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Business portfolio: how to manage several interests at the same time

Updated Thursday 21st June 2012

If you have several business interests, where do you focus your energies? LEON co-founder John Vincent explains

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John Vincent was talking to The Open University's Fiona Ellis-Chadwick after a recording of The Bottom Line




John Vincent

Hello, my name’s John Vincent.  I'm a co-founder of a company called Leon, which is a good fast food business.

Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

Hello John.  I know that you’ve got a lot of business interests; can you tell me how they all fit together?

John Vincent

Well, maybe if I can explain them chronologically that might make sense.  I was at a company called Bain & Company which is a business consulting firm, and I knew I wanted to do my own thing, and so I was set on starting Leon with my friend Henry, and that, we started in 2004.  Now at the same time, I happened to also confusingly be asked to turn around a business called Whyte & MacKay with a friend of mine, and so I was spending a lot of emotional energy starting Leon but also delivering a turnaround of a business called Whyte & MacKay.

Since then, Leon has continued to be my number one focus, but I've also invested in a business called Choccywoccydoodah, which is a sort of evasion provocateur de chocolate sort of very creative chocolate and cake business which we think has international potential, and also started a business called Flat Planet, which is, although it is effectively a café, it’s my attempt to do democratic venture capital, which is trying to bring venture capital to the street, encouraging people not necessarily to go to head offices but to go to cafés to raise capital for their businesses, and my dream is to have one of those in every city, such that it brings venture capital close to the people, close to people that are buying and may have businesses that need capital.  So that’s my dream about Flat Planet.

Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

So you’ve got a busy portfolio there.  You’ve obviously got some fun stuff in there and some mainstream, how do you decide where to focus your energies?

John Vincent

It’s probably the best, it’s the question that I ask myself, you know every day and every week, and I think that one has to take a view across all businesses: work out principally where one’s duty is to third party investors and shareholders, and those businesses have to come first.  I don’t have a duty to third party investors in Flat Planet, but I have a duty principally in Leon to deliver for the shareholders that have invested, so I use that as the main proxy or the main driver of where I spend my time.  However, there will inevitably be fights or fire fights that I, or fires that I have to put out in those other businesses, but planning my time as you allude to is the absolute most, the biggest headache and the biggest thing I ‘worry’ in inverted commas about.  And it depends where I need to get involved as well, because what you try and do obviously is to have people you can hundred percent delegate to, so that you can then focus on the single biggest issue in each business.

So the dream is to have your direct reports who are functional heads being excellent at what they do, and then you can pick the number one issue that the business, that will drive the business forward, that’s the ideal that we will try and, what I try and get to.

Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

Just talking to you and listening to the businesses you're involved in, you clearly have a very interesting leadership style.  Could you give us some insight into how that works?

John Vincent

Well I think first of all I don’t think it’s up to me to say that I have an interesting management style, I think all that it takes is for authenticity, and I think that a leader or a CEO who has authenticity and genuinely cares, and when I say that’s a fantastic dish or that tastes disgusting, people have to know that you are telling the truth.  So I think the biggest thing is, and this happens to be me, so I think the way that all leaders should be is just be themselves, act with authenticity and act with truth, and then we don’t end up with politics and we don’t end up with bullshit and we don’t end up with cliques and we don’t end up with people pretending things are other than they are, and I think that’s the most important thing.  Whoever you are, be yourself, and certainly don’t try and adopt someone else’s management style, all you need to be is yourself and that’s really the best and only thing you can be.

Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

One last question, are you an inspirational leader?

John Vincent

I think that if you are trying to describe a future which is quite different from the present, I think that there is a big element of selling a vision, and so if that is inspiration, which it possibly is, I think probably that is an important part of what one does.

Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

Thank you John, that was really interesting.

John Vincent

Thank you.









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