General Sir Peter Wall: Growth in uncertain times

We recently hosted a breakfast with General Sir Peter Wall, Amicus and private equity teams. Peter, CEO of Amicus and former chief of the British Army, shared his insights on how to create conditions for growth in uncertain times.

Here are my thoughts on what investors can learn…

Mind the execution gap

  • It’s easy to run a business when things are going well. More difficult when things aren’t going quite so well.
  • Strategy defines the expected actions but there is often an execution gap. ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy,’ says Helmuth von Moltke, but often plans don’t even survive contact with your own side, whether that’s because of people or events. So always be prepared to adjust your plans quickly.
  • Teaching people how to think is better than telling them what to think. Particularly around managing uncertainty and people’s attitude to risk.

People remain front and centre

  • Next couple of years will be about managing individuals while everyone works towards the same cause. Companies must reward loyalty.
  • There are three tiers of workers, the old school, the young, and the somewhere in between. The old and the somewhere in between have been through turbulence in the past. They’re not necessarily going to be better at handling it, but they have seen it before and emerged out of the other side. Focus on how the older generation can help the younger generation to get through this.
  • Transactional is bad. Staff need to be responsible, responsive, alert and motivated. Businesses thrive when they bring their people with them. They do this by getting them behind good ideas, aligning them with the strategy, leading them well and looking after them. After all they are your highest cost.

Leadership is better than management

  • Have a clear vision and trust the lieutenants to make decisions on the ground.
  • Don’t shut down dissent, work to see the way through. Prioritise effectiveness over efficiency (value versus cost).
  • Effective senior leaders support the team leaders to get things done. Equally they know when to call it quits (you can hold on to people for too long).
  • Leaders take time to think deeply about issues and get the whole team thinking together.
  • Reverse mentor: bring in the youthful ideas and innovation and partner them with those who’ve seen it before.


Quality of the senior team: is it creative? Can it adapt?

Behaviours: There’s been a shift in behaviours. How have management adapted to get to know their people better? Is the focus on building a cohesive team around the right incentives?

Value: There’s a risk in the bad times that people focus on cash; who is talking about value? Resilient teams are those that pick up and action these things quickly.

Partnership: When making an investment, think about price/structure/partnership – the latter is as important.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to get the best from your people and create value in times of uncertainty, please speak to myself or a member of the Armstrong team.


Amicus is a strategy and leadership consultancy; they help companies create sustainable results by bringing out the best in their people. You can learn more here

General Sir Peter Wall, recently spoke at an Armstrong event at the In & Out (Naval and Military Club). He shared his thoughts on what leadership needs to look like in prolonged periods of uncertainty, read more here.

Simon Hemsley, Partner

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