The Olympics are a game changer. Alongside patriotic and sporting renewal, business leaders now have their opportunity to go for gold and put the “great” firmly back into Great Britain. To paraphrase Lord Kitchener, entrepreneurs, your country needs you.
Yet, there is an enemy at the gates, called pessimism. It masquerades as a casual negativity, hardwired into too many parts of the national outlook, robbing Britain of the belief that it can be a winner. It is reflected in a nation where half of us dream about starting a business, but only five point eight per cent actually set one up. It is fed by big business confidence levels, which remain woefully weedy, and unyielding levels of pundit led fear and loathing.
Pessimism will not lead a nation to recovery, a business to profit, or a person to success. It’s a parasite that robs us all of creativity, energy and action. We cannot afford it because the ravages of recession have dulled the memory of how great a nation we really are. We need to grip the Olympian ideal, throw off the slothful comfort blanket of recession and transform the body business from couch potatoes into the muscled torsos of commercial athletes.
Hankering for halcyon days long past is not what it’s about either. Recovery will not be delivered by what we do with our best days, but what we do with our worst.
We need a different stance. Love what you do, be optimistic about your chances of success and believe in yourself.
This is tough medicine for a nation famous for its reserve. But the fact is that many other nationals think Britain is brilliant. I’ve just returned from chairing the World Jewellery Congress in Vicenza, where I met a senior official in the Italian government. He was full of praise for the UK’s fiscal discipline and pro-enterprise policies, which have led to low interest rates and a vibrant start-up scene.
Of course, so much in life depends on what side of the fence you sit on. The prospects for many European entrepreneurs seem to go from bad to worse. Business survival rates are woeful and there is an ever rising tide of unemployment. The national governments of eurozone countries appear to be impotent in the face of recessionary risk and seem hell bent on creating a small business free zone within the EU, unless things change radically.
In Britain, by contrast, the entrepreneurial larder is looking somewhat better stocked, whether you are starting a company or selling it. Today, we have the highest number of start-ups in the UK’s history and the barriers to starting a business keep falling. You can now set up a company in under one hour for just £14, make calls to customers anywhere in the world on the internet telephony service Skype for free and access an abundance of free business support tools online.
In turn, even the British tax man is having a patriotic rethink. If you are established, the new Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme allows you to claim up to £100,000 in tax credits on investments each year. If you’re selling up then you can now claim Entrepreneur’s Relief on the first £10m of capital gain (up from £1m in 2008).
The Queen once said that a land without rain is called a desert. Given this summer’s weather it might seem the wrong time to say this, but her words hold the seeds of a profound truth. In life you don’t get the same thing forever and that applies to both recessions and recoveries.
Just as the London Olympics has been about the supreme athletic skill of people, so it is with business. People create change, not the mass algorithms of the economists charts. History does not work like that; it is defined by the power of the individual. And that is why your country needs you.
This article was first published in the Financial Times on September 1st 2012.