profile competition was the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when at the age of just 14 she took the podium top spot a staggering five times.

 

In 2005, ear infections forced her to stop swimming, but rather than retiring from sport, she switched to cycling to keep her fitness levels up. She has since achieved huge things on the track and the road. She was even the first para-cyclist to compete for England against able-bodied athletes at the Commonwealth Games.

Fellow Paralympian Kadeena Cox has another inspirational story. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Always a keen sprinter, she continued training despite her condition and in Rio she earned herself a gold medal in the 400 metres on the athletics track. She also secured the top position in the 500-metre time trial in the velodrome.

Like Storey and Cox, all of the people who competed at the Rio Paralympics have refused to let physical challenges and health issues stop them from achieving success.

Success means stretching yourself and overcoming obstacles

The perseverance and determination that these athletes have shown is a perfect example of the Be Something More principle. As you’ll know if you’ve read my previous blogs, this idea is extremely important to me.

 

Having first seen the slogan on a poster my mum bought for me as a child, it’s a motto I’ve tried to live by ever since. It’s about stretching yourself to do something worthwhile with your life rather than just going through the motions.

Hearing about the bravery and commitment of the ParalympicsGB team just drives home the importance of this message.

As founder and chairman of Appco Group, Chris Niarchos has adopted the Be Something More phrase as his company motto. He continually strives for excellence and helps others around him to do the same.

For every problem a solution: how to think about problems in business

Look at problems.

What do you see when you look at a problem? What if you were a dentist, and tomorrow someone invented something that gave everyone perfect teeth? What if you were a pilot and someone invented teleportation?

I realise these are slightly facetious examples, but we’re faced with problems and obstacles every day of our lives and how we respond to them says a lot about who we are as people and as business leaders.

Recognising a problem

All over the world, businesses are struggling to adapt to the challenges wrought by digital technology. Some industries have been hit particularly hard by the digital revolution. In 1999, for example, traditional record companies made US$14.6 billion, but only ten years later, that figure stood at just $6.3 billion. Music industry insiders call it the lost decade.

That isn’t to say that the music industry as a whole has suffered. Bands focus more on touring now and tech companies like Apple are reaping the rewards investing in innovative ways of music delivery. What the story does show, however, is the importance of meeting challenges. The successful companies innovated; the unsuccessful ones dithered.

So many industries have been hit hard by the digital revolution. How each has responded to it says a lot about how they operate.

There are exceptions to this story as well. Sometimes is pays to be conservative. When putting content online for free started eating into The Times newspaper’s subscriber base, they put up a paywall and increased both subscribers and revenue. Some papers that didn’t, like The Guardian, which has embraced free online content, are struggling and losing money.

Overcoming a problem

Technological innovation has always been both a challenge and an opportunity. I think the stories above reveal an important way for businesses to embrace problems.

Look at the music industry example. The companies that survived in that environment were the ones that innovated, that changed their practices and realised that the old regime was over. By innovating, they not only staved off failure, but they also created new, successful products.

The second important thing to learn is to play to your strengths. When you come across a problem, pause and think what unique capabilities you and your team have to solve it. This is what successful newspapers have done. They’ve created models that protect and monetise the unique parts of their business: their content, while harnessing the Internet’s ability to share it.

Every day you will come across small and large obstacles in life and in business — I certainly have as Founder and Chairman of Appco Group. Thinking innovatively and marshaling all of your unique capabilities and strengths to overcome those problems will help you succeed.

How can you be an inspirational leader?

There’s no one-size-fits-all model for being a successful business leader, but my experience has taught me that there are certain qualities entrepreneurs must have if they’re to really inspire the people around them. Here are just some of the traits that I consider to be especially important when it comes to motivating and enthusing colleagues.

A bold vision

The most inspirational leaders tend to have a bold vision. Whether this is outselling competitors, developing groundbreaking products or services that advance industry standards or meeting ambitious growth targets, being able to think big and articulate their goals clearly and convincingly helps to set the best businesspeople apart. By establishing a brave and ambitious agenda – and consistently reinforcing this – entrepreneurs can create excitement and inspire admiration and loyalty in those around them.

A positive attitude

Positivity is another essential characteristic. Being able to remain upbeat even when addressing potentially significant problems enables leaders to maintain high levels of morale among their colleagues and it contributes to a more positive company culture overall. This can help leaders to steer their companies through the bad times as well as the good and it makes it easier to recruit and retain the top personnel.

A focus on your people

The most skillful entrepreneurs also realise that lasting success doesn’t come from being selfish. They spend time and energy cultivating and nurturing the talents of the people around them, enabling them to fulfil their potential and harnessing their abilities in the best possible ways. This helps to maximise job satisfaction among staff members and, because it takes full advantage of people’s skills, it can boost the long-term success of businesses.

An ability to share your motivations

Many of the most skilled leaders take the time to explain to the people around them exactly what motivates them to strive for the top. By providing personal anecdotes and giving insights into their history and what they are seeking to achieve in the future, entrepreneurs can establish a closer connection with their colleagues. In my own case, I have made the concept ‘Be something more’ a corporate slogan within Appco Group. I first came across the idea as a young kid when I got a poster from my mum displaying this phrase. The concept reflected my late parents’ outlook on life – striving to achieve excellence in whatever you choose to do and helping those around you – and I think it perfectly encapsulates what our company and people do.

Sharing insights and personal motivations like this can promote cohesion and understanding within companies and it can play an important role in inspiring others.

Chris Niarchos is the founder and chairman of the Cobra Group of Companies and is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the many businesses within the group. He began his career as an entrepreneur at the age of just 22, when he established his first direct sales business, and has since gone on to achieve international success. You can find out more about Chris Niarchos’ background and business achievements online.

3 important lessons I’ve learned in business

To be successful in business, you have to be able to adapt and to pick up knowledge and skills as you go.

You learn from mentors, colleagues and competitors, and you take lessons from both your achievements and your mistakes.

Absorbing all of this information helps you to grow not only as an entrepreneur, but also as a person. Here are three important lessons I’ve learned during my career.

1. It’s impossible to control everything

No matter how much of a perfectionist you are and how tight a grip you want to keep on your company, the simple fact is you can’t control everything.

Trying to micromanage every aspect of your business can spell disaster for your strategic planning and it will cause your stress levels to soar. As a leader, you have to be able to take a step back and delegate tasks to the appropriate people.

There will also be a range of variables outside of your business that you have little or no control over, including the prevailing market conditions. This means you have to be flexible in your approach and ready to tailor your strategy to suit changing circumstances.

2. Patience is an important virtue

It’s true that a small number of businesspeople seem to propel themselves to instant fame and fortune, but the vast majority of entrepreneurs have to work hard over a sustained period of time to achieve their goals.

This means that patience is vital asset among business leaders. You need to have foresight and dedication to stick to your path and realise your ambitions. Anyone who has made it to the top thanks to hard work and perseverance – and that’s most people – will tell you that this makes the eventual rewards all the more satisfying.

3. Keeping your focus is crucial

You must also be able to keep your focus at all times. After reaching a particular target or milestone, there is a risk that entrepreneurs – who tend to always be juggling multiple things – will turn their attention elsewhere and lose their momentum. If you want to achieve sustained success and company growth, you’ll need to avoid this pitfall.

One of the things that has helped me to remain motivated throughout my career is my desire to ‘Be Something More’. This phrase was printed on a poster that I put up on my bedroom wall as a youngster living at home and it has helped me to shape my approach to work and to life more generally.

‘Be Something More’ reminds me to continuously strive to achieve the most for my businesses, myself and, just as importantly, for the people around me. This guiding principle is so important to me that I decided to make it the catchphrase for the entire Appco Group.

As chairman and founder of the Cobra Group, Chris Niarchos has achieved global success as an entrepreneur. His journey began at the age of just 22 when he started his first direct sales company in Sydney. He had a vision of growing the business into an international organisation and, through hard work and skill, he has succeeded in his ambition.

Your guide to harnessing the potential of your personnel

My experiences in business have taught me that having a skilled, dedicated team around you is essential if you are to achieve your goals. Without talented and effective people by your side, it can prove impossible to realise your ambitions. With this in mind, I’ve put together a brief guide to help you harness the potential of your personnel.

Invest in training

All the best business leaders understand the crucial role that effective training plays within companies. By providing your personnel with all the support and coaching they need, you can help ensure they are able to perform their roles effectively and confidently. Bear in mind that training opportunities shouldn’t be reserved for new starters. It’s important to offer employees the chance to enhance their knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis.

Reward good work

Rewarding good work is also essential. People are much more likely to stretch themselves and go above and beyond the basics of their job requirements if they know they will be recognised for their efforts. As well as praising people on an informal basis, it’s useful to have official procedures in place to recognise good work, such as employee awards and prizes. Providing people with opportunities for promotion and pay rises that reflect their diligence and skill is vital too. If workers feel as though their input is valued, they are more likely to remain focussed and loyal.

Put effective communication procedures in place  

Another way to nurture talent within your company is to set up effective two-way communication procedures – and regular appraisals should play an important role in this. These sessions can help people to identify their strengths and weaknesses and they foster a culture of accountability and openness. People are likely to feel happier and perform better if there is an established system in place for getting guidance and feedback. Your personnel should also feel confident about approaching their line managers if they spot any problems. If they know they can raise concerns with senior members of staff, employees can help ensure that any issues are tackled before they escalate and potentially do damage to your business.

Provide a clear company message

Providing personnel with a clear company message that they can relate to and get behind is vital. When people understand that they are working towards a common goal and feel as though they are part of a team, they tend to be more enthused and energised about their work. Having a clear brand message and communicating this to your staff members is essential if you are to achieve this – and you can reinforce the sense of cohesion by organising team building days and other corporate events.

By following guidance like this and harnessing the full potential of your personnel, you stand to make your business stronger and more successful.

Chris Niarchos is the founder and chairman of the Cobra Group of Companies, which includes AGS Global Fundraising Services. You can find out more about Chris Niarchos’ charity fundraising by visiting the AGS Global Fundraising Services website.

4 ways to future-proof your firm

Starting a company can be difficult enough, but the real challenge is ensuring that your business stands the test of time. According to research conducted by Professor Richard Foster at Yale University, the average lifespan of a business listed in Standard & Poor’s 500 index of leading US companies fell from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years in 2012. However, as I know from my own experience as a business leader, there are effective ways to future-proof your company. Following are four tactics that could help you to increase the longevity of your enterprise.

1) Keep tabs on emerging technology trends

Technology is progressing at a phenomenal rate and so to ensure you don’t get left behind, it’s crucial that you keep tabs on emerging trends within your sector. By making sure you have access to the most up-to-date and efficient equipment and systems available, you can reduce the risk that your rivals will gain a competitive advantage over you. Making sure you have the best possible resources does require investment, but this will be money well spent if it prevents your company from losing relevance and being side-lined by more forward looking competitors.

2) Take steps to protect your brand

The internet – and particularly social media – means it’s now easier than ever to spread the word about your products or services and to build up your brand. However, the web also means that news of bad customer experiences can spread quickly. If you don’t take careful steps to protect your business’ reputation, you could find that your image is badly damaged within a very short space of time. This means it’s more important than ever to ensure that each customer has a positive experience when they deal with your business.

3) Nurture the talent within your team

Your personnel are likely to be your most valuable asset. Their hard work, expertise and insight could help to steer your firm to continued success. However, to ensure you make the most of the talent within your team, you’ll need to take steps to nurture it. This involves providing people with suitable training, rewarding good work and making sure personnel have access to appealing career opportunities. Doing these things should mean you are able to attract and retain the best personnel – and it will help the people within your organisation to fulfil their potential.

4) Don’t let nostalgia get in the way of progress

There’s a certain reassurance that comes from maintaining continuity within a business. However, it’s vital that you don’t allow nostalgia to get in the way of progress. If they aren’t up-to-scratch, everything from your day to day operating procedures to your marketing techniques and branding may benefit from an overall. Making major changes to the way your company does things may pull you out of your comfort zone, but it could help you to sustain long-term success.

Following advice like this should help you to make your business more robust and it could enable you to outlast your rivals.