From Crew to Captain: Interview with David Mellor

David Mellor is a business mentor, honorary senior visiting fellow at Cass Business School and author of a number of books on the theme of moving from being an employee to being a business owner.

As part of his career in commercial and investment banking, David became one of five partners in an in-house strategic investment fund, where he joined the boards of three US companies. Here he specialised in relationship management and developing commercial acumen in early stage technology businesses, so they could more effectively pitch for funding.

He now helps MBA students make money from their intellectual capital, to become consultants, trainers, coaches; which is not an easy transition. Here a key challenge is moving from being a subject matter expert to a business person without any organisational infrastructure. There’s a whole range of things they may have never done before, such as preparing a business plan, a cash forecast, or indeed selling.

A first step is understanding the skills inventory they’re going to need in order to actually be successful in this new role. They then work together to establish which activities they can do, which areas they could be trained in, and which to outsource.

“It’s helpful to do some self-awareness work or emotional intelligence. Because the better they know themselves, the better they can start reading signals in other people. They can then start thinking about adapting their behaviour to better match the way the other party wants to be communicated with, which increases the chances that you can build an initial rapport, which leads to a relationship, which leads to a sale.” – David highlights.

He recommends Prism as a tool for developing adaptive behaviour, to build a better rapport, whether for leadership, building high performance teams, stakeholder management, sales or winning hearts and minds in change management.

“50 percent of new businesses don’t last the year, and 80 percent are gone in five years. Part of my job is to help people beat those odds.”

David highlights three key issues that business struggle with:

  • Understanding the level of risk they are taking and how to reduce it
  • Cash flow and underestimating the difficulties in getting paid
  • Choosing the wrong partners

Much of David’s experience and advice is included in the Crew to Captain trilogy, based on his successful workshops. The three books cover setting up a business, establishing a consultancy and growing and scaling businesses. He suggests the following three important actions:

Develop your leadership brand: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos defines this as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” How do you build a leadership brand which you would like to be your legacy, what you would like to be remembered for? David’s annual appraisal at Deutsche Bank said “gets results because of his people rather than at the expense of.” He reflects: “It’s very simple, easy to remember, and that is actually what my reputation in the banking world was based on. Either turning around underperforming teams or building high performing teams from scratch.”

Understand about dealing with people: Learn how to lead, to get your staff engaged, so that they want to be part of an operation that is scalable for sustainable, profitable growth. When networking, simplify your message, so you make it easier for the other party to get it. If you don’t make it simple, their level of recall or whether they remember you at all is going to be very low.

Communication has to be 90 percent about the client, and 10 percent about you. You have to enter the client’s world, don’t expect them to come into yours.” David warns subjects matter experts in particular. He suggests building rapport, playing back the picture of the client’s world and where the pain is, and then reassuring them that you can help to make that pain go away. This mirrors his works with his own mentoring clients:

“Starting up and running your own business is a desperately lonely place to be. Having somebody that you can use as a sounding board, where there’s a mutual trust and respect, is a huge benefit.” As for the person who would most benefit from mentoring, David describes somebody who has the self-awareness to realise that they don’t know everything, can’t do it all on their own and they view it as an investment in their success.

David is also the co-author of Inspirational Game Changers, a previous W.H. Smith’s Business Book of the Month. It includes interviews with thirty-one entrepreneurial leaders from the private, public and voluntary sectors; those who had done something different and impactful, or ‘changed the game’. Some of those featured are names you would know, others are up-and-coming people. Each short chapter charts the journey the interviewee has taken, their biggest challenges, key decisions, where they got lucky, and the lessons they would like to leave with the reader. At the end of the book, shared insights and lessons are included making it an inspirational read.

David Mellor has developed a portfolio of activities which derive principally from 25 years’ experience in commercial and investment banking with HSBC and Deutsche Bank.

His consultancy activities embrace strategic planning and implementation, and mentoring existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. He published From Crew to Captain in 2010, written for people making the transition from working for big institutions to working for themselves. He has followed that up by launching From Crew to Captain: A Privateer’s Tale in 2014, which is written for people establishing consultancy practices. The third book in the trilogy –From Crew to Captain: Commander of the Fleet is available here.

Eszter Molnar Mills

Eszter Molnar Mills

Strength-based Leadership and Organisation Development Consultant at Formium Development
Helps organisations and individuals reach enhanced performance by harnessing their strengths, reflecting on what works, and developing skills and strategies for improvement. Eszter is the Programme Director of Chartered Management Institute (CMI) qualifications in Management and Leadership, and Management Coaching and Mentoring.
Eszter Molnar Mills


Organisational development consultant, trainer & coach at Formium Development. Passionate about building strengths in #business & #leadership. Leads WIM London
RT @GailJSays: 15 February listen to @EszterMMills explore some of the most common mistakes managers make when it comes to getting the best… - 3 days ago
Eszter Molnar Mills
Eszter Molnar Mills

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Eszter Molnar Mills

About Eszter Molnar Mills

Helps organisations and individuals reach enhanced performance by harnessing their strengths, reflecting on what works, and developing skills and strategies for improvement. Eszter is the Programme Director of Chartered Management Institute (CMI) qualifications in Management and Leadership, and Management Coaching and Mentoring.

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