“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”

Posted: 12th March 2012

“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”

I spent years using the quote in this headline and attributing it to George Washington. Committing yourself to print, leads you to check your sources and Google is an awesome tool of enquiry. It seems old George was nowhere near this one. Apparently Mussolini’s son-in-law originated some version of this, which was then adapted by JFK in a speech after the Bay of Pigs. (Three sentences into this article and you have already learned something).

I was turning the quote over in my head on my way home this afternoon. I had been at a meeting in Stratford, in East London. It’s 5 minutes down the road from home. Before getting back on the train I took the opportunity to take a walk around the new Stratford City, Westfield development. It is a modern shopping mall – with piped pop music and two very attractive young men in their swim shorts outside “Hollister” (fashion outlet for young people). My teenage daughters and their friends used to go in to the West End to have their photos taken with these characters outside Abercrombie and Fitch – and now it is only 5 minutes down the road – they are elated. Ok, it is just a shopping mall encouraging “the worship of Mammon”, but I remember the wasteland that was here before and so for me it was stunning!

Last weekend, I roped the family into a tour of the Olympic park. Again it was stunning. We were taken into the aquatics centre and as we came out to re-board the bus, our party were busy taking pictures of the stadium and the Anish Kappoor iconic art thing (actually I love it). My daughter faced the opposite direction and I caught her taking photos of the Westfield shopping mall. Yes she will compete in Stratford in 2012, but it will be in the bargain hunting event just across the way from the Olympic stadium.

I played some small part in all of these developments and I would claim to be one of the “fathers” of what is clearly a success. Of course I didn’t mastermind it and it wasn’t all down to me. But my fingerprints are there at the scene somewhere.

People in our business change landscapes and improve lives. We don’t do it on our own and whether we are the Chief Executive or the local supervisor we play our part. Often it takes successive Chief Executives and local supervisors as we pass on our contribution to the next wave.

Sometimes we must pause to reflect on our contribution and not be afraid to point to our fingerprints at the scene. On the 5 minute journey home, I was one of the “fathers” of the success that has arrived in East London. We all have similar stories and we should all take time occasionally to reflect on our contributions to success.

Chris Wood is the Altair partner leading on development and regeneration. He was a former Chief Executive at Newham Council. Speak to Chris on 07932 693292

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