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Winning and losing likeably

21 February 2014

Pat Ashworth on an  elephant man's story

Travels with an Inflatable Elephant: Attempts to make things happen and not happen
Jerry Marshall
Instant Apostle £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THE clue to the very likeable nature of Jerry Marshall's book on entrepreneurial leadership is in the subtitle: Attempts to make things happen and not happen. It can be taken at face value: he initiates ambitious projects to create something, such as a call centre in Palestine, and campaigns in oppositionto things such as, notably, HS2, the high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham.

But failure is also embodied in those words. The outcome of both these initiatives is, to date, not what he had striven for. Entrepreneurs take risks: you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you have to accept being the catalyst. God, he declares, honours those who step out in faith.

It is a disarmingly honest autobiography and handbook, from a Cambridge economics graduate who confesses that his first seven years in engineering management were not a success. On the personal front, he admits to having had little self-control with women, and had pondered, therefore, whether his best strategy might be to hold off becoming a Christian until after he was married.

The book is full of sound advice born of sheer hard work and experience, and tempered with a lotof humour: say yes to every opportunity unless there is a good reason to say no; don't undercharge, butbe generous with your time. Goals where you have not agreed the price are merely daydreams. Do not throw your business discipline away because of your compassion for the poor. Naming a rat after a girl you like is not recommended.

He went into independent consultancy, developing research-based marketing strategies and practical action-plans for small and medium enterprises. A family man with a passion for sailing and adventure, he lives life at a gallop, working on projects all over the world.

The inflatable white elephant (above, with author) that became the symbol of his campaigning group, HS2 Action Alliance, and which featured on the memorable "Euston, we have a problem" billboard, still commands attention. Someone once told him that everyone should do one audacious new thing every year - a maxim that became his favourite guideline for the life he wanted to live.

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