Music fans who still enjoy the social process of browsing for their next purchases in physical stores breathed a sigh of relief on 5 February, when news emerged that high-street stalwart HMV had been saved from administration. Even better, the man who snapped up the brand – and 100 of its 127 branches – proved to be someone with a passion for the field.
In an 8 February interview with The Guardian,  entrepreneur and self-confessed “vinyl nut” Doug Putman set out his vision for the new version of HMV that he aims to coax from the ashes of the old, saying: “We are getting away from the corporate mentality where every store is set up the same – we have to move away from that and let each store have its own personality. I want to unlock the passion and creativity.”
The interview also reveals that Putman owns four record players – but only started collecting vinyl when he purchased Canadian music-store brand Sunrise Records in 2014. In the process of building Sunrise up from just five outlets to 80, however, Putman’s passion for physical media has intensified.
“I honestly don’t think there’s an industry like it,” he told trade journal Billboard adding: “People love it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just an absolute great industry. The passion seeps into you pretty quickly and although I’m nowhere near as educated on bands and groups as some of the buyers at HMV and Sunrise, it is just fun just to listen to them and understand the business more and more.” 
Putman – whose family runs 40 businesses – has clearly caught a bug for music retail that is driving his decision making and corporate leadership. However, in a recent Forbes column,  consultant Susan O’Brien cautions businesspeople against falling too heavily under passion’s spell, advising: “Instead of looking towards the things you are passionate about, think instead about the things you are good at. What skills do you have? What kind of work do you enjoy doing? … Think about the people you admire professionally, whether you know them personally or not. Then ask yourself what it is about them that you admire and is that something that you could emulate?”
She adds: “If you focus on your strengths and what you know you can do well, rather than what you are passionate about, you’ll end up with a much more realistic and achievable goal or plan for success.”
Is this sound advice?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Many people have capabilities that they may not sufficiently value or recognise – but they don’t necessarily want to utilise them either. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t always mean that you want to hurl all of your energy and focus in that direction. There may be another driving force in your life that is more attractive or appealing, and that’s what you decide to follow.”
She points out: “One of the most interesting parts of Putman’s comments is his frank admission that he relies a great deal upon the expertise and insights of his buyers at HMV and Sunrise. So his passion for the music business in no way precludes him from seeking out the more finely tuned advice he requires for a more detailed overview of what’s happening in the sector. He acknowledges that he doesn’t know it all, and that he needs other people to fill in the gaps. His passion hasn’t obscured those simple practicalities.”
Cooper notes: “A time-honoured adage of business is, ‘Find a job you love, and you’ll never have to do a day’s work for the rest of your life.’ There isn’t much of a distinction between that outlook and passion – unless, perhaps, we’re talking about particular social causes. There may be a cause, or pet project, that you are passionate about, but doesn’t have a great deal of business sense attached to it. In that case, your bias may be tilting too heavily towards your passion, and you could be running the risk of failure. But again, you may be able to make up for any knowledge or capability gaps on that front purely by connecting with the right people.”
She adds: “My essential message, then, is that passion is not enough. But goodness me, it’s certainly far better than having none at all. Passion creates a motivational energy in organisations that enables leaders to bring their people with them. It encourages staff to believe that they are doing something worthwhile, makes them care and urges them to go above and beyond. And, as we can see in Putman’s case, passion in leadership doesn’t always have to trigger an abdication of responsible – or, indeed, collaborative – behaviour.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out The Institute’s resources on inspiring others
Image of HMV dog-and-gramophone logo courtesy of chrisdorney, via Shutterstock