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:

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


It’s a safe bet that a significant proportion of the people reading this blog have a word document – or a note on their phone or a page in their journal – with a very simple, three word title.

Goals for 2019.

We’re all ambitious: setting goals and targets comes naturally to us. But this morning I want to ask a question that isn’t often asked: why do so many people feel a sense of anti-climax when they finally achieve their goals? Why – for some people – does achieving a long sought-after goal lead not to elation, but to the exact opposite?

Let me give you a very simple example. A large number of women are depressed after their marriage. Not because of who they married (looks up, glances across the kitchen table) but because of an inevitable sense of anti-climax and a feeling of ‘what now?’ According to a report in the Washington Post12% of women admitted to being ‘blue brides.’

Similarly there are any number of anecdotal tales from sport. The momentary elation of winning the gold medal, followed by ‘now what?’ – and quite possibly the realisation that suddenly you’re back at square one. That four years from now you’ll need to prove yourself again. And there’ll be younger, hungrier pretenders to your crown.

There is no reason to suppose that business is any different. Yes, we all have goals for next year and, for most of us, those goals are a staging post on the road to the eventual destination.

But the statistics dictate that someone reading this post will reach that destination next year. They’ll sell the business they’ve built or they’ll reach a turnover or profit level they once considered impossible.

If that’s you, will you go off into the sunset punching the air? Or will you feel a sense of anti-climax and ‘now what do I do?’

Rest assured that you will be a long way from the only person to be suffering from ‘post event blues’ or the ‘arrival fallacy.’ (No, The Arrival Fallacy isn’t a thriller by Robert Ludlum: the theory is that as you get near to your goal you start to anticipate it, and therefore to discount it.)

Personal Goals

OK, time to make it personal. TAB UK is my life’s work. One day someone else is going to be the MD of TAB UK and I have no idea how I’ll feel about that. It will – absolutely – be one of the moments when I would have sought out Paul Dickinson’s wise counsel.

I have shared this with many people, but let me share it with everyone. What’s my long term goal for TAB UK? 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.

That is a really compelling vision for me and obviously my goals for the coming year represent steps along the way.

Would – at some stage – 900 members of TAB UK be a success? In financial terms, yes. Would it satisfy me psychologically? No, I don’t think so. Both Mags and I want to reach the 1,000 member goal – and, with the support of everyone in the TAB family, we’re determined to get there.

So will I feel ‘post-event blues’ or the ‘arrival fallacy’ when we reach 1,000 members? I don’t think so – but I have no way of telling. What I do know is that there will have to be something after that. It may not be to benefit me directly – but I think I will always need to have a goal in sight.

And that, of course, is the textbook way to beat the ‘post event blues:’ to make sure you immediately move on to something else.

I suspect, though, that human nature doesn’t work like that. It dictates that we do pause when we reach the summit, both literally and figuratively. And that is both right and understandable – you’ve worked to get there, you’re entitled to enjoy the view.

And if you find that the euphoria isn’t what you’ve expected then you won’t be alone. Success, as the old saying goes, is a journey as much as it’s a destination. And that’s what all of us at TAB UK are committed to – your success on the journey. You, and the other 999 business owners that are on the journey with you…

Read more of my blog here:

The Importance of Brand Perception in 2018

How do you Manage a Millennial?

The Seven Ages of The Entrepreneur

Failing Your Way to a Trillion Dollars


I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways not to make a light bulb.

We’ve all heard the famous quote from Thomas Edison – and whether it was 1,000 times, 5,000 or 10,000 (the quote varies) the message is the same: ‘he ‘failed’ any number of times but learnt from each failure until he successfully invented the light bulb.

Edison was born in Milan, Ohio in 1847. He spent most of his life in New Jersey and his inventions – the phonograph, the motion picture camera, the long lasting light bulb – have hugely influenced life today. But my question is simple: would he have been as successful if he’d been in the UK instead of the US?

Failure is celebrated in the US: it’s seen as a necessary step on the path to eventual success. In the UK, failure is all too often seen as failure. ‘Run your own business? Not working out? See, I told you it was too risky…’

why-we-fail-to-succeed-in-ilfe

I was thinking about that as I flew back from California, prompted by the news that Apple had won the race to be the world’s first trillion dollar company – that’s around £770bn, depending on this morning’s exchange rate

The Apple Computer Company was founded on April Fools’ Day 1976: 40 years later it is worth a trillion dollars. It’s tempting to airbrush the history, to think. ‘Oh yeah, they started with those cute computers and then moved on to Macs and iPhones.’

But along the way, Apple has had some spectacular failures. It’s been perilously close to bankruptcy. In the early 90s the company was in more or less continuous decline, only returning to profitability at the end of the decade. Does anyone remember the Apple Pippin? The Newton? The Macintosh Portable? The Apple Lisa, on sale for $9,995 in 1983 – the equivalent of around $25,000 (£19,200) today?

Apple’s record has not been one of continuous success: exactly the opposite. And as anyone who has seen the Steve Jobs biopic knows, there were a few personality clashes along the way…

What Apple has done so well over the last forty years is learn from failure. Every time something has gone wrong they’ve bounced back. There’s a constant drive to get better, to improve the product. Clearly it has gone wrong a few times: but it has gone right enough times to generate that trillion dollar valuation.

(Interestingly, Apple has achieved that trillion dollar valuation with the  shares selling at 15 times expected profits – that compares to 82 times expected profits for the Amazon shares which have made Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world.)

So what business lessons can we take from the company which – according to the most reliable estimates I can find – has supplied an iPhone to between 1 in 5 and 1 in 6 people in the world?

Clearly there are the obvious ones. Never stop innovating and – as with Jeff Bezos and Amazon – a clear, simple, unforgettable brand.

I was going to add a ruthless focus on delivering what the customer wants but – as Steve Jobs famously said – “People didn’t know what they wanted until I showed it to them.” Maybe the key lesson there is continuous improvement of the company’s core products.

But hidden away in the numbers from Apple’s latest figures are two other lessons we can learn.

First and foremost, the top end of your market is important: don’t be afraid to concentrate your efforts there. The recent rise in the share price came after Apple reported strong demand for its most expensive phones – that sent revenues up sharply, despite just a 1% rise in phones shipped.

Secondly, Apple had a 31% growth in their service business, which includes over 2m apps now available in the App Store. I’m going to cover the ‘subscription model’ for business in a future post, but there’s all the evidence you need. It may only be a pound or a dollar, but if a large number of people are paying it to you regularly, it can add up to something very significant.

By the time you read this I’ll be back in the States, ready for the annual TAB Conference in Denver. So once more I’ll be among people who – like Edison and Apple did – simply see failure as finding another way that doesn’t work.

I love the entrepreneurial, can-do, anything’s-possible enthusiasm in the States and the fact that the general attitude to failure is not schadenfreude but, very often, empathy. ‘Yeah, I was down there once. But I picked myself up, learned from it and look at me now. And if I can do it, so can you…’

The Biggest River in the World


Do you remember when you first heard of it?

“There’s this company in America. Only sells books. And only sells them online.”

“Really? What’s it called?”

“Amazon, I think.”

“Right. Well good luck with that. I read somewhere that people aren’t reading books any more. And it’s not like this internet thing is going to last…”

You probably had that conversation some time in the late 90s. Just 20 years later Amazon is the biggest online retailer in the world as measured by revenue and market capitalisation. And Jeff Bezos, founder, chairman, president and CEO, is the richest man in the world.

BEZOS

How has Bezos built Amazon to where it is now? And more importantly, are there any lessons we can apply to our rather more modest businesses?

Amazon was founded in July 1994. It was originally called Cadabra, but that name was jettisoned after someone mistakenly heard it as ‘cadaver.’ Bezos also considered calling the company ‘Relentless’ – but that was dismissed for sounding “slightly sinister.”

So why did Bezos settle on Amazon as a name? Because it sounded “exotic and different” and because it was the biggest river in the world and he intended to create the biggest bookstore in the world. “There’s nothing about our model that can’t be copied,” he told a reporter. “McDonald’s got copied and still built a huge, multibillion dollar company. A lot of it comes down to the brand name: they’re more important online than they are in the physical world.”

So lesson number one, brand names are important and lesson number two – not that I’ve ever said this before – the job of a leader is first and foremost to lead, to know where the company is going. “We’re going to create the biggest bookstore in the world.” Good, that’s the destination sorted: and if you want to join me on the journey, that’s fine.

Since then, of course, Amazon has gone on to become rather more than just a bookstore, even going back to a substantial bricks and mortar presence with the purchase of Whole Foods for $13.4bn in 2017.

Now Amazon supplies everything. I am constantly amazed by how many everyday items I buy from them. It simply isn’t worth going shopping – we’ll leave the rights and wrongs of Amazon’s impact on the high street to another day – when I know that Amazon will deliver for free tomorrow. And yes, I still remember the sense of wonderment when I first ordered something late at night and it turned up – as promised – the next day.

There are now more than 100 million members of Amazon Prime: that’s equivalent to 64% of the households in the US and for me it’s lesson number three. Deliver what you promise to deliver, on time, every time.

But the biggest lesson from Amazon is simple. It’s one that all of us in the TAB family know all too well – but it never hurts to be reminded.

No regrets.

When he founded Amazon at the age of 30 Jeff Bezos was a vice-president of a Wall Street brokerage. He was presumably on course for a successful and wealthy career.

But he went west, as a result of what he described as his ‘regret minimisation framework.’ In a 2010 speech at Princeton he described the decision as “the less safe path.”

“I decided I had to give it a shot,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d regret trying and failing. And I suspected that I would also be haunted by the decision not to try.”

The company was funded with $100,000 of personal and family money. Within a month of the launch it had already shipped to every US state and to 45 countries. In the first five years customer accounts jumped from 180,000 to 17 million. Sales went from $511,000 to $1.6bn – and Jeff Bezos was one of the world’s richest men.

One final lesson? An absolute focus on your customer. Amazon has always been a company willing to spend money to make money. It failed to make an annual profit in 10 of its first 23 years as it ploughed money back into what Bezos described as a “heads down focus on the customer,” cutting prices, offering free shipping and developing new devices like the Kindle.

Along the way Amazon has revolutionised our shopping habits: the current buzzword, disruption, doesn’t begin to describe it. And like every successful company, plenty of ex-employees have gone on to found very successful companies of their own – always a measure of an entrepreneur’s success.

But none of it would have happened without Jeff Bezos’ regret minimisation framework – his decision to take the less safe path. The poet Robert Frost put it rather more eloquently, in words which speak to every single entrepreneur:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

A Tale of Four Leaders


I have, of course, stolen the title from Charles Dickens. As your English teacher drummed into you, his Tale of Two Cities begins with one of the most memorable opening lines there is: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

For those of us in the TAB UK community, the last few weeks have simply been the worst of times. As many of you will know, Paul Dickinson, the founder of TAB UK and a man to whom I owe an immeasurable personal debt, died 2 weeks ago. His funeral is today.

At the end of last month Barry Dodd, an inspirational leader of the Yorkshire business community, died in a helicopter crash.

On May 3rd I wrote Darker Thoughts from an Old Friend, pondering a simple question: do you make sacrifices now, in the hope and expectation of a better future? Or do you live life to the full, accepting that the future may never arrive? Well, today I’ll be the one with the darker thoughts as I reflect on that question I asked six weeks ago.

I’ll also be reflecting on the nature of leadership.

If Paul Dickinson and Barry Dodd taught us anything, it was that leaders can and do make a difference. And that their job is simple: it is to lead and take decisions.

On Tuesday night the House of Commons voted for what appears to be yet another fudge on the road to Brexit. We are – give or take a few days – a week away from the second anniversary of the Brexit referendum. It was held on 23rd June 2016: two years on we still have no clear idea of what shape Brexit will ultimately take.

As commentator Patrick Wintour wrote recently, referring to yet another squabble in Cabinet, it was “The apotheosis of May-ism. Her ministers unable to agree what it means to set a date for when they expect to stop kicking a can down the road.”

As everyone knows, I voted to remain in the EU. If the poll were re-run tomorrow I would vote the same way. But I am a democrat: I accept the result. And I am running a business: so let’s get on with it. No commercial organisation would tolerate – or could survive – such indecision.

Our job, as leaders, is to take decisions. It’s come to something when Tony Soprano talks more sense than the British Prime Minister but as he famously said, “A wrong decision is better than indecision.”

If you make no decision: if – as we see – you cannot decide what you want from a negotiation, then you will simply have to accept what you are offered.

I wonder what Paul and Barry would have made of it? Well, I know what Paul made of it as we chatted about the shambles frequently: it doesn’t bear repeating.

Say what you like about the 49th President of the United States. He doesn’t suffer from indecision. And suddenly here’s the leader of North Korea committing to a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula. Paul Dickinson and Barry Dodd may not have approved of much that Donald Trump stands for – but they’d have recognised a successful negotiation.

Let me finish by returning to Dickens – and a personal note on Paul’s passing. Many of us know, ‘It was the best of times…’ Few of us know the next two lines. “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

There is far too much foolishness in the world, so I’ll concentrate on wisdom – and the wisdom that Paul Dickinson passed on to me, including five very simple words: “Ed, just try smiling more.”

As I wrote in an earlier e-mail to the TAB UK family, smiling is pretty bloody tough right now – but I will try to take comfort from everything Paul gave me.

Sunrise-Bright-Fields

His example, and the knowledge that he passed on to me, changed my life. He was, in the very best sense of the word, a leader. Paul had a vision, the courage to pursue that vision, and the charisma to take others with him on the journey.

That is the legacy he leaves us. And if we follow his example then – for both ourselves and our families – we will surely create the very best of times.

I’m All In…


“Forty million, five hundred thousand,” Bond says. “All in.” And he pushes his pile of chips into the centre of the table.

It’s the climax of the poker game in Casino Royale: the moment when there are only two options for Bond: he wins, or he loses.

Casino_Royale_(116)

Throughout this year I’ve compared the entrepreneur’s journey to the classical story structure used in literature. The ‘inciting incident’ when Harry Potter discovers he’s a wizard – and the moment our potential entrepreneur pushes his breakfast round his plate and realises something has to change.

Then there’s the importance of a mentor figure – Dumbledore or Gandalf or – hopefully for some of you – the Alternative Board.

And then comes the climax. The moment when there are only two possible outcomes, success or failure or – in stories and in the movies – a heroic triumph or certain death. Harry Potter goes through the trapdoor to confront Voldemort: he can succeed, or he can die. There is no other option.

Literally and metaphorically, he’s all in.

There’s a moment when the entrepreneur realises he’s all in as well. But this time it’s not the climax of the movie. Instead, it’s a staging post on the journey.

There are millions of words written about the decision to start your own business. There are virtually none written about this equally important moment. Let’s try and put that right.

I’m talking about the moment you realise that you’ve found your niche: that you’re doing what you were put on the Earth to do – and that you’ve become unemployable.

This is the moment when the entrepreneur realises there is no going back. He turns around – and the bridge behind him is burning.

For me this ‘realisation moment’ was triggered by a client. It was early in my TAB York journey and I was just finishing a 1 to 1 with a client. “Thanks, Ed,” he said. “I simply couldn’t have made these changes without you or my TAB board.”

A day later I was in a taxi, travelling home – relatively late at night – after an event. There was a sudden moment of quiet and I thought: ‘I like these people. They’re great people to work with. And I’m building a community of people like this.’

And then I spoke to one of my old friends from the corporate world. Five minutes on office politics, five minutes on the changes the new MD was bringing in and five minutes on why he was bringing them in – essentially to prove he was different to the old MD.

At that moment I realised I was all in. I couldn’t go back to my old life.

I liked my new life too much: I loved the fact that success or failure was entirely down to me. And I knew I could never go back to the office politics, to dancing to someone else’s tune.

I’ve talked to any number of entrepreneurs over the years and they can all recognise the moment. Suddenly you know you’re creating something worthwhile: suddenly the business community recognises that you’re in it for the long term: suddenly aware that you’re building a network of people around you that add something new to your life every day.

That’s when you turn around, see that the bridge is burning – and punch the air in celebration. You’re all in – and you couldn’t be happier.

Twenty years ago I went all in as well. And as this week draws to a close Dav and I will be in Whitby for our 20th wedding anniversary. Whatever I’m achieving with TAB, whatever I’m helping to build, I couldn’t have done without her at my side. “All in…”; the best decision I ever made. On the off-chance you read this, thank you.

The Entrepreneur’s Journey: Taking the First Steps


So you’ve done it. You’ve pushed your breakfast round the plate, wondered why you weren’t with your family and said, ‘That’s it. There has to be a better way.’

And a few days later you’ve burned your bridges – or at least written a letter which can be boiled down to two words: ‘I resign.’

Child Climbing Steps

You’ve committed yourself to the entrepreneur’s journey. Now you need to take the first steps: you need to write a business plan and you need to raise some money.

The chances are that you’d already ‘written’ a business plan before you wrote your resignation letter. I’ve seen potential entrepreneurs – for now, still employed – with business plans at every stage of completion: from neatly bound, carefully worded documents complete with a three year cash flow forecast – to four lines on the back of the proverbial envelope.

For some people the lead up to the resignation letter is calculated and carefully worked out. For others – as it was for me – it’s the moment when that gnawing sense of unease suddenly crystallises. When there really does ‘have to be something better than this – and it has to be now.’

Most of us know the basics of a good business plan – but I am always conscious that this blog is also being read by people who haven’t yet been tempted to tell the MD what they really think… So let me recap the essential details of a business plan:

· What are you going to do? Simply put, what’s the business about?

· What are your goals and objectives?

· Why are you the person to make it work?

· What’s the market? And what’s your marketing plan?

· Who are your competitors? What makes you different?

· If you’re designing and/or developing a product, what are your plans for that?

· Operations and management: how will the business function on a day to day basis?

· How much money do you need? If you’re investing money in the business, where is that coming from? And if you’re borrowing money, how are you going to pay it back?

· And lastly some numbers – projected profit and loss and cash flow forecasts

Those are the basics – but this is The Alternative Board. We’re about a lot more than the basics. We’re about keeping your work/life balance well and truly balanced. About the business working for you, not – as the vast majority of entrepreneurs find – you

working for the business. So your business plan needs to contain something else – something you need to get right from the outset.

Your business plan needs to contain two commitments – to yourself and to your family. To yourself a commitment that you’ll take time off, that you’ll make the time to keep fit – mentally and physically – and that you’ll invest time and money in self-improvement. Because if you don’t grow, your business cannot grow.

Secondly, a commitment to the people you love. That you’ll be there for them. That you won’t have your body at home and your soul back at the office. However high up the mountain you climb, the view is a lot better if you’re sharing it with someone.

I also like to see a business plan contain a statement of values: this is what we believe in, these are the ethics that underpin the business. Your business needs to be profitable: it needs to be one you’re proud of as well.

And now let me backtrack to the business plan. Because there at the bottom is the thorny question of finance. How much money do you need to start the business? Where is it going to come from and – if you’re borrowing the money – what are you going to use for security? Despite the increasing popularity of new initiatives like Funding Circle, Kickstarter campaigns and venture capital investors, the bank is still far and away the most popular option – and the bank will ask for security. Personal guarantees are never far away for the owners of most SMEs and in many cases, neither is your house.

This is the moment when the price of building your business really hits home. This is the moment when you say to your husband/wife/partner, ‘The house is on the line. The bank want some security and, I’m sorry, that means the house.’

That’s a difficult moment for your relationship. The house you bought together, where you’re raising your family: the house you have plans for… Suddenly there’s the spectre of someone else holding the keys: of a letter arriving from the bank politely inviting you to move out. However much someone loves you, that’s a difficult moment. It’s the moment you realise it’s not just you that will be paying the price.

Which is why that line in the business plan is so important. Time with your family. Yes, you’re building a business – but making sure you don’t miss the Nativity Play is every bit as important. Fortunately, you’re among friends: everyone at TAB UK is committed to making sure you’re sitting proudly in the front row.

Happy New Year. You’re a Hero…


Happy New Year – and welcome to my first blog post of 2018. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year – and I hope you’re now well and truly back in ‘work mode.’ I know a few people who had trouble remembering their own names last week, let alone remember what they did for a living…

As I mentioned at the end of last year, I’m going to take a slightly different approach with the blog this year, with longer pieces published every fortnight. I’m also going to alternate the posts between a TAB view of ‘the entrepreneur’s journey’ and a wider look at the economy, business trends and what the stable geniuses that make policy have in store for us.

So congratulations: you’re a hero.

unnamed

Last year, as I flew to Denver, I found myself reading about ‘the hero’s journey:’ the classic, storytelling structure that underpins so many novels and films. I’ve re-read the article a few times since – and it’s an almost exact parallel with the journey we take as entrepreneurs.

How does the hero’s journey start? It starts in the ordinary world. Harry Potter lives under the stairs. Peter Parker is a nerdy student bullied by his classmates. Frodo lives in the Shire and visits Bilbo Baggins. Ed Reid has a secure job, a company car, and a decent salary.

Then something happens: the inciting incident, or the ‘call to adventure.’ Letters from Hogwarts start arriving, Peter Parker gets bitten, Gandalf tells Frodo he must destroy the One Ring… Oh, and Ed Reid eats his breakfast in Newport Pagnell service station, wishes he was with his family and thinks, ‘There has to be something better than this.’

Initially, our hero refuses the call. ‘I’m just Harry, I can’t be a wizard.’ Peter Parker decides that winning cash at a wrestling match is the best use of his new powers. And Frodo is reluctant to leave the comfort and security of the Shire.

…Just as so many of us were reluctant to leave the comfort and security of the corporate world. We had mortgages, commitments, wives, children, a future with the company.

But we knew that there had to be something better…

I was reading an article on Richard Branson over Christmas – on an Australian site, the internet is a wonderful thing – and he was talking about most businesses being “born out of frustration” that the existing players aren’t doing a good enough job.

It’s important that you know instinctively that you can do it better (than someone else). If you can come up with an idea that will have a positive impact the figures will follow. It’s very rare that special things go bust. Sometimes they do, but it’s rare.

I take his point – but isn’t it also the point that most, if not all, entrepreneurial careers are born out of a sense of frustration? How many people reading this have had their own ‘Newport Pagnell moment?’ (Not quite ‘the road to Damascus’ but you know what I mean…)

As I sat and ate my breakfast I thought, ‘There has to be something better than this. What am I doing here when I should be with my family?’

So yes, my entrepreneurial career was absolutely born out of frustration. I was frustrated that I wasn’t seeing my children grow up and I wasn’t spending enough time with my wife. And I knew that I was ready to create and build my own business.

Yes, of course there were frustrations with the company I was working for. But the frustrations that drove me to start TAB York were internal, not external. I strongly suspect that holds good for 95% of people reading this blog and – if the figures are to be believed – it will hold good for a record number of people in the UK this year.

But what about the second part of Branson’s quote? It’s very rare that special things go bust. Sometimes they do, but it’s rare. Sadly, that’s not true of small businesses. Four in ten don’t make it through the first five years.

What is very rare, is entrepreneurs who are members of The Alternative Board not making it. Over the last nine months I sat in on any number of TAB meetings – and I never ceased to be amazed at the wisdom, knowledge and laser-like insight of our TAB members. It was a privilege to watch them in action and I can’t wait for more of the same in the coming year.

…As they continue on their hero’s journey.

They’ll be tested by their enemies (Snape, then Voldemort: the Green Goblin, Sauron, business competitors), face their final battles and eventually – in the classic ending – ‘return with the elixir.’ Harry ultimately defeats Voldemort, Peter Parker embraces his role as Spiderman and Frodo and Sam return to the Shire.

And you? You think back to that morning at Newport Pagnell – and know with absolute certainty that you made the right decision.

The Irresistible Rise of the Entrepreneur


Mid-November. Dark, cold, gloomy. You leave your house in the dark, you come home in the dark. It’s freezing, the fog hangs in the Vale of York – and only the brave travel from Pickering to Whitby without a clove of garlic and a silver bullet in the car…

November is by common consent the most depressing month of the year: which is why I am going to write one of my most upbeat blog posts, celebrating the irresistible – and very optimistic – rise of the British entrepreneur.

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It’s not just November: the bickering continues around the Brexit negotiations; the Bank of England have said inflation will remain high, placing more pressure on wages; we have a rudderless Government and an Opposition committed to turning us into Venezuela.

Despite all this, the optimism, endeavour and commitment of the British entrepreneur continue to shine through.

New research from the Hampshire Trust Bank and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has revealed that the number of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK has grown by almost a quarter over the last five years. The FSB now puts the number of private sector businesses at 5.5m.

Leading the way in the CEBR survey was the ‘office administration and business sector’ with the number of SMEs increasing by 76% between 2011 and 2016. Second place went to ‘human health services’ with a 50% rise.

The cynic might retort that this is not real growth; it is simply people becoming virtual assistants or personal trainers.

But it is Friday morning: the glass is not so much half full as running over. Every business has to start somewhere: Apple was once a college dropout building a computer in his garage. Virgin was once someone who left school at 16 selling records in a student magazine.

Small businesses are unquestionably good for the economy – they are innovative, they drive growth and they stimulate local economies. If Tesco want a shop fitting out they use a national firm: if it is the local florist, then there’s work for the local electrician, joiner, glazer and plumber.

Some interesting statistics also came out of HSBC’s second Essence of Enterprise report, which found British entrepreneurs looking to the future with confidence, on average expecting their businesses to grow by 62% over the next five years. Perhaps worryingly though, Britain is creating fewer technology start-ups than other countries – 17% compared to a global average of 24%. (And yet half of our schools still don’t offer a GCSE in Computer Science. Madness, Mrs May, madness…)

Perhaps the most interesting point to emerge from the HSBC report was on motivation. Today’s entrepreneurs are driven not solely by money (sometimes not even by money) but by a desire to have a positive impact on society – something which absolutely chimes with the philosophy of TAB, not just in this country but around the world.

What I find fantastic is that the entrepreneurial flame burns at both ends of the age spectrum. Over the last ten years the number of businesses run by the over 55s has risen by 63% – but that is eclipsed by the number of entrepreneurs past the theoretical retirement age. People over 65 now run 140% more businesses than they did ten years ago.

But if you want to be really encouraged, read this report on the festival of young entrepreneurs which has just taken place in London. It holds out so much hope for the future of the country – although with entrepreneurs as young as nine, it makes me feel positively old.

But someone who is even closer to a new hip (well, hopefully…) is Philip Hammond who, on Wednesday next week, will present the first Autumn Budget. He has a lot to do to build bridges with the small business community: many people are still angry at his ill-conceived raid on the self-employed in the last Budget.

So what do I want to see from the Budget? More than anything I want to see a Budget which shows the Government understands what it means to be an entrepreneur: that they understand the risks – both personal and financial – in setting up a small business. Entrepreneurs and SMEs are not a cash cow to be milked, they are a source of employment, innovation and growth. They are the future of the economy.

Let’s hope that the Chancellor recognises that – or he risks a lot of those very optimistic and ambitious young entrepreneurs deciding that Berlin, Lisbon or San Francisco might be a more attractive place to develop their business…

God’s Own County? Or God’s Own Country?


From Catalonia to the Aland Swedes in the north of Europe to Sardinia and Sicily in the south, there seem to be an ever increasing number of demands for independence, greater regional autonomy or simply more local power. Could it be that Yorkshire is now about to join that list? God’s own county may not become God’s own country, but with serious conversations being held about a ‘Yorkshire mayor’ it looks like the region could well be set for much greater control over its own economy, investment and spending.

…And apparently we already have the runners and riders. Mane’s neatly plaited and jig-jogging round the paddock are Ed Balls from the Red Stable and William Hague from the Blue.

At first glance it is – to use the colloquial term – a no-brainer.

Yorkshire’s Gross Domestic Product – roughly £120bn – is equal to that of the Ukraine and bigger than 11 EU countries, including Hungary, Bulgaria and Luxembourg. Leeds is the largest legal and financial centre outside London – its financial and insurance industry is reckoned to be worth £2.1bn a year. Sheffield has an economy equal to that of Ghana. On the sporting field Yorkshire gained more medals at the Rio Olympics than Canada.

Yorkshire has a bigger population than Scotland: its GDP is twice that of the whole of Wales. And yet it has the powers of neither.

Liverpool, Manchester and Teesside have directly elected mayors, exercising executive powers. And directly elected mayors are more responsible to the local electorate: they’re in power for four years – they can take the tough decisions that need to be taken. What’s more a local mayor is more recognisable – more of a figurehead, both engaging more people in politics and attracting inward investment. A ‘heavyweight’ like Ed Balls has to be more attractive to foreign companies than, say, the head of the regeneration department at the local council.

Yep, it’s a no-brainer. Roll on the first elections for Yorkshire mayor in 2018.

Wood, Frank Watson, 1862-1953; Alexander Darling, Mayor of Berwick-upon-Tweed (1925-1927)

Or maybe not…

Because the more I think about it, the more cautious about the idea I become. Hang on, I’m just going to jump in the car…

I drove from Leeds to London to Birmingham to Liverpool to Manchester and back to Leeds. A round trip of not quite 500 miles. But on that journey I drove through four areas with directly elected mayors – five if Yorkshire follows suit. That’s five directly elected mayors with their attendant salaries, staff and bureaucracies. Many would argue that what this country needs is less government, not more government.

It’s like a business adding layer upon layer of ‘spending and oversight’ committees: ultimately, they’re all costs which have to be borne by the people that produce the wealth.

And I’m not sure that a politician is the answer. Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham – both Labour party stalwarts – have washed up in Manchester and Liverpool respectively. Aye, there’s always Mayor of Yorkshire, love. I may have failed at Westminster but t’party has found me a cushy number in Leeds…

No thanks.

If we are to have a Yorkshire mayor, give me someone with business experience: someone like Gary Verity – or better yet, Barry Dodd, someone with experience of business, spending, the LEPs and dealing with politicians.

Mayor of Yorkshire would be a tough gig. Getting Leeds to agree with York is a challenge, before we try and get Sheffield to agree with anyone in West Yorkshire. And then there’s geography. As my former TAB York members on the coast would tell me, Scarborough to Skipton is a three day camel trek.

Money does need spending in Yorkshire, but I have my doubts as to whether a mayor is automatically the right answer. The problem is that the Government seems addicted to expensive gestures, irrespective of their real benefits.

…Which brings me neatly on to HS2. What’s the latest bill? Somewhere north of £50bn – it’s set to be the most expensive railway in the world. I suspect it will cost Elon Musk less money to colonise Mars. Let’s spend a fraction of that money and improve the rail link between Leeds and Manchester and Liverpool. An hour stuck in a siding outside Huddersfield would concentrate the new Mayor’s thoughts. At least they’ve stopped calling the trains ‘sprinters…’