The Greatest Showman – A Hollywood blockbuster or the best business advice you’ll ever get?
The Greatest Showman – A Hollywood blockbuster or the best business advice you’ll ever get?
22nd May 2018Written by: Iain Blair

So I finally succumbed and downloaded The Greatest Showman for our family movie last Friday. Was the hype all worth it? Could I really get accustomed to ‘Wolverine’ singing in a musical? Zac Efron... really?

Well, I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised with the end result and the kids absolutely loved it! But this isn’t a film review; I haven’t woken up channelling Barry Norman (for those old enough to remember who he is)!

On reflection the following day, it struck me that the movie is full of great business advice. Now I’m not claiming to be a business guru or mentor, but a few points struck a chord with me and mirrored my own experiences.  So at great personal risk, I thought I’d attempt to articulate them here.

Before I start though, it should also be noted that I’m no expert in the life and career of P.T. Barnum, and I’m sure his story has been well and truly ‘Hollywooded’, so please don’t judge me on my historical naivety!

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen this movie but plan to, then DON’T READ ON!

A Million Dreams

Clearly P.T. Barnum had these in spades, and you probably do too if you want to set yourself up in business. Having a good idea isn’t enough. Neither is being driven and determined. You need a dream; a vision of what you want and what you want your business to be. Then you need all the well-documented characteristics to get there.

P.T. Barnum took some risks at the beginning to just get himself the platform to start from. Are you prepared to take those risks? As my father-in-law said to me (twice), “If it was easy, everyone would do it!” So true!

Come Alive

Don’t be alarmed if your initial dream / vision / idea isn’t quite what you thought it was when the market tests it. The interesting part of the story for P.T. Barnum was that his initial Museum opening was a complete flop. However, he tweaked the proposition (thanks to his children!) and boom… he was off and running. In my most recent venture, certain aspects of our proposition have been so well received it’s been incredible, whilst some of the ideas which I thought were game changers haven’t really had the uptake I expected. You just don’t really know until you are trading, so just keep reinventing the good and keep evolving.

This is me

Wow, what a belter this song is! Apparently, Hugh Jackman cried the first time he heard Keala Settle sing this! It’s a poignant song, and arguably one of the most famous from the film. However, the lesson in business is even more poignant.  

The Bearded Lady starts to sing this song when P.T. Barnum excludes her and the rest of his crew from coming into the after-party, as his guests are all of ‘high gentry’. NO, Barnum, NO! Never forget the team that gave you your initial success. You are nothing without your people, and this doesn’t matter how big or small you are as a business. I believe a certain Mr Branson is known to have said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

P.T. Barnum was very lucky he didn’t lose everything at this point. I’m sure I may have been guilty of this in my last business as my role changed and my time got stretched, but never again!

Never Enough

So P.T. Barnum had everything – a hugely successful show, a new business partner who came with a new / different client base, and the house of his dreams. However, he thought he was invincible and diversified into something completely different when he fell under the spell of Jenny Lind, the already popular Swedish Opera Singer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t expand or try different markets, but not to the extent he did! He put everything on the line for their global tour. I can speak from first-hand experience about over expanding; it nearly killed my old company back in 2011, when the market turned against us. We had too many ‘plates spinning’ and quite frankly, took our eye of our core business (which was the ‘cash cow’) when it needed us the most. So think of it like gambling – only invest what you can afford to lose. If the stakes are too great, then it’s a really bad idea.


So he’s lost everything, his house has been repossessed, his Museum is burnt to the floor, and his marriage is in tatters thanks to the press accusing him of having an affair with Jenny Lind. He’s had a really bad couple of days!! His wife is walking out the door and delivers the killer line back to him: “Why didn’t you ask me? I would have said yes. I never minded the risk, but we always did it together.” Ouch!

So I’ve set up two businesses in my career so far (the second is still in its early days). I can absolutely tell you that neither of them would have been as successful without the full support of my wife. I’m not getting all gushy here, but the point is that your partner absolutely needs to be behind whatever you are doing. They will feel every bit of the pain – often in a different way – but they are on the journey too.



So in conclusion, what can we take away from this musical extravaganza? Have a clear vision for your business; don’t be scared to adjust or tweak the plan if you need to; look after your staff as they’ll probably make or break your business; resist the temptation to over-extend, if you can’t afford to take a hit; and finally, don’t forget that you need the support of your family every step of the way.


Oh, and if you don’t have the time or inclination to read another business manual, maybe just watch the movie and see if you agree with me! 

Editorial credit: Faiz Zaki /


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