In order to move on, you have to have a combination of clear purpose and conviction.
It happened in 1988. I was watching Grange Hill, eating some Monster Munch, when my little brother burst into the living room with some very important news. Charlene from Neighbours was releasing a single. The actor playing her was called Kylie Minogue and had decided to become a pop star. No, I told him. You’ve got this wrong.
It was too much for my 11-year-old brain to process. How was this sort of thing even possible? Who was this ‘Kylie Minogue’ and why couldn’t she just stay as Charlene and continue life with Scott, Madge and Henry in their Erinsborough cul-de-sac? I was sure I wouldn’t like it.
But of course I did. All it took was one play of ‘I should be so lucky’ to reassure me that she was still the wholesome girl-next-door from Neighbours, just singing rather than acting - there was no dramatic change - and within a week I was imagining what it might be like to actually buy a copy of her album. Heady stuff.
Now of course this sort of thing happens all the time. You’re nothing, in brand terms, if you’re not also something else, or looking to be - the world is moving too fast to be any other way. Diversification is a way of staying ahead and an important part of any growth strategy, but for it to work, it has to feel authentic. No one thinks twice about the fact that you can buy your underpants along with your egg sandwich at M&S for example, but imagine the confusion if Nike started selling tractors, or Heinz lipstick, it would be as awkward as going to McDonalds for a salad, or Kylie doing heavy metal.
Authenticity naturally follows if you have clear beliefs. As Simon Sinek says in his ‘start with why’ TED talk: “The goal is not to do business with people who need what you have, the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” M&S made its reputation in the early years with a policy of only selling British-made goods. This has since changed, but their purpose and general brand perception of quality and Britishness prevails – even when people stop buying from them.
“No one thinks twice about the fact that you can buy your underpants along with your egg sandwich at M&S.”
Belief in a purpose wasn’t lacking at the Nucleus annual strategy event in Birmingham last week. This was an audience of high achievers – you could tell that by the lack of small talk in the room – each and every person had something positive to say, not just about where they are, but about where they were going. And many of them are really going places. Whether it’s creating their own DFM proposition as in the case of Estate Capital, or a separate investment and financial planning company as with Thorntons Law, there was widespread certainty around how they were looking to improve the financial planning experience for the client.
Stephen Webster, chief executive of Thorntons Investment Management, explains how Thorntons has segued from law to investment and financial planning firm without disruption: “Clients don’t see much of a difference. It’s the same building, the same floor; members of the board are all faces they recognise. In three years’ time we may be a different company with a different name, but for now it’s important for them that we outwardly maintain a sense of who we are.”
In much the same way, M&S’s mid-term strategy in 2010 – designed to counter falling sales – sat under the slogan ‘evolution not revolution’. There was no dramatic change to what they believed, but they knew they couldn’t stand still.
With a vision of being at £20bn within the next five years, Nucleus cannot afford to stand still either. Last year we faced the challenge of upgrading our technology system, which became a bigger challenge than we originally thought. But as David said, it was a necessary part of our evolution and it wouldn’t have been possible for the business to continue without it. Our purpose remains the same as it always has been – to enable financial advisers to create better outcomes for clients – and we’re working very hard with adviser firms to do what we need to do to get there. “We’re focused on 2025, not 1985,” David said at the end. But the slide he’s been showing for the past few years still says this: ‘Think big. Act small. Be humble.’