Another conversation with Paul Zisman, September 22nd 2015.

When I interviewed Paul six months ago he was focused on accelerating building a significant world class financial advisory business. He had perfectly good reason to feel confident. Europa was already known, respected, growing and his own energy and appetite for growth had become increasingly more urgent. But, of course, success for smaller businesses is seldom easy.

If Paul could, he would snort at this. Who wants or needs “easy”?  Here’s what the best- selling US business author Patrick Lencioni says:

“The high point of being a leader in an organisation is wrestling with difficult decisions and situations. Truncating those high points just doesn’t make sense.”

Whilst Paul already has a distinguished career as a banker and corporate financial advisor he now has a much more intimate and hands-on relationship with clients. And he has no intention of truncating the processes which lead to a smarter or a richer deal. He’s enjoying his high points:

“I adore the challenge of the assignments I do. Each one is different. There’s never (nor should be) an easy fix. In 2015 it’s about being creative, smart but most of all operating on a completely discreet basis…..the best deals are all going to be below the radar. ”

Six months on and he has a long list of clients and he’s just completed one major assignment – the biggest in the recent history of Europa. But his life is not focused just on numbers and business. His love of the arts makes him a more interesting person and where we see his urge to understand the drivers in the marketplace of creating audiences.

The Cardinall’s Musick, which he chairs, have had a stellar year already and – to come – the Cambridge Music Festival and Spem in Alium at Christchurch, Oxford. Their year ends on New Year’s Eve at the Wigmore Hall. Under Paul’s steady gaze and leadership they are flying high.

He also chairs the London Sinfonietta which is at the leading, sharpest edge of new classical music. Tours of Mexico, Lithuania, Latvia and Huddersfield are coming up. And they are constantly in the news …” a remarkable feat of ensemble, precision and sheer virtuoso performing skills.” (The Times.)

So this has already been a good year for Europa and Paul. But what’s new?

He pauses.

“Yes, it’s been good for me and great for the family. But…nothing is clear or certain any more. Who’d have believed a Conservative majority, England winning the Ashes, Jeremy

Corbyn becoming leader of the Labour Party, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders (unlikely Republican and Democratic hopefuls in what was anticipated as a simple Bush v. Clinton shoot-out?) Oh, and Japan beating South Africa in the Rugby World Cup….we live in uncertain times.”

Uncertainty creates new opportunities. Because it’s when others are confused that the weight of experience and the structure of Europa pays off.  Paul is thoughtful and above all discreet – he decries the impulsive, high-profile deal-making that’s been prevalent recently.

He’s interesting and refreshingly enthusiastic is Paul Zisman. But this enthusiasm is underpinned with his being smart, calm and somewhat reticent when interviewed.

“Look this isn’t about me or Europa. It’s about quietly fitting businesses together so everyone wins. In reality it’s best that no one knows we’re even involved. I regard myself very much as the silent advisor operating behind the scenes.”

(Richard Hall who interviewed Paul has written a series of business books for Pearson. His last, published at the end of 2014, is a study of thinking in business “How to Solve Problems and Make Brilliant Decisions.”)

 

A conversation with Paul Zisman, May 6th 2015.

I like Groucho’s. For me it’s full of memories of many legendary lunching advertising figures, of Jeffrey Bernard and of post prandial actors talking very loudly. I’m meeting Paul Zisman here. He’s none of the above but he shares all of their intensity.

Paul has a distinguished career as a banker and corporate financial advisor. He founded and he runs Europa Partners, which has been recently re-launched and is making an impact in this crowded space. And he looks more at home in the creative atmosphere of Groucho’s than in the spreadsheets of Bishopsgate.

“I adore the challenge of the assignments I do. Each one is different. There’s never (nor should be) an easy fix. It’s like mixing cocktails. It’s how you mix the ingredients and in what proportion that matters.”

This intensity and passion fills his life. He chairs the incredibly successful Cardinall’s Musick – who with, this year,  seven London concerts, the completion of their 7CD set of Tallis for Hyperion and an Irish tour are flying high. They are wonderfully rich in talent and accomplished. He also chairs the London Sinfonietta who, at the leading, sharpest edge of new classical music, are making extraordinary new sounds. Two days after the 2015 election they launched a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with sixteen newly commissioned works entitled “Notes to the new government” – an apolitical but musically intense vision of the society we might dream about living in.

When I suggest he’s something of a “Renaissance man” doing all this, he is scornful. He watches little if any TV, sees a live performance opera, play or concert almost every night with his wife but he’s not a dilettante. He’s, perhaps, one of the most focused people I’ve ever met…and someone who’s trained himself to listen (more of this later.) For most people their default mode is wandering about and wondering. He is rigorously and intensely focused.

It’s a slight surprise that this slightly professorial figure was a rower at Oxford.  He was Captain of the Boat Club at Worcester College but focused on the University Single Sculls and Double Sculls which he won. But again that intensity of focus suggests this is totally appropriate. Rowing is about pushing yourself, pacing yourself and focusing on winning.

This has already been a very good year for Europa and Paul. He reckons he’s lifted the company’s game to new levels of “listening, creativity and targeting”. He denounces the grapeshot approach of some competitors. “A deal at any price is a terrible strategy” he says. The right deal at a good price leaves all parties happy and a successful new business platform for the future.

Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their mould breaking book “In Search of Excellence” created the idea of “ready , fire , aim” exhorting management to speedier action. Zisman resolutely disagrees.

“That’s a fast food attitude to business. Preparation is everything. Just as great chefs get their plan right before they light the gas – mise en place is their credo – so it is with us. Prepare, analyse and think. The better we work out how to achieve a good result the better that result is likely to be. Think, analyse, plan.”

Paul Zisman doesn’t strike one a man who snoozes much. He is highly active. He walks and thinks. He listens more than ever before. And he’s always taking in new ideas, cultural, economic and commercial.

“As I get more experienced I’ve found I’ve become a better and a more active listener. I know consultants who are trained to ‘own’ the debate and drive the argument. I think that’s…”I expect strong language from him by the level of his animation …”I just think that’s a mistake. I learn from my clients. I learn how they are different by listening to them and hearing them reveal their real story not by telling them stuff.”

I’ve known Paul for many years. I’ve never seen him so focused, so intense and at the same time so relaxed.

“I’m concentrating on doing a few things brilliantly and I’m having a wonderful time.”

By listening … to music … to clients … and to opportunities.

(Richard Hall who interviewed Paul has written a series of business books for Pearson published in over 24 countries. He has just completed four books for a new Business Express series and at the end of 2014 a study of thinking in business “How to Solve Problems and Make Brilliant Decisions.”)