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Issue #26: Let's Get Down to Business (Acumen)

Happy New Year and Welcome to our first issue of 2015!

We have a great feeling about this year, not only because 2014 may have been the best year for women since the dawn of time (a bit of hyperbole there from Charlotte Alter, we like!) but because this looks set to continue with some amazing women making up half of the New Year Honours List, women holding 22.8% of FTSE 100 Board positions (up 82% since 2011) and a host of extremely admirable and yet grounded women being celebrated in the FT's Women of 2014 list. 

Successful women seem to be popping up everywhere! But how do we measure their success? Here at S&P we often focus on the softer skills: leadership, passion, selflessness, resilience but in reality, and definitely in the corporate world, the biggest measure of success is money. Yep, as Stevie V would say, Money Talks.

So if it's all about the Benjamins, what is this elusive business acumen that we are supposed to be honing? In this issue, we explore what commerciality looks like through the Stanford Class of 1994 VC (that's Venture Capitalist) lens and some tips on how to get your money spinning ideas heard (before Lord Sugar tells us we're fired!). 

We also check out Terry Crews' new book on manhood and see if Mr Smith's annual Dryathlon is going to plan in our Man's Corner.

Happy reading!
x  foong
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Issue #27 of Suit & Pie is out on the 22nd of January. Subscribe here to receive it straight to your inbox and catch up on past issues in our archive. You can also read the Suit & Pie story here courtesy of
Show Me The Money!
According to Ms Liza Minnelli, Mr R Kelly and Mssrs Cent, Banks, Buck, Yayo and Kidd (aka G-Unit), it's Money (and not Love) that makes the world go round. You can be the nicest, most confident, eloquent, intelligent, networked and all-round amazing person out there, but if you can't turn that into cold hard cash, then you're going to find it hard to buy stuff and generally stay alive (ok that's an exaggeration, you'd probably be able to bunk on your mate's couch). 

So what is business acumen, that quality that will allow you to monetise your ideas and get ahead in your company? What does it look like in practice and how do you get your great suggestions heard?
The Biz
Business acumen, if defined literally, is "a keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome". The less literal (and preferable) definition would be "an intuitive and applicable understanding of how a company makes money". 

At S&P, we would take this definition further and say business acumen is "an intuitive and applicable understanding of how a company makes money and the ability to use this understanding to develop processes and practices which will improve the company's performance", this could be through the development of completely new areas of the business or by improving existing ones.

The best companies are the ones that encourage workers of all levels to suggest improvements and give them enough freedom to try them out.
One of the best examples of business smarts in action is that of the Stanford Class of 1994. This class of 1,700 students graduated from Stanford "the day the web was born" and went on to shape and make Internet history. Amongst them, an Olympic gold medallist, a talk show host, but also the co-founder of PayPal, YouTube, LinkedIn and Yelp (yep, we are talking multi multi billionaire), the co-founder of Whatsapp and a venture capitalist who invested in Twitter when it had only 25 employees.

Although the Olympian and talk show host were women, the multi-billionaires were men. "The Internet was supposed to be the great equalizer - founded on the primacy of individual liberty and a commitment to pluralism, diversity, and community", so why did the women play a support role instead of "walking away with billion-dollar businesses"?

Here are a few of the reasons given and which still prevail in the VC world today:

- Although a number of women became entrepreneurs or worked for tech start-ups, they became more risk averse once they had children and therefore moved to more stable jobs. 

- The women (and other racial classes) did not benefit from the close-knit bonds formed between the white male students who went on to create billion-dollar businesses using the ideas, ethos and group bonds they had honed at Stanford.

- Julie Wainwright co-founder of The RealReal says "It is harder for women to be taken seriously as entrepreneurs, and to raise money. There are fewer VCs than there were during the first dot-com boom, and VCs now expect entrepreneurs to look like them - young and male." 

Yes - it is sad times for women entrepreneurs, however this is a widely acknowledged problem within the VC world and steps are being taken to redress the balance (see in particular the Women's Venture Capital Fund which only invests in businesses with at least one woman in a leadership role - as gender diverse teams were found to be more profitable).
Hear, hear!
Unfortunately, we aren't all tech-wizards. So how, do you get your boss to buy into your new time-saving, profit-making idea (it may not be worth a zillion dollars but it may help your next promotion)?

Often managers in the middle ranks who deal directly with customers are in the best position to identify problems and promote the need for change. However it can be difficult to raise these ideas to a strategic level in a company with a top-down culture. Here are a few of our favourite tips from HBR:

1. Tailor your pitch: If you want to sell your idea to those at the top, it is essential to get familiar with their personal blend of goals, values and knowledge and to allow that insight to shape the message you put forward.

2. Frame the issue: Explain how your initiative fits into the bigger picture and what the business benefits of it are. Focus on the positives and don't hesitate to create a sense of urgency if needed (an opportunity not to be missed!). It also helps to bundle your idea with related ones so that it can benefit from any larger initiatives

3. Get the timing right: It is critical to find the right moment to raise your idea. Notice when more people are beginning to care about a larger topic or trend that is related to your issue and position your idea to 'catch the wave'. Be aware of deadlines - research shows that when a deadline is far away, open-ended inquiry can be more effective than proposing a specific solution.

4. Manage emotions on both sides: Research shows that people who keep their emotions in check (even though the topic can be emotive) feel more comfortable raising issues and are more successful in promoting their idea. Understand and manage the decision maker's emotions too, seek to inspire positive sentiment by focusing on benefits and possible action.

Here's to change from the middle - Good luck!
Socks & crumbs (or the bit at the bottom)
Heard it through the (corporate) grapevine...

- DrivenWoman is a network for women with ideas and ambitions who want to achieve their goals. It was founded by Miisa Mink and Jennifer Stoute.

Find out what they're all about at their LifeWorking events, 2.5 hours of 'me-time' where you can find your passion, set goals and get inspired by the stories of other like-minded women, and at their Taster Session on 12 January. 

- On 17 January, the Inside Out Academy will be hosting a Women In Business workshop on designing the life you want. Great way to start 2015!
This week I will be...

- watching Interstellar at the IMAX Theatre in the Science Museum (very cool being in the Museum after hours - no, none of the exhibits came to life)

- hobnobbing at the Chiltern Firehouse. Amazing food, the friendliest staff and a great atmosphere. Absolutely worth the hype!

- cracking up at the 40 funniest tweets of 2014 (still laughing at no.35!)

- loving Nora Ephron's quote in the 15 Quotes Every Woman Should Live By
It's a man's world - maybe we aren't so different after all 
How to Be a Better Man or Just Live with One is the title of NFL-player-turned-actor Terry Crews' new book in which he shares his personal experiences around the expectations of being a man and how he came to redefine his ideas of masculinity.

Mr Crews, who has been described as a 'hyper masculine tough dude', talks about how he came to realise that he had always defined success as a man as being able to control those around him with aggression and intimidation but had to seriously reconsider this view following the threat of his wife leaving him.

The Brooklyn Nine-Nine star was the keynote speaker at the What Makes a Man Conference held by the the White Ribbon Campaign in November. White Ribbon is the world's largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity and a new vision of masculinity.

The conference challenged traditional notions of masculinity and introduced different ways of being a man, beyond the traditional 'man up' definition.

Mr Crews was also interviewed by The Agenda sharing his insights on Being a Man, Feminism and the Mindset that Leads to Rape. Watch the insightful interview here and check out why he is still the Manliest Man Ever (yes, that's him nip-syncing!). 
Mr Smith's Corner
Mr Smith gives us his thoughts for the week.

Highlights: Welcome to 2015 all! I am returning refreshed after 2 weeks at home over Xmas. The International Space Station (ISS) flyover on Xmas eve just managed to swap the Santa 'non-believers' in our house for another year - good work! In fact it was so convincing that Santa was left 2 extra bottles of Becks with his mince pie and carrot - which came in very handy whilst I was on last minute wrapping and battery installing duties. 

Lowlights: Having spent my formative years at school playing Top Trumps at break time - a coping mechanism so I didn't have to speak to girls - it was with some confidence that I sat down with No.4 son for a game of Steve Backshall's Deadly 60 Top Trumps. Steve Backshall has God-like status in our house with the boys and Mrs S following his stint on Strictly Come Dancing (for the record I am more of a Pixie Lott man myself). Previous experience is a poor guide to form as I was thrashed by a four year old twice in a row, but I did get revenge later at Connect Four...

Lesson learnt: No Dryathlon in January for me this time, and "Just Say No" is so 1986 (that brings back some memories!), so instead I am having a "Just Say Low" alcohol January which seems far more sensible. I am also going bread free in January, although Miss Foong is claiming that pizza is also out on that basis... so let's just call it a "Just Saw Low beers and bread" January - this is getting easier by the minute!
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