People, personality and relationships are the key to business


Dr Jonathan Deacon, lecturer in Marketing, shares his perspective on what makes a small business a great one.

For most of my life my parents were in business.  My father is a mechanical engineer and my late mother a florist and plantswoman. About fifty years ago my mother founded the family florist business and was an early investor in Interflora – the business is still a family concern and my sister is now MD.

We can trace our family’s mercantile activity back several generations within the South Wales and West area, so I think it was inevitable that I would also enter the world of business somewhere and at some point. 

Before academia, I was successful in business, founding a portfolio of business operations before exiting via a management buy out. I moved to business consultancy and achieved equal success. I have held directorships and non-executive directorships and continue to take an interest in entrepreneurial small firms.

My business experiences continue to influence my research activity and, of course, my teaching. I often think what my mother would say about much of what I do – which keeps my work grounded in reality!

I have to admit to being somewhat of an academic late starter and when I enrolled at university as a mature student I realised that the majority of the entrepreneurial and marketing theory being used at the time overlooked the social reality of small businesses. The things that had made me and my businesses successful were missing from the ‘text books’ in the university library and in the content of the lectures! This perplexed me for a few years – then I met Professors Carson and Gilmore of Ulster University and I realised that there were a small but growing number of researchers who shared my views. I am proud to say that I read for my PhD under the supervision of Carson and Gilmore and their work continues to influence my own and also my PhD students' thinking!

My own research is focused on how small firms and, critically, the people involved in them develop, survive, grow and sometimes fail. I believe that all organisations are about people and how people interact with each other and in context – often irrationally and without formal business plans. The fields of entrepreneurship and marketing contain many similarities – however few researchers have explored the interface between the two, fewer still explore the ‘context specific’ nature of this activity. 

Many, many firms do not conform to ‘text book’ marketing or management approaches, yet are highly successful. As researchers we should ask why this is the case and find out what are they doing? Then we need to share our findings with people who can use our insights to develop their own approaches, their own business models and their own successful contexts – like students and practitioners.

I can’t ever see myself getting bored of what I do as my work blends the fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, evolutionary economics and business modeling. Business, research and teaching are all about people and people are fascinating, creative, irrational and complex! 

Everyone wants to know what makes a successful business. In my opinion it’s great people who embrace change and build relationships.

I consider every small business owner in Wales a star. They are fundamental to our economic prosperity - without the small business community we would have massive unemployment, greatly reduced community resources, little to no innovation and an even lower level of social aspiration. I'm not sure we as a country do enough to recognise the wealth of talent we have in our small firms and the amount of social good that they develop - but to me they are, every one, superstars!