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A delightful Professor of mine, in the midst of his many diversions from the subject he was meant to teach, these trips down byways as fruitful as his main topic, mentioned a most interesting description of the business world. In his opinion all business studies, all business strategy, all business books are predicated on a fundamental assumption.

The assumption is this: There are three kinds of people in the world (1) Finders; (2) Minders; and (3) Grinders.

Let me describe this hierarchy from the bottom up.

At the bottom are the Grinders. Grinders do the work. They work 19 hour days nose to grindstone. They get the work done. Ultimately grinders are replaceable – they are an input to the business, a human input, but an input. You use them till they break and then you find replacements and restart the process. The intake process for investment banks is like this – they hire new associates and analysts every year and work them till they can’t think straight at which point most of them quit. My cousin once shared with me the brilliant statistic that Morgan Stanley changes 30% of its staff globally every year, mostly at the junior level.

Minders are the next step up – minders look after grinders. They tell them what to do, and they tell the higher ups what’s getting done. Minders are middle management – they don’t work as hard, they have some great perks and they generally are no longer considered to be the go to people for doing work. They just get it done.  Minders are more important in the scheme of things – and often a company will make the effort to hang on to a good minder. The problem is that you need minders only as long as you have enough grinders, and say in a recession where the amount of grinders on the payroll declines the minders also become dispensable.

Finders are the top of the pyramid. They are the Partners, the CEOs the Directors. They don’t actually do very much real work. Instead about 20% of their work is public orientated or making decisions. That may involve hours of being involved, gathering information, giving and receiving presentations and generally being the final decision maker for their department or company. The other 80% of their works is essential. They find new clients, use their extensive networks to get things done, wine, dine and play golf with the buyer, and pay attention to the client in all those small details that make things go smoothly. Finders are indispensable, because for any company to survive it needs to retain its best finders. It will never fire a finder except at the last resort, because it will suffer a direct revenue loss if it looses one.

This has interesting implications. This is why we have a disproportionate number of upper class people at the top of the business food chain – their connections enable them to be effective finders. But the more important lesson is that people are what matter. It is the people you know, (how many, how influential, what do they do), that makes a good finder. A finder is either born or made, but he is made deliberately. What you do – the job itself – can be learned as a trade, and you can learn a new one and succeed in it.

If you have the people skills, and the networks to draw upon, then you can climb to the top in any and every profession.

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