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on 23 March 2011
Many years ago, as a fledgling solicitor, I was consulted by a young man employed as a driver to ladies at a call-out massage parlour (the sort, lest there be any doubt, that offers a "therapeutic" massage only as an option).

This chap had suddenly, and on a short deadline, been offered the entire business for a very good price by its owner, a gentleman of wide renown and ill repute but not, in any case, generally known for his largesse.

It seemed this businessman's commercial activities had been attracting unwanted attention from the local constabulary, hence his desire to quickly "lower his profile".

My client had a young man's burning ambition, but was not a bear of particularly large brain. He seemed very, very excited by the proposition of buying a brothel under police investigation. He sought my advice.

I told him it did not sound like a very good idea. I think my exact phrase was "run for the hills". I showed him the door, and didn't charge for the advice. Nor, seemingly, did he follow it: I remember reading not long afterwards about his appearance in the local District Court, either on vice charges or in the bankruptcy list, I don't recall which. As a matter of fact, it may have been both.

Now this is the sort of chap (were he the advice-following type) who would have benefitted immensely from Jack Nadel's new book. So would countless thousands of people like him - young, enthusiastic, and versed neither in the lessons of life nor the realities of the commercial world. That is to say, there is certainly a decent market for this book amongst the credulous and underinformed.

Query what anyone else would take from it, however, other than a quick and entertaining read.

In some ways this book itself defies Jack Nadel's own advice (#6: Understand your strengths and weaknesses; #24: Your business should be market driven, not product-driven) for in it Nadel moves from sales - what he has a lifetime's experience doing - to manufacturing (in this case, advice), which isn't his forte. And the marketing plan seems a little curious for a "recognised leader in the sales promotion industry"; this is a self-published (and rather cheaply and carelessly published) guide to success in business, penned by an octogenarian biro magnate. A tough pitch, you would think.

Nadel is not deterred. He spends a few self-lionising pages by way of introduction burnishing his own credentials (without really ever saying what he did in business that was so successful, though he was a decorated aviator in World War II) and coaching the reader on how to get the best out of this book. A portion of that relies on the reader casting aside skepticism and just having faith it will work. My "oh-oh" radar was, accordingly, on Defcon 5 as I turned to the first of the 100 rules.

The 100 rules are laid out economically, one per page, usually with a hoary anecdote relating to a commercial skirmish at an ink refill depot in Hanoi, or some such, and they make easy and entertaining reading.

The value of the advice on offer starts with the head-slappingly obvious (and inane) - "find a need and fill it"; "take calculated risks" sort of thing - and astute but useless advice of the "buy low sell high" variety - but does settle down to fairly practical and sensible tips on the everyday cut and thrust of entrepreneurship - how to deal with distributors, lawyers, bankers and the like. As I went on I did feel my initial skepticism melting away, even if nothing ever got close to being a blinding flash of light.

There again, there are rules towards the end which require fairly close parsing so as not to contradict each other (#78: Someone who knows more than you do is not necessarily an expert; #84: work with people who know more than you do, and #65: Think global, start local; #67: Seventy-five percent of the market for American merchandise is outside the United States) though I think this is mostly for want of a good sub-editor than any fundamental flaw in Nadel's outlook.

Ultimately, nothing in here will surprise or alarm anyone who has had much experience in a commercial environment (nor would Nadel expect it to, given it is the distilled summary of his commercial experience).

It strikes me this is good, practical, commonsense advice for your average youngster as he slings his knapsack over his shoulder, bundles up his cat, and heads off to find some streets paved with gold, but where mendacious brothel-keepers await behind many junctions on the way.

Olly Buxton
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