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A Business Forum Book Review:

  The Insider's Guide to
Growing a Small Business

Peter Richman

hether assessing professional counsel or choosing a book, two qualifying questions are paramount. First, has the authority been a successful player in the real world -- a winner? And second, is the authority able to transfer and/or communicate the skills responsible for these successes to me effectively? New management titles are being added every week to the over-flowing shelves of bookstores, many bearing the esteemed names of authors from either the top ranks of business or the academic community. But most of these titles are disappointing because they fail to meet one or often both of these criteria.

          Peter Richman has founded and then sold two prosperous electronic instrumentation ventures. First, he co-founded Rotek Instrument Corporation; after four years, Rotek was acquired attractively by a subsidiary of Schlumberger Limited where Richman continued as vice president of this subsidiary (Weston Instruments) for three years. Subsequently, he founded the KeyTek Instrument Corporation, a designer/manufacturer of pulse simulators and electrostatic discharge test equipment. As annual sales approached $10.0 million, KeyTek was acquired attractively by a subsidiary of the Thermo Electron Corporation (Thermo Voltek Corporation); eschewing active management, Richman is a member of the Board of Directors of Thermo Voltek as well as a new affiliate, Thermo Sentron Inc. Thus, Peter Richman meets our first criterion, he is clearly an authority who has been a successful player in the real world -- a winner!

          And his book meets our second criterion. The Insider's Guide to Growing a Small Business: Straight Advice from One Who's Been There (Macmillan Spectrum, a Simon & Schuster Macmillan Company, 326 pages, $19.95) communicates the skills responsible for Richman's successes most effectively. This is one of those rare management titles that is, in fact, a useful and user-friendly resource for the busy owner/manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur. Richman explains, "This is the book I was always looking for — and could never find -- when I was running my own company. It gives down-to-earth help for the CEO interested in growing an already-existing small business, not just in starting a new one." Well organized and reinforced with a meticulous index, it offers an abundance of pragmatic information and seasoned insights.

          The success of the smaller business is inevitably based upon:

  • People-savvy: "... being able to understand what drives investors, commercial bankers, board members, employees, consultants, customers, lawyers, accountants, investment bankers, even the public," and

  • Future-savvy: "... both awareness and anticipation; using future savvy is "living forward" by visualizing future scenarios."

          This book demonstrates how to use people-savvy and future-savvy to enhance your control over and success in each business situation you face:

  • "With every relationship: Employees, suppliers, customers, investors, bankers, ever competitors;

  • "With money: Understanding it, monitoring it, controlling it, mastering its use every day. That includes protecting the property you've bought with it and optimizing the results of the legal negotiations involved every time money changes hands; and

  • "With yourself: Optimizing your own use of time, drive, initiative, business sense, management skills -- and your own mental health."

Richman(02) Photo          With challenging titles such as, "First, Be the Prophet of Profit," "Getting More Money," and "Cash and Backlog," this book is organized into 16 chapters spanning the full range of business functions. Each chapter is peppered with illustrative mini-case studies, dozens of "Problem-Solver" sidebars, and concludes with a hands-on chapter checklist. Richman's knowledgeable experiences are the fiber of this book, but it carefully avoids the veteran's proclivity of disintegrating into "war stories."

          Significantly, the closing chapter, "Growing Along With Your Company," is a perceptive examination of personal growth. "Get used to your changing roles as the company grows: entrepreneur, boss, mentor." Richman believes fervently that, "Growing a business is one of the greatest stimulants there is." He emphasizes that you must "... use self-knowledge to prevent your ego from interfering with good business sense. In the last analysis your ego belongs on the bottom line." He concludes: "Always, always stay fully and currently informed on your financials and your sales -- with emphasis on factors key to your cash and backlog."

          Among the profusion of "how-to" and "self-help" books crowding the sales shelves, The Insider's Guide to Growing a Small Business is truly a practical daily operating manual for the owner/manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur. Its exuberant closing: "Never forget to enjoy it all spiced with the knowledge that you'll never be bored."



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