The son of a metal worker, Rod Aldridge left home at the age of 15. Six years later, he had qualified as a chartered accountant. He went on to found Capita Group in 1987 (as a management buyout from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) and he led the company from formation all the way to the FTSE 100.
After he stepped down as executive chairman of Capita in 2006 (amid the Labour loans furore), he established the Aldridge Foundation, which supports disadvantaged children (Aldridge is currently funding two City academies) and lobbies for public-service reform.
Capita has long been a controversial business (famously dubbed “Crapita” by Private Eye). But Aldridge says that he has "always had a social conscience" throughout his career.
Working as technical director at CIPFA, Aldridge noticed “that public services were being run and delivered in a very inefficient way." He also noticed that the people who were working in the public sector were bored rigid and had no pride in what they were doing. The idea of outsourced public service delivery was born.
Of course, Aldridge met great resistance. "The job I had was to persuade people who were blocked by change to implement a process of change." Today, however, he estimates outsourced public-service delivery to be a potential £100bn market – with only 14 per cent of that market currently outsourced, it’s a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovation, he insisted. “Governement culture is one where you don’t take risks."
Importantly, political attitudes towards the growth of the market are changing, says Aldridge."It’s gradually becoming more acceptable to be engaged wth the public sector. There are still people who want to block change but we are increasingly seeing the customer in being put in charge of service delivery."
How did Aldridge balance his “public” and “business” responsibilities”
"We focus on the output and service delivery that the end customer wants. For example, with the congestion charge, we looked at how customers could pay that in a much easier fashion. We structured what we thought they wanted first and then provided for it."
He notes: "People don’t mind if you’re making a profit if you’re bringing around good operational change."
All entrepreneurs must get their head around scaleability, says Aldridge. "Getting to the critical mass was the big stage for us – without it you become a commodity where you can’t choose your price. Whereas we have options about which markets we work in and how we provide our services."
He encourages the audience of entrepreneurs not to be intimidated by growth: "You can’t be static as a business."
Now a full-time social entrepreneur, Aldridge says there is a mood change among entrepreneurs and the business community about giving back to society. But, he says, we still have much less of a giving culture than the US.
As someone who left school at 16 and went to work in the local council postroom, Aldridge is particularly keen to encourage youngsters to appreciate that they hold their destiny in their own hands – and to give them the tools to realise their capabilities. "Lots of people don’t think there’s a way out – I want to change those thoughts," says Aldridge.
And on the broader responsibilities of business to society, he notes: "I fundamentally believe that unless you get society right, all of us are going to have a problem in the future."