Be prepared to take the advice that you ask for – Part II

When I was doing my MBA I took a course that required me to write a comprehensive business plan. It was my first attempt at doing something like this so I was open to advice and input from my prof and others. I sought out people who had both experience and perspective so that my plan would hit the mark. Not only was this a learning opportunity, I would receive a grade for the course and that mattered to me.

Girl dressed as a business women

One of the requirements of the course was to share the finished plan with a banker to ask for the needed financing. I was delighted when my meeting with the banker started off with him saying that mine was the best business plan that he had ever read – not just from a student, but from business people intent on bringing an idea to life. I asked the obvious question – “So, you would give me the loan that I outlined in my plan?” Without even a moment of hesitation, he said, “Oh, no, I would never give you a loan.” Surprised, I carried on with the required assignment and asked for his input on why not. He said that I was simply too young and therefore not a good lending risk. He said that if I did 2 things I would be a much more qualified candidate for a loan – get older and get a CA (chartered accountant) designation.

The advice to get older was both discouraging and infuriating. It was discouraging because part of the assignment was to win the loan, and in that I had clearly failed. People who are young and eager hate being told to get older – then and now. I was annoyed that he hadn’t even tried to sugar-coat this piece of advice but had blurted it out in what I could only describe as a harsh way.

The advice about getting a CA was something that I had not previously considered. The banker had gone on to explain that a CA would do a few things for me. First, it would be a further investment in my skill and knowledge. Second, it would allow me to get a little older. Third, it would give me instant credibility in situations with bankers and others looking at taking a risk on a business.

I finished my project and wrote up the report from my meeting with the banker as required. I expressed my disappointment at not getting the loan for something that was described as the best business plan that the banker had read but I indicated that I had both heard and appreciated the input and advice that I had been given. I shouldn’t have worried about the impact on my mark for failing to get the banker to approve a loan, because I got the grade that I wanted.

Over the next year I kept coming back to the advice about getting a CA. I started to look into what that would entail and how and where I could get an articling position. Within a year I was headed down that path. I got my CA and stayed with the CA firm for just over 8 years before starting my own business with my husband.

That piece of advice has stood the test of time – it worked for me and added the credibility that we needed in our business at various times. I dare say that without it, we would not have secured the bank financing that we so clearly needed. I am no longer a CA, having been unable to afford the annual dues at a precarious time in our company’s history, but the knowledge, perspective and mindset have stayed with me and served me well through time. It was great training.

I have thought many times about the sage advice that I was given at an important time in my career. The banker could have said that same thing to everyone for all I know. I actually don’t care where the advice came from or what his true motivation might have been for giving it to me. All I know is that it was meaningful to me and led me down a rewarding career path, and for that I am grateful.

People have to make sense of their own lives and direction. We all have the opportunity to thrive or to flame out. That’s what makes the game of life so interesting. We all find our routes forward, and there are as many ways to have a great life as individuals contemplating their futures.

I appreciate the help and guidance along the way from people with an interest in seeing me succeed and from others with no future stake in my success. Many have helped me find my way along a path with seemingly endless options. Great advice that I am glad to have heeded.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.