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Scaling New Heights

posted 26 Apr 2020, 22:24 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 28 Apr 2020, 00:35 by Philip Pogson ]
The book of growth for small and medium size businesses

A significant percentage of business books focus on large organisations. In addition, they often draw their material from a familiar short list of likely suspects: companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. In days gone by it was the industrials: GE, Ford, Shell, BHP etc that dominated. Fewer academics and consultants turn their attention to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). If they do, the result is often a “how to” manual rather than a thoughtful compendium of distilled reflections and wise advice. In addition, it is still relatively rare that the business exemplars and case studies provided are from Australia and the Asia Pacific region rather than the US. 

Scaling New Heights is a recent release by Craig Saphin. Saphin is an Australian senior executive cum coach and consultant who has worked in diverse roles across Australia, China and Asia – including a significant period of time as Executive Director of technology and HR services company, en Japan Inc., which is publicly listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Given Saphin’s diverse Asia Pacific experience, and his actual achievements in scaling up and growing enterprises, it is not surprising that this book does not follow the well worn path laid out by many of its predecessors.

Growth framework
Scaling New Heights draws together a range of research, personal experience and interviews with leader-managers in a 5-pillar structure:

1.    Business Foundations
2.    Sales Strategy
3.    People and Culture Strategy
4.    Strategic Marketing; and:
5.    Operational excellence

The pillars
The first pillar, Business Foundations, advocates for a strong focus on developing a concrete, long term vision for the business, something that is often lacking in SMEs. The owner/operators of small companies can struggle to get past day to day problem solving and achieving monthly stay-in-business sales targets. It is hard to find time to focus on where they want to head in the medium to long term. The reality is, all SMEs are busy. Most owners are pulled in many directions at the same time. The enterprises that grow don’t allow themselves the busyness excuse. They make time to think about and plan for the future.

Distinctiveness is important. There are some well made observations in the book about the naïve approach that even some large Australian companies take when expanding locally or overseas. Many set growth objectives despite not really understanding what will make them genuinely distinctive and competitive in a new context, country or culture. In this regard I enjoyed Craig’s interview with Arun Nangia who revealed that he regularly asks his leadership teams one penetrating question: Why will we win? It’s a great question and one that I will ask more often! Variations might include: what do we need to do to ensure that winning this year translates to winning next year (and the year after)? And: Who among our competitors could beat us - and what are we going to do about it? 

The focus on sales and marketing, key planks for any SME with ambitions to grow, is welcome. Saphin approaches sales and marketing from the perspective and constraints of a small or medium business. I never got the feeling he was scaling his advice down from a Big Business playbook, for example, whereas several of the principles he lays out for smaller enterprises can readily be scaled up.

I was pleasantly surprised by the attention given to people and culture, and on developing in-house talent rather than automatically reaching for the external recruitment lever. This is an area of business success that is all too often glossed over in the SME literature. Saphin is a strong advocate for business owners investing in staff training and development, particularly for the under 35s. He recognises that development and training are are not one and the same: training is for skills acquisition while development is about one’s longer term career and focus. 
There are some no holds barred missives for new managers embarking on their leadership journey: 

"A new manager has to learn how to be selfish by treating their time as a valuable currency; trading the currency at pre-arranged times as much as possible."


The fifth Pillar, Operational Excellence, emphasises adopting efficient and effective IT systems and mechanising/automating key processes. There is sound advice for business owners and leaders around the necessity of acquiring the accounting and financial skills they need to enable the business to scale up. I have observed a reluctance among some would be leaders to get in and "do the numbers”, particularly if they come from an HR or non-accounting background. In reality, if you want to lead a successful enterprise you should know the numbers as well or better than anyone - with the possible exception of your accountant or CFO.

The operational excellence pillar is rounded out with sub chapters on risk and compliance, financial reporting and insurance. Saphin does not avoid the all important topics of how to structure one’s company – the various modes of incorporation, partnerships and joint ventures - and the advantages and disadvantages of undertaking mergers and acquisition versus driving internal growth. On the former, I am still surprised how little business owners and executives know about the available options for corporate structure, share ownership and governance – and how little thought they give to which corporate structure is most appropriate at what stage of their business development. A key question being when and how to bring independent directors onto the board, if at all. On this vexed matter, well informed is well-armed! 

Real life examples make for authenticity
When one gets to a certain age – Craig Saphin and I are of approximately the same vintage – there is often not much in a book like this that is genuinely new. It is typically how the author synthesises ideas, advice and research in new ways that provides the value - and Saphin organises his ideas creatively and effectively. 

I particularly enjoyed the relatively long vignettes (interviews) that were included in the book. The interviewees were refreshingly honest about their ups and downs as leaders. There was none of the ego and self-promoting hype that can plague business publications and make them feel inauthentic. 

I also appreciated the fact that successful women were featured, not just successful men, a balance that can still be missing, even in 2020.

In conclusion
Scaling New Heights can be read in a 3-4 sittings or on a chapter by chapter basis. Either way, it is well worth the investment. Although targeting SMEs, much of the content is readily applicable to larger enterprises. I found that I re-acquainted myself with ideas I already knew, but also learned some new tricks. What more could any of us ask of a business book?

Information on purchasing Scaling New Heights can be found at -

Philip Pogson FAICD
On behalf of Stuart Jones GAICD and Office Manager, Michelle Stewart

Philip has been a company director, Chair and business owner for more than 20 years. He consults and advises on strategy and governance across a range of business sectors. 

Mount Stetind in Northern Norway - Philip has climbed this (not quite to the top!)