Nicola Murphy My Biggest Mistake: Careless talk paid off in end

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The Independent Online
Nicola Murphy, 35, joined Procter & Gamble as a trainee and spent six years there before moving to The Publishing Team as sales and marketing director. Then she left to set up River Publishing with business partner Jane Wynn

I LEARNT a salutary lesson from my biggest mistake - I thought I was going to get the sack, but it enabled me to move forward.

The mistake happened one night at my previous company when I went out with my boss and his associates, and ended up having one drink too many and telling him how to run his business. I wasn't very polite. I woke up the next morning and thought I would get sacked. I even rang a client and said I thought I'd get the sack, and he said: "Would that be such a bad thing? Perhaps you and Jane should considering running your own business."

I had obviously said enough that night to generate a response - I got a pay rise. The two people who owned the company, The Publishing Team, wanted to leave magazine publishing and go into consultancy. They asked myself and Jane to run the business for them, but offered us a ridiculously small amount of money, effectively 5 per cent of the company each, to run it, with our current salaries, which weren't that high. My client's remarks had made me think there were better ways of doing it. That was the start of River, and the client - IBM - moved with us.

At first I thought my comments to my boss had been a mistake, but then I was thinking about the criticisms I had levelled and I realised I'd meant what I'd said. One thing I had noticed is that you should always employ people who have skills that are complementary to, or better than yours, people who have a strong aptitude. And you should pay people extremely well, or they go elsewhere: at River we do a salary review across the industry every six months.

In a lot of small businesses, it's difficult to avoid the "director syndrome". What we have done here is to employ a former director from Emap and set up a system where if you have a grievance you can go to your one-up manager. There's a clear structure. We also get people involved and have management meetings at all levels, so people feel they are involved with the product and the relationship with the client.