The Secret Entrepreneur: Keeping schtum

Our CEO refuses to talk business in public places - and for good reason - you can never be sure who's listening, as he witnessed first hand...

As an entrepreneur, I think that one of my most important tasks is to shout about my businesses from the rooftops. It’s my job to be our leading brand ambassador and spread the good word. Except for here of course, that’d ruin the secret.

That’s why I drag myself to so many conferences and networking events – as I’m about to do tomorrow, fortunately to a conference in sunnier climes than London right now. As I’ve already explained, I travel a lot.

Over the years, I’ve learnt that the one place where I never talk business – at least not anything that I wouldn’t mind being attributed to me – is on public transport, or in fact anywhere there’s a chance of being overheard.

This frustrates the life out of my wife, and many of my colleagues. But early on in my career I watched someone learn the hard way that you never know who’s listening, and ever since I’ve gone to great lengths to make sure I never repeat their mistake.

I was travelling on business, with the ‘grade-A lunatic’ I’ve mentioned before, in the time before his decline really began. We were waiting for a flight, in a small foreign airport in the middle of nowhere. We weren’t there for a conference, just to finalise a last minute deal that had come up.

Tired from a full day of meetings, we sat down on one of the rows of seats you get at departure gates everywhere and quietly drank coffee to give ourselves enough energy to survive the trip back.

Two rows in front, someone with their back to us was on the phone, speaking to their office back home. They were clearly pretty annoyed and began getting quite loud and animated. I couldn’t help but listen in, pleased for the distraction from the dull airport surrounds.

What followed was an eviscerating evaluation of a client they were obviously working with. They clearly didn’t like this guy. Swearwords were uttered. Many times.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I turned to the lunatic to nudge him and see if he was listening too. No need. He was staring at this person, and clearly getting pretty angry.

Then it clicked. They were talking about him! Thousands of miles from home, in a random city, we’d sat two rows back from one of his suppliers (also based back home) who’d chosen that moment to bitch about him.

A few moments later our flight was called and we stood up to join the queue. The supplier turned around, then recognised him, skipped a beat and said a panicked hello, unsure if he’d overheard. He just nodded and said nothing.

We got back to the UK and nothing more had been said of the incident, until the next day, when one of the lunatic’s staff came in to my office and asked me if I knew why this person at one of their key suppliers had just been fired…

Read previous Secret Entrepreneur columns here on Startups.co.uk.

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