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. 

The Murky World of the Dark Web


I’m starting this post on Tuesday 12th November. A month today, the UK will go to the polls in the first December General Election since 1923 – and the battle lines are being very firmly drawn. 

Depending on your point of view there is now a hard right axis of Trump/Johnson/Farage that – bolstered with a clear majority in the new parliament – will deliver the hardest of hard Brexits and sell the NHS to the American drug companies by Easter. 

Or you read John McDonnell’s plans for the economy in general and your business in particular and think that nothing is too high a price to pay to avoid Jeremy Corbyn walking through the door of 10 Downing Street. 

And this morning former First Lady and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has waded into the debate. She is demanding that the UK government immediately publish the report into alleged Russian involvement in British politics. 

I’ll leave you to argue the rights and wrongs of that – just as I’m sure you have your own opinions on alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential race. Conspiracy theories – tales of mysterious hackers, the folly of allowing Huawei to build your 5G network – are everywhere. 

Central to many of these conspiracy theories is the so called ‘Dark Web:’ the place you go to satisfy the demands that cannot be met on the normal web. Where you search for the services that are not covered by Amazon Prime…

The Dark Web is, of course, the preserve of criminals, their customers and the law enforcement agencies that chase them. Law abiding people like you and me have nothing to fear from it – and need never go near it. 

Sadly, that’s no longer the case. We may all need to add, ‘Learn more about the Dark Web and the threat it poses to my business’ to our to-do lists. So we’d better make a start…

What exactly is the Dark Web? 

Simply put, it’s an area of the internet only accessible with specific software, such as Tor and I2P, which are designed to conceal your identity. Tor was originally set up by the US Navy to protect military intelligence: now it is widely used to protect the identity and location of millions of users.  

So is the Dark Web just for criminals? 

Well if you’re a fan of the Trump/Johnson/Farage conspiracy theory you’ll certainly view the BBC as a criminal organisation… They recently launched on the Dark Web, in a bid to beat censorship in countries like China. Facebook – another company looking to expand its reach in countries where freedom of speech is restricted – is already there. 

Neither is it true that criminals only use the Dark Web. There is plenty of criminal activity on the normal web, especially in countries where law enforcement is lax. There are also – apparently – multiple criminal forums that exist on the everyday web, but which are heavily encrypted and password protected. 

This is known as the ‘deep web’ and it’s commonly suggested that the Dark Web and the deep web account for perhaps 95% of total online content. The internet is effectively like an iceberg: the bulk of it is hidden from normal users. 

I thought they were trying to take down the Dark Web? 

Yes: the most famous – or notorious – marketplace was Silk Road, and that was closed down by the FBI and Europol in 2014, with its founder sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. There have been other successful ‘take down’ operations since then and, on the face of it, the good guys are making progress. 

To be successful criminal marketplaces need the same as any other business: they need to gain trust, they need to build a reputation and they need to deliver what they promise to deliver. Very clearly, the more their activities are disrupted the more they will struggle to do this. 

So should we still worry? 

Sadly, the answer is ‘yes.’ Criminal activity is constantly evolving and anything that can be traded for profit is a target. That includes usernames, passwords, bank account and credit card details, intellectual property and employee information. And once data like intellectual property is gone it is gone for good. You find out someone in say, China, has stolen your intellectual property: let’s be blunt, there is virtually nothing you can do about it. 

Worryingly, it takes a business an average nine months to discover that a data breach has occurred. During that time everyone is at risk: the employer, the staff and the customers. And, of course, the cash. 

That’s why 2020 is going to be a year when taking your security seriously – checking your security as frequently as you check your KPIs – is going to be crucial. The name of your dog will no longer do as your password. And let’s stop something that is all too common in business: having company information sent to personal e-mail addresses ‘just because it’s a lot easier.’ 

If 95% of the internet is hidden from normal users, it is logical to assume that somewhere within that 95% are threats to your business. 

So you have not won the lottery you didn’t enter: there is not a parcel you didn’t order waiting for you at the airport and – hopefully – your business did not have an entry in that international trade directory you’ve never heard of. 

Meanwhile, the Labour Party is claiming it is the victim of a cyber attack from Russia and Brazil. Not so, replies the National Cyber Security Centre. As I said, mysterious hackers everywhere. Just do everything you can to make sure they don’t knock on your door…

“You Can’t Pay too Much for Great People…”


Good morning – and do you by any chance have a spare £145,000 lying around? 

Why? Because – according to a recent article in City AM – that’s how much a shortage of skilled employees will cost each UK SME next year. 

It is a frightening figure. But, say the recruitment firm who carried out the relevant research, it is an inevitable consequence of a shrinking talent pool and ‘increased digitalisation’ of the workforce. 

This ‘skills gap’ is manifesting itself in the UK’s productivity crisis – still well below the level of its major competitors – and all of us running businesses are going to pay the price. 

As most of you know, I still run a TAB board. We had our regular monthly meeting last week and the ‘battle for talent’ was a phrase on everyone’s lips. 

“You can’t pay too much for great people,” one of the board members said – as you’ll see from the title, I immediately stole it – and six sage heads nodded their approval. 

I was thinking about the phrase as I headed home. There’s always been a battle for talent, especially for senior people who help to steer the business – but right now that ‘battle’ feels like it is being fought more keenly then ever. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that one of the reasons cited for the shrinking talent pool was Brexit – and here a note on timings might be appropriate. Commitments dictate that most of this post was written early in the week commencing October 14th. In between writing and publication there will be the EU summit and – I suspect – plenty of late-night negotiation. My apologies in advance if the post has been overtaken by events come publication day. 

But whatever happens in Brussels, Dublin and London the fundamental point remains the same. There is a shrinking pool of talent, and if your business is going to prosper in the medium to long term you need to get your hands on some of that talent. 

So what are the key skills and characteristics we’ll all be looking for as we hire new people?

As it says in the City AM article, “At a time when change is the only constant, adaptability and resilience will be the key soft skills to develop.” 

Resilience was something we discussed at that TAB board meeting. Looking around the table – at people who had been round the block a couple of times – resilience could be taken for granted. But resilience is a going to be a precious commodity in the next few months especially if – as seems entirely possible – we see a recession. 

What about the new people you’re going to recruit? The chances are that they won’t have been round the block a couple of times. Statistically they’re far more likely to be from the millennial generation. 

It’s too easy to use a pejorative term like ‘snowflake.’ But there’s no doubt that there is a generational difference. Millennial employees want to feel that they belong, that they’re making a difference and that the company they work for shares their values. And as I intimated in the last post on climate change, that feeling is only going to increase. 

Fortunately, the millennial generation does come with one advantage. By and large they have grown up with – and embrace – the idea that they are not going to have a ‘job for life.’ They’re open to different career paths and – if you choose the right person – they like to learn. 

I have no idea how our MPs are going to vote on Saturday morning when they’re faced with what looks like a ‘deal or no deal’ scenario – but whichever way they vote, it will herald a period of significant change. 

That may be in markets, it may be in legislation or in the labour supply – or quite possibly all three. So members of your team who are open-minded, adapt quickly and who very definitely see the glass as half-full are going to be worth their weight in gold. 

One final comment: let me reinforce the point I made a month ago. Going forward it will be absolutely essential that your key people are doing what they are best at – and that everything else is delegated. 

You’re paying a lot for those ‘great people’ – so they need to be working where they’re making the most difference. Which means that everyone’s ‘not to do’ list will be every bit as important as their tried and trusted ‘to do’ list. 

If you haven’t done yours yet you need to make a start…

The Climate is Changing: and We’ll have to Change with it


Last week in City AM there was an article on the big banks. Not on the threats they face from fintech. Not on the gaping holes that will appear in our high streets as the traditional bank branches inevitably close. No, it was an opinion piece: How Banks should be looking at the Climate Change Challenge.

Meanwhile the previous Friday had seen schoolchildren around the world come out on strike to raise awareness of climate change – and call on the older generation to do more about it. 

Climate change is front and centre. Whether it is fires in the Amazon or floods in North Yorkshire it’s on virtually every news bulletin. 

I suspect there will be the full range of opinions among people reading this blog. There’ll be those who believe – as I do – that climate change is entirely man-made. There will be those who believe the Earth simply warms up and cools down and we just happened to start measuring as it was warming up.

There will be people who regard Greta Thunberg as the outstanding young woman of her generation. There’ll be those who see her as the modern equivalent of the medieval priestess, wandering from village to village claiming to have seen a vision from God. 

For the purpose of this blog, what you believe doesn’t matter. Climate change – or, if you like, the perception of climate change – does matter, because we as business owners are going to have to deal with it. 

If you go back 15 months to June 2018 – and what a calm, measured time in British politics June 2018 now appears – the Commons Environmental Audit Committee was recommending that climate risk reporting should be mandatory by 2022. That large companies and ‘asset owners’ (such as pension funds) should be compelled to report on their exposure to climate change risks and opportunities. 

Mary Creagh, the Labour MP for Wakefield who is Chair of the Committee, said, “Long term decision making must be factored into financial decision making.” 

Back in June 2018 I suspect most people reading this blog would have read that report, shrugged and moved on. They didn’t come under the Government’s definition of a large company, they didn’t run a pension fund and while climate change was important, it wasn’t quite as important as meeting the year’s targets. 

But events have moved very quickly. Whoever is Prime Minister this time next year is going to have climate change right at the top of their agenda. And never mind large companies and pension funds – I suspect it’s going to impact all our businesses. 

There will, of course, be people who say, ‘Why bother?’ At first sight the case is tempting. After all, China has produced more steel in the past two years than the UK has ever produced. Clearly producing all that steel must have had some environmental impact. 

Pollution in our oceans? More than 90% of all the rubbish polluting our seas comes from just 10 rivers. The Yangtze alone pours an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of plastic into the Yellow Sea each year.

So as someone recently said to me, “Paying 5p for a plastic bag ain’t going to make a whole lot of difference, Ed.” 

Statistically, it isn’t. But just because pollution is happening on a huge scale in some parts of the world, it doesn’t mean we can ignore smaller scale problems at home. 

What the UK does have is a voice – and the impact that voice can have is huge. But if we are to have any influence, we have to put our money where our mouth is: we have to walk the climate change talk. 

That brings me back to the politicians. I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon, just after Boris Johnson’s conference speech. He referenced climate change and the UK’s move to being carbon neutral any number of times in the speech. He may or may not be Prime Minister this time next year: but if he’s replaced, it won’t be by someone who puts less emphasis on climate change. 

Exactly the opposite. 

If one-in-three businesses don’t have any plan in place for Brexit, then I suspect that barely one in 300 has given any thought to an annual ‘climate change audit.’ 

But I would wager a Newcastle United season ticket – and there’s a currency that makes Bitcoin look stable and secure – that five years from now we’ll all be submitting a lot more than our accounts to Companies House. I think an annual report on your energy use/commitment to green energy/exposure to climate risk is inevitable. 

…As are more protests. Someone asked me recently if I’d be prepared to let the TAB head office staff have time off work to protest against climate change. Make no mistake, climate change is going to present plenty of issues for business owners to deal with. It would be a good idea to start thinking and planning now. 

Interestingly, my youngest son asked his head teacher the ‘could I have time off’ question. Could he miss a few lessons so he could join in the protests? “Of course, Rory,” the head replied. “You can go at lunchtime when you’d be playing football.” 

He swiftly re-considered…

Face to Face with the Future


Last month brought the news that Chinese company Megvii was planning a listing on the Hong Kong stock market. Well, nothing unusual in that: despite the current pro-democracy protests, Chinese companies often list on the Hong Kong market. 

But who are Megvii? As you’ll know if you clicked the link, Megvii are ‘a world class AI company with core competency in deep learning.’ 

But what Megvii are best known for is facial recognition. They are the makers of the Face++ system, currently thought to be more accurate than rival systems from Amazon and IBM. 

So far, Face++ has largely been used in smartphones and laptops. The Chinese ride-hailing app Didi uses it so that passengers can check their driver’s identity. And, inevitably, it is used in dating apps to cut out all that tedious swiping (left or right? I haven’t a clue…)

But according to the company, most of the revenue for Face++ comes from ‘smart city’ applications – which largely means facial recognition and security at workplaces, schools and major events. It has also been reported that the technology (along with similar apps) has been used to help make thousands of arrests in China, and has been pitched to police departments around the world. 

Facial recognition is going to have big implications – for all of us as individuals, and for the businesses we run. But maybe we should take a step back, and ask a rather more basic question…

How does facial recognition work? 

Put simply, facial recognition is a way of recognising a human face through technology, ‘mapping’ features from a photograph or a video. It then compares that information with a database of known faces. 

Everyone, therefore, has a ‘facial signature’ based on ‘facial landmarks’ such as the distance between your eyes, or the distance from your forehead to your chin. One system identifies 68 of these ‘landmarks,’ giving everyone a unique signature, contained in what I suspect is a very long mathematical formula. If you’d like a little more detail, here’s one of any number of videos on Facebook. 

The continued development of facial recognition is inevitable: I have seen one estimate that suggests it will become a $7.7bn a year industry in 2022, up from $4bn in 2017. I’d say that was a very conservative estimate. As the world becomes ever-more security conscious, facial recognition is going to be increasingly pervasive. 

Are we already on the database? 

Very possibly: at least 117m Americans already have images of their face on one or more police databases. The FBI apparently has access to a database of 412m facial images for searches: given my recent trip to Denver, presumably one of those faces is Ed Reid Esq. 

So there are bound to be more and more arguments about facial recognition and its intrusion into our lives. It’s yet one more thing that chips away at our privacy. 

But on the other hand I can see the arguments in favour. Yes, security: but also – on a more practical level – speed. No more having to swipe the card you hang round your neck to walk through a door. And cash? Forget it. Just stand in front of the vending machine, it reads your face, delivers your sandwich and debits your account. Not so much Brave New World as very convenient new world. 

Facial recognition in the business world 

Earlier this month there was a controversy about the use of facial recognition in the UK. Developer Argent is working on a 67 acre site in the King’s Cross area – and it is using facial recognition technology. The company say they’re using it ‘to ensure public safety’ and that it is simply ‘one of a number of detection and tracking methods.’ 

Argent insist there are ‘sophisticated systems’ in place to protect privacy. Other businesses and organisations in the area – including Google and Central St Martin’s College – are less than convinced. Meanwhile a development at Canary Wharf is also going to trial the system…

What about business on a smaller scale? Your business and my business? Right now facial recognition will be a very long way down the agenda for most of us, but it’s not going to go away. And it will become more widespread as the cost – inevitably – comes down. 

As this article in Forbes points out, facial recognition has the potential to be a ‘friend or foe’ for business. As with so many modern developments, it seems to have an equal capacity for good or ill. 

If you’re ever going to employ facial recognition in your business (and my guess is that many of us will) then you will have some big ethical questions to answer – from your own staff to your customers to the wider public your business engages with. 

It would certainly help to have some regulatory frameworks in place. As Forbes comments – and as the King’s Cross development illustrates – ‘currently describing the field like the Wild West feels like a disservice to the Wild West.’ 

So proactive thought and guidance from our government would go a long way. After all, it’s not like they’ve got anything else to deal with this week…

A Fortnite is a Long Time in Politics


I seem to do it every year. Write half the blog before I go on holiday and half as soon as I come back. This year it seemed to make extra sense to do that, given that our politicians could very easily have rendered anything I’d written at the end of July wholly irrelevant by the middle of August…

As you know I have two boys, Dan and Rory. They’re both teenagers now but we’ve never had any problems with them. They’re hard-working, dedicated and committed. Yep, even in the summer holidays. They broke up from school and immediately went straight to their bedrooms, completely focused on their future careers. 

What was that? Doctor? Solicitor? Accountant? 

Have a word with yourself. This is 2019 – and there’s only one possible career for a self-respecting teenager. 

Professional Fortnite player. Call of Duty at a pinch…

I remember reading an article maybe ten years ago. ‘Video games will take the place of traditional sport’ it boldly prophesied. Right, I thought, as if anything could replace the experience of live sport. An afternoon at St James’s Park: England vs. Scotland at Murrayfield…

And at the end of July the future arrived, as US teenager Kyle Geirsdorf won $3m (£2.49m €2.68m) as he became world champion of the computer game Fortnite. And no, I’m not insulting your intelligence. I converted it to pounds and euros simply to help me get my head round the figures. 

The total prize pool for the event was $30m – easily putting the Fortnite World Championship on a par with some of the biggest ‘traditional’ sports events. 

If you want absolute proof that the world is changing – and changing in ways we barely contemplated a few years ago – look no further than your teenager’s bedroom. 

Of course, you might well argue that the future arrived in more ways than one in that week as – to no-one’s surprise – Boris Johnson easily beat Jeremy Hunt and became our new Prime Minister. 

Johnson undoubtedly epitomises something that has been a running theme of this blog from Day 1: the job of a leader is to lead. He’s unquestionably saying, ‘That’s the direction we’re going in. Follow me.’ 

As the Spectator put it, ‘His mission, as leader, is to project confidence and optimism from the top. After three years of Mrs Dithers we need a bit of courage and guts in Number 10, a sense of purpose and a relish for attack.’ 

But – and this is a very big ‘but’ – Johnson used to be the editor of the Spectator. The magazine has not changed its political stance since and broadly reflects his views. 

I am rather less optimistic. 

Both the UK and Europe now seem to accept that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the most likely outcome. Everyone who knows me is aware that I think that would be a disaster. 

So while Boris Johnson may be demonstrating leadership, it is surely factional leadership. He may be consistent in his message, but that message has no hope of uniting the country. 

Neither am I an expert on parliamentary law and precedent: but again, it seems that even democracy is going to play second fiddle to delivering an outcome whose sole concern is how it plays in a General Election.

Boris Johnson may well find himself spending Christmas in Downing Street with an increased majority, but the way that majority is achieved will, I think, do lasting damage to the political and social fabric of our country. 

Some of you, I’m sure, will disagree with me. But a blog like this has to be a reflection of the writer’s personal views. And I think there are real business lessons to be drawn from these two seemingly unrelated stories. 

What does the success of Fortnite tell us? That things are changing: they’re changing quickly and they’re changing in ways we never imagined even a few years ago. And because of that leadership is going to be more important than ever. But leadership is about more than gestures and personal popularity. It is about taking people with you and keeping the country – or your company – united in a common purpose. 

So here I am back at my desk after a week in Portugal. We’re now less than 11 weeks away from October 31stand there’ll be 4½ months left of the year. We know only two things for certain: all of us running businesses are going to face unprecedented challenges – and you’re much better equipped to meet those challenges as a member of TAB UK.

[One note of housekeeping: this post is late because of being in Portugal. I’ll be publishing the next one on August 30th, as I’m shortly off to the TAB conference in Denver. The normal fortnightly cycle will resume from September 6th.] 

A New TAB Member joins TAB York


Good morning – and welcome to time travel. Jump aboard the TAB Tardis and travel back in time with me. It’s August 2016 and I have just introduced a new member to one of the TAB York boards…

Ed: So here’s your first chance, Theresa. Outline your problem and let’s see what advice the other members can offer

Theresa: Here’s my problem. I’ve just been made CEO of this big company – GB plc it’s called, you might have heard of it. The shareholders have made a decision: I don’t agree with it but I have to implement it. Or I’m supposed to. That’s what the last CEO promised but he left in a huff. The problem is the board of directors are almost certainly going to be against the decision as well.

Lee: OK, Theresa. Let’s try and quantify the size of the problem. How many shareholders?

Theresa: 17.4 million

David: And how many directors?

Theresa: 650

David: Wow. That’s a big board of directors.

Theresa: I do have this thing called a ‘cabinet.’ Supposed to make executive decisions.

Lee: Did you appoint this ‘cabinet?’

Theresa: Yes

David: Great – so they’re all going to support you?

Theresa: No. 50% of them disagree with me.

Ed: Any more questions, chaps?

Lee: Last one; what’s the timeframe? How long do you have to sort it out? Four weeks? Six weeks?

Theresa: I’m thinking of three years

David: Three years? Well, with respect, Theresa, that’s madness. You can’t take three years to make a decision. No-one in business can take three years to make a decision. I mean, your company is going to be overtaken by events. Ed here is always writing about the pace of change. Taking three years to make a decision would be … well, I can’t even put it into words

Ed: Lee? You’re always incisive on this sort of thing

Lee: Well, one thing’s obvious. And you have to accept it, Theresa. You simply cannot please everyone. If you try and do that then you’ll get nowhere. If there’s one thing everyone round this table has learned it’s that the job of a leader is to lead. And sometimes that means unpopular decisions.

David: Lee’s right. And you have to establish your red lines. Lines you simply cannot cross. And you have to tell the truth. Like Lee says, you’re going to be unpopular but if you tell the truth you will at least be respected. Try and please everyone and it really will take three years… (general laughter around the TAB table at the ludicrous thought of three years)

I suspect the history books will not be kind to Theresa May. Neither will the management theory books. And neither were Wednesday morning’s newspaper headlines as I made a start on this week’s post…

We’re in crisis admits May, as she seeks Brexit delay

Cabinet at war as May begs for Brextra time

And, most damningly the Mail, a paper which has recently swung round to supporting May’s deal, called it 1,000 Wasted Days

Yes, as I write it is exactly 1,000 days since the UK voted to leave the EU and I doubt that anyone would claim that we have made progress. It is simply inconceivable that a business could waste 1,000 days. We all know what the result would be after just 100 days of inaction – ‘It’s March 20th, love. A year today that the receivers walked in.’

I may not wholly agree with Tony Soprano’s wisdom – ‘more is lost by indecision than a wrong decision’ – but what the current situation illustrates is that you cannot kick the can down the road indefinitely.

Getting EUsed to Making Decisions

We are all familiar with the old maxim that if you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit. Apparently new research from the University of London contradicts that: the scientists there say that it takes 66 days for something to become a habit. Whether it is 21 days or 66 days or even a little longer, I think we can all agree that if you have consistently done something for 1,000 days then it isn’t just a habit, it is part of your DNA.

Leaders simply cannot delay decisions. Yes, certain things in business take a long time. From the day it was first mooted that I might take over TAB UK to the day Mags and I completed the deal probably took as long as Brexit has currently taken. But from day one, we knew what we wanted to achieve. Yes, progress was sometimes slow – sometimes it was agonisingly slow – but we always knew what we were trying to do and every decision we took was with that one goal in mind.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I voted to Remain in the EU. I still think that was the correct decision. But I believe in democracy and I accepted the outcome. What I don’t think anyone in the UK – outside Parliament – can accept is that 1,000 days after the vote we have not the slightest idea how it will turn out, or what we are trying to achieve.

But, as always, there is a lesson to be learned. And that is – as ‘David’ and ‘Lee’ pointed out – decisions have to be taken. And if you’re reading the blog then the chances are that you have to make them. The decision you make may, in the short term, make you unpopular. You may lose some support, you may face criticism.

But as our Prime Minister shows us, it is nothing to the support you will lose and the level of unpopularity you will experience if your only ambition is to kick the can endlessly down the road.

A New TAB Member leaves TAB EUork

Meanwhile, back in York…

Theresa: So we have made a firm commitment that the latest extension my company is seeking will not go beyond June 30th at which point the deal will be done

David: Which deal?

Theresa: Well, I’m not sure. Everyone is still voting against my deal

Lee: And these people you want to do the deal with – what do they say?

Theresa: They say I can only have until May 23rd

David: So you still don’t know what you want? Or when you can achieve it? And that’s taken the best part of three years?

Lee: Well, at least you’ll do the decent thing and accept responsibility. That’s what real leaders do

Theresa: Are you mad? I’ve just made a speech saying it’s everyone’s fault but mine. Don’t you people know anything about running a company?


Ed Reid – MD of TAB UK

Read more of Ed’s Blogs here:

The Power of Momentum


I was going to talk about momentum this week – the irresistible force that can carry an entrepreneur and a business forward like a surfer catching a wave.

…But first of all I suppose I’d better comment on the two national sideshows. In their own way they’re both fine examples of momentum in action. But a caveat: I’m writing these opening paragraphs on Tuesday morning. But the time you read the blog Downing Street and the England dressing room may be very different places…

Monday brought us the resignation of David Davis and Boris Johnson. More government resignations are rumoured to be imminent. Her Majesty’s Government most certainly has momentum, but sadly it’s the momentum of a downward spiral. ‘Complete shambles’ doesn’t even begin to describe it and Boris Johnson’s reported comment – “£$%& business!” – all too accurately reflects what most politicians think about the people who produce the country’s wealth.

So let’s talk about momentum of a much happier type. Again, Croatia might have had something to say by the time you read this, but for now Gareth Southgate can do no wrong. As I write, the England team’s momentum is carrying them straight to the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

…Ah, damn it. It’s now Thursday night: football’s not coming home. At least not until 2020.

Does that mean the momentum of the England team has been stopped dead in its tracks? Far from it: people are already talking enthusiastically about the 2020 Euros. Southgate doesn’t think his team will peak until 2024.

And the nation has fallen back in love with the national team. Southgate himself has a lot to do with that: engaging, honest, articulate – and clearly a great man-manager. He’s trusted his players, believed in them and given them a clear direction. They’ve responded by giving him every last drop of blood, sweat and – sadly on Wednesday – tears.

Colombia-v-England-Round-of-16-2018-FIFA-World-Cup-Russia

But give them a week and the team’s morale and momentum will be right back where it was. Goodness knows where our government’s momentum will be in a week’s time, so we’d better talk about business…

Momentum is a subject that comes up a lot at TAB meetings – whether it is a meeting of business owners or TAB franchisees. No-one says ‘momentum,’ obviously. They’re ‘on a roll,’ or ‘can’t do anything wrong.’ Meanwhile across the table someone else is ‘stuck in a rut’ and ‘doesn’t know where the next sale is coming from.’

We have all been there – and experienced both emotions. I very clearly remember thinking that I would never, ever sell anything to anyone ever again. I can picture exactly where I was when my phone buzzed with yet another ‘no thanks’ to TAB York and I began to have doubts…

What’s astonishing is how quickly momentum can change. You see it in sport and you very definitely see it in business. And what’s equally astonishing is that it can change with something relatively unimportant: a small sale, someone you’d written off getting back to you – or just getting some exercise and feeling better about yourself.

That’s why mental resilience is so important in business: we all go through periods when we can do no wrong – and we all have those moments of self-doubt. As I’ve written many times, what’s important is consistency of effort: do that and – in the long run – the results will take care of themselves. And when the momentum is with you, then you’ll be unstoppable.

Which takes me back to England, the Euros and 2020. The final’s at Wembley: book your ticket now…

(The end of this month will find the Reid family booked into Hotel California for a much-anticipated family holiday. If you’re going away in the next four weeks have a wonderful time, and – assuming we can check out and want to leave – the blog will be back on August 10th.)