I like Google and Apple (who doesn’t?)
I used to love the spirit Nike had in the period of their pre-21st-century glory. I love the confidence with which companies such as John Lewis, Heinz (now 3G) and BMW go about what they do. I enjoy seeing challengers like Deliveroo, Uber, Airbnb and especially Aldi, disrupt their markets and behave small (even when - like Aldi - they’re the 90th biggest company in the world, a lot bigger than Tesco with twice as many stores in 18 countries.)
But there’s something about big companies that’s beginning to worry me.
Mark Ritson in Marketing Week gets it spot-on when he castigates Apple for circumventing paying their tax:
“Apple is by no means alone in its attempts to legally minimise its tax responsibilities. Despite what all the naïve morons that espouse CSR and brand purpose keep telling you, there are very few brands that don’t actively and massively avoid tax liabilities to a disgraceful degree. What makes Apple notable in this uniformly disgusting context is the manner in which Cook has continued to portray himself as a different kind of CEO, who takes his societal responsibilities very seriously.”
What worries me is being big can make you a bully and prematurely deaf. Being big makes you think ‘There’s my way and then there’s my way.’ Most of all, being big makes you an enemy of marketing. The big decisions you make will be about money, cost and margins, about downsizing, consolidating and acquisitions. They should be about people and what they want and need. They should be about marketing but they won’t be. And if you get too big to focus on marketing, well…you’re going to die.
Small businesses are about the future. They are about risk and about change. They are where innovation thrives. They are about learning. They are about being busy doing important things. They are more in love with their top-line (their sales) than their bottom-line (profit). And they keep on trying to get better not richer.
Small businesses are lucky. They don’t usually have shareholders or if they do they don’t have analysts poring over their numbers. They don’t have a lot of out-of-date plant and investment in property they just don’t need. They don’t have a huge workforce.
But what don’t they have?
They don’t have enough money to have much wriggle room. So they need to be very smart if they’re going to survive. Lord Rutherford the scientist said:
“We have no money so we shall have to think.” (Those who know me well will have heard that many times before.)
We’ve got to stop bending the knee to big business. The real future lies with companies creating the future and not protecting the past. And if they won’t pay their tax, however big they are, they can get lost.