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Lucky escape at Checkpoint Alpha

Large white truck

It was August 1976. I was embarking on my inaugural tour as a roadie for my first business, Muscle Music. We rented out PA systems to touring bands.

Limited resources

The band, Colosseum II (Jon Hiseman, Don Airey, Gary Moore and John Mole), needed to hire a minimum of a 32-foot-long truck for the amount of gear they wanted to take. But they could only afford to hire a rather beaten up 28-foot-long truck.

Wrong capacity. Something had to give. After cutting the gear down to the bare minimum, we managed to squeeze it in.

But… When we arrived at the first gig in Germany, we couldn't open the roller shutter at the back.

The gear had shifted and, because the truck was the wrong capacity, it jammed the shutter. Now what?

Photo of shutter door on back of delivery lorry

The driver, a very experienced chap, said, “Leave it to me.” He drove the truck forward a few yards and slammed on the brakes.

I could hear the gear screeching inside. Around the back of the truck we went and, sure enough, we could open the roller shutter.

Out came the gear. We rinsed and repeated that technique at every gig.

Checkpoint Alpha

The tour went well, until we had to cross East Germany to reach Berlin (before German reunification). We arrived at Checkpoint Alpha close to midnight. We were met by the sight of towers, search lights, and guards with machine guns.

Photo of border checkpoint guards on look out post

On the Western side, no problem. The guards waved us straight through. After a short drive through no man’s land, we arrived at the East German side of the checkpoint. A completely different atmosphere — very John Le Carré. The guards looked at us suspiciously. They weren’t impressed by three scruffy, long-haired young guys in a truck that had seen better days, groaning with its load. They ordered us out of the cabin and pointed at the roller shutter to open it. We didn’t speak any German; they didn’t speak any English. Using hand gestures, we tried our best to explain it wouldn’t open without driving it forward a few feet and slamming the brakes on. The guards hadn’t a clue what we were on about, and they became more and more agitated. There was nothing to do except demonstrate what we were trying to say. But, instead of the driver getting back in the truck and the other roadie and me standing at the side, for some stupid reason that I’ll never understand to this day, all three of us got back in the truck. The driver did his thing. In the short time it took to cover the few yards, the searchlights went on, and the guards surrounded the truck, raising and cocking their submachine guns, pointing them straight at us. It was a very scary moment. We leaped out of the truck, ran round to the back, and opened the roller shutter.

Seeing the funny side

We were lucky.

There was one guard who saw the funny side.

He started laughing, we started laughing, then the rest did too.

They took a quick look inside, saw how the truck was filled to over-capacity, and waved us through. As we drove away, they were still laughing, rolling their eyes at these crazy (and yes… stupid) young Englishmen.

We journeyed through East Germany along the corridor to Berlin, feeling very lucky not to have been shot.

When we returned to Checkpoint Alpha, we were waved straight through on both sides.


The rest of the tour went well.

Business. Business. Business.

What on earth has a tour in Germany over 40 years ago got to do with business, I hear you ask? The operative word is capacity.

Illustration by Keith Negley of a giant abacus

Illustration by Keith Negley

Does your business’s capacity match its needs? Do you know what I mean by capacity? Every business owner I’ve asked knows what their business’s annual revenues (sales) are. But virtually no business owner I’ve asked knows what their business’s capacity is. By that, I mean the maximum turnover possible with the current resources.

Why bother to work it out?

Do you want to know:

• Your car’s maximum speed?

• Your car’s petrol tank capacity?

• The square footage of your offices or your factory?

It’s the same idea with your business. Are you and/or your team members showing any signs of burnout = over-capacity? How about the other way round? Are you and/or your team members showing any signs of boredom or listlessness? Are profits down, or is cash flow tight? Once you work out your business’s capacity, you’ll know what percentage of maximum possible sales your business is running at. For example, a business capable of delivering £10m annual revenues, running at £7m annual revenues, has a run rate of 70%.

Smooth running

And, when you know your run rate, you’ll be able to work out what capacity your business needs to achieve its goals in a smoother, more sustainable way.

You’ll feel far more in control of your business, and your team will work more efficiently.

It really is worth doing your sums. That way, your truck will always be at the right capacity for its load. And you can avoid being shot at (in a business sense).



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