Interviews

Acceptable in the 1980s but university boffins say we are still obsessed by cars and cash

4 min read

08 September 2015

Small business owners are just like Del Boy say researchers – talking of little but cars and cash rather than enterprise.

Luvly Jubbly. Apparently small business owners are closer to the caricature of Only Fools and Horses’ loveable rogue Del Boy than we might care to think.

According to new research carried out by Simon Down of Anglia Ruskin University and Andreas Giazitzoglu of Newcastle University, British entrepreneurs also share similar traits of Harry Enfield’s odious “Loadsamoney” character.

In short, they think that our small business owners are obsessed with cars and cash and they know this because they’ve been eavesdropping on “entrepreneurial” conversations.

Well not really eavesdropping.

The two academics said they studied the owners – granted they were all white, male, middle-aged and from a semi-rural area – in a familiar setting, their local pub. However, they don’t say whether it was The Nags Head, where Del Boy enjoyed his cocktails, or not.

Del Boy did once manage to become a millionaire, but it didn’t last…

High fliers: Five of the UK's most successful working class entrepreneurs

The ten entrepreneurs met in the pub every Friday night and the research examined their conversations, their “masculine behaviour”, and the hierarchy within the group, which ranged from the “local business elite” to those “in awe” of the more successful members.

Researchers found that the entrepreneurs regularly discussed expensive commodities, which were used as “props” to demonstrate their success. Two commodities in particular dominated their talk: luxury cars and “wads” of cash. Driving a new German sports car with a private registration plate was seen as a clear way of signalling a higher position in the hierarchy. 

Carrying cash, and offering to buy drinks from their publicly displayed “wads”, signified success to these entrepreneurs and showed they warrant respect from other men in the pub. One member admitted to withdrawing a large amount of cash, to be used to pay for his weekly bills and shopping, just before going to the pub, so he was able to display it at the bar.

The second most common theme, according to the researchers, related to how the men positioned themselves as “winners”. They often greeted each other by asking “how’s business going?”, to which the answer ”I am winning” was a regular response.

Another regular theme, said the researchers, was boasting about their success compared to “city people”. The men frequently expressed the notion that businessmen in urban areas fail to take them and their businesses seriously, which can be seen as a threat to their masculinity.

The men took pride at stories of how they, or other local business people, “got one over”on city-based businessmen.

Down, director of the Institute for International Management Practice at Anglia RuskinUniversity, said: “It’s fascinating that while the participants have different identities outside the pub – they are of different ages and own different kinds of businesses – together they manage to collectively agree upon and perform a remarkably cohesive version of entrepreneurial masculinity. 

“There is a sense of hierarchy, a concept of winning and providing, and a clear distinction between themselves and entrepreneurs from urban areas. The men use these aspects, as well as more superficial markers of masculinity like driving expensive German cars and displaying cash, to construct their identities.”