Counsel of the North


Another week, another raft of stories about unicorns – companies that didn’t exist a few years ago and are now worth a billion dollars. 

(And Duolingo is one of them! Seriously, whatever happened to four years’ hard work at university?)

We do not – as yet – have a unicorn among the members of TAB UK. What we do have is a lot of members who’ve been in business for a lot of years. And that’s the point I want to make this week. 

Open the business pages and it’s the unicorns – the Duolingos and Starling Banks of this world – that grab the headlines. That’s understandable: companies and entrepreneurs who go from zero to hero sell newspapers and generate clicks. 

‘I thought I could do it better. I thought I owed it to myself to find out. I’m not in it for the short term.’ Those three sentences are not a news story. And yet they’re the story behind so many members of TAB – not just in the UK, but around the world. 

In my last post I mentioned the one TAB board I still run, which has now passed its 7th anniversary. The members of that Board illustrate my point perfectly. Why did they start their businesses? Not for money, but because they owed it to themselves. They had to find out if they could do it better. 

They accepted they were in it for the long haul. They did not have the fashionable business maxim – start it, scale it, sell it – anywhere near their to-do list. 

Part of that long haul is meeting challenges. And as Wednesday morning brought the boss of Lloyds warning of the importance of mental health issues, let’s spare a thought for the support the entrepreneur needs. 

Entrepreneurs face mental and physical challenges. They need stamina – and they need support. 

Yes, you started your business for all the right reasons. Yes, you accepted you were in it for the long haul – but nothing prepares you for being responsible for 20 mortgages. Nothing prepares you for telling Bill that the company has outgrown him. And nothing prepares you for the physical and emotional stress of running a business: of being the person who makes the final decision every time.  

That’s why I think TAB UK is so important. When I’m talking to a potential new member it’s very easy to outline the ‘obvious’ benefits of TAB – accountability, peer support, experienced entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off.

It’s much more difficult to explain those ‘hidden’ benefits – the support, empathy and understanding that are there when you really need them. I’m breaking no confidences when I say that every single member of my original Board has drawn on that support over the last seven years. 

And now to wider matters…

My blog post on January 10th was the first of the year, and the first of a new decade. I made a simple point: the pace of change over the next ten years is only going to accelerate.  

So it obviously makes sense to discuss the events of 1472. 

That was the year Edward IV set up the Council of the North: its aim was simple – to improve government control and economic prosperity and benefit all of Northern England. 

The Council was based in Yorkshire, first at Sheriff Hutton Castle, then at Sandal Castle and finally at King’s Manor in York. Henry VIII re-established the Council after the Reformation (when the North was identified with Roman Catholicism) and it was only abolished in the run-up to the Civil War. 

Could Boris I now be following in Edward IV’s footsteps? Much was made in the election campaign of the Conservatives’ commitment to spread opportunity and investment evenly throughout the UK. But was it just warm words, designed to make the ‘red wall’ crumble, or would we see some positive action? 

“Absolutely fine,” a friend said to me. “But let’s see the evidence. What they need to do is persuade Amazon or Google or Facebook to move their HQ out of London. Hartlepool maybe…” 

Well, it may not be Amazon, Google or Facebook and it may not be Hartlepool. But as I started writing this post (on Sunday evening) there was a story in the Sunday Times: ‘Boris Johnson sends the House of Lords up North.’ York is the rumoured destination, with the city apparently having moved ahead of Birmingham in the race. 

What a coup that would be – and a clear signal that the Government really does intend to make good on its promises. 

Whether the House of Lords moves to York or not it reinforces my original point. The next decade will be one of rapid change. With technological change and a workforce with a new set of demands, it will present entrepreneurs with new and ever more complex challenges. 

And that’s before we factor in Brexit…

This is my last post before the UK leaves the EU. Whichever way you voted, the negotiations with the EU – now not due to begin until March – will bring yet more uncertainty. We’re all going to face challenges we’ve never faced before: a support network like TAB UK is going to be essential for long-term success. 

…And talking of challenges, I’d better do it now. Time to book a table for lunch. Before it’s full of overweight blokes in ermine…

Polls, Publishing and Plans for Next Year


What was it Jane Austen said? “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who has to publish a blog on Friday 13th does not want a General Election on Thursday 12th…” 

Something like that – but you have to press publish at a certain time. And, very clearly, you can’t press publish without commenting on the result of the Election. But when do you start writing? When you see the BBC exit poll? When the first result comes in from Newcastle? 

Or do you decide that the polls are going to be right for once, and get your introduction written on Tuesday afternoon? 

In the event, I did a bit of all three – and then hastily revised my estimate of the Conservative majority as the BBC exit poll and the early results confirmed a very clear win for Boris Johnson. While the final numbers are not yet in, it looks as though we are on course for a Conservative majority of 70-80 seats. 

Dodging the scrutiny  of Andrew Neil appears to have done Boris no harm at all. Not having a policy on the most important issue to face the country in the last 70 years unquestionably did Jeremy Corbyn a great deal of harm – as anyone who runs a business could have told him. You are the leader. Your job is to lead, not sit on the fence. 

Labour recorded its lowest number of seats since 1935, as large sections of the ‘red wall’ turned blue. ‘Workington Man’ – this election’s version of the mythical ‘Worcester woman’ – has swung decisively behind Boris Johnson and his simple, endlessly-repeated mantra: ‘Get Brexit Done.’ 

So, sometime around mid-afternoon today, Boris Johnson will emerge from 10 Downing Street and tell us his plans. With all 635 Conservative candidates having pledged to back his deal with the EU, we’ll be leaving the European Union on or before January 31st. Negotiations on a future trade deal will follow, and Sajid Javid will present a Budget some time in February. 

Well, I didn’t want to leave the EU, but neither did I – or any business owner I know – want to be locked in a spiral of never-ending uncertainty. We may not have the certainty I wanted, but at least we have somecertainty. There will not be another referendum this year: neither will there be another referendum on Scottish independence. 

And the next General Election won’t be until 2024 – and even then, there’s only a 50% chance of it coinciding with ‘blog Friday.’ You can relax, Ed…

…And look back on what has been a great year for TAB UK. There are now more than 50 people working with and for TAB UK. That was a significant milestone to reach and – as I have said many times – it’s a privilege to work with every single one of them. 

Our franchisees cover the UK from Rick in the South West to Helen, Chris and Jonathan in Aberdeen. Yes, there are still some gaps on the map – but we’ll fill them. 

The head office team has also grown this year – and let me use this last blog of the year to thank them all for everything they’ve done in the last 12 months. A special word, though, to Lydia and Tracey who joined this year. They’ve fitted in seamlessly and are already making a great contribution to TAB. 

There was also a personal highlight for me this year. I still run one TAB board, and this month it turns seven years old. That’s more than 80 meetings with the same small group of people. Over the seven years their businesses have grown (so have one or two waistlines…) and I hope TAB has played its part in helping to preserve the sanity of the relevant MDs. Last time I checked none of them was an alcoholic. Well, not confirmed…

Looking ahead to 2020 

So what of the coming year? 2020 sounds like an auspicious year, and there are two TAB developments I’m particularly excited about. 

First of all there’s TAB Connect, a global platform connecting all our 4,000 members worldwide. It’s live now, and 2020 is the year when it will really come to life, allowing a TAB member in North Yorkshire to connect with a TAB member in North Carolina. If you want to use a shorthand term, it’s LinkedIn just for TAB members – but it’s a lot more than that and I’m certain that it will lead not just to sharing ideas and expertise, but to business partnerships that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. 

Closer to home, 2020 will see TAB UK roll out StratPro. This will allow us to work with the owners of bigger companies and those companies’ directors and senior managers, to ensure decisions made at the top flow down through the company as efficiently and as effectively as possible. It’s a really exciting initiative, and I’ll write a specific blog post on it early in the New Year. 

2020 will be an interesting year on a personal level as well. Around this time next year Dan, my eldest son, will be home from his first term at university. How did that happen? It’s only two months since I held his hand and took him into the reception class…

But it has happened, the time has passed and – hopefully – I’ve put it to good use. I couldn’t, though, have done it without a lot of help. To everyone who has been part of my journey this year – thank you. Have a wonderful Christmas, may 2020 bring everything you would wish for and the blog will be back – no doubt vowing to do more exercise – on Friday 10th January. 

John McDonnell and the Billionaires


It sounds like a band that plays at weddings doesn’t it? Five middle-aged guys, hair receding, waistbands straining, but still convincing themselves they’re young so long as they can rock out Layla at the new hotel just off the motorway…

Sadly not. As all of you know, John McDonnell wants to be our next Chancellor of the Exchequer, and last week he made a speech. He promised to “re-write the rules of our economy” and singled out the UK’s 151 billionaires for special treatment. “No-one,” he said, “Needs or deserves to be a billionaire.” 

Well, I don’t know any of the UK’s 151 billionaires. I do know plenty of millionaires: I also know plenty of bosses: or – as they appear to be increasingly demonised in this election campaign – ‘exploitative bosses.’ 

This particular exploitative boss is starting the notes for his blog in Exeter Airport. I’ve been down to the South West to see Rick, TAB UK’s most southerly and westerly franchisee. I’ve had a brilliant time, and met a lot of business people from the South West, many of whom were hearing about TAB for the first time – and who liked what they heard. 

Oddly, I didn’t meet any exploitative bosses. Come to think of it, I know as many ‘exploitative bosses’ as I know billionaires. 

We’re now just under two weeks away from the election. December 12th will no doubt be cold wet and dark: the polls will be open long after the sun has set. But by the time the sun rises on Friday 13th, we’ll know the outcome. At the moment it looks as though Boris Johnson will win with a working majority, which will mean we leave the European Union on or before January 31st

There are many, many points on which I disagree with Boris Johnson, not least the decision to leave the EU. 

But there are two where I do agree. Firstly he’s quite right: the only way we can have world class public services is to pay for them with a vibrant, expanding, highly-skilled economy. Secondly – and even more importantly – talent, enterprise, initiative and ambition is absolutely distributed around every region of the UK. 

That’s what I saw when I went down to the South West to meet Rick and his fellow business owners. Every single one of them wanted to build their business and contribute to their local economy. Exploitative bosses? Not a bit of it. 

They weren’t lying awake at night working out how to cheat the taxman and drive down the pay and conditions of the people who worked for them. No: they were worrying about cash flow, about being responsible for 25 mortgages, about how to tell Bill that the company has moved on and he hasn’t, about which local charity their company will support next year, about…

You get my drift. The list is endless. 

That is why I am so passionate about building TAB UK – not just because of what it can do for our members, but because of what those members of TAB can do for their local economies and communities. 

And it is why I am equally passionate about business making its voice heard in this election campaign. It is not so long ago that Liam Fox – then International Trade Secretary – made his crass comments about business owners being ‘fat, lazy and off to play golf.’ 

Could anything be further from the truth than that piece of idiocy and the idea of ‘exploitative bosses’ doing everything they can to rip off their workers? 

The problem is that Mike Ashley and Philip Green – the pantomime villains if you like – get all the headlines. And yet they are as far away from a typical TAB UK member as I am from Justin Rose or Rory McIlroy – no matter how much time I spend on the golf course, Mr Fox…

Let me end by returning to billionaires. Britain’s richest man is commonly held to be Jim Ratcliffe who – according to his Wiki entry – has a net worth of £21bn. 

Jim Ratcliffe lived in a council house up to the age of 10. He moved with his family to East Yorkshire, went to Beverley Grammar School and subsequently Birmingham University, graduating with a degree in Chemical Engineering. He added an MSc in finance before joining a US private equity group and then founding Ineos, a company that now employs 22,000 people around the world. 

I have absolutely no doubt that on the way to being worth £21bn Jim Ratcliffe had plenty of sleepless nights. There will have been a day when his business was perilously close to going under. Another day when he wondered how the hell he was going to pay the wages. He will have had to part company with ‘Bill.’ And he will have worked tirelessly at building his business – and found that, almost by accident, he has become very wealthy. 

So as the politicians continue to squabble, ordinary business owners need to tell their story. Yes, business owners want to make a success of their company. Yes, they want to provide for their families. And along the way they may well become wealthy. But that is never the prime motivator. 

Every member of TAB UK I know – from those working with Rick in Exeter to our members in Aberdeen – cares passionately about his employees and his local community. They care about paying mortgages, providing the best working conditions they can and helping every member of their team to grow. And I am proud to be associated with every single one of them. 

Your NOT-To-Do List


The children have gone back to school, the nights are drawing in, there’s only a month until the clocks go back. Christmas has appeared on the horizon, you’ve spotted a 2020 diary in the shops…

Which means that for many of us thoughts are already turning towards plans for next year. For what you want to achieve in the year – and, by implication, what you need to do in the first quarter and first month of 2020. 

No question about it, you’ll march confidently into your office on Thursday 2nd January, pull that brand new pad towards you and – knowing exactly what you’re going to achieve – confidently write ‘To Do’ at the top.

But there’s another list you need to write. Not just for 2020, but starting now. And in my view, it’s even more important than your ‘to do’ list. 

Your ‘Not To Do’ list. 

I can still remember the shock I got the first few weeks I used Toggl and realised how much of my time wasn’t being used effectively – and how many things I was doing very definitely belonged on a not to do list. 

Despite the technological advances of modern life virtually all of us are leading busier and busier lives: perhaps because of those advances. How many of us check our e-mails just before we fall asleep? 

Add in family commitments – and for many people reading this blog, taking care of ageing parents is now starting to become a major commitment – and all of us have a seemingly endless to-do list. 

At work you need to delegate: at home you need to decide what’s really important. 

Let’s start in the office. Delegation is one of the hardest skills to learn. It is all too easy to sigh and think, ‘It’s quicker to do it myself.’ But you cannot build a business without delegation. Sometimes ‘done’ is more important than ‘perfect.’ 

And as I have written many times, it is not your job to be the best engineer, coder or salesman. It is your job to lead a team of outstanding engineers, coders and salesmen – and to help them go on improving. 

So as you contemplate your plans and targets for 2020 ask yourself – or get someone else to ask – why should YOU be doing that? And delegate what you can delegate, whether it’s to your own team, or to an outsourced specialist. Even starting a ‘not to do’ list will be a valuable exercise: it will unquestionably challenge some of your long-held assumptions about what your job really is. 

Time to come home – where exactly the same principle applies. Let me give you just one example. One of the best decisions Dav and I ever made was to hire a gardener. Andy comes for three hours a week, he cuts the grass and generally keeps the garden under control. We pay him £60 and it is a superb investment. It gives me three hours – longer, really, as I’m not as good a gardener as Andy – which I can spend with my family or simply de-stressing myself. Or yes, as has recently been pointed out to me, hacking out of the rough…

There is one final, and very important, point about your ‘not to do’ list. It doesn’t just apply to you. 

Take a look around you. Is everyone in your team seriously making the very best use of their time? Or are they doing jobs that really could be delegated, allowing them to do much more important work? 

We were guilty of this at TAB head office. Members of the team were doing admin tasks that they really shouldn’t have been doing. That wasn’t a failing: we’d simply reached one of those moments every business reaches from time to time. We’d expanded, there were new challenges, the team needed to focus their attentions elsewhere. 

So Tracey has joined us, she’s immediately picked up a whole range of admin for us and that has helped the existing members of the team to focus on what’s really important. It’s also given them some time to think – to stand back and look at the business. 

I’ve often talked on the blog about working on your business not in your business. A ‘not to do’ list helps you do that. Equally importantly, making sure all the members of your team have a ‘not to do’ list means they can sometimes work on their part of the business not – as Stephen Covey put it – constantly be ‘in the thick of thin things.’ 

And now, with exactly 13 weeks to go until we all abandon the office for Christmas, time for me to make a list…

It’s Fine to Fail


Every board in TAB UK has a proud record of failure. 

What do I mean by that? Simply that the vast majority of TAB members have – at some point in their business careers – failed. It may have been a new idea, a new direction for the company, an acquisition, a new market… 

It may even have been the whole company. 

Whatever it was, it failed. It hurt – and it probably cost a lot of money. 

But the authors of those ‘failures’ now sit around the TAB UK tables, successful by any conventional definition of the word. Why? Because they realised that it was fine to fail. They realised that failure was simply a learning experience – as Churchill famously said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ 

But we all know that lesson. Failure isn’t failure, it’s just a learning experience: we’ve all heard it before. 

So let’s try and widen the debate a little. Last week I read an article in City AM about young entrepreneurs – or, more correctly, potential entrepreneurs. 

It’s not just the proverbial policeman: there’s no question that entrepreneurs in the UK are getting younger. The traditional path that most of us followed – graduate, work your way up the corporate ladder and then have your light bulb moment – is becoming less relevant. 

Today it’s graduate, start a business (or don’t-even-bother-graduating, start a business). That ‘career path’ is becoming more and more common. And unsurprisingly, the UK is attracting record amounts of tech investment, especially from the US and Asia. 

But it could be even better.

The article in City AM quotes the Entrepreneurs Network, and the attitude of British 14 to 25 year olds to starting their own business. 

85% said they had thought about starting a business, had started one already or would be open to the idea. But more than two-thirds cited fear of failure as a barrier that would stop them moving forward with their entrepreneurial ambitions. 

Two-thirds? That is a depressingly high number by any measure. 

Now we all know that being an entrepreneur is hard. There are plenty of long hours, plenty of worries and – above all – the loneliness that comes with knowing that it’s you that makes the final decision. 

But would a single member of TAB UK change that? Would a single member of TAB anywhere in the world say, ‘I’ve had enough’ and go back to the corporate world? I very much doubt it. 

Because hard as being an entrepreneur is, it is also exhilarating, exciting, challenging and immensely rewarding. 

And that’s a message we need to spread. Maybe it’s because my two sons are now both within the age-range of that survey, but I increasingly find myself thinking that older entrepreneurs need to get out there and tell their story. As it says in the article: 

If more young people were aware of business owners in their own neighbourhoods, or if more entrepreneurs visited schools and colleges, the next generation could find themselves being inspired by examples that are closer to home. 

…And a key part of telling those stories will be saying, ‘This didn’t work. We tried it, we thought it would work, but we were wrong. But we learned from our mistakes and the second time we got it right.’ 

The problem is, our education system doesn’t encourage making mistakes. I see Dan and Rory approaching important exams – followed by very important exams – and the whole focus is ‘whatever you do, get the grades.’ Now of course I want my children to do well. All parents do. But I do worry that we have a 20th Century education system preparing our kids for a 21st Century business world. 

After all, the model for many start-ups is now not ‘ready, aim, fire’ but ‘ready, fire, aim.’ The vast majority of start-ups do not need a factory, plant and investment in machinery. Laptops, a collaborative working app and regular supplies of coffee will do just fine. 

The financial cost of getting it wrong is much less than it was – but it seems that the psychological cost is still the same. 

That, I think, is where companies like TAB UK – and our members – can make a real contribution. 

Let’s get out into the world and tell our stories of failure – especially to young people. Let’s make them aware that failure is very definitely not fatal. That it’s fine to fail – and that very often, failure is just a stepping stone on the road to success. Let’s make sure we give young entrepreneurs the ‘courage to continue…’ 

Is Compromise a Dirty Word?


With the resignation of Theresa May and the European elections, it’s impossible to start this week’s post anywhere other than in the corridors of power. 

Obviously I’m being sarcastic when I use the word ‘power.’ If anyone is in power in the UK – or has the slightest idea what’s going on, or what is likely to happen – then please let me know. 

Like everyone else in the business community I am tempted to have an 800 word rant about our politicians. The words ‘whelk’ and ‘stall’ would feature. As would a celebration in a brewery. But, I must remember I’m an adult. So what business insights can we rescue from the ashes? 

One comment – which I have edited slightly so as not to offend you, gentle reader – summed up the current malaise: 

Having got into this mess because of dithering, they are now dithering over who is going to oversee the next bout of dithering. 

In her farewell speech Theresa May clearly did not see it as dithering. She made much of the need to compromise and – apparently quoting a late constituent – said, “Compromise is not a dirty word.” 

Is that right? After all, our other female Prime Minister had a rather different view: “If you spend too long in the middle of the road you’ll be hit by traffic coming in both directions.”

So what’s the position in business? Is compromise the answer? Or is Theresa May wrong and ‘compromise’ really is a dirty word. 

In the early days of this blog I would occasionally write that ‘the job of a leader is to lead.’ Now – especially when I’m discussing politics – I seem to write it in every other post. 

But it is – and sometimes leadership makes compromise impossible. Stephen King may have been talking about his writing but the comment applies equally to a business leader: ‘You cannot please all the people all the time. You cannot even please all the people some of the time. The best you can hope for is to please some of the people, some of the time.’ 

So do real leaders ever compromise? 

Of course they do. Sometimes there’s a completely stalled situation which can only be solved by a compromise. Sometimes feelings are so entrenched that you need a compromise to allow both sides to save face and – at least in the short term – lower unrealistic expectations. And sometimes you just need a short-term win, something that will increase motivation and create some mutual trust. 

But in my experience, solutions that come through compromise are rarely long-term or lasting. By definition, a compromise is not a clear vision. It is rarely greeted with enthusiasm by either side. And the problems you solved with the compromise always seem to have a way of creeping back. 

If real leaders do compromise, they always do it from a position of strength. They do not walk into a negotiation and say, ‘We’re prepared to give in on this, this and this. Now can we compromise?’ 

So where does all this leave our politicians and – by extension – the country they are supposed to be governing? 

I don’t often read Conservative Home, but MEP Daniel Hannan summarises the current Catch-22 very neatly: ‘We (the Conservatives) cannot face the electorate before leaving the EU. But we might not be able to leave the EU without an election.’ 

What he doesn’t say, of course, is that if last Thursday’s results were repeated in a General Election, it would be Prime Minister Farage taking the UK out of the EU. 

When a business is in trouble – and the Conservative Party is a business, whose aim is to win elections – then it needs immediate action.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’re not going to get. No new leader chosen until July, everyone on holiday in August, the party conference season… 

There will be barely five weeks to negotiate any deal, always assuming that the EU is prepared to move from its current, very entrenched, position of ‘no renegotiation.’ 

I wrote about Theresa May and her indecision on Friday 22ndMarch. At that time everything was going to be settled by June 30th. Now we’re looking at a date four months after that, with every possibility that the Hallowe’en deadline will be extended. 

That’s a dreadful failure of management and competence. But above all it is a stark illustration of what happens when a leader fails to lead and fails to communicate a vision. 

Somehow, from somewhere a leader has to emerge. He or she will have to take some very tough decisions. And compromise – the desire to please all the people – will need to be the first casualty. 

Want to Grow your Business? Do Less


The blog speaks, Wall Street trembles! And maybe profit does matter after all…

Two weeks ago I discussed Uber’s forthcoming IPO: 

Early estimates of $120bn have been scaled back to $90bn. But that’s £70bn – or more than 15 times the value of Marks and Spencer’s which, despite its recent problems, still made a significant profit in its last six months’ trading. 

But now Uber says it ‘may not achieve profitability.’ The company says that annual sales rose to $11.2bn and losses narrowed to $3bn. But, it warned, it expects operating expenses to “increase significantly.” 

In the event, even that lower estimate was reduced. With Uber drivers going on strike a few days before the IPO the company was initially valued at $82bn – only for the shares to fall 7% on the opening day. They have subsequently fallen even further – although that might have rather more to do with the sudden re-escalation of the US/China trade dispute than a blog written in Harrogate…

These are turbulent times, both in the UK and the wider world. Yet these are the times in which we have to build our businesses – but at the same time, keep our work/life balance well and truly balanced. 

One man who has unquestionably built a successful business is Jack Ma, the co-founder of China’s Alibaba group and estimated to be worth $40bn. 

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Jack Ma seems to have been unemployable: he was rejected by the police and was the only one of 24 applicants to be turned down by KFC. So he started his own business…

That’s great – but recently Jack Ma has been espousing the benefits of what’s termed ‘996.’ If you haven’t heard of it, 996 is simple – it’s China’s culture of working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week

“If you want to build a great company,” he says, “You have to work very hard. You have to suffer terrible things before you become a hero.” It is, apparently, a ‘blessing’ for his staff to work 72 hours a week. And he’s not alone: excessive working hours are also championed by Elon Musk of Tesla. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that they’re not championed by Ed Reid of TAB UK. Working 72 hours a week can never be a ‘blessing’ for you, your family or your staff. Throwing hours at a problem is almost never the way to solve it. Thinking ‘if I just spend more time…’ is nearly always one of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make. 

Rather than Jack Ma, I prefer to look at a different example. Oscar Pierre set up a small shopping service in Barcelona in 2015. Now the company, Glovo, operates in 124 cities, employs 1,000 staff and has 1.5m shoppers. A shopping service was hardly a ground-breaking idea, even in 2015 – but by anyone’s standards that is a highly impressive growth rate. How has Oscar done it? Simple: as you’ll see in this short clip, he’s a firm believer in delegating. 

In fact, Oscar believes in delegating everything. As he says right at the start of the clip, “Make sure you walk out of all the meetings without anything assigned to you.” 

He makes a great point. If you don’t delegate you end up with such a long list of tasks and to-do’s that you become what he describes as ‘the bottleneck of your company.’ Rather than speeding things up, by taking on too much you slow things down. 

Now he says, he does the things which only a CEO can do. Everything else is done more effectively and more efficiently, while he has time to think about medium and long term strategies. The absolute opposite of ‘throwing hours at the problem.’ 

As you’ll all know, that exactly mirrors the TAB philosophy – and it’s put Oscar Pierre on Forbes’ list of 30 under 30 for Europe. 

So how do I measure up? Apart from being just a tad over 30…

With a team of six at head office it would be impossible for me to delegate everything except the ‘only I can do that’ stuff. Clearly, the boss has to be seen to be working – but I do make sure that the ‘only Ed’ stuff is right at the top of my list. And as the team grows, so I will steadily delegate more and more. 

Speaking of which, the team is growing. We’re increasing our numbers from six to eight, with one of the new people handling our every-increasing admin. Part of defining the role was to say to everyone ‘what things are you doing that aren’t core to your role, and can you delegate them?’ That effectively wrote the job description: he or she can look forward to an interesting and varied workload…

When you’re starting out, delegation is hard. You can almost certainly do whatever-it-is-you’re-delegating better and quicker yourself. But you have to let go: you have to give your team the chance to grow and – as Oscar Pierre says – ultimately your job is to do the things that only the CEO can do. 

In the long term you’ll do more by doing less. Delegation is an absolutely essential part of building your business… 

The Pace of Change Accelerates


For all my life there have been three fundamental facts about the car industry.

  • Cars were driven by people
  • People owned cars – and aspired to own cars
  • And the cars were powered by the internal combustion engine.

But suddenly, all that is changing. Driverless cars have moved from science fiction to simple fact. My two boys, Dan and Rory, will both learn to drive – but I’m almost certain that their children won’t need to.

The dream of owning your first car? The step up from a Ford to an Audi, and the confirmation you were moving up the company ladder? Last year, half a billion people around the world used a ride-hailing app, pushing the value of companies like Uber and Chinese firm DiDi to over $50bn.

And now the internal combustion engine is giving way to the electric car – and quite possibly to the hydrogen cell.

But it’s not going to end there.

Consider these simple facts. Fifty-six companies have obtained a permit to conduct tests on autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) in the state of California. (Remember that if California were a country it would have the 5th largest GDP in the world: we are not talking an insignificant sample here.)

Of those 56 companies, 71% are ‘tech native’ companies – from Google and Apple that you’ve heard of, to companies like Drive.ai, Zoox and Pony.ai that you probably haven’t.

And governments around the world are ever more concerned about emission targets, road safety and subsidies for electric vehicles – as people continue to embrace a pay-per-use and sharing economy, and car ownership starts to fall.

Clearly, the traditional car industry is under attack, much as the traditional banking sector is under attack from the challenger banks and fintech. You might argue that the car industry is making a better fist of fighting back than the banks – the luxury car brands, for example, have a powerful hold on their customers, at least for now. And the big car makers have been busy with mergers, acquisitions and partnerships.

But in the long term the continued success of the traditional car industry will depend on its ability to attract the talented software engineers that would otherwise join Google, Amazon and Apple – and on its ability to fight off competition from the Far East.

And now let’s change tack completely: from the internal combustion engine to veganism. Go back nine years to when I started this blog and most people knew three or four vegetarians. Now? Recent data suggests that the number of vegans in the UK has soared by 700% in the last two years. There are reports than one person in seven now identifies as a vegetarian.

And that is being reflected in business and finance. In the US, investment is pouring into ‘alternative food’ manufacturers: NotCo, a company that ‘combines AI with food science to craft cutting-edge plant based foods’ has just attracted $30m of investment, including money from Jeff Bezos’ family vehicle.

What astonishes me is that how many ideas that were on the drawing board, or which were the stuff of fantasy* nine years ago are now accepted technological developments.

I frequently write that the world is changing at an ever faster pace. Sometimes you think ‘well, is it really?’ But then I go back to my original blog posts and know that it absolutely is. Management consultants McKinsey have suggested that this AI-powered fourth industrial revolution is advancing ten times faster and at 300 times the scale of the original industrial revolution.

So quite clearly entire industries – and countries – are going to be affected. The German economy has been the engine driving Europe, but it only narrowly averted a technical recession in the last quarter. According to Bloomberg, the German auto industry employs 835,000 people: it accounts for 20% of the country’s exports. Suddenly the three fundamental changes outlined above put the industry – and Germany’s seemingly inevitable balance of payments surplus – under threat as never before.

And very clearly, what happens in Germany will mirror what happens in other countries, including the UK. When he was Chancellor George Osborne was very fond of saying how the UK could never be immune to what happened in the wider world. Equally clearly, it cannot be immune to changes in consumer behaviour and the technology that drives those changes. What is happening in the car industry and in food production will happen in countless other industries – very possibly including yours and mine.

We are living through exciting times – but we’re all going to face unprecedented challenges. If there was ever a time when you needed the strength of the TAB community around you, that time is now.

*Sadly, Newcastle United’s dominance of Europe remains the stuff of fantasy…


By Ed Reid, TAB UK

Read more of Ed’s Blogs here:

It’s not just TAB: The Reason Why Franchises Work


TAB: A History

The Alternative Board was founded in Missouri in 1990. As with so many successful businesses, the rationale behind it was the answer to a simple question.

Why can’t owners of a small business benefit from the same advice that’s available to big businesses?

TAB founder Allen Fishman knew how much he’d gained from the advice of a board of directors throughout his business career. But where did the owner of a small business go for that advice?

The traditional answer was his bank manager, his accountant or his solicitor – but, however well meaning, they all had their own axe to grind. And what did the bank manager really know about the pressures of running a business? Secure in his job and with a comfortable pension to look forward to, could he ever know what it felt like to tell your wife that the house was on the line…

The all too apparent answer was ‘no.’ The only people who really understood what it was like to run a small business were the owners of other small businesses. They were the ones who understood what it was to put your family’s security at risk, to realise you needed to fire someone whose mortgage depended on you – and to face the loneliness that being an entrepreneur can bring.

And so The Alternative Board was born. From the very beginning it operated on a franchise model, although – in relative terms – it was very late to the party.

Why are Franchises Successful?

According to Wiki the word ‘franchise’ comes from the French franc, meaning to be free. Well, if you’ve been trapped in the corporate world, that will seem entirely appropriate. While the boom in franchising started after the Second World War, its history goes right back to the middle ages, when landowners created what might be termed ‘franchise arrangements’ with tax collectors, allowing them to keep a percentage of the taxes they collected. There’s an idea for Philip Hammond to consider as he mulls over his Spring Statement…

Why has the idea of the franchise proved such an enduring success? For me, the biggest factor is that you know the idea works. Yes, you’re spending some money to buy into the franchise, but you’re buying an idea that has been proven to work. It’s no surprise that the percentage of successful franchise start-ups far exceeds that of the go-it-alone start-ups, by a ratio of about 9:1.

We all know the names of the most successful franchise operations: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway, by location now the biggest franchise in the world. In business terms the biggest company is a name you might not have heard of: H&R Block, a tax preparation company operating in the US, Australia and India which has around 12,000 offices.

But in terms of business coaching there is one clear world leader, and that leader is The Alternative Board which, 29 years after Allen Fishman founded the company, now operates in 20 countries with more than 400 franchisees. Between them those franchisees have experience of more than 300 industries and have helped more than 15,000 businesses with a combined turnover of more than $11bn.

But the most telling stat for me is that the average member of a TAB board has been a member for more than 4½ years.

I think that is a remarkable figure. Simply put, it demonstrates that TAB delivers results. Owners of SMEs are not known for placidly tolerating ideas that are not working: you simply don’t stick with something for 4½ years if it isn’t delivering results.

And the key reason why TAB works so well in 2019 is exactly the reason why it worked so well in 1990. The owner of a small business still cannot access the advice, experience and expertise that is open to someone running a larger business – unless he surrounds himself with his peers.

Looking Forward

That is why I am so excited about the future – not just in the UK, but for my TAB colleagues around the world. But obviously my focus is on TAB UK: as I wrote at the end of last year, ‘my vision is to see us helping 1,000 business owners – and thereby benefiting around 25,000 employees and roughly 100,000 people in their families.’

And there’s even more good news. Despite the current uncertainty in the UK, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. In fact, it’s alive and well everywhere. Generation Z is apparently going to be the most entrepreneurial generation ever. I cannot wait…


Read more of my blogs here:

The Importance of Cyber Security for Your Business

Leadership: The Key to Prosperity

What Can Businesses Learn from the Vegan Sausage Roll?

What can Businesses Learn from the Vegan Sausage Roll?


What was the big story from the high street over Christmas? Marks and Spencer’s and Debenhams reporting disappointing trading and surely signposting more store closures this year? HMV going into administration – and now rumoured to be the latest chain to be acquired by Mike Ashley?

Or was it a vegan sausage roll?

Many of you will be familiar with Gregg’s, founded 80 years ago by John Gregg, headquartered in the North East and now the largest bakery chain in the UK. And, of course, home of the ‘bacon sandwich and a coffee for two quid’ special offer which, disappointingly, has now gone up to £2.10. (A friend told me, honestly…)

Gregg’s was famous for pies, pasties, sandwiches and everything you firmly resolved on December 31st would never touch your lips again.

What it wasn’t famous for was healthy eating but, following hot on the heels of the company opening a branch in Westminster, came news of the vegan sausage roll.

Let me confess here and now that I haven’t yet tried the new delicacy (“they’re flying out” according to my local shop) but what I have seen – and greatly admired – is the marketing and social media campaign that surrounded the launch. It’s small wonder that as M&S and Debenhams were reporting Christmas trading figures with long faces, Gregg’s were cheerfully announcing a 5.5% sales rise over the Christmas period.

Gregg’s launch of the vegan sausage roll has been called ‘a masterclass in public relations’ by industry magazine PR Week. It centred on whether a vegan product could be called a sausage roll, with the YouTube ad beautifully parodying an iPhone ad.

But it was Piers Morgan who supplied the rocket fuel for the campaign, rather predictably over-reacting and calling the company “PC-ravaged clowns.” Other celebrities reacted, there were apparent demonstrations against the rolls by Brexit supporters and an article in the Guardian suggesting that a vegan sausage represented ‘a chance for a divided nation to heal itself.’

Conspiracy theorists suggested that Gregg’s had orchestrated everything: the company smiled and said nothing. But there cannot be many people who haven’t now heard of the vegan sausage roll – or who don’t know where to buy it.

Interestingly it is not so long ago that Greggs were issuing a profit warning, after the ‘Beast from the East’ meant that many of its shops were unable to open. Another company having trouble around that time was KFC, after a change of logistic company meant that many of its shops serving fried chicken ran out of, er… chicken.

But in another example of a company bouncing back from adversity, KFC produced one of the best ad campaigns of the year by way of an apology. The company recognised that its apology needed to be sincere – but not serious. It duly rearranged the letters K-F-C (which I won’t do here, but which you can see in the link) in a campaign which won a series of awards and saw KFC nominated for ‘Brand of the Year’ at the Marketing Week awards.

So what lessons can we draw for our own businesses from these two examples?

1) Laugh at Yourself

First things first – a sense of humour is becoming increasingly important in your marketing messages. We are all dealing with a different demographic to that of even five years ago and – as the current political situation seems to be more depressing every day – people are increasingly responsive to something that will make them laugh.

2) Challenge the System

It is alright to challenge the established order. It seems to me that both the Gregg’s and the KFC campaigns tapped into an increasing feeling that the we don’t want to be told what to do. We no longer want to be told what is good for us or how we should react. As I’m writing this post the great and the good of the world are meeting in Davos, supposedly “to improve the state of the world.” Am I the only one who thinks it is all starting to look a little irrelevant to someone running an SME?

3) Don’t sit on the Fence

Lastly, it is increasingly acceptable to take a view in your marketing. Nike created a stir in the US last year with its ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who famously knelt during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. ‘Believe in something,’ said Nike’s ad, ‘Even if it means sacrificing everything.’

Unsurprisingly, the ad sparked plenty of controversy, with reaction split roughly 50/50 between favourable and unfavourable responses. But analysing the figures more closely suggested that Nike had got it right. 18-34 year olds – who are likely to be Nike customers – supported Kaepernick’s stance and supported Nike’s backing for it.

That, I think, will be an important and developing trend in all our advertising and marketing. Customers and clients will increasingly want to see that we have ethical and moral principles and that we are not afraid to state them.

As the famous saying has it, you cannot please all the people all the time and the days of trying to are drawing rapidly to a close.


By Ed Reid, TAB UK

Read more of Ed’s Blogs here:

The Importance of Cyber Security for Your Business

Leadership: The Key to Prosperity

Your Goals for 2019: But What if you Achieve Them!?