I’m About to Top 40!

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!