Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next. —Jonas Salk
Raise your right hand if intuition plays a part in determining life-changing decisions such as where you want to live or what your career should be. I won’t bother telling you when to put your hand down, because you probably haven’t moved a muscle.
Most people don’t trust their intuition. They depend on facts to guide them—not feelings. Then there are people like entrepreneur Graham Backhouse who puts faith in facts and feelings.
As an example, I give you that classic cliché-tribute to intuition ‘love at first sight.’ To Backhouse it’s more than a worn out figure of speech. It was his first step on the road to happiness, a thriving business and a new home in a new country.
Bitten by the love bug
As he explains it, “In 1987, when I first laid eyes on San Francisco, and later Southern California, I fell in love with both places and decided to make my home in one of them.” This was a rather momentous decision since the home he would be leaving was a continent and an ocean away in Sheffield, England. So was his wife, Dot.
To further complicate matters, his spontaneous California love affair occurred during his first visit ever to the U.S. He knew no one here except a neighbor from Sheffield living temporarily in San Francisco as a participant in a U.K.-U.S. doctor exchange program. He would be going home soon, which did not in the least upset Graham or his plan to live and work in California. Clearly, the die was cast.
Once it was decided where he and Dot would live, the intuitive Graham yielded the floor to the practical Graham, whose research showed that the Southern California city of Long Beach offered a market with greater sales potential for his product than his beloved city by the bay.
Graham the poster boy
So he rented an apartment in Long Beach and went to work importing artist-designed posters from England. The posters promoted concerts and other special events there and on our side of the pond as well. Some eventually became valuable collector’s items.
Graham teamed up with a woman in Los Angeles, supplying posters to her at wholesale prices. She, in turn, retailed them throughout the L.A. area.
Discussions with her soon convinced him that L.A. had the most to offer, with its huge population of young people and the possibility of success amid the glitzy, glamorous, free-spending entertainment crowd. Then, of course, there were sales to be made at swap meets and local stores.
Made for each other
Confident in the future, Graham decided that the time was right for Dot to leave England and join him. “Having her with me made life even brighter and still does,” he said.
Leaving Long Beach meant pulling up a few deep roots for Graham. In addition to his import business, he filled the then-vacant building manager position where he lived. Prior managerial experience and considerable expertise in home repairs, clinched the job. And with it came added security. But intuition backed by additional research convinced him it was best to move on.
It sounds like everything was coming up roses, but painful thorns came up as well. The most distressing one plagued the Backhouses for 10 years. That’s how long it took for them to be issued Green Cards. Without the cards they could not apply for U.S. citizenship.
The big, bad bureaucracy
“It was a decade filled with fear that one day we would be sent back to England,” he recalled. He noted that “coming here with hopes of becoming a citizen is not for the faint of heart, but for us it was worth it despite the bureaucrats.”
Once the decade of anxiety passed and the greatly relieved couple finally gained citizenship, they settled into a normal life. Dot and Graham have lived in Los Angeles for 25 years, giving Graham’s passion for Southern California plenty of time and plenty of reasons to cool. But he insists it never will.
No longer a poster salesman, he owns Graham’s Property Maintenance Company, which is doing quite well in home and building repair, renovation and remodeling. He also manages the 24-unit apartment complex where he and Dot live.
The good guy rules
Graham has indeed achieved his major goals in business, also in life. Along the way he followed four rules of the road that made getting there easier and a lot more fun. “Whether you’re an employee, a business owner or corporate executive, they’re worth checking out,” he said.
First “LOVE YOUR WORK. Don’t go into it with reservations of any kind. If you do, the job will eventually become drudgery. As a result, you will become unhappy and, most likely at some point, unemployed. If you take a job strictly for the money, you run the same risk.”
Next “KEEP LEARNING. These days, things change faster than ever—for better or worse—in virtually every field. Read everything you can that’s related to new developments and future plans in your field. Talk to co-workers and superiors about what’s happening in your own workplace. Keep pace so you will know exactly where you fit in and how to continue to fit in and prosper.”
Do unto others
Third commandment: “SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE WITH PEOPLE WHO MAY BENEFIT FROM IT. I find that people who are good at what they do quite often are more than willing to show what they know and how it’s done correctly. It’s a matter of taking pride in their achievements.”
It’s also a matter of good business, Graham believes.
“For example, suppose you’re a computer consultant. A customer calls complaining he can’t get on the Internet and hasn’t the slightest reason why. He needs you right away. Instead of popping over and charging for a service call, you ask for all the details; then patiently walk him through the solution over the phone. Result: Problem solved in less than an hour. And thanks to that free walk-through and explanation, your customer can handle the situation himself if it happens again.
Because of your thoughtfulness and generosity, you’ll most likely be the first person he calls the next time the computer gives him trouble. If it’s a major problem, the price will far outweigh what you would have charged that first time around.”
There’s always room for more
Finally “DON’T HIDE FROM THE WORLD. INVITE PEOPLE INTO YOUR LIFE. When I encounter a stranger who looks particularly interesting or is doing something that interests me, I usually walk up to him or her, introduce myself and strike up a conversation.
Carpenters, plumbers, electricians and handymen are among my favorite targets. I’ve learned a lot from them–often things I use in my own business.
I see a friendly encounter with a stranger as a welcome change for both of us. That’s because of the polarization among so many people today whose so-called firm beliefs boil down to dogma. This often translates into ‘It’s my way or the highway’ and creates hard feelings.”
Act your age
Graham might have added a fifth commandment to the list for young people starting out—EXPERIENCE LIFE. Try different jobs to find, or perhaps sharpen, certain skills. Moreover, the interaction with a wide variety of people will be a valuable education in itself. An education in which Graham was an A-Plus student.
“I honestly believe I had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) when jobs were involved. As a young man in England I was constantly bouncing from one to another,” he declared. His job history includes: men’s clothing salesman, bricklayer in a steel mill, fresh bread supplier to stores and a driver for the Sheffield police.
The job he looks back on most fondly was making and selling candy in his father’s store. “I started out at age seven washing the jars that displayed the candy and worked my way up,” he recollected.
Working his way up has become a way of life for Graham Backhouse. A happy, satisfying life at that.