The daily rituals of business builders; In my experience, very few successful founders are late risers

January 14, 2014 3:28 pm

The daily rituals of business builders

By Luke Johnson

In my experience, very few successful founders are late risers

We cannot replicate the minds of geniuses: but we can know and perhaps copy their working habits. This is the premise of a fascinating little book called Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey. He examines the schedules of artists, philosophers, writers and composers. But what about entrepreneurs, inventors and tycoons? What are theirdaily rituals?For sure, it involves graft. As Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn said: “Work only half a day. It makes no difference which half – the first 12 hours or the last 12 hours.” In my experience, very few successful founders are late risers. William Chase, the ex-farmer who created Tyrells Crisps, and now runs Chase Distillery, said: “I used to worry a lot about money, and that got me up early in the morning. If it’s a business where you’re producing and making things there is no early – the sooner you start, the more you can do in a day.”

Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, is frequently described as a workaholic who begins emailing staff at 4.30am; he prides himself on being the first in and last out of the office.

Many entrepreneurs I’ve observed have high energy and cram a lot into their day. While Jack Dorsey was working at both Twitter and as CEO of Square, he would do eight hours at the former and then the same at the latter. Interestingly, he themed his days: Monday running the company, Tuesday products, Wednesday marketing, Thursday developers and partnerships, and Friday culture and recruiting. Such a pace is easier when you are young. But Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man – aged 85 – still wakes at 5am to catch the news, while setting his watch 20 minutes fast to be on time for appointments.

I like entrepreneurs who go out and touch operations, meet staff in the field and talk to customers. Last year I spent a day on the road with Vernon Hill, the chairman of Metro Bank, where I serve as a board member. He spends much of his time viewing possible sites, checking up on the competition and monitoring service levels first hand in his business. There is no substitute for doing it yourself and being seen on the frontline in person.

My friend Tim Martin, the relentless boss of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, roves around the country dropping in on his taverns at least one day a week. I am sure such behaviour is a vital ingredient in the company’s winning formula.

Certain creative bosses need sessions to reflect and cogitate, undistracted from the endless calls on their time. Thomas Edison apparently used to sit in a “thinking chair” holding a ball bearing in each hand. He would close his eyes and relax. As he unwound, the balls would crash to the floor, which awoke the great man. He would then transcribe his first thoughts, unimpeded by day-to-day worries.

Similarly, Sir Clive Sinclair, the under-appreciated British technology pioneer, does not use email because he finds it interrupts him. I know the feeling – in this digital age, we are all too easily diverted, even from core tasks that require real focus.

Todd Stitzer, the ex-chief executive of Cadbury, told me he spent the first two hours of his morning strictly undisturbed by meetings, phone calls or emails. He used that time to consider the big issues. Similarly, Bill Gross, the inspirational leader at Pimco, believes the most important part of his day is a yoga workout between 8.30am and 10am. He says: “Some of my best ideas literally come from standing on my head doing yoga.”

W H Auden, the poet, said: “Routine, in an intelligent man, is the sign of ambition.” I am not sure I agree. Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, refused to allow his day to be organised. In his book, Made in America, he wrote: “I think my way of operating has more or less driven Loretta Boss and Becky Elliott, my two secretaries, around the bend. My style is pretty haphazard.”

I’m a little the same: it allows room for serendipitous meetings and calls, and to concentrate on what is important rather than what feels urgent but does not matter. Time is all about priorities, after all.
Twitter: @LukeJohnsonRCP
The writer is chairman of Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and The Centre for Entrepreneurs


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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