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Magnus Opus

Published on January 15, 2015

magna_cartaI had a great headline for this, my first blog of 2015. But the only Carter that I’ve worked with didn’t do a Magna job. So, whilst the company that he founded and then left now prospers, in the interests of veracity I’m forced to kick off the octocentenary year of the founding of the rule of Law, with this less obvious headline.

It seems that, in common with the aforementioned “Minimus entrepreneur”, many of us in the UK are good at starting things (football, Marmite and new businesses to name a few) but less good at developing them into something of substantial benefit. So says the report by Sherry Coutu CBE on the Scale up of UK economic growth, that was published recently (although to be fair it doesn’t say much about football and Marmite). Her statistics show that, except in the category “growth of 1% p.a.”, we lag behind the U.S. (and most other countries) both in having fewer declining companies and fewer rapidly growing ones.

I couldn’t find anything in the report about attitude to risk, whereby failures in the US are seen as the prelude to success rather than a reason to fail again, as our culture teaches. So the solutions are largely predictable: more suitable skills; leadership training; and finance from funds that believe in innovation and the long term. Some are predictable and controversial: the need for more foreign recruits is not currently a vote winner; and some are an understandable step in the right direction, if long overdue: recommendation 10 calls for a report on “Regulation cycle time” (how long it takes planning and other authorities to respond to applications) should be reported and compared to other countries. Whether this “name and shame “ approach would work given the levels of service in HMRC and elsewhere is uncertain, as I said when the proposals to name and shame those larger companies which extend supplier payments were announced last year. Still it will be fun to try.

The main thrust of the report, as I see it, is to look at what works and connect to it. We have Growth Funds, Innovation centres, skills training…. In fact there are so many that it’s hard to know where to find the ones that work. Ms Coutu expects that this can be rectified by sharing the results of all agencies, from the frankly disastrous Regional Growth Funds (£38,000 per new job) to the impressive Mass Challenge and VentureFest (a snip at £1,285 per new job). In time the results of all of them will become clear, and her expectation is that this will reduce their number from its current peak (I hope) of a rather immodest 891. But in the meantime the message is, as ever, to learn how to grow from your peers.

Not a brand new idea and one that I have just applied. Using one of the peer organisations mentioned, in my case the Supper Club, I recognised that my skills belong in the start-up category rather than the scale up box – it was no coincidence that although I have started two new businesses (HR Directors and Sales Directors) and opened three new offices, our sales growth was no longer award winning. A series of conversations led to a conversation with Graham Sims that culminated in him replacing me as Executive Chairman of Flexible Directors. As former head of retail at BP, co-founder of Nectar, and the chairman of Little Chef who actually made that business valuable (again), he knows a few things about scaling up. So I’m delighted to welcome him to my magnus opus – the company which I have spent 14 years developing.

I have removed myself to the Founder’s office whence I shall continue to blog and suggest other things that we can found. And I shall turn more of my attention to WealthBeing, which will be launched this autumn. I hope that it will be the basis of a charter for generating wealth and enjoying well-being and that you may have (Habeas) it amongst the body (Corpus) of your library one day.