The most important business lesson I ever learned.

When I was younger, oh so much younger than today, I worked for a now defunct, small manufacturing company in Nottingham called “Trent Valve”.

Trent made a range of conventional industrial valves including globe valves, gate valves and float valves. They also sold package of valves they bought at a discount from other manufacturers.

Somewhere down the line they had stumbled upon some really interesting work for the fledgling UK nuclear industry. Those guys needed some really non-conventional, non-standard valves and the managing director (MD) of Trent decided to invest heavily in a stand-alone nuclear division.

I had just joined the company straight out of university and surprisingly the MD put me in charge of this division! Of course the division consisted of exactly two people, me and a young, very bright machinist (who apropos to nothing I remember was sleeping with his wife’s sister. Claimed he was just “keeping it in the family”)

Mostly what we did was work on pie-in-the-sky projects that we had no realistic chance of getting or making any money on. But it was fun – visiting interesting places (mainly nuclear power plants and facilities) and machining exotic materials that were all the rage.

Fast forward 18 months and the old MD has retired and there’s talk of reorganization and possibly even closure. I have heated discussions about the future of the division with the new MD (mainly over cocktails) and the sales manager. “Can’t you see the amazing things we’re making?”, I ask.

And then the lesson – the sales manager explained to me the facts-of-business-life that rings as true today as they did 30 years ago. “There’s no money in making things. There’s only money in selling things!”

(6 months later the company is closed completely – turns out the retired MD has been fiddling the books forever and the company isn’t worth anywhere close to its valuation!)

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