Consolations of Philosophy – Lessons for an Agency FD

As a latecomer to philosophy I’m struck by how much I’d have gained at an earlier age by an earlier study of the subject. Even at my more mature age there is still plenty to learn from the greats of the ancient world and whilst there’s nothing about revenue recognition there is a surprising amount that can apply to managing an Agency. Here are a few examples.


Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall easily gain what others have laboured hard for.


Wisdom begins in wonder.


Agency Finance Directors can get a little insular. You’re likely to be in a minority of one. However, help is at hand, as the odds are that someone else has come across any problem you encounter, whether it’s technical or commercial. Reading around your subject, talking to peers, keeping a sense of curiosity about your business and your industry is vital. Socrates knew what he was talking about.

No man ever wetted clay and then left it, as if there would be bricks by chance and fortune.


A self-evident but well expressed truth. Building a successful finance department or a successful agency is not going to happen by chance. It requires knowledge, direction and hard work. Working out the key drivers of your business and building a strategy and culture that delivers profits year in and year out is the target.

A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.


This looks like an odd one to pick out for a Finance Director. However numbers are useless without context and knowledge. Together they are a powerful combination but you can’t run your agency on numbers alone.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity


Enjoy present pleasure in such a way as not to injure future ones


Luck has little to do with making your Agency successful. Hard work, a clear strategy and talent are the basic ingredients. Throw in careful and prudent cash management and you should also be able to avoid Rapier’s fate.

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.


Big results require big ambitions.


Character is fate


You cannot step into the same river twice.


Heraclitus of Ephesus was a self-taught philosopher who had a tendency to misanthropy and had a shaky hold on DIY medicine. He died shortly after treating himself for dropsy by covering himself in cow manure and baking himself in the sun. Dodgy physician but insightful philosopher.

Agencies must keeping changing in order to keep ahead and must have an ambition and a passion. As an FD it might be your job to temper that ambition with some reality but better that way around.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.


Aristotle was a polymath who wrote about physics, logic, linguistics, ethics and biology as well as writing poetry, plays and music. Apart from putting most of us to shame he put his finger on an eternal truth. Call it practice makes perfect; calculate that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert but we have to put the preparation in. Mastery of the subject matter is under our control, whether it’s a Board meeting or a procurement negotiation.

So, as well as democracy, science, oratory, art and straight roads the ancients have also given us some clear hints at running a successful agency. Read widely, prepare thoroughly, don’t take yourself too seriously and have the enthusiasm to think big but keep enough cash tucked away for a rainy day. Follow that little list and the ancients will help your agency today.

The author has been helping Agencies make more money for nearly 20 years now. To have an initial chat how this can be done please contact him.