Last week saw the launch of business ‘helper’ David Hall’s latest and last book – Telling Tales – Lessons From a Lifetime Helping Businesses Succeed.
Here Hull’s Phil Ascough, a respected author, journalist, media and PR consultant, takes a closer look with the writer.
Even after presenting a Bafta-winning BBC TV show David Hall doesn’t have the profile of other corporate heavyweights, but he is credited by those captains of industry with helping to shape the success of countless businesses in the Hull area and much further afield.
He remains one of our region’s best-kept secrets, better known in boardrooms around the world than in his own East Yorkshire back yard.
David was in on the ground floor with Keepmoat, the product of a construction sector merger which continues to transform large areas of Hull. He’s worked on projects of all sizes with some of the city’s most celebrated companies and as a founder director of For Entrepreneurs Only he has shared his insight with start-ups and businesses looking for a step-up.
Throughout his 40-year career David has used the writing process to review his own work, bringing out a new book to close a chapter. At 71 he says Telling Tales is likely to be his last book.
(Image: Management Books 2000 Ltd)
That doesn’t mean retirement; it means selecting only those projects that interest and inspire him, and adapting his communications skills to shorter forms, columns for print and web, snippets for social media.
The tributes which greeted it provide plenty of evidence of the demand for David’s insight and of the variety of businesses which have benefited so far.
David Kilburn, executive chairman of MKM Building Supplies, described the outcome of David’s work with the start-up which became the UK’s largest independent builders’ merchant as “staggering, with improved sales and profitability”.
Paul Sewell, chairman of The Sewell Group and himself author of a page-turning memoir Half A Lettuce, contributed: “David Hall knows about entrepreneurs and he knows about business. He is not another one of those who appear to have knowledge and expertise, he is authentic, and this comes from decades of being immersed in this world and its characters.”
The stories of David’s dealings with both businesses are among the highlights of the book. Others include Hull-based firms at a much earlier stage of their development.
Matt Dass of Eon Visual Media made significant improvements to the bottom line after David identified and solved a problem with staff time management. Martin Lauer at The One Point credited David with helping to grow his business tenfold.
(Image: Reach Plc)
In one of the most heart-warming stories, David tells how “bored housewife” Sally Wray shocked her husband by declaring out of the blue that she was going to buy a business. A re-mortgage, redundancy money and her rigid determination combined to ensure she kept her promise and now, after buying and re-branding a tool hire business to launch Go Hire, she supports others by running the FEO start-up programme.
But business is never a breeze and Telling Tales includes a number of unvarnished stories of stumbling blocks and of disasters avoided just in time as David realised things were not quite how they had been presented.
A training commission in Indonesia didn’t quite live up to expectations and, closer to home, the antics of a clothing company boss careering from one catastrophe to another display David’s talent for capturing pure comedy.
Telling Tales was adapted from a series of blogs into a book because David hopes it will provide some of the answers to problems facing businesses battered by lockdown, furlough and other effects of Covid-19. Accordingly he devotes one section to survival techniques for homeworking.
Other tips include specific references to businesses and to the benefits that accrued from applying the toolkits which accompany the collection of case studies. Mark Eggleston, managing director of WJ Group in Hull reveals his business made significant improvements to sales and profits after adopting David’s ideas.
(Image: Reach Plc)
In outlining his approach David also reveals that for him learning is an ongoing process. Every project triggers new ideas which can be shared with other clients, sometimes directly. He took directors from the long-established Hull-based family jewellery business Hugh Rice to learn from his contacts at Keepmoat, and the lessons which proved so helpful to Eon came from a prominent Hull law firm.
Readers will detect a drive and desire to succeed, doubtless derived from his upbringing on a council estate in York, David’s aspirations limited by his father’s PTSD as a survivor of the Battle of Arnhem.
Because of his size and perceived lack of intellect David was advised to get a job in construction, but he was so poor as a plumber that he was confined to the office before a training officer sent him for careers guidance.
David writes: “I completed several psychometric tests and according to their careers expert their conclusion was ‘you should be a journalist, barrister or management consultant’. I couldn’t spell and didn’t fancy wearing a wig so I plumped for management consultancy, which sounded pretty good. I had no idea what it meant.”
He had demonstrated a determination to make and seize opportunities at an early age, facing bouncers from Fred Trueman and learning from Geoff Boycott how not to do teamwork during a trial with Yorkshire County Cricket Club, so he found it easy a few years later to pluck up the courage to speak to the man who would become his mentor.
(Image: Hull Daily Mail)
A reluctant attendee at a speech at York University by the renowned business consultant and author Gerard Egan, David saw the light, stuck around afterwards to meet the man and demonstrated such enthusiasm that he was invited to Chicago to find out more. He went the very next week.
The consultancy career which unfolded included setting up his own business, a nationwide venture with 120 people, and selling it after his first book, The Hallmarks for Successful Business, brought an invitation from the BBC to co-write and present the Bafta-award winning series Winning in 1992 and Winning 2 in 1994.
More books followed along with academic recognition and a reputation for straight-talking. David was awarded a Visiting Professorship by Curtin Business School in Perth, Western Australia, in 2002 and was made an Honorary Doctor of the University of East Anglia and the University of Essex in 2009.
Telling Tales and the interest which it has begun to generate even under the restrictions of lockdown could be about to change all of that.
Speaking from his Hotham home, he said: “Entrepreneurs are inspired by tales of other entrepreneurs. They recognise aspects of themselves and their energy and self-belief are ignited. That’s the key to this book, providing valuable lessons told in the way that entrepreneurs prefer to learn – from those who have been there and done it.
“It’s very rare to get so many real-life influencers and achievers in the same place, even in a book, and hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to bring some of them together, hear them speak for themselves and provide others with the opportunity to
learn. I wouldn’t miss that because even having spent so much time with these fantastic businesses over the years I still get the feeling that we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.”
Telling Tales – Lessons From a Lifetime Helping Businesses Succeed, written by David Hall and published by Management Books 2000 Ltd, is available online now.