Kate Pritchard is managing editor of Real Business
When meat-processing company Bernard Matthews approached Vince last year, asking him to build a wind farm to power its turkey factory, he knocked back the job. “It’s a concentration camp. I don’t want to be involved in that,” says Vince, who set up his £40m-turnover business in 1995 after spending ten years travelling around the country, following the Peace Convoy and living out of a car.
It’s downright odd hearing an entrepreneur turning down new business in this recession. Vince admits that he’s seen a dip in the domestic market, with less people signing up to Ecotricity in the past 12 months than in the past 12 years.
Although Vince says he’s starting to see an upswing in consumer confidence, that “down period” gave him the chance to look at how he was running the business and strip out waste. “When you’re really busy, you just throw money at problems and people,” he explains. “Last year, we had the time to say, ‘Is that a good way to spend cash? Is that the best use of someone’s time? How can we improve our processes?’”
Vince spends peanuts – only a “couple of hundred thousand pounds” – on marketing each year. Why pay for billboards when you have a giant wind turbine along the M4? He keeps the PR machine well oiled with his own outspoken views. He writes a regular blog called Zerocarbonista and he knows how to feed the media headlines, hence his recent attempt at a land-speed record in Australia in a wind-powered car and his public condemnation of business rival Good Energy.
Any chance he’ll become the environmental version of Alan Sugar and become an adviser to the PM? “Gordon Brown wouldn’t listen to me,” responds Vince. “There’s an election coming up. The trouble with our political system is that it’s very short term, like our stock markets. Politicians are too afraid to do anything radical in their four or five-year stint because they want to get re-elected.”
You can follow Kate Pritchard on Twitter @KateEPea
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