Nigel Toplis, managing director of the Bardon Group, spent Christmas and New Year in South Africa where he had time to reflect on his surroundings and the strong links between nature and business
No matter the time of day in Africa, nature carries on in its own way and I find there is something reassuring, resolute and robust about the environment.
At 7pm each night I’m privileged to sit on our stoep – the South African term for veranda – and watch hippos leaving the huge 400-yard long lake in front of us on their way to a river outside of our estate. There is an order. Mother always goes first followed by the teenagers, then the baby and finally the biggest hippo at the back.
There over 100 species of birds around the vicinity of our bungalow that come and go, singing and chattering as they attend to their daily business. Different birds arrive and depart at different times – but the tasks remain similar – feeding, building, teaching.
So what can we learn about business from nature? Hippos don’t just rush out of the lake – there is a structure and an order, they know who’s going first and who’s bringing up the rear. Like nature, a well-run company also has to have structure – people need to know their job, how to do it, what’s expected from them and how to measure their success. There also needs to be purpose and process.
For the birds it’s building a nest, gathering food, feeding the young. For the business owner it’s about identifying customers, verifying the contact, sharing your information and then making the call to get an appointment to start a relationship.
In nature, relationships are everything – hippos and crocs tolerate each other because they have an understanding. Working together is how many species survive in the wild. You’ll often see giraffes in the same vicinity as deer and zebras. Why? Because they work together to maximise their combined strength. Giraffes can see predators from a distance, zebras have a heightened sense of smell and deer have acute hearing. Similarly, the franchisor has tools, systems, experience and knowledge and it pays for the franchisee to take advantage of these attributes.
Nothing is haphazard in nature. Lions don’t gallivant around the African heat for the fun of it. If they’re roaming, then they’re hunting. You don’t see a cheetah running at 60mph to show off to his boys – if the cheetah is running then he’s attacking. And elephants never sleep they simply doze. Nature doesn’t do waste – be it energy, resources or time.
If you want to be successful in business you must have structure with a business plan, understand the importance of relationships and seek to build these and focus your energy on those areas where you will get maximum return and minimum waste.