Take a walk on the wild side

If you want to get ahead, be a tiger. Roger Trapp looks at a jungle book for entrepreneurs
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The Independent Online
Business autobiographies have long taken their place on the shelves alongside management textbooks and the latest prescriptions from academics and consultants. But while they often have entertaining tales to tell, books chronicling the careers of the likes of Lee Iacocca tend not to have any but the vaguest lessons to offer readers.

John Imlay is different. Sure, he has a great story to tell - about how he helped save a company. But he also has some principles to ram home, too. Hence the title Jungle Rules, How to be a Tiger in Business.

Basically it is a series of pithy nostrums with the history of the turnaround of Management Science America (MSA) built around them.

Though the volume has sold about 40,000 copies in the United States there have been doubts about how it will play to a more conventional, less aggressive British audience. But there is a lot that will appeal to go-getting entrepreneurs here.

Take for example his entreaty to "believe in fate, but stalk your goal". The point is that though he believes the jungle rules apply even to "unconquerable" types they tend to make things happen through their attitude and persistence.

To illustrate this he describes a receptionist at MSA who had remained the epitome of calm and helpfulness throughout the company's bad times and then sought an opportunity in marketing. Mr Imlay said yes and she used her knowledge of the organisation to become "rookie of the year".

At a time when organisations of all sorts claim to be sacking entrepreneurs within the outfit, he argues that there is not much point in seeking out these energetic, often iconoclastic, types only to fit them into the corporate straitjacket. There is also advice on firing: "Dirty work is best done cleanly." When he and Gene Kelly, a business partner, took over the ailing MSA they were confronted by executives who were confident that they could not be fired because they had been hired on large salaries and long contracts.

Mr Imlay pointed out to them that while he could not sack them he could transfer them from cosmopolitan Atlanta, Georgia, to remote Waco, Texas, without meeting their removal expenses, and require them to work for "the meanest guy in Waco" for the remainder of their contracts. "They lined up, took minimal se-verance pay, and left that day," he says. The motto: decide what is to be done and act swiftly.

Those who remain must be motivated and the key is ensuring that "them that does, gets". This means that the "rainmakers" or big business winners get the biggest share of the spoils. But Mr Imlay and Dennis Hamilton, his co-author, insist that it also involves rewarding support staff who enable star performers to operate. The trick is to reward people with what they want. He has found, for instance, that while sales staff might want grander holidays, technical staff often want the opportunity to meet somebody at the leading edge of their field. "You have to handle each group differently," he explained while in London last week.

More avuncular than the book makes him sound, Mr Imlay is now chairman of Dun & Bradstreet, the information company to which he sold MSA. Thanks to the gamble he took when accepting the MSA assignment in 1971 he is wealthy enough to own a share of an American football team and to be able to indulge his passion for golf spending three months a year at another home in Scotland.

q `Jungle Rules' is published by Kogan Page.