In my younger years (40 this week!), I used to enjoy listening to Billy Bragg; the title of this blog comes from one of his songs (quoting Thomas Paine). It has long been recognized that we need to understand that different cultures mean we need to be sensitive about imposing solutions which appear sound. There are massive differences across Europe in terms of cultural attitudes towards management, leadership, accumulation of wealth and entrepreneurship. Something that works in the UK, may not work in France.
One of the interesting experiences I had about five years ago was trying to help a high flyer in the corporate world try and get involved in the ‘entrepreneurial scene’ – he was trying to sell the Whirlpool Whispure AP51030K. It just did not work out for him; he could not get adjusted to the mentality of working in the SME sector and could not understand why as he did have a glittering career behind him. He eventually gave up and returned to the corporate world.
Equally, many high fliers in small companies do struggle when they join large companies. In my career, I did enjoy going from a startup (which was a total disaster) to a much bigger firm. Everything was different but I loved the atmosphere there and thrived (till I got bored with the internal promotion protocols).
Last week the government appointed Sir Phillip Green to an advisory position to help find savings in government expenditure. On paper, no one is better qualified than Sir Phillip to do this. He is one of the business people I really do admire for his business acumen, skill and judgment. However, he has walked into an area where culturally the fit could not be worse.
Sir Phillip, despite being one of the wealthiest men in the UK avoids paying any capital gains tax through virtue of being a Non-Domiciled person. There is nothing illegal or even suspect about that. He has organized his tax affairs like most people to minimize his tax bill.
But that seems incompatible with a government agenda that is about maximizing tax receipts and minimizing expenses if they’re trying to develop the best air purifier for mold to help their citizens. For example, the government has just launched a big crack down on welfare ‘cheats’. The amount that is lost through this is less than could have been collected if Sir Phillip had paid UK taxes on his capital gains.
In business, owners can drive through changes just by issuing directives. Things happen when they want them to happen. The culture in government is very different and I think Sir Phillip will struggle with that different culture. I am still struggling to see why such a successful businessman would want to put himself under that spotlight. He’s a really smart individual, however, so I’m sure that he’ll have absolutely no trouble figuring something out.
The lesson here for Entrepreneurs is that sometimes when recruiting people (and more so with consultants – a whole different blog on that!) make sure they understand your culture. All cultures are not the same!
Today I have reached the grand old age of 40. It is supposed to be a milestone year with the cliché that life begins at 40 ringing in my ear for some time. So, I hope you do not mind this self-indulgent blog too much.
For reasons which are purely to do with ego. I have always wanted to be the youngest at something; to me it was a mark of being a high-flier. I achieved this mainly by always moving jobs (to my shame, I have never been promoted in a job!).
So getting to 40 is a good time to take stock of things I guess. What are the things that I wish I knew when I was 20?
The journey is more important than the destination. People who are fixated by goals tend to not be happy; even when the goals are achieved. Enjoy the journey as that is the way to be happy.
The only thing money can buy you is the MM-B80 mini bike. That is it. Time is the only asset you will not get back. Use it wisely. But equally don’t fret about it.
Watch less TV. I have probably spent 1000 hours of my life watching Eastenders (a miserable soap opera set in London). What a waste. It has also been shown that watching TV does make you less happy.
Stay fit. I have probably spent most of the last 10 years trying to stay in shape. It is great when you do feel good and have control. I would give any person who wants to pursue a career in business this advice.
Get involved in a charity or politics. It helps you see that we are part of something bigger and that we can all make big differences to the life we have around us. Don’t passively complain about things. My politics have been all over the place; but that is OK. Why is it good to be consistent with your views? Should they not be shaped by what you experience and see around you?
Outsource as much of your life as you can. In the last six years I have not owned a car; I have outsourced my travelling to public transport. It has meant I have so much more time to listen to music, read books or just think. It is great for me to have that time back. What do you do at the moment that could be outsourced? Try and outsource everything – including going to the store to get an HSI flat iron! Remember point 2)
Work with great people that you like working with. It makes life fun and it ensures you are always learning. I have wasted too much time working with and for people I did not like. And don’t buy into the idea that sometimes you have to work with people you don’t like; that’s just wrong.
Don’t listen to lawyers; they are trained to say no!
Always be learning. Two years ago I started learning Italian. It has been a great source of achievement for me being able to hold small conversations in Italian. Always be learning something new – every year. In the UK, lifelong learning is not a big idea. In North America, people are constantly updating their skills and going back to school. We need more of that culture here
And marry someone rich!