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Humble Crumbles: Savouring the crumbs of wisdom from the rise and fall of Humble Pie

Paul O’Donnell and Sylvana Caloni
Available for purchase on Amazon


When you pick up Humble Crumbles  you feel two conflicting emotions simultaneously. On the one hand, you ask the inevitable question “do we really need another business advice book on entrepreneurship”? On the other, you feel drawn to read it because of the intriguing title, which is so different from any other business book title. I recommend that you succumb to the curiosity and delve into the first and subsequent slices (aka chapters). The feast that awaits you is a rich mixture of insights, humour and pathos leavened by great pearls of wisdom, derived from real life and from years of coaching practice.

In Humble Crumbles  you will experience a vastly different business book, which in many ways is almost a modern version of a Greek play, transplanted into the world of the entrepreneur. Throughout an easy-to-read and sometimes light-hearted dialogue, you are a silent partner in a conversation between two experts. They tell a fascinating story of the rise and fall of an idea and a brand. At the same time, they share knowledge and advice informed by life’s lessons as well as by the expertise of a highly trained executive coach. The end-game of these experts is to help you consider how your personality, your values, the people in whom you put your trust, ultimately your decisions, shape the outcomes and ultimate fate of your enterprise.

In this drama, Paul O’Donnell – highly-successful international banker – is the playwright, the main protagonist and the principal actor. You are there with him when he describes his vision of transplanting to the UK the tasty pies he eats at Mrs. Horner’s shop in Sydney. You are as convinced as he is that Humble Pie, the brand and the products, could set a new trend of wholesome and delectable fare for the family dinner as well as the hungry office worker at lunchtime. You nod when he declares that the pies will be made from the best ingredients, allowing him to price them at a “mid-level premium”. You admire the ingenuity that gets the pies into Harrods’ food hall alongside multiple branded outlets and even a branded van.  And you salute his intent to reposition pies and the experience of eating them from the “cheap and nasty” snack to a beloved and affordable real food.

Along the way you meet an array of characters who are helping, advising, sometimes interfering, in Paul’s journey toward what seems to be a winning innovation in the world of food. You never fear for the money aspects of the business; after all, this is an experienced and renown banking and financial services man. Alas, as in all Greek tragedies, hubris catches up with Paul. In a woeful tone he finally admits defeat and eats humble pie, as Humble Pie, the brand and the business, fold and walk off the stage.  Unlike most Greek plays, here the gods do not arrive at the last minute and intervene to save the hero or his reputation.

Instead, you meet the after-the-fact commentator, the Greek chorus in this play, who offers insights into what might have happened, and discusses many of the “must do’s and must haves” of successfully translating a winning idea into a winning enterprise. Sylvana Caloni, the second voice in this dialogue and an experienced and highly rated executive coach, enlightens you about some of the underlying assumptions and actions that might have prevented and/or caused the sad end. She also places great emphasis on some unusual prerequisites for success. The role of personality traits, ambition, values and relationships with one’s friends and fellow humans are not normally considered KPIs, when compared to hard performance indicators that are measurable and quantifiable.

And yet, in Sylvana’s experience and therefore in  Humble Crumbles  you realise that these “soft skills and traits” are the critical success factors that matter most, especially when a person is trying to build a brand new business in an unchartered market and an unknown-to-the-entrepreneur industry.

At the end, you find yourself both challenged by an unusual perspective on business success and affected by a very human story of a failed dream.  I have not ever encountered such an innovative and informative combination in any business book I have read.  I find Humble Crumbles unique in the way it addresses the old question of “how to succeed in business, especially your own”.  This is the reason I believe this book is a “must read” for anyone who wants to translate a dream into a going concern. It should also be on the reading list of corporate giants, who must breathe new lives into their business…or ultimately fade away.

Edna Kissman, Social Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO at The Wonder of Me



The term “small business” can be devastatingly misleading.  The word “small” subconsciously suggests something easy, simple, or less complex; that because you’re small, somehow you’ll be excused from having to cover the full range of skills and functions of a business.  While the word “business” suggests the most pervasive and pernicious myth of running an enterprise: that somehow you put aside your personhood when you step into the office – your emotions, your blind spots, your biases, your personality.

In easy to digest chapters, this little book explains away those myths, and reveals in an encyclopedic way, what it really takes to run a small business.  It’s not just “how to” but a “who”:  who you need to be to be successful.  As Humble Crumbles  explains, the answer to that question is not some sexed up rock star video – it’s the every-day reality of self-awareness, listening, balancing realism with enthusiasm, managing expectations, and managing yourself.

Humble Crumbles  covers the entire life cycle of a small business and expertly reviews it through multiple lenses, but always with its feet firmly grounded in reality, not hype. Paul’s story tells the good with the bad:  he is highly talented, intelligent, incredibly hardworking and energetic, and very effective.  Creating a multi-location business, including a concession at Harrods, is no small feat. He also has the courage to cover the reality of what happens when things go wrong. Paul tells his fascinating personal story and experiences, and layered over it, like a rich buttery pastry, is Sylvana’s wise, compassionate, grounded commentary and coaching, which has the depth of her maturity and experience.

The book is relatively short, but it is dense with ideas and concepts, concisely explained, all delivered in a warm, approachable style. I recommend reading it first from cover to cover, and then dipping in and out, so that you can fully absorb the different perspectives.  I know I’ll be coming back to it again and again to pick up another idea, and to review the advice from a new understanding, as my own experience progresses.

Victoria Silberbauer, COO, Agate Systems Ltd