So what is your “most valuable asset”?

I hear people regularly refer to their people, customer database or intellectual property as their most valuable Asset. So in my blog at, I have put my view on these and now I would welcome your thoughts on the matter. Let’s start a debate.

Your most valuable asset.

 Listening to the news the other night, I heard someone refer to Intellectual Property as a company’s most valuable asset – I think he was an IP lawyer, but earlier that day I had heard an HR specialist at a lunch say “people are our most valuable asset”, and I am sure I once heard customer databases referred to as the most valuable asset of supermarket, so which is it?

 In my view there are two answers to this, the cynical one, and the considered one. First, as I am often unkindly referred to as a cynic, let’s take that view.

 The people who refer to their staff as their most valuable asset usually have just won an award as a great employer, or have been accredited with Investors in People, or are from the HR department. They are rarely the heads of public sector departments whose staff have just gone on strike. 

Those who refer to IP as their most valuable asset are usually in creative or inventive industries, where technology or design is what gives the company the edge. Or they are IP lawyers who want to generate business for their services. 

And when someone says that your customer database is your greatest asset, you can bet they are a marketing guru of some sort, whose world revolves around making money out of focus groups and telling you what the customer will buy next Christmas. 

To see these all for what they are, we need to not only look at where the comment is coming from, but also at what sort of business is being talked about. Certainly your greatest asset can vary, it is after all, almost by definition, what makes you stand apart from your competitors. So the trick is, rather than argue about what it is, see what you can do to maximise its value to you. A really good measure of a business’ success is ROI, or return on investment. So what are you investing in your “most valued asset”, and what sort of a return are you getting? 

You can quite easily put a value on intellectual property, or at least you can pay a specialist to do that for you, and you should be able to value the return you get on it. But what about the investment you made in the people who develop the IP for you in the first place? How do you value the cost of creating the culture and atmosphere conducive to the development of great commercial ideas? That is much more difficult to do but should not be underestimated. 

If you use loyalty cards in your business, you collect loads of useful information about your customers which allows you to create an edge over your competitors through focused marketing in posted or emailed information and special deals. Soon you may be able to send texts to your customers when in your shop, reminding them of what they have bought before, or what is currently on promotion. Yes this is a highly valuable asset, but without the people to implement it, to set up the systems and deliver the service, it is of little real value unless you sell it. 

So it appears we are back to people as our most valuable asset. That may be true, but not in the “say it because it sounds good” or “if I keep repeating it maybe the staff will think I mean it” sense. People are only your most valuable asset because the human mind makes them flexible and responsive in a way no computer or system ever can be. Yes you can get robots to perform more intricate tasks more consistently and more quickly, and yes, a person will eventually make a mistake. But no computer will ever buy your new product on a whim, or offer to drive you home when you are unwell. People, whether employee, customer or supplier, matter and we can’t do without them. So we should look after them, care for them, train and develop their skills, knowledge and behaviours (preferably with assistance from us at WinningBusiness). And only refer to your people as your most valuable asset when they believe you really mean it.