Thursday, May 20, 2010

Alice Down the Rabbit Hole

Alice Down the Rabbit Hole
When I think about the disjunction I’ve mentioned in relation to how people perceive my family, and what the reality actually is, I realise it existed before we ever started Wicked. Even when Dad was still a mechanic, while I was in primary school, he managed to pick up second hand Mercedes Benzes cheaply because he was able to fix them. Of course this sometimes led to the other kids assuming we had more money than we actually had. My parents also told me later that in high school there was a period of time when Dad had to write out weekly cheques to cover the fees rather than paying the bill by term or semester. To the school’s credit, although they were a toffee nosed private school, they allowed this. Again it’s about perceptions. As Alain De Botton discovered in his most recent book, most of those who use the Frequent Flyer Club lounges at the airport are (gasp) ordinary people in spite of having money. Then again, many outsiders are not aware how much hard work a successful business entails or how much of the so-called profit gets swallowed back into building it. However, it was still something of an adjustment to realise that we can sometimes pay for luxuries we couldn’t afford before. Luckily like the White Queen I practice believing six impossible things before breakfast. Who knows—I might not end my days starving in garrets even if I am a poet!
One thing I noticed over the years watching dad try and get things off the ground with his business is that you have to be prepared to start over again to succeed. If you aren’t, it just isn’t going to happen. Anything can get in the way. Not finding a niche market straightaway? Check. Grumbling from the family because of Sunday meetings and constant phone calls on outings that are meant to be family time? Check. You get the picture! I saw very clearly even though I haven’t yet tried to run a business myself, that it can give you independence and the power to do your own thing without being dependent on an employer. However it can also lead to enormous stress. I swear there were times I thought dad would love to take both his mobile phones and fling them off the nearest cliff. I do remember him having fun with it too though—when Big Pond’s technical help number was one digit off our roadside service number, dad got calls from irate customers who had no idea they hadn’t reached Big Pond. He advised them (after they had finished their angry tirade) to exercise some patience. I don’t think they appreciated this but it was pretty funny on loudspeaker!
The main thing I’ve sometimes found difficult over the years is being sucked into the stress surrounding the whole thing. The media campaign I started this blog with is the perfect example. Dad was trying to write something in response to a negative article on a popular travel website I won’t name. He was talking to mum who was taking down what he said, and mum wanted me to help polish up how it sounded. This process soon degenerated into dad saying when mum read it back to him ‘that sounds terrible!’ and mum snapping back ‘its your words!’ and me thinking ‘I want out of here!’ There have also been issues around how much I or my brothers should be involved in the day to day running of the business and on what terms. When my brothers and I became adults we all felt uncertain about being entirely dependent on the business for wages and work for different reasons. Yet the reality of the world for the majority of young people today is that depending on a job to last more than two years is not really a great idea. Also, I began to realise, whether I liked it or not, found it boring or not, that it was in my best interests to get smart about money so that I could make informed choices. Where better to learn this than a family business?

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