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Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best – Part 3 of 3

Sustainable Business

Photo by Adrian Balasoiu on Unsplash

Sustainable Business being a key player in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

This is not just about social responsibility as some sort of add on to a business. It is about business being core to a more sustainable world. Sustainable business for SDG’s. Go to the UN website & have a look at the 17 goals listed. Then think a little. Finally, ask yourself  – is  there anywhere that business cannot make a significant contribution? The answer should be, no there are not. But just to give you a little idea, here are three of the SDG’s:

  1. Good health & well being
  2. Clean water & sanitation
  3. Sustainable cities & communities.

After having checked these out do you still doubt its possible for business to be a key driver in building this better world? Put it another way, if the world continues as it is whether from a climate crisis angle or the disparity between rich & poor, then ultimately, everyone loses. Badly. Business can & must play its part. Sustainable business for SDG’s.

Books Worth Reading

Whilst I did a lot of thinking, discussing with others & used my experiences to come to the ideas discussed above & in the first two part s of this mini series, undoubtedly,  reading many great books helped me on my never-ending exploratory journey. So, below is a list – not all have been mentioned above but they all have played a role. Some are very recent – always a good idea to keep exploring. Enjoy!

  1. “Small IS Beautiful” – E F Schumacher
  2. In Search of Excellence” – Tom Peters & Robert H Waterman Jr
  3. “Business as Unusual” – Anita Roddick
  4. “The Hungry Spirit” – Charles Handy
  5. “Heroic Leadership” – Chris Lowney
  6. “Insanely Simple” – Ken Seagall
  7. “Small Giants” – Bo Burlingham
  8. “Company of One” – Paul Jarvis
  9. “Spiritual Capital” – Danah Zohar & Ian Marshall
  10. “Essentialism” – Chris McKeown
  11. “Building Social Business” – Muhammad Yunus
  12. “Enough” – John C Bogle
  13. “Lab Rats” – Dan Lyons
  14. “The Passions Economy” – Adam Davidson


Where to from here? All of this represents the approach I take to business at a philosophical level – how I see things from a macro standpoint. It helps inform how I go about working with clients – to assist them in developing successful, sustainable & meaningful businesses. Businesses that not only are profitable but inclusive – true members of their community. As indicated at the beginning of this piece, subsequent articles will follow to delve a bit deeper into how this can all be implemented.

If you would like to discuss this more or have a comment, please get in touch.

Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best -Part 2 of 3

Transforming Business

Photo by Andy Holmes – Unsplash

Business being better & not simply bigger – adding value to society as a whole

Business being better & not simply bigger? Is the sole motive  not just maximising shareholder value?

The late Anita Roddick, The Bodyshop founder said:

“Economic opportunity means much more…..than money. It promotes fundamental self-esteem, facilitates education, healthcare, cultural continuity and the chance to protect the past while shaping the future.”

Think about that for a second. Imagine it being taken totally seriously by business – not just lip service. Imagine how much better off society & everyone in it could be.

Put it another way business can be so much more than just a vehicle having the unfettered pursuit of profit as its sole goal. That would likely contribute to the already gaping inequalities around the world. Widening the gap between those at the summit & those not. Managing a business gives you the opportunity to add something that was not there before, adding value to its customers, staff, shareholders & other stakeholders.

From reading the works of Charles Handy, the term “caring capitalist” for me means a capitalism that is:

  •         Inclusive
  •         People not exploited
  •         People members of their organisations – not just employees
  •         A more balanced workstyle
  •         Fun to work & not just hard work for money
  •         Making dreams come true rather than simply producing more widgets every day
  •         Relatively small units where people know & trust each other rather than mammoth

Enabling people to infuse their work lives with real meaning, on a human scale

Can you imagine turning up to work every day, delighted to be there?  Excited by the possibilities, being part of something bigger than yourself? Of course, there would be times of quiet, manic busyness & when you do not feel in the mood. But overall though work is engaging.

Whilst part of this will be down to the business, really it is up to each person to take responsibility. The things you need to develop are not just the so called hard technical skills. You also need the soft ones around management, people, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, personal leadership, finance & time management.

So, leadership, soft-skills, personal development & management will be key in the 21st Century.  Portfolio Careers & independent working will increasingly be the norm & in that scenario, people will need to be stewards of their own potential & development.

Part 3 of transforming business as usual into business at its best to follow!

Transforming Business as Usual into Business at Its Best? – Part 1 of 3

Transforming Business

                                                                                               Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash

What follows (over a total of three parts) is part business philosophy & part business manifesto. It is a deliberately high-altitude view on transforming business as usual to at its best. Subsequent articles will bring things to a lower practical implementation altitude. The nuts and bolts, the practicalities. The topics touched on here represent deeply held beliefs but centre around business & the more positive role it can (& does) play in the world.

“Businesses are the building blocks, not just of an economy but of a whole way of life. What they do and how they do it have an impact that extends far beyond the economic sphere. They shape the communities we live in and the values we live by and the quality of the lives we lead. If the businesses don’t hold themselves to a high standard, the entire society suffers….Having more of them can’t help but make our world a better place.”

                                                                                                                “Small Giants”Bo Burlingham

Quite apart from the Corona virus pandemic, there are many other issues confronting businesses. These include a lack of engagement by people in their work. Recent information suggests that 80%+ of people are simply not engaged in that work. And then we have the climate crisis. All of these are rightfully forcing rethinks on how to go about things. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the issues have accelerated the rethinking!

So, what to do & how is business tied on to all of this? Waving a magic wand, the three things I would like to see in the morning are:

  1. Business being better & not simply bigger – adding value to society as a whole
  2. Enabling people to infuse their work lives with real meaning, on a human scale
  3. Business being a key player in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Easy to say of course, but not so easy to achieve.

But why do all of this? This piece opened with a quote about business & how it can play a key role in world issues. For that to happen, it is really about building people up – helping them reach their potential. For business to succeed, it needs great people. After all, what is a business when you take people out but a collection of systems, hardware, buildings & stuff! So, for business to succeed, people need to succeed. And if people are to succeed, they need to be nurtured & given the skills. Growing people is a much more effective way to grow or develop a business. As the late Herb Kelleher (founder Southwest Airlines) said:

“The business of business is people.”

This is not just about specific technical skills but the soft skills, the people skills & the management skills.

So how does someone that started their career in finance & accountancy, gaining extensive experience in the world of business, come to be interested in transforming business & looking to do something about it?

Some Key Influences

Some of the things that brought me to this point are:

  • United Nations Upbringing – my father worked with the UN for 35+ years – this gave me an exposure at an early age to the idea of development, economic & political harmony not to mention cultures
  • “Small Is Beautiful” – in studying for degree in Economics, I read E F Schumacher’s “Small Is Beautiful” – it had a profound effect
  • “In Search of Excellence” – reading the Tom Peters & Robert Waterman book early in my career sparked an ongoing passionate interest in how businesses can succeed – this in turn lead to how the people in them make it
  • Leonardo da Vinci – Become your own version. Never stop learning, exploring – but do it to your own tune. Decide what you want to do & then go do it, rather than waiting for an organisation to tell you
  • Business & the Accountancy Profession – Earning a living as I have & continue to do, has provided innumerable insights into how business, large, small, private, public & not for profit can have such an impact (both good & bad) not just in their respective areas but on society as a whole.

The key things that drive me are:

  • There is nothing better than seeing PEOPLE succeed
  • Education transforms lives
  • Business is more than simply economic opportunity – more than being profitable.

Part 2 of transforming business as usual into business at its best to follow!

Some Business Tips For Managing In Tough Times

Credit: Alejandro Escamilla – Unsplash

Here are a few short business tips for managing in these tough times:

  • Cost Control Reduction

    Compile a list of all your direct debits & standing orders for things that simply go through “on the nod”. Review the list & decide whether you really need all of them. Thinking of magazine & newspaper subscriptions, club memberships etc. Even if you don’t save any money, you’ll at least think about things.

  • Stakeholder Networking

    Make a conscious effort to contact & talk to relevant external stakeholders. People such as suppliers, your bank relationship manager, major customers. The simple act of staying in touch helps keep business relationships strong. In the event of you experiencing difficulties, you will more likely get the necessary support.

  • Business Opportunities in Adversity

    Though normal business trading conditions are effectively shut off, are there possible opportunities in the crisis? Ones that may not necessarily cost that much to pursue. For example – if you previously taught piano one to one, why not now do it via Zoom? Yes you would have to charge a lower fee per session but it would not only keep the small business going, it would also strengthen the relationships with your clients into the future.

  • Management Systems Health check

    If your business is still operational but at a lower capacity level, there could be benefits in carrying out a full health check & review of your management systems. Everything from how financial reporting is compiled to operational procedures to internal controls & risk management. Are there potential blockages in those systems that hinder a business when in full flow? By doing this type of review you may make your business more “flexible” so that when normal trading resumes you’ll be better positioned to take account of opportunities & growth.

  • Revisit Government & Other Supports 

    The impact of the pandemic crisis is likely to be felt for some time. So a grant or some other form of support that you didn’t qualify in earlier stages of the pandemic, may  now be open to you. It is worth reviewing all bodies offering support to see if there are any such possibilities.

If you would like to delve into any of the above business tips in a bit more detail or indeed any other business & management issue you’re currently facing then please contact me via the Contact page. Also, feel free to visit EFM Ireland for further details on “pay as you go” financial management services for businesses seeking the benefits of a Finance Director – but without paying an FD’s full-time salary.

Entrepreneur? Taking The Leap To Being One – Three Quotes To Inspire


Entreprenuer In The Making
Entrepreneur In The Making?

Entrepreneur – thinking about taking the leap? If you believe in the idea of a portfolio career & that independent working will increasingly be the norm in the 21st century, then here are, in my opinion, three great quotes in support of the idea. First of all:

What’s In It For You

“Being a successful entrepreneur is about improving society, adding things that were not there before. This includes personal wealth accumulation, but if that was your only target you are nothing more than a miser. The wealth of money is nothing compared with the wealth of being totally free to think, create and innovate at will, and the knowledge that you have added value to society. An entrepreneur is an innovator, inspirer, leader and creator who adds to the lives of customers, staff and shareholders. An entrepreneur’s life is full of excitement, energy, fun, friends and job satisfaction.”

                                                                                              Alex McMillan
                                                                                              “Be Your Best Entrepreneur…And Beyond”


What’s In It For Society

“We need, each and every one of us, to know that we can make a difference. We need business that respects and supports communities and families. We need business that safeguards the environment. We need business that encourages countries to educate their children, heal their sick, value the work of women and respect human rights.”

                                                                                             Anita Roddick


Your Guiding Compass

The Conduct of a True Professional:

“I will create value for society rather than extract it.”

                                                                                          Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business Professor

Of course these are personal to me  and I could have picked out many more but in deciding to do what I now do – setting up Smart-21 & being a business advisor – reading quotes & stories from many other people who had done something similar helped me in coming to more than one decision. Data & research analysis very definitely has its place but so do inspiring stories or quotes. As a result, therefore, I hope these give you a start.


Be Your Own Leonardo da Vinci



Independent Working & Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci – it is time to become your own version, meaning that you never stop learning & that you rely on yourself to do so. Writing in the Financial Times a number of years ago (February 2015), Charles Handy stated that the education system fails to prepare people for independent working. He also referred to the “increasing inhumanity” of most work organisations. 

He makes a fair point on both count -and it is still very much applicable today. One can argue that rather than producing people of real imagination, creativity, true initiative & most importantly independent thinking, the school system really only churns out huge number of conformists. After all, if when the caveman all those years ago, when he came to the front of his cave, took a look out and said, “I don’t like the look of that”, then where we would be now? And conformists can fit in very nicely at most large organisations where the work equivalent of colouring outside the lines is positively discouraged & frowned upon.

I came across a quote from Scott H Young (link to his website) where he stated that hard work was being replaced by three other factors that will be more important in the future:

  1. Creativity
  2. Relationships
  3. Learning.

This points us in a very different direction.

What To Do

So, what are we to do? Take control of our own development & education. Do not rely on an organisation – they are likely to want you to do it in their way only. Become a free spirit. Be your own Leonardo da Vinci. Explore. Learn. Go live. Create sparks.

Ten Questions

First Post Pic - Questions

To open the blog, I thought it would be an idea to imagine being given a series of questions by a journalist. Then, the answers appear as a mini profile article in a newspaper. Other sections of the website detail the services offered by Smart-21 & why. I wanted this first post to further build the picture people have. So here goes with the questions:

Where did the idea for Smart-21 come from?

Leadership, soft-skills, personal development, management as well as “Gets Stuff Done Skills” are key in the 21st Century where Portfolio Careers & independent working will increasingly be the norm. So, providing a supportive resource for individuals & businesses to successfully navigate that environment is why I set up Smart-21.

How did you come up with the name?

Simply put, the 21 refers to the 21st Century & the Smart is about being well, smart in developing the proper talents & skills to be effective.

What brought you to Smart-21?

Starting to read business books from my early twenties, which led to exploring not just business & management practices, but also the so called soft skills side. You cannot perform a role properly without he necessary technical or “hard” skills but being strong in soft skills (e.g. critical thinking) really adds that extra “oomph” to performance. This interest was further piqued when I completed a Diploma in Management with the Irish Management Institute as one of the core subjects was organisational behaviour. Combine all this with how I believe the 21st Century is from a work perspective & the need to provide supportive resources to people, led me to creating what I believe will be just such a supportive resource.

The most important innovation in your lifetime to date?

Without any shadow of a doubt, the internet. A great leveller allowing people set up businesses easily & at low cost.

Give us one of your favourite quotes

“To rely on youth…. not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” – Robert Kennedy

What books do you have at your bedside?


– “The Snowball – Warren Buffett And The Business Of Life” by Alice Schroeder
– “The Fix” by David Baldacci, though this is on a Kindle with many many more books!

What would you most like to tell the thirteen-year old you?

Three things:

  1. Think back all the way to the Stone Ages. Then imagine Mr. Caveman coming to the edge of his cave, looking out &
    saying “I don’t like the look of that”. Now if he had stayed inside & not had the courage to venture out, then where
    would we all be now?
  2. – “Life is a challenge – Meet it,
    Life is a song – Sing it,
    Life is a dream – Realise it,
    Life is a game – Play it,
    Life is love – Enjoy it!”
    – Unknown
  3. Finally, remember that your parents do know things – ask them questions. Teenagers do not have a monopoly
    on knowledge!

If you could interview one person dead or alive, who would it be?

Nelson Mandela to ask him how he did it.

Are you messy or organised?

Organised, definitely but with an occasional bout of messiness to show I can be… messy!

Finally, would you rather be a tiny elephant or giant hamster?

A tiny elephant. Despite its size, it would still be able to roam & explore.  A giant hamster would likely just have a giant wheel on which to run in one place. No thanks.

Keep dreaming!