Ties, confidence and growth

Somebody mentioned to me the other day that there is a relationship between business confidence and wearing ties. As confidence falls, more people wear ties, as it grows people discard their ties. We all had a good laugh at this latest crazy theory…

But then I couldn’t help noticing at the CBI Annual Conference on Monday that the vast majority – around 90% – of guys were wearing ties. Furthermore, at the Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 awards dinner the next day the ratios were reversed: the vast majority – around 90% of guys – were not wearing ties.

This is probably pure coincidence, or perhaps more a cultural difference between established business leaders and enterprise business leaders, but for me, it was an apposite chance observation on where we are as nation at the moment.

At a recent CBI Regional Council meeting the mood around the table was similarly polarised: established businesses reported being extremely worried about BREXIT, whereas those representing enterprise businesses reported a relatively high level of confidence. As one member remarked, he felt this was because enterprise businesses neither had the inclination nor could afford to sit back and wring their hands – they had to get out there and address the changed market circumstances here and now, and are succeeding. It is similar to what I was trained to do as a submariner: don’t faff around – attack what you see.

I completely acknowledge that addressing the uncertainty that BREXIT represents is really important, but it is not the only game in town. Nor can we afford to sit back and wait for it all to play out which, given the history of the EU, could take many years. What we do need is a parallel strategy, a growth strategy, that is not reliant on the outcome of the negotiations but can build on the new freedoms BREXIT offers us.

I suggest the government should seriously consider an Enterprise Growth Strategy. The objective would be to make the whole of the UK an Enterprise Economy, the Silicon Valley of Europe if you like. Not a member of the EU but a close enterprise partner to all European countries – and beyond.

I see five pillars to this strategy: leadership, skills, infrastructure, finance and business processes. Leadership is about establishing an Enterprise Minister responsible for working across government delivering the strategy. Skills is about setting up a business education strand that sits alongside academic and vocational training and delivers graduates that are able to set up or work in an enterprise business straight from school or university. Infrastructure is about setting up enterprise focused incubators and shared office space. Finance is about focusing on the growth needs of enterprise businesses and in many cases, helping them to profitability.

The final element, business processes, is about working to reduce the failure rate of enterprise businesses. More often than not this is related to cash flow, which in turn is related to winning business and being paid for it. The bigger the customer the harder it is to win business – and to get paid for it. This pillar is about addressing this through things like procurement practices, standard contracts and cash on delivery payment terms, which in these days of worldwide real-time electronic financial trading should be the norm.

The key question is, how many people would not be wearing ties if we succeeded in implementing an enterprise economy: my view is it would be well towards the 90%!

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