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Not bad, but I can't say I was very inspired.
on 27 October 2012
What makes a good autobiography?
- Being inspirational to the reader?
- Being therapeutic to the writer?
- Explaining the background to the person we know from the media?
I think the book does give a good background, and I think Hilary most likely did find it cathartic to write. I can believe that it could be inspirational for some, but on balance it only taught me a few small lessons, and on that basis I found it an average read.
Positive things we learn: Hilary developed a strong work ethos at an early age, which combined with a talent for sales and business. She was clever enough to find a very profitable gap in her market and resourceful enough to exploit it. She has a moral ethos which is tough, but tries to be fair.
Between the lines: I think Hilary showed that it can be possible to sow the seeds of a hugely successful enterprise, with fairly modest capital, in 3 or 4 years, even with a turbulent home life. I think she clearly shows the sadness of financial success. She enjoyed her work, which gave her the enjoyment of a family. For some, that would be happiness and fulfilment in itself. But Hilary believes life owes her more.
I think she explains two major weaknesses which she doesn't even realise are weaknesses in these terms, which truthfully begs the rather unkind tag "self-delusional":
- At various points she seeks the luxury of "something just for myself"... the relationships after her son's father; her luxury possessions (which seem to contribute to the alienation with her son); and
- Her unshakable belief that she remains the key important asset to her business. The last thing is just patently untrue... if someone can suddenly have three months in hospital where she is totally incapacitated, followed by many months where she's frankly under people's feet (taking half a day to write an e-mail, etc) while her business still grows around her; that business really doesn't need her involvement.
One of the reasons I was interested to read this book was the rather sad and flummoxed expression on Hilary's face in Dragons' Den when she requests maybe 10% less equity than another dragon who has - on the face of it - no particular specialist experience to offer, and yet the entrepreneurs go with her rival. She covers this experience right at the end of the book. Hilary thinks her appearance causes a stir, apparently without realising that most viewers see her as too eccentric to take seriously. She thinks some entrepreneurs have been mad not to choose her offer. But have they?
In truth I can't blame the decision of the investment-seekers after reading this book: I'm sure she would send an e-mail here and make a telephone call there, but in the end I'm not sure she'd bring much success to the party, even though I think she'd believe she was the major reason for any eventual success. (Mind, for most entrepreneurs' projects, I'm not sure any of the dragons would.)
To adapt Hilary's own tough mantra: history is vanity, the present is sanity, opportunity assessment is reality.
I think, and I certainly hope I think it constructively, the most inspirational thing Hilary could do is give tours of Pall-Ex to Business students and would-be entrepreneurs, explaining how to build a business on a shoe-string, with vision, guile, determination, and boundless enthusiasm and energy.