Book review: How to Build a Great Business in Tough Times, by Will King

The razor and shaving-oil mogul's book is inspirational - but will it help you run a business in a recession?

by John Woodward
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Today, shaving in the UK is worth about £270m annually, and is dominated by Gillette, which has 70% of the market. Wilkinson Sword has most of the rest - about £50m. By 2012, if Will King has his way, this domination will have waned, and his shaving, skincare and grooming brand King of Shaves - and its Azor razor - will have grabbed most of the market.

A bold ambition? Not really... just another step towards world domination, and if the opportunity presents itself along the way, I'm sure King will transform the banking system too.

King is characterised by huge ambition, supreme self-belief, great focus and a drive based on a history of success. This wasn't always the case, and, I suspect, it isn't always the case all of the time now.

This book is about King, his life and tribulations, his friends, family and various girlfriends/partners, all of whom have shared the successes, heartaches and frustrations. Being close to him is not for the fainthearted.

His early childhood and his relationship with his parents, particularly his father, have had a huge influence on King and his business endeavours. School and the trauma associated with it moulded King's view of himself and others around him. The British educational system has perhaps unintentionally provided the basis for great entrepreneurial success for many, but in contrasting ways: those who benefitted from the prestige and plaudits that academic or sporting success brought and went on to lead the country and the economy in later life; and those who needed to be successful to offset the pain they had suffered at the hands of the system.

King was always looking to excel. It just took him time to find out what he could excel at. Sailing probably gave him that opportunity more than anything else. He gained much-needed solace in a sporting environment, based on a requirement to satisfy his father's passion for sport, and this provided a taster for the future. Sailing made King realise that the smell of success was sweet indeed.

During his early career, he lived on his wits, his parents and his friends - ever the opportunist. He has a scattergun approach to life and missed great opportunities - Skechers, for one - and discovered many dead ends. The Body Glove surfware brand took time, money and lots of energy, and was ultimately unsuccessful. He undoubtedly understands the real need to take risks to succeed, even if it is with other people's money.

His parents did great things for him, the most important possibly being to say no. No to financial support came at a time when they thought King needed to use his creativity and energy in a more focused way. Yet they gave financial help when it was really important.

King understands the value of a great product and will point you in the direction of academia to support his views. Here is the Harvard Rule of Four: 1. Provide a product or service that no-one else has; 2. Provide a product or service that everyone will want; 3. Price for profit; 4. Price for sale.

King sees these rules as an essential requirement for business success. Of course, you then have to sell until you drop. The King of Shaves is the product. It fulfils the rules, and King made it happen with the support of others, and it provides the platform for much, much more. King's SPACE acronym is a reminder of positive business attributes: S = Satisfaction and Success; P = Passion and Persistence; A = Attitude and Action; C = Confidence and Commonsense; E = Enthuse, Exceed, Enjoy

The King of Shaves story is enthralling, inspirational and fun, but does it help you run a business in a recession? It's useful, it's right, it has worked for King. It may motivate you, inspire you and facilitate your positive attitude, but only you can make your business work. You need absolute self-belief - or at least the public image of it - and King's Tiggerish attitude to relentlessly pursue your goals.

The book is probably missing two chapters: one by King of Shaves chairman Herbie Dayal, without whom the company's success might not have been possible and its future less rosy - every business needs a Herbie; and the other by Will's father, who must have his own view of events. This book is also probably the first of a series, as the next five years will be even more interesting.

So, is there an enduring structure and methodology, or is the future determined by King's high-octane personality? I've been involved in international business with contrasting features and personalities, and I've seen spectacular growth followed by even more spectacular falls. I'm also involved in a robust business with solid systems and skilled and motivated people who are sure to become business icons.

Herbie's input is perhaps best characterised by his comment to King: 'Will, you've got a great product, one that works for you. It's not a brand, it may become one, but it's miles off a brand.' King believes that product-based businesses are more likely to provide life-changing financial returns than personality-led service businesses. Is this correct in a difficult financial climate? Time will tell.

It's reassuring to note that wildly ambitious, hard-nosed entrepreneurs have their fragile, sensitive centres and need to be liked and appreciated. However, King is a compelling salesman at all times - I've now ordered the Azor, 'better because it bends'.

This book is a good read, useful as a reference text, and well-timed in a difficult recession. King is forever the opportunist.

John Woodward is group chief executive of the Busy Bees children's nursery chain

How to Build a Great Business in Tough Times: The King of Shaves story
Will King

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