My Proficorn Way (Part 11)

No Two Bad In a Row

Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy (and author of Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense) tells this wonderful story in an EconTalk with Russ Roberts:

There’s a guy, I may not mention him in the book, called Francis Fulford, and his family have occupied the same, I think, it’s 10,000 acres in Devonshire that was given to them in something like 1240. And he’s inherited this, and the family still owns it, and they still own the house there by direct descent over about 800 years. And they asked him how on earth he’d managed this achievement. And he points up to the ancestral portraits and says–he’s a very sweary man, so I can’t report him verbatim. He said, ‘Well, if I go back to my ancestors, we’ve had loads of idiots. We’ve had drunken idiots, we’ve had gambling idiots, philandering idiots, idiots who get in prison for treason,’ he said, ‘But we’ve never had two in a row.’

When one hires to fill in senior positions, it is of course important to hire the right person. You will never know until a few months into the job whether that person is right or not. If there is a mismatch, best to let the person go quickly. But then make sure the mistake is not repeated. Because recovering from a succession of mistakes is very difficult, as Sutherland’s story illustrates.

I have made hiring mistakes. But generally, I have not had ‘two bad in a row.’ And that’s the key for a proficorn to succeed. The wrong person can be like termite – weakening the foundation of the business or the group being led. The damage won’t be visible initially, but the group and the sub-culture will be weakened. It will require another person a lot of effort to fix that, but it’s doable. However, two successive mistakes will be disastrous.

The converse is also true. For big success, the business needs a succession of good people at the leadership level. Netcore has grown under three excellent CEOs in a row. They are the ones who ensured the proficorn foundation which has stayed strong even in unexpected situations like Covid.

Tomorrow: My Proficorn Way (Part 12)