Set in Stone


A new member – confusingly also called Ed – joined TAB York recently. Last week was his first important Board meeting: the one where he presented his Big Idea – and his fellow Board members offered their accumulated wisdom and constructive criticism…

  • OK, Ed, you’re up next. The Big Idea you mentioned. We’re all waiting to hear it.
  • Let me be clear about this, Ed. My Big Idea is designed to appeal to everyone: and it’s going to make sure I deliver. Really deliver.
  • So come on. What is it?

(Some Board members are quite impatient…)

  • It’s a pledge. A series of pledges. Designed to appeal to hard-working families across Britain
  • So you mean goals? Are they SMART? Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely?
  • Well, no. Not exactly. They’re pledges. That I can look at every day.
  • We’ll call them goals, Ed. When are you going to achieve them by? Three months? End of the year?
  • No, no. There’s no specific date. They’re pledges.
  • But Ed, I can ‘pledge’ to cut down on red wine. If there’s no date I can do it as they wheel me into the hospice and claim I’ve delivered. Anyway, let’s hear these pledges. What’s the first one?
  • A strong economic foundation.
  • We’ve already got that. Providing the Government lets us get on with it. Let’s have another one…
  • An NHS with the time to care
  • What? Caring is the NHS’s job. You might as well say ‘A sandwich shop with the time to make sandwiches.’

(Ed went through all his ‘pledges.’ His fellow Board members grew increasingly restive…)

  • Alright, Ed. That’s all your pledges. How are you going to record them? Put them on your desk? Office wall? Let all your team know? Make a commitment to the Board?
  • No, no, nothing like that. I’m going to carve them into a giant block of limestone and put them in what I hope will be my garden.

(And at this point the Board meeting was suspended. I felt a ‘comfort break’ was needed…)

When I first read the story about Ed Miliband’s 8’6” ‘Edstone’ I thought it was an April Fool. Clearly it wasn’t.

I may, of course, be completely wrong. By the time you read this Ed Miliband may be driving to the Palace to accept Her Majesty’s request to form a Government. I doubt it and if instead he’s fighting to retain his leadership one of the reasons may well be that block of limestone. What would the reaction have been if he’d brought the idea to a Board meeting? Something very like my imaginary scene, I think.

TAB Boards have many wonderful qualities: members benefit from the collective wisdom of their peers. They also benefit – massively – from their collective scepticism: from the Board’s ability to ask simple questions: ‘Will this genuinely benefit your business? Will it really help you achieve your goals? Or is just a vanity project?’

No-one gets every decision right in business. Sometimes, we’re just plain wrong. That’s when a collection of your peers is invaluable. That’s when their collective wisdom can put you back on track and their collective scepticism can save you a lot of money.

In some ways this General Election campaign has disappointed me. One party seems to have no understanding at all of small business – either its ability to create wealth and jobs or about the motivation of people who start SMEs. And sometimes the other – for all the warm words and photo-ops in factories – doesn’t seem much better.

I was horrified when Ed Miliband said people become self-employed as a last resort. He couldn’t be further from the truth. People start small businesses because they want to build something; because they want to create a better life for their families – and because they want to fulfil their potential.

Rest assured that even if the politicians don’t ‘get’ that, your colleagues round an Alternative Board table absolutely do. And they’ll support you 100% of the way – right up until you invite them into your back garden to admire your Big Idea…

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One comment

  1. David Emslie · May 8, 2015

    100% right Ed (you, not him).
    Ironic that practically the last thing Ed Milliband will do in his political career is to write a headstone with vague waffle on it.
    By the way, now that he’s about to become unemployed and unemployable, do you think he’ll become self employed as a last resort? I’d love to meet him at an FSB or Chamber meeting.

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