It may be a little controversial but I think it is ok to say this because I am one of the category: white men over 40 have an amazing capacity for getting the country into a bit of a mess, politically speaking.
Let me elaborate. It has often been said that it was white middle aged men that caused the financial crash in 2008. More recently, during the UK’s Brexit debate, women were marginalised by the media (over 80% of Brexit debate or column inches were from men). Sage held two debates for our customers, Small & Medium Businesses, with brilliant women chairing and appearing on the panels – from Anna Soubry to Steph McGovern – but the overall picture wasn’t so balanced. In fact, the debate seemed to throw-back to a distant age.
So, now it is ironic that the result of the referendum and the subsequent short-lived Conservative leadership campaign sees the UK’s second female Prime Minister charged with leading post- referendum Britain. This is an historic moment, whichever way you look at it.
At Sage, we are unsurprisingly fans of diversity in leadership. Both in our own business and amongst the customers we serve – the world’s business builders – those true heroes of the economy that create two thirds of all jobs. In the UK, the number of Small & Medium Businesses at least partially led by women stands at 38% and outside of construction and manufacturing, the number of businesses led by women stands at 43%.
We think there are some lessons & ideas from entrepreneurs that could stand the UK’s new PM in good stead:
- Entrepreneurs often live life at breakneck speed and some days are an emotional rollercoaster of ups & downs. They know that “Fail to plan, means plan to fail”. There was clearly no plan at all post-vote as admitted by the talented Tom Scholar,so it is good to see Prime Minister May move quickly to create a new Department for Brexit to develop the plan for success.
- We need to eliminate the ‘sky is falling’ narrative – no more Chicken Little. I’ve blogged about this – our nation’s entrepreneurs want confident, positive leadership – not doom mongering. We want to see great ideas like Rohan Silva’s turbo growth budget, we need regional development, to heal the divisions exposed by the vote. The new department should embrace the heresy of an industrial strategy to highlight no more than 6 industries where Britain is great or plans to be – Financial services ; Tech; manufacturing and support for thriving Small & Medium Businesses. And the Government should adopt the ‘get on with it’ attitude of our nation’s business builders who haven’t been distracted by the political upheaval.
- We can embrace the case for sterling at these levels. Admittedly, there is a negative impact on cost of imports; inflation but basic economic history highlights the positives – inward investment; exports and UK reported earnings. Post the ERM drop in sterling we saw a 15 year boost to the economy. Many of our UK customers who export are delighted with the cheaper pound and are immediately seeing a stronger order book. We could head into a period of record exports and job creation as British business becomes more competitive.
- Bring entrepreneurs into the plans for an EU exit. For example, as we think about what the UK looks like post-brexit, our Small & Medium Businesses would relish the opportunity to prune red tape; bureaucracy and anchors to their business growth which serve little positive purpose and unnecessary cost. And we need to explain what the changes will mean for them. Sage will be offering practical and sensible business advice during any periods of political uncertainty – for example how to navigate choppy waters and how to plan for future legislation or tax changes.
- Unsurprisingly perhaps, we think the next generation of Small & Medium Businesses play a vital role. From recent research ‘Walk with me’, over 60% of Millennial Entrepreneurs want to create social good through their efforts and 62% would sacrifice profit to stay true to their personal values. Small & Medium Businesses are way more than the lifeblood of the economy and job creation, they play a positive role in social cohesion. Very different from faceless big corporations who lobby Government for self-interest. Very different from faceless big corporations who lobby Government for self-interest. We hope Prime Minister May’s new Government finds ways to connect to the true heroes of the economy.
UK and European countries are looking for positive optimism and a vision for the future. Whatever our gender, background, politics, race or creed, we need to back the new Prime Minister and trust that “Cometh the hour, cometh the woman”.
Stephen Kelly is CEO of Sage. This blog first appeared here