This is fascinating. Within our network of businesses and business representatives, we explored who ideally, this new government-appointed business guru should be. The results were really interesting. We've shared them here.
Who or what is a business tsar and why does it matter?
Towards the end of July 2016, the Financial Times reported that our then newly appointed Prime Minister, Theresa May, would shortly appoint a new 'business tsar' and was currently considering who might be a suitable choice.
The role of the tsar, which is broadly to assist the government with its development and roll-out of UK business strategy is not a new one. Asda CEO, Andy Clarke, Easyjet's Carolyn McCall and most recently, Lord Alan Sugar have previously held the position.
According to media reports, Theresa May favours a candidate from industry rather than someone with a financial or other professional services background.
Whoever she chooses will likely have a more active and impactful role than his or her predecessors, not least since the government reportedly intends for this individual to assist in reassuring UK businesses and foreign investors of the stability and desirability of the U.K. economy in the aftermath of the Brexit decision.
Who would you choose?
We asked our Twitter audience, by way of a Twitter poll (which we had to run twice as Twitter seemed to catch a bug right when we ran the poll), and our network of contacts, by a more open-ended survey question.
To those on Twitter, we asked a multi-choice question about the ideal background that the new tsar should have. We gave participants a choice of 4 options:
1. A leader from a sporting background
2. A successful entrepreneur
3. A captain of industry/seasoned business representative
4. A digital expert/leader
There were two clear winners amongst this pack: firstly, a successful entrepreneur and secondly, someone with a digital background or experience.
In many ways, this chimed with our findings from the more open-ended question to our own network about who we would choose, if the choice was down to us. However, there were still a number of seasoned businessmen and women whom our participants considered reassuringly worthy of the role, many of whom are of course successful entrepreneurs 'grown great'.
Leaders from sporting backgrounds were not favoured. Given the nature of the role in question, that seems right. Although it's always dangerous to fall back on stereotypes, assumptions or make obvious choices without considering whether other skill sets and experience could better perform any role.
Let's take a look at some of the suggestions we received.
Popular choices amongst the 'captain of industry' category:
There were some clear heavyweight captains of industry amongst the most popular choices, including Sir Richard Branson, Sir Martin Sorrell and most especially, Sir James Dyson.
Dragons, Dragons, Dragons
Other suggestions included a number of dragons, including Peter Jones CBE, Hilary Devey CBE, Sarah Willingham, Deborah Meaden and Nick Jenkins.
Some great, 'usual suspects'
There were also votes in favour of Baroness Karren Brady, about whom entrepreneur and impact coach, Esther Stanhope commented:
"Watch her video and you get goosebumps! She's the best role model we've got in this country: sassy, savvy, strong and entrepreneurial. She's a wonderful mentor for the less fortunate. She's also charismatic and charming, with great presence and poise."
Baron Digby Jones (former Director General of the CBI and Minister of State for Trade & Investment) and other 'heavy-hitters' like the Federation of Small Business' chairman, Mike Cherry, received votes; as did the well-known, well-liked and highly successful entrepreneurial founders of Innocent: Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright.
Of Mike Cherry, LHS Solicitors' John Waring explained that he would recommend the FSB's chairman because "he's spent many years highlighting the issues facing small businesses". Since the FSB has a position of political neutrality, John felt that Cherry's views on the challenges that businesses face may be more positively received by those outside government than other contenders who might have a more close association with the current government. John pointed out that "he is also not a CEO of a large business and therefore could not be accused of standing to gain from potential changes to government policy, putting him in a great position to command wide respect from UK industry."
From fashion to pubs ...
There were votes for Burberry's Yorkshire-born, creative and visionary CEO, Christopher Bailey, who engineered Burberry' renaissance from a failing brand to one that is very much back on trend and digitally relevant; and JD Weatherspoon plc's chairman, Tim Martin. As one of 250 business leaders who signed up to the Vote Leave campaign, members of our network felt that Martin would have credibility to support the direction that the UK has chosen to take following the outcome of the June referendum.
....and then key-cutting
James Timpson, Chief Executive of Timpsons, the well-known, Manchester-headquartered, high street shoe-repairer, key-cutter and owner of Snappy Snaps, was as much a philanthropically motivated suggestion as one for evidencing consistent and successful business acumen.
Timpsons is a long-standing British gem of a business. Established as a family business in 1865, it remains family run and today commands a revenue in excess of £150m courtesy of over 1400 outlets.
Perhaps less known about Timpsons is that under James Timpson's steerage, around 10% of Timpson staff are directly recruited from prison in a programme of recruitment that has apparently proven highly successful in the rehabilitation of former offenders. Timpsons has successfully forged relationships with over 70 UK prisons, with James Timpson actively encouraging other businesses to get involved in similar programmes to give people a second chance.
Impressively ( some might say bravely), Timpsons also operate what they call an 'upside down management' approach, where the management teams delegate authority but retain responsibility for the business. Timpson staff must follow only 2 rules: look the part and put money in the till.
The UK's answer to Warren Buffet (according to Wikipedia!), Terry Smith, founder and chief exec of Fundsmith, was also proposed for having "spent 40 years explaining difficult business concepts in simple terms, understandable to everybody. With a successful track record of leading and growing businesses in several different industries, he is said never to be afraid of being a dissenting voice and standing out from the crowd." According to Thisismoney.co.uk, he's currently the UK's most popular fund manager. For our voters, he was felt to be a stable and experienced voice for business.
Votes for successful British entrepreneurs:
More interesting, in many ways, were the less obvious proposals and the reasons that those nominating them kindly shared with us.
It was great to see one of our own disruptive role models, Deliveroo's co-founder, Will Shu, among some of the most popular names. Having established a multi-national business from startup in an incredibly short space of time, successfully disrupted food takeaway markets in many of the world's key countries and cities and just completed a funding round raising £275m, Will's shrewd, entrepreneurial vision, experience of rapidly building an international business from a UK platform and his down-to-earth, uncomplicated and business-friendly style, are attributes that our network felt would be of strong benefit to the government.
Other suggestions we received took us from beer to manicures, to curry, hotels, bakeries, hotels, pizza and jewellery.
Brewdog's Aberdeenshire-based founders, James Watt MBE and Martin Dickie MBE, whose job titles describe them respectively as 'Captain' and 'Beer Pirate', also featured amongst the popular suggestions. For arguably starting a worldwide craft beer revolution from very lowly beginnings in 2007, to just one year later, 'masterminding' (their description) the UK's strongest ever beer (Tokyo), causing a huge media storm, to being banned from sales in a significant chunk of the U.K., establishing a hugely successful export business and becoming Scotland's largest independent brewery, this duo was unstoppable.
By 2009, they were the UK's fastest growing alternative beer brand. In 2015, they launched the largest ever crowdfunding scheme, brewed 65 different beers and took Brewdog beer to the US. As business tsars, they'd be amongst the more controversial proposals that we received. There's no denying however, that they appreciate the need to know your product and your market extremely well and to be voraciously ambitious, to compete with maximum impact as a startup or a SME, in the UK.
Moonpig's entrepreneurial Nick Jenkins, now also a dragon, as well as an active investor in startup enterprises using innovation to find better solution to social issues in the UK, similarly struck a chord with our voters. He's described as "having an idea that nobody else had thought of and creating a hugely successful international brand that's known and consumed by British consumers as well as countless millions abroad." It spurred a number of successful copycats. (He sold the business to Photobox in 2011 for £120m.)
Consistently held values and social-investment matters
Like Nick Jenkins and James Timpson, Mark Adlestone OBE, the chairman of Beaverbrooks the jewellers, was a strong contender amongst this pack. Reasons for proposing him included that "he has a total commitment to investing in, and believing in, his staff", that he "shares our own corporate values" and "is a gifted, award-winning entrepreneur, for all the right and noble reasons". For the last 12 years running, Beaverbrooks has made it on to the Sunday Times' 100 Best Companies to Work For list. For nearly a century, the family-run business has ridden out the economic ups and downs of the British economy and on each occasion, has adapted successfully to accommodate (and benefit from) the significant changes to the way consumers behave and business is now done, without compromising its social and charitable values.
Bring on the women...
Mumpreneur, investor and relatively 'newbie' dragon, Sarah Willingham, who made big money in the restaurant trade (Planet Hollywood, Pizza Express and Bombay Bicycle Club, amongst others), was also proposed several times. She's described as 'a canny operator', a good communicator and a positive role model for women in business.
The list of contenders is joined by the award-winning Nails Inc. founder, Liverpudlian Thea Green MBE, who launched her once small British brand 15 years ago and can now legitimately boast A-list celebrities, including Alexa Chung, Poppy Delevigne and Victoria Beckham amongst her product fan-base.
Manchester businesswoman, Henna Riaz, who founded 360 Audits also made the list. 360 Audits is a business that conducts royalty audits for clients in music, sports, gaming, entertainment and the film sectors.
British hotelier and TV presenter (e.g. The Hotel Inspector, The Fixer, Chefs on Trial), Alex Polizzi, was another very popular suggestion for being "bright, down to earth, very astute in business (not just hotels), and nobody's fool".
Enterprise Nation's Emma Jones, also co-founder of Startup Britain as well as Julie Chakraverty were amongst some of my favourite suggestions. Jones created Enterprise Nation as a home business web-site in 2006 and it has since grown to a nationally recognised brand for startup businesses. Having authored several guidance books for small businesses and regularly supported special projects aimed at setting people up with their own businesses, Jones has a 'no-nonsense but nurturing' approach and great track record in demonstrating an understanding of what the 5.4m SME's in the UK currently face and need.
Chakraverty has a highly credible city pedigree in finance and insurance and a proven track record. While admittedly, she's from professional services, and our PM has indicated a preference for industry, Chakraverty has also co-created and manages her own brand, Rungway, a mentoring app where anyone can ask and respond to questions about work-life challenges. Our participants described her as having "been at the cold face of commerce in an often male-dominated environment" and having "risen on through the ranks on her own merit". To top that, she developed and launched her own tech solution while managing a home life.
The importance of digital experience
As for me, well, I definitely agree with those pushing for someone with digital experience, including Yiuwin Tsang of Sift Media, the Bristol-based national publishing enterprise behind the hugely successful online sites, BusinessZone and UK Business Forums.
Yiuwin's choice was Emer Coleman, an accomplished individual with a career "blending both public and private sector experience, and a thorough grounding in the digital and specifically data space, which transcends individual industries and applies across pretty much every sector."
I also agree with Yiuwin that while the appointment of a business tsar is no panacea to magically resolving some of the biggest challenges the government faces, to enable businesses of all sizes to flourish, the role could be used by the government to far greater benefit than in the past.
My vote would go to IBM Watson's Harriet Green. Formerly the CEO of one of the UK's best-know consumer brands, Thomas Cook, and Chief Exec of electronics distributor Premier Farrell, Green now leads two IBM divisions, the Internet of Things and Commerce & Education - a global role she was reportedly hired into by the IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, personally. During her time at Thomas Cook, she grew the market from £148m to over £2bn in little more than 2 years.
At the cutting edge of changes and developments that will inevitably impact business and lifestyles of the future, she is an experienced, digital and social business leader, who understands the importance of connectivity, innovation and disruption - and its wider 'knock on' effect.
A challenging brief - if properly met
We're essentially looking for a new breed of business champion. One that extols many of the virtues of those described above.
Whoever ultimately takes the position, they will need to be an individual capable of looking to the future, of identifying industries and opportunities that will drive value and prosperity to the economy.
Clear threads weaving through all the choices above, point to a need for a straightforward, no-nonsense, but dynamic and visionary personality. Someone who will stand firm in the face of political pressure, who will be values-driven, work-force responsible, and who will remain uncorrupted by financial recompense or by the lure of the limelight and benefits to personal profile.
To be truly successful, they'll need to firmly and persuasively steer the government to decisions that foster economic stability and create the right conditions for sustainability and prosperity across all of the UK's diverse business sectors; to the benefit of businesses in startup, growth and established stages.
And our government, under Theresa May's steerage, must do all that it should to ensure the latest business tsar is not just window dressing and decoration, but can instead make a real and positive difference to the conditions enabling businesses in the UK to thrive and evolve.
No pressure ...
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