Last week I was a guest on CNBC, the international business television station. We were discussing the coalition government’s first 100 days and I was representing real business. I say real business not because it’s the name of this publication but because I was the only guest who owned a business that sells to the general public. Other guests included analysts, political commentators and brokers.
After the discussion, I was approached by a professional stockbroker who suggested I consider floating Pimlico Plumbers on the stock exchange. Any suggestion that could cause a windfall of millions of pounds makes me pause for thought – but there are solid reasons why a public limited company quickly loses touch with its customer base and managers become distracted from their core mission.
Take United Biscuits. I love Jaffa cakes as much as the next man. They are a uniquely British brand that give you a taste of chocolate for few calories – but now the company that owns them is subject to a potential takeover deal and the profits from the recipe will leave our country for ever.
At Pimlico Plumbers I have only one core mission: to deliver excellent customer service. My customers are, as Barry White used to sing, my first, my last, my, everything. When a business floats on the stock exchange, shareholders, staff and directors initially benefit. But the management team quickly realises that it has two bosses: customers, who demand excellent value for money; and shareholders, who demand every ounce of profit every second of the day, every day of the year. The management constantly has to look for ways to balance the seemingly incompatible demands of different interests.
Pimlico Plumbers is a family business. I founded it, it has prospered from the values I have instilled in it, my children are working in it and hopefully will take up the reins in generations to come. This might seem old-fashioned but if the past three years of recession have taught us anything, it is that companies with old-fashioned values and simple approach to business thrive and prosper through good times and bad.