Running a Market Research Company: What I Learned Over Lunch

May 16, 2011
Risata Overlooking Steelhead Trout

Image by atl10trader via Flickr

Many years ago now, I was taken out to a long ‘relaxing’ lunch (as was the custom of those days) by a senior industry player. I was just starting out on my managerial career, and I suspect his major motivation was to fish for competitive intelligence, or perhaps to see if I was wanting to jump ship. But, as he poured the second glass, he seemed to decide I was worthy of mentoring and so started to give advice on how to manage a market research company. One bit, in particular, stuck with me. Leaning over he intoned: “look Alastair, making money out of MR is a lot simpler than most realise: all you need to do is hire the best people in the industry, pay them 20% more than they’d get anywhere else, then work them twice as hard as anybody else would.

A little while later, I was about to head off for my first overseas assignment, and at a far more genteel lunch our company chairman also offered some advice. I’d been probing him for clues on cultural factors that might impact my work and he’d been politely indulging me with helpful tips. Then he said “But you know, Alastair, that while all these things are important, there are two more important things in running a research business” . The first he said, was to know enough of finance and accountancy so your finance director could not pull the wool over your eyes (he put it more politely than that!). The second thing was to “recruit a team that is not like you, that compensates for your weaknesses, and will argue with you in an intelligent, rational way. If your team are all like you, and always agree with you, then sooner or later the company will be in trouble“.

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