Monday, 19 August 2019

THE AGE OF ENTERPRISE

Recently I was passed in the street by someone uttering some rather depressing words.

“It’s so hard. I have to spend my time keeping tabs on my people making sure they do things properly.”

It must be fun working for him. But he, the joyless administrator,  is one reason the Start-Up revolution is gaining so much momentum.


The other is we live in a world of increasing uncertainty where economists and leading opinion makers  say with equally great conviction “we’re on the edge of a cliff” or “things will settle down quite quickly in reality”.

Few of us comprehend the macro-economy but we understand our own small world quite well. We know that big companies are not to be entirely trusted when it comes to “downsizing”. We are tired of being a number not a face. Better to strike out on our own in a rowing boat than stick with Titanic Limited.

Today I’m focusing on the middle aged entrepreneur.



George Clooney is 58. He recently sold his Tequila brand Cosamigos for $1billion. 


In a paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research middle aged start-ups are shown to grow faster and survive longer. The FT says over-50s now account for 43% of those who start their own business.

So what’s going on?

What I call the Start -Up Revolution is being fuelled from three sources – Millennials, who don’t want to work for the people like that lugubrious joker on whom I eavesdropped, women – many post maternity-leave to whom the thought of returning to office politics is too awful and the disenchanted, redundant over 50s loaded with experience, skill and enough surplus cash to fund a start-up.


David Rowan has written a book “Non-Bullshit Innovation” in which he explores the mindsets of global tech start-ups and their disruptive, white-sheet-of-paper thinking. He rightly criticises the British government’s constant postponement of decisions about strategic priorities.

It’s ironic we have so many assets to play with. Here are just a few:
- English is the world’s lingua franca
- We are huge in gaming technology
- We are big in film production
- Our creative industries are booming


- We are still dominant in financial services
- Climate change is giving us the agro-friendly climate of France in the 1980s
- We have become accomplished at customer service (about time)
- Our recent record in innovation from luxury goods to food to technology is impressive.

We don’t blow our own trumpets but as the middle aged increasingly flex their innovative muscles a fanfare is becoming more noticeable. Take gin where a generation of middle aged entrepreneurs have introduced the most exotic, interesting variety of new gins imaginable. Sales of gin have doubled in the past five years.


We hear a lot about Silicon Valley. It’s time we started to think regardless of Brexit of ourselves as “Innovation Island”. Driven by the ambitions, skill and independence of spirit of the experienced, as well as the young and hungry, we are in good shape.

Government won’t help us (they seldom do)  but they can at least get out of the way.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published in October by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

Monday, 12 August 2019

COMMON SENSE, REASON AND FAITH

A friend said recently “I wonder how history will judge 2019”. The answer, of course, is in much the same way history judged 1919, 1819 or 1719. A year in which reason was cast aside and – as usual - folly prevailed. A hundred years ago there was a devastating flu pandemic, a disastrous Paris Peace Conference, and spontaneous outbreaks of violence in the Midlands and elsewhere. In 1819 there was the Peterloo Massacre (so you think Brexit is divisive?) whilst in 1719 France invaded Spain and Russia devastated the Swedish coast.


Human beings are, and always were, aggressive and irrational. As Teresa May once said “nothing has changed, nothing has changed”.  Perhaps it’s because of disruption that we  often hear a cry of despair that there’s so little common sense around nowadays. “Common sense” was most famously used by Thomas Paine in the 18th century when arguing for the Independence of America meaning that it was “self-evident” that this should happen.


Before that “common sense” described the 6th sense unifying the five other human senses. So its origins define it as a really big deal. Nowadays its use seems to mean what is obvious to anyone of average intelligence and as such, in a democracy, is irrefutable. This would mean Brexit is common sense. But this surely won’t do, will it?

Similarly that most dangerous remark “it stands to reason” is usually made when reason and facts have been discarded. When opinion has taken over from analysis and thought. It’s a phrase like “let’s be fair” which is most commonly used meaning just the opposite.


I spent much of my life in advertising and obviously appreciate and applaud the power of slogans. Thus “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet” ; “Persil washes whiter”; “British Airways. The World’s Favourite Airline”.  But maybe the most potent in my life has been “Take back control” because it changed the political and cultural landscape for good (or, as many think, for bad).

In America Donald Trump and in the UK Dominic Cummings  have proved the rousing slogan works. ”Make America Great Again” and “Take Back Control” are both action-focused unlike more passive slogans like “Labour isn’t Working”. They assume we’ve had something taken away we owned and must restore.

In the midst of this people have been losing their faith in all the institutions, Police, Judiciary, Doctors, Schools and Clergy. Yet whilst Sunday attendance in churches has declined by 15% since 2007,  attendance in Cathedrals has grown by nearly 20%. So it’s odd Rochester and Norwich  Cathedrals have put  in their aisles, respectively,  a crazy golf course  and a helter-skelter.


As tribalism grows so too does faith. Rationality has taken a kicking but faith in areas from sport to fitness gurus to community groups has grown. Maybe the church should tap into that rather than indulge in low grade gimmickry.

People need to believe in something – in the midst of the current confusion something solid, reliable and unchanging.

Monday, 5 August 2019

WE ARE NOT ALL DOOMED

I’ve had a lot of depressing e-mails from friends living abroad telling me how miserable I should be and how much more miserable I’m going to be; that a no-deal Brexit will be an economic catastrophe; that we’re all shitting ourselves, or should be.


And those who aren’t are deluding themselves, fiddling as Rome burns.
Although I was an ardent ‘remainer’, as a democrat, I recognise we lost the argument.
- I believe in international co-operation.
- I love Europe and feel very happy there.
- But I prize human spirit, enterprise and resilience above political ideology.

In the end I believe we’ll make the best of the script which, nonetheless, had it been in my power I shouldn’t have written. We need to retain our sense of humour and especially our sense of irony. The “we’re all doomed” school of thinking has no useful role to play.

We need to work on creating a new different and, possibly in the long run, better world. Here are a few things that may be different:

The Union may not survive. A pity. A blow to our vanity but if Scotland wants to leave so be it.
The farming industry may thrive, focusing on the home market. In Sussex we already have a fruit and veg entrepreneur selling delicious fresh vegetables from his range of antique horseboxes, all grown in Sussex farms. The exchange rate will make a lot of European food unaffordable.


We’ll miss trips to Europe, for the time being, particularly, in our case, Italy. But we’ll get to see more of England, Scotland and Wales, instead.


Last week we went to Rathfinny a wine estate outside Alfriston, ½ hour east of Brighton. They have 350,000 vines and are planning to have over 800,000. It’s the biggest solus-owned vineyard in Europe and, certainly, the most modern in equipment and technology. Their restaurant, overlooking their vineyards in Cradle Valley, was sensational in both value and Michelin-quality. With phenomena like this things look up.

Our sport may cheer us up too. Some brilliant footballers, golfers, cricketers, netball, rugby and hockey players. And perhaps great Bayreuth singers like Catherine Foster, the English mezzo soprano who can’t get a role in Britain, might be more welcome now.

Big institutions like banks, global corporates and supermarkets may struggle – their lives are likely to become much more complicated. My heart bleeds for them.

How bad will it be? It seems quite a lot of people are hoping it will be terrible and get even worse, much worse on the basis that this will demonstrate, in a kind of ideological masochism, the folly of leaving the EU.


Brexit may be regrettable, it may even be tricky but I refuse to believe it’s the end of our world. Enterprising entrepreneurs will do well. They always do.  We’ve got to believe not grieve, be happy and stop listening to politicians and macro-economists showing us the potential downsides. Let’s enjoy the sunshine and keep out of the rain.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published in October by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom