Monday, 16 December 2013

Can you "name the year?"

"Name the year"; "The Time tunnel"; "The golden hour" - whatever you call it, it's a popular mid-morning oldies feature which runs on lots of local stations.

Well, naming the year when FM is switched off was the one thing Ed Vaisey didn't do at this morning's Digital Day conference.

He was supposed to - and in 2010 had promised he would, by the end of 2013, set a date by which we would be switching off our FM transmitters and moving wholesale to DAB. But recent lobbying by a bunch of the smaller local groups has probably been the final nail in the coffin of date naming - an announcement that had been fast receding over the horizon in any event.

Ed's speech was full of fabulous numbers - % of households who have a DAB set, miles of A road to be covered when new transmitters are switched on, millions of people now able to get DAB who couldn't before etc etc.

And the truth is DAB is now a fixed part of the radio firmament, here forever, but .... not growing so quickly, or so ubiquitous, that we can simply glide to FM switch-off without a care. The smaller stations are concerned about being left on FM, abandoned to a backwater platform. Others are concerned that FM listening will be stubbornly hard to shake off, and we will lose a whole swathe of our audience by switching it off. I think the politicians, (and Ed Vaisey is a politician first and last) are simply scared of losing votes. And FM switch-off is a vote-loser for sure, especially with older people - who tend to vote more! Try as he might, moderator Nick Higham simply couldn't get Ed to "name the year" - teasing him with 2020. Well I suppose that's possible, but I wouldn't count on it. Personally I'm concerned about who might jump on 96.4, or 97.2, the moment we abandoned them in the West Midlands. Some enterprising pirate I'm sure, offering something worth listening to on a still ubiquitous platform.

One of the biggest stats that jumped out at me was that there are 30m cars in the UK, and currently less than 10% have DAB capability. The man from Halfords told us all 1,800 of their fitters were being trained in DAB installation. But each one of them, fitting a DAB set every hour of every 8 hour working day, would take 8 years to complete the task! I know, I know, that's a facetious and potentially misleading bit of maths - but I think it makes the point that getting DAB into the vast majority of cars is just a huge, huge challenge. Kwikfit are entering the market, and as we know, you can't get quicker than a Kwikfit fitter, so maybe they can speed up the process - but still - car penetration is still a hell of an ask.

In hindsight (2020 and all that) I think DAB would have been better as an add-on to FM, not a replacement, national only, with a selling point for AM upgrades, extending local networks like Capital and Heart, and for new stations and brand extensions. I think we'd have had to simulcast the existing national networks too. Perhaps it would never have taken off without local - but I doubt that. Local FMers like those owned by Orion, Bauer etc are probably the lowest deliverers of DAB listening - mainly because it's easy and obvious that you can listen to them on FM. But we are where we are, and certainly for us, given both DAB and FM will co-exist for at least the next decade, we will have to be on both - the lost audience from departing one platform vastly outweighs the extra transmission costs. TV is already there of course, with commercial broadcasters paying for their Sky carriage, their Freeview carriage, their cable carriage, along with online / on demand / +1 services etc etc. higher transmission costs might just be the price we have to pay for operating in the more complex world we now find ourselves in.

The only real winners in all of this are the transmission companies. For radio of course that mainly just means Arqiva. I wonder if anyone will come out of the woodwork to challenge them as a TX service provider when the D2 national commercial multiplex band-wagon rolls into town, as Ed promised it would, next year. That will be the big headline tomorrow I suspect, a useful deflection from the lack of switch-over announcement.

There was more good news to follow the D2 announcement - Halfords and Kwikfit going head to head might spur on in-car upgrades. Frontier Silicon have developed a super-chip, which will work with every flavour of digital (including the US HD system) and also has FM & AM built in. Ford have linked up with UK Radioplayer too to get their app working via voice control in certain new Fords, and although this isn't strictly DAB, it's another example of the technological progress being made here in the UK.

So I can see DAB continuing to grow, but possibly a little more slowly over time as enthusiasts are replaced as new owners by less technically savvy folk being bought sets for Christmas and birthdays. I think we may end up with DAB and FM having roughly equal shares for quite some time.

Ignoring the smaller station issues (which may get resolved via new, cheaper DAB transmitters, and Ed promised some money for OFCOM to do some more testing), I suspect ultimately that in ten years time or so, FM hold-outs will be the acid test for all of us - dare we run the risk of announcing we are switching off FM and risk losing some audience in the transition, or is that vestigial loss of audience always going to be worth more than the marginal cost of keeping that FM transmitter warm?

I suspect there'll never be a right time to "name the year"

Friday, 18 October 2013

There's dancing in the streets...of brum

This is an edited version of a speech I gave this morning, to introduce the new RAB econometric analysis. the speech took place in Birmingham's iconic new library.

I was asked both to chair the event, and talk by way of introduction about the economy in general, and how we are doing round here


Good Morning everybody and welcome to the RAB’s Birmingham Launch of “The Missing Millions”. My name is Phil Riley and I am the Chief Executive of Orion media, owners of Free radio – but I am here representing all of the city’s radio companies in welcoming you to the new, iconic Library of Birmingham. It is my job to keep this morning’s packed agenda to time and to introduce you to the number of talented and interesting speakers you will be hearing from.
But before we get to that element of this morning, I was asked by the RAB to share some thoughts with you on the current state of the economy, and in particular, how this region is faring in this increasingly competitive, interconnected world.
I want to start with a radio anecdote. Detroit 1980 vs Birmingham 1980.
My earliest memories of working in professional radio were here in Birmingham at brmb radio, and every time we played a Motown oldie in those days we made great play of the fact we were the UKs motown or motor city – a great comparison to Detroit was made.
Not anymore of course, Detroit is now officially bankrupt – driven to economic ruin by a combination of outsourcing, factory close-downs, and a bloated public sector with associated pension liabilities that was simply unsustainable for the city with the suburban flight of the better educated out of the city’s tax catchment area. Not all of those circumstances apply here of course, but the Prime Minister is right; we are in a global race, and even in a rich country, it is important each city/region recognizes that the fate that befell Detroit could embrace them too if they are not careful. I will come back to our region in a moment, but what about the economy in general.
How deep was the recession? From Q1 2008 economy shrank from peak to trough by 7.2%.
We’ve recovered only half of that, including current indications of growth in Q2.
The OECD and IMF are forecasting growth for the UK of 1.5%-1.8% for the year – good but still below trend.
Tim Harford says in his undercover economist blog “Let’s be clear: the UK economy is suffering the slowest recovery of gross domestic product since credible records began by a colossal margin. Sixty-six months after each began, in the awful recessions of the 1920s, 1930s, early 1970s and early 1980s, GDP had recovered to 5-8 per cent above the pre-recession peak. This time, we are still about 2-3 per cent below it. We are looking back – I hope – at an unprecedented economic catastrophe.”
And what type of recovery will it be. Optimists, including Paul Mason, who spoke at this event in London, are suggesting it might be an innovation recovery, with online, social media, and the creative industries combining to boost growth; others, more pessimistic, suggest the recovery might just be consumer-led, possibly fuelled by a housing boom – followed by a bust.
And credit remains weak. Many firms are still finding it difficult to borrow – or maybe just don’t want to borrow to fuel expansion at a time when the recovery is not set in stone. However, there are huge cash balances on company balance sheets. Many of us in the media would like to see those cash balances put to good use, by investment in marketing – hence today’s presentation.
And we can all talk about our own experiences. From our experience at Orion summer trading i.e. June onwards, is up double digits locally – that’s pretty good in anyone’s book. In October we are going to run out of airtime – that’s bad in the short-term of course but it suggests demand has really started to pick up.
Let me turn to the local picture: Birmingham / Greater Birmingham / West Midlands. We sometimes struggle round here to know what to call ourselves – which is one of our problems.
  • Birmingham provides economic scale – located within a £94 billion regional economy
  • The city and surrounding region is home to 75,000 companies including almost 1,190 international firms
  • Youngest population of any major European city – nearly 40% are under 25
  • Access to over 90% of the UK market within a four hour travel time
  • Most attractive UK regional city for quality of life (Mercer Living Index 2012)
  • Air, road and rail connections provide access to 400m people across Europe
  • Over 140 direct scheduled and charter routes from Birmingham Airport

Let me first talk about Infrastructure. I think we’ve witnessed a decade of transformation in the city – starting with Selfridges and the relaunched Bullring, which opened 10 years ago, The revamped LG arena, which opened its doors 8 years ago, The eastside developments culminating in Millennium point and Birmingham City university. Now we have Edgbaston’s brilliant new stand; the Cube; the stunning, world class QE hospital, and of course the Library we are in today.
And then there’s the stuff happening now
§         The NIA, currently being given a new front and interior, and greater capacity
The NEC itself getting a whole new entertainment complex with Genting’s “Resorts World” development. 
Birmingham Airport’s £65 million runway extension will open up direct routes to countries such as China, Australia and the West Coast of the USA
The £600 million redevelopment of New Street station will welcome 52 million people each year

We’re certainly not Detroit. In fact, quite the reverse; the significant decline in automotive manufacturing that we saw during 70s, 80s and 90s has been reversed. If I can quote the Birmingham Mail’s recent piece on the resurgence in car making:
THE UK is poised for its biggest car boom for more than 40 years – with the West Midlands at the forefront of the production bonanza.
Automotive manufacturers said the industry was on course to break all-time manufacturing records by the end of 2015 following a string of multi-billion pound investments.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders predicted more than two million vehicles would roll off UK assembly lines by 2015, overtaking the 1972 record of 1.92 million.
JLR, MG at Longbridge, BMWs mini production plant at Hams Hall are all facilities to be proud of, and we mustn't forget the M40 F1 corridor, with 40,000 people employed by companies like Prodrive, adding £billions in value to the regional economy; And when TV and radio news programmes want to talk to motor industry experts, who do they turn to: People like David Bailey of Coventry University, or the team being assembled at the £92 million National Automotive Innovation Campus (NAIC) at the University of Warwick. Or the folks who run the world class testing facilities for MIRA near Nuneaton.  
Advanced automotive manufacturing remains one of the strongest sectors for attracting FDI, and of course we've only just had Tata’s announcement of 800 new jobs at Land Rover in Solihull and 730 new jobs at the Jaguar facility in Castle Bromwich.

More generally, current activity indicators suggest growth is returning to the Midlands.

Unemployment was down in Q2, although in B’ham is still 10.3%, significantly above UK average of 7.8%. Wider West Midlands was much closer to UK average.  Private sector business activity in WM was up, with a PMI score of 58.8 vs UK 59.8. to put that in context, anything over 50 is good.

If I can quote from B’ham council’s September economic update

“Business confidence over the coming 12-month period in terms of turnover and profitability remains positive for both manufacturing and service sectors—with a vast majority of firms surveyed expecting turnover and profitability to improve over the next 12 months.”

And there’s great new quality of life stuff happening here
·   Birmingham has a bid in for the World indoor athletics in 2016 – the result will be known in November.

·       We’re getting free wifi in city centre – it’s being rolled out by  the city in partnership with Virgin

·      Metro Extension Plans Announced - Centro has unveiled plans to extend the Midland Metro through Birmingham city centre from New St station to Centenary Square, the £31m scheme could be open by 2017.

·     And there’s a huge boost to Cycling in the city - The City has been successful in securing £24m in funding to improve cycling infrastructure in Birmingham.

But – there are still significant problems in the region. Gross disposable household income (GDHI) of West Midlands’ residents was one of the lowest among the English regions, at £14,400 per head in 2011. It ranged from £12,470 per head in Stoke-on-Trent to £17,360 per head in Solihull. That’s a 40% difference in GDI from the top to the bottom of the region, a gap of less than 60 miles.
What about people and culture, and how they are making an economic difference;
§         Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe;

§       It’s also one of most diverse; actually that fact is a major boost in driving future growth in areas such as life sciences

§     Birmingham has more Michelin star restaurants than any other English city outside London and a thriving independent restaurant scene 

§    Birmingham’s reputation as a visitor destination is on the up, and in the Wider West Midlands – Stratford/Warwick are major tourist destinations, along with Ironbridge further afield, and the foodie heaven that is Ludlow. etc etc.

But, again this positive news doesn’t come with a sting in its tail. I might not agree with the claimed benefits of HS2 – but the jokes on TV and letters to newspapers saying “we don’t need it because who ever heard of anyone wanting to get to Birmingham more quickly” are real problems for us, entrenching the clich├ęd belief that this is an ugly city, with a downmarket, poorly educated population with horrible accents and nothing to offer. Nothing could be further from the truth – but shifting that reputation is, I think, one of the key strategic challenges facing the city and region’s leaders.

Lou Glazer, president of the Michigan Future think tank, who is trying to resurrect Detroit, was quoted in a recent Birmingham Post feature as saying “Cities need to be 'talent magnets' to be successful” to quote him directly:
We have come to the conclusion that the places with the greatest concentration of talent are the places that are doing best today and will be the places doing the best going forward.
"In terms of subject skills areas we have found that it is not occupation or degree specific. A lot of people think of the knowledge economy as high technology in focus, but this turns out to be way too narrow a definition.
"The focus for the US Knowledge Economy is around the education; healthcare; financial professional and business services and information, media, IT and communications sectors. It is this broad set of sectors that are driving the US economy today.
"One of the things we've learned in doing this work is that what matters in economic terms is not where you go to school but you where live and work after you graduate. Increasingly, at least in the US, young talent, that is before they have had families, is moving and is the most mobile talent.
"They seem to be settling in urban situations, with 24/7, high density, mixed use, high amenity and activity areas, that are walkable with good infrastructure. They gather in vibrant neighbourhoods where you don't need a car to get around. Those are the places that have become the 'talent magnets' in America.

We need this region to become a talent magnet in the UK.

Let me finish by mentioning three of the sorts of people we should be highlighting as a city – folk that young people can aspire to emulate, who are making their lives and careers blossom here.

Roxana Silbert, the new Artistic Director.of the Rep; Sarah Jane Marsh at BCH; Andy Street, CEO of the  John Lewis Partnership and Chair of Gtr B’ham LEP.

These three are just a small representation of the thousands of inspiring folk helping to build this city, and I suspect the next time Marketing Birmingham want to promote what we have to offer, we need to focus on the people and not just the place if we are to become a true "Talent Magnet" ourselves.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Bad News on the doorstep

I'm on holiday - and certainly didn't intend to spend any time blogging.

But the news today of the untimely death of Dave Hickman has touched me rather badly and I wanted to say a few words in praise of one of the great unsung heroes of West Midlands radio.

I remember getting Dave on board when we launched Xtra in 89, and then hiring him again when we launched Heart in 94. Alan Carruthers reminded me on twitter we had to pay a release fee to get him out of his Xtra contract in time for the launch. He was worth it though. He'd previously worked for brmb, and was for a while the voice of travel for Les.

He didn't possess one of those great "radio voices" (we'd hired Ted Elliott for that!) but what he did have by the bucketful was warmth, an engaging tone, a sense of humour, and a passion for the music he played. He was also a hard worker - a utility player who could do a decent job no matter what was thrown at him.

He met his wife Bev whilst working in radio, and together they were one of the nicest couples you could ever hope to meet.

Dave carried on working in radio - for a long time as the "voice" of the Arrow, and pulling a stint on Smooth too. He was a regular on air from Brum for almost two decades.

No one today on twitter or Facebook will have a bad word to say about Dave, because there wasn't one to be had - he was just a really nice guy we all had the pleasure of knowing, who did his bit to make the airwaves of 96.4, 100.7, 1152 and 1359 and others fizz and crackle, keeping West Midlands listeners entertained for the best part of twenty years.

His wife and kids will miss him terribly I know - but everyone who worked in radio round here and who knew Dave will miss him too. I had the honour to employ him not once, but twice - which shows how much I rated him. He was the same age as me - much too young to leave us.

RIP Dave Hickman

Friday, 5 July 2013

Life begins at 40

I was deeply honoured this week to be inducted as one of the 40 most influential people to have worked in or supported commercial radio over its first 40 years, in a "Roll of Honour" ceremony conducted as part of this year's Arqiva awards.

As most of us nominees had grey hair or no hair (women excluded!) we quickly nicknamed ourselves the "40 over 40" as a pastiche of the Radio Academy's "30 under 30".

Ashley Tabor, who made the 40, would be the only member of our gang who didn't qualify by age of course, being a mere slip of a lad in his early 30s. He deserves his place though, as someone who has really shaken up the industry over the past 6 years.

The 40 were intended to be selected to "tell the story" of commercial radio, and by and large I think the selectors did a great job. From those present at commercial radio's birth, such as Founding Capital Chairman Richard Attenborough and launch MD John Whitney, Jimmy Gordon of Clyde and Terry Smith of Radio City, through to some of the top presenters we have been blessed with, such as Les Ross, Chris Tarrant, Chris Evans, Neil Fox, Alan Robson, Jonathan Pearce and Christian O'Connell. Then there were latter day CEOs such as Ralph Bernard and David Mansfield. It was nice to see folk from the smaller stations, such as Ian Anderson from SIBC in the Shetland Isles, getting recognised, alongside Michael Betton from the Lincs group, and Avtar Lit from Sunrise. And what list of the most influential would be complete without the founder of the RAB Douglas McArthur, John Myers or Parky. The full list is here.

Fewer women made the list than most of us would feel happy with - but that I suspect is more the fault of 40 years of poor hiring choices than any failure on the part of the selectors. Those that did make it were top drawer though - from Gillian Reynolds, ex Radio City and now doyenne of radio critics, through research guru Deanna Hallett, Linda Smith, one of the best commercial ambassadors the industry has ever had, and of course Dee Ford, Bauer's current boss.

There's a nice video here, showing the timeline.

If the list was meant to tell a story, I was pleased that my career managed to tick so many of the important boxes. Although I'm too young to have missed the start of the industry (!), I did join only 7 years in, in 1980, and I look back on my career as having played a part of a number of the most critical phases

  • The growing power of the big players in the 1980s. The big local stations, Capital, brmb, Piccadilly, Clyde etc became very powerful media forces during that time, despite having to be "all things to all people" thereby giving folk like me a chance to learn our trade across the waterfront of radio - specialist music presentation as well as mainstream DJing, interviewing, handling phone-ins, news preparation, documentary making. You name it, we did it in those days.

  • Splitting frequencies. I was privileged to lead the launch of two, Xtra in Birmingham and Coventry, and then  the original Magic 828 in Leeds. Great days, and it was truly exciting to be launching new radio stations, and we were all clearly learning as we went along, as many of us made some pretty horrendous decisions along the way!.

  • Regionals. Probably the pivotal moment for me was leading the team who launched Heart in the West Midlands in 1994. A bunch of reprobates as I recall. Chrysalis was a new entrant to radio, and very much helped along by the rise of the regionals, along with other new players such as Border Radio and then GMG. The regionals represented the point at which commercial radio truly became competitive.

  • London. launching Heart 106.2 in 1995 was a defining moment for everyone involved in Chrysalis - and then relaunching LBC on FM in 2002 was another big step for the company, and it was great that it involved fellow nominee Nick Ferrari. Commercial Radio has been a dominant presence in the capital since the mid 1990s, and it's great to have played a part in that.

  • DAB. Chrysalis was the lead player in the MXR multiplex consortium, which bid for and won a number of the key regional multiplexes which helped so much to support and grow the platform during the last decade.

And I'm pleased to still be working in the industry some 33 years after first walking into the brmb building on Aston Road North back in 1980. And I'm very proud too that my career has been spent entirely within the commercial sector, and entirely within local radio. The vast majority of it has centred on the Midlands, and  in particular my adopted home town of Birmingham. It was great to see Les Ross up there getting his recognition alongside me - we are the Little and Large of Birmingham Radio!

The "Roll of Honour" was a great idea. I hope we all take the next 12 months to celebrate all that is good about commercial radio in any number of ways. As an industry focussed on the needs of its audience, I suspect we won't be doing too much "front of mic" shouting about our successes and the people who inspired them, as I doubt our audiences are that interested - but amongst ourselves we should be proud of what we've achieved, against sometimes pretty overwhelming obstacles.

Thank you if you've been a part of my radio journey over the past 33 years - It's been fun hasn't it, and I couldn't have done it without the support, help and guidance of so many talented people working alongside me!

Shaking the hands of many of the people I admire so much in professional life up on that stage on Wednesday was a truly humbling moment for me. I count many of them amongst my closest friends, and I was thrilled for them, and truly honoured to be counted amongst their number.

I think in that picture I'm telling Nick Ferrari off about something he did on that day's show. Old habits die hard!

Here's to the next 40.

Image courtesy Hayley Madden

Monday, 1 July 2013

What can bosses learn from "The Boss"

I'm just back from my 3rd Bruce Springsteen gig in a little over 2 weeks. Wembley, Ricoh, Olympic Park. if you're a fan you will know how awesome it has been, and if Bruce leaves you cold - well there's little I can do for you -:)

However, As I watched Bruce last night, I did marvel at how successful he still was, selling albums by the millions, and with sell out tours the world over, and wondered whether there were any generic lessons for business (and especially creative business like Radio) from analysing the relentless juggernaut that is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I thought of five, which I'd like to share with you here:

Rule 1 - Have a clear chain of command. Everyone knows - Bruce is "The Boss" - and that isn't just an affectionate nickname. Bruce is genuinely "The Boss" of the band, and it is clear to see on stage that everyone, even the most talented musicians, takes their lead from him. He is also visible, clear in his direction, and not afraid to give praise in public. All attributes most bosses should follow. I'd contrast this with The Eagles, another favourite band of mine. A recent documentary on the group highlighted how for 14 years they stopped touring and recording because the various members of the band couldn't see the clear evidence that there needed to be some hierarchical structure. Pink Floyd are another great example of this. As were Take That. Bands aren't democracies - and neither are businesses - and a good leader is essential.

Rule 2 - offer value for money. Bruce tickets aren't cheap. £65 or so for standing - which is towards the more expensive end of touring acts - but I guarantee you, no-one ever left a Springsteen show claiming they were short-changed. Bruce and the band regularly do 3 hour+ sets. No other band gives performances of that length as a regular day-in, day-out commitment. their encores alone are normally 45 minutes to an hour in length. Contrast that with other bands where 90 minutes seems to be the norm. Some bands do try a bit harder, and I think that Bruce has laid down a marker for other big touring shows in this regard. Even The Rolling Stones ran for a couple of hours at Glastonbury. However, much as I'd love to see them live - at £400 a ticket - I don't think so, even if they played for 6 hours!

Offering value for money doesn't mean being the cheapest, far from it. It means ensuring that when someone gives you their money, they feel you recognise its worth to you, and deliver a service which more than matches that worth. It's one of the business basics, and one that Bruce learned long ago.

Rule 3 - commit yourself to a vision, and deliver against it. I don't know if Bruce has ever written down "his vision", but as far as touring is concerned, it is clear. When he and the band go on stage, their only goal is to make the crowd happy. This comes through in everything they do on stage, and it is of course infectious. The crowd are happy, which makes them happy, which in turn etc etc. That's a great positive loop to have, but it starts with a clear goal and purpose. They are not on stage to fulfil a contract, or because the money's good - they've earnt too much already for that - they are there to fulfil a higher purpose, and this is what inspires their fans.

Forty years ago I saw Santana at the Odeon on New Street when it used to be a rock venue. Carlos spent the entire set with his back to the audience, jamming with his drummer. the music and guitar playing were sublime, but the contempt for the audience was odious - and I've never, ever wanted to see him again.

JD in IT send me a link recently to a Ted talk from a highly respected business consultant, and his analysis of why some firms outperform others here crystallises this point, particularly with regard to touring bands and their relative success.

Rule 4 - listen to, and respond to, customer feedback. regular Bruce fans will know one of the most brilliant bits of his shows happens shortly after they take to the stage. The band will do one or two hell-raising openers, and then Bruce will literally go into the crowd, picking cardboard notices off fans. These bits of cardboard contain the titles of Bruce songs - and Bruce will select a few every night to play. This does a number of things. It allows the band to retain their freshness, because they are constantly being challenged (as all bosses should challenge their staff); it allows the real die hard fans to wallow in a bit of nostalgia (most of the tracks are more obscure, and tend to be from earlier albums) and for the fans whose songs are picked (and even those who simply make cards which aren't picked) here is the sight of a multi-millionaire rock star - doing requests! How cool is that! It doesn't make up much of the show, but it really does show how much Bruce wants to interact with his fans, and make them feel a part of the show.

He doesn't pick every song, and I'm sure there are some tracks he sees which he knows he'll never perform, but he picks different ones every night (I know, having seen three gigs on the bounce). there are lessons here for business - look to customer feedback - be open about encouraging this (social media now offers great scope for this) - what are they most passionate about - respond to that - but don't get hung up on everything they tell you - sort the wheat from the chaff.

Rule 5 - offer up some magic in your service to delight your customers. Bruce's show might be a hard rockin performance, not to everyone's taste, but one thing he does is to ensure that every night something special happens which touches your heart - creating real "water cooler" moments in the language of marketing. He pretty much always does "Dancing in the Dark" and pretty much always gets a young(ish) girl up on stage to dance with - can you imagine what that is like for the girl he chooses - and I think all the women in the audience would wish they were that girl when that moment arrives, and are happy for her. Last night - he brought his mom out! She must have been in her 80s!! Then he brought his sister out too - and both seemed genuinely entranced to be out there with him. The audience loved it. As they did when Bruce found a young girl to sing the chorus of "Waiting on a Sunny Day"with him. The heartstrings of every parent in the crowd (and there are plenty of those these days as you can imagine) were melted by the cuteness of it all. And then it was back to rock'n'roll!

This is Bruce's' version of the chocolate on the hotel bed, finding your name on the side of a coke bottle, the guy in the coffee shop giving you a freebie because he knows you are a regular customer. Little things, entirely incidental to the overall value of your transaction, which make you think "these guys have thought about what this means, and are trying a bit harder".

So, five lessons from "The Boss". You don't have to like his music to recognise he is a phenomenon - and of course that is mainly due to the brilliance of his song writing, and the technical skill of his and his bands performance of that music, both on record and live. But a big part too is due to following some pretty fundamental business principals.

And it's sure made me a repeat customer. When's the next tour?

I blogged a couple of years ago on our internal network about my feelings about Bruce after I'd heard the news of Clarence Clemons suffering a stroke, from which he subsequently died, and I thought I'd re-post it here as an addendum to this blogpost. Bruce now regularly features a tribute to Clarence in the show - and both he and the crowd are genuinely moved by the moment.


June 15th 2011 - I thought I'd do a 2nd blog this week on a less mundane topic than sales and marketing, and something personal has touched me in the last couple of days which I thought had some relevance for all of us in this business.

Like me, you probably got into radio because of a love of music. I had my formative music exposure in the early 70s, and became a "soul boy" at school - heavily into Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha franklin etc. This then branched out into a love of early exponents of funk - Ohio Players, Fatback Band, EWF, even The Commodores (that Lionel Richie!) - I think I could even dance when I was 15.

At school, we lovers of soul had to share the 6th form record player with prog rock geeks and heavy metal nutters - god, having to listen to ELP still sends me into shock.

Anyway - heading to Uni, and student radio, I simply couldn't indulge my love of soul in every show, so began to branch out into what has become my favourite music genre, which is US adult rock - which was then the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Doobie Brothers, etc, but lives on today with bands like Kings of Leon and others.

And then there was Bruce.

I can't claim to have followed him back in 1975, when he took London's music industry by storm at the Hammersmith Apollo, and where one critic said "I have seen rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen"; but by 1980 I had become a huge, huge fan of Bruce and his E Street Band. The first time I saw them live was with Jean, at the old NEC arena in 1980 (tickets supplied by Bobby Hermon I think!) - and that was the first of many, many live concerts - including an awesome experience at Wembley in 1985 when on July 4th he stepped on stage alone in front of 75,000 fans to perform "independence day" as an acoustic piece - spine tingling.

Then there were the two Villa Park gigs, where the late Edwin Starr joined them on stage to perform "War" - truly unbelievable.

I'm not a religious man - but seeing Bruce and the band live is genuinely the closest one can come in my opinion to having a transcendental experience - I hope you have someone who does the same for you on stage.

Anyway - the reason for this blog is because of the Big Man - Clarence Clemons - Bruce's side-kick, best pal, and the awesome sax player for the E Street Band, who is referred to in the lyric for the song "10th Avenue Freeze Out" which is the title of this blog, and who famously appears back to back with Bruce on his seminal "Born to Run" album cover.

I had a saxophone when I was a teenager, and wanted to learn to play like my then hero Junior Walker. Later it became Clarence I'd wished I could emulate - the biggest, baddest, coolest dude you've ever seen - playing saxophone in the greatest rock band ever. What a life. And his style, mixing soul, blues and rock, is what made Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band my perfect group - tieing my adult enthusiasm for rock back to my teenage love of soul, and the coolness of those who embodied it, such as Marvin, and Smokey, and Otis, and the Temps and all the rest of them. Clarence brought it all together. And just to show how cool this guy still is, he is a guest, playing saxophone, on a couple of the tracks on the new GaGa album.

Anyway, Clarence has been in the news this week, having suffered a massive stroke at the age of 69. 

Of course the worldwide E Street fan base will be hoping and praying for his recovery - as am I - but the evidence of his mortality brings home to me just how precious music can be, and why we should always remember its power to affect our emotions. The opening bars of a great Springsteen song coming on the radio will lift my emotions sky high (admittedly not a regular occurrence on our stations!) So the thought of never seeing the E Street Band play again with Clarence strutting his stuff is almost too much to bear.

So  remember, the next track we play could be the one that breaks someone's heart - or makes their day - and whatever the next gig you go to is - enjoy it like you might never see that magic again.

And just in case you are wondering what all the fuss is about, have a look at this  

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A brush with mortality

Saturday was a big day for the Rileys. To be followed by another big day on Sunday.

On Saturday Jean and I were hosting a charity sporting dinner at Matt's school. 250 parents and friends were coming. I had organised the quiz, silent auction and guest speaker. Jean had sorted catering, the raffle, tables, money etc. As I said - a big day. Sunday was Free Radio's Warwickshire "Walk for Kids", one of our regular radio station charity walks. This was our "home town" walk too - and a bunch of friends were walking with us - and of course the station would be out in force to make sure all the walkers had a good time and raised lots of cash.

But first the Saturday charity dinner. Lots of early prep came to a halt at 11, as we settled down to watch the first Lions test.

Half time came, and Jean nipped out to pick up some last minute items for the dinner. She called from the car ".....lots of neighbours have the flags out - union jacks - we should put ours up....."

Now I realise the Union Jack is not quite the right flag for the British and Irish lions - but its the thought that counts. So, game paused, I went out into the garden. We live in a big house, with an even bigger garden. The flagpole was there when we bought the house, and we do stick a St Georges Cross or Union Jack up for big sporting events. I grabbed the flag from the shed and proceeded to hoist it. At this point it got stuck and I needed to go back to the house to grab a step ladder to untangle it.

Back with the ladder...... Just up a few feet ........ stretch up to grab the flag ......a gust of wind ...... slightly knocking me off balance ........ the stepladder shifts slightly as one of the legs sinks into a spot of soft ground ........ I lose my balance ever so slightly ......... I grab the flagpole to keep myself upright as I fall off the ladder....... I sink to the floor still holding on to the pole, only a few feet down........I realise I have a sharp pain in my forearm.......and I look up to see my forearm skewered on the cleat, the metal prong which you loop the rope around........I am well and truly skewered too, and have to physically lift my arm off the cleat as I get back up on my feet.

I then look at my forearm. It is completely ripped open, exposing tendons, muscle, bone etc. It's a truism in life that if you can see your insides, you are not in a good place. I was not in a good place.

That scene in The Terminator, where Arnie slices open his forearm - it was just like that, except there were no steel rods or cables exposed - just tendons and bones - I was mortifyingly human - and really exposed.

Not much blood though, I thought, as I gingerly grabbed my left arm in my right hand and walked quickly back to the house, hoping I wouldn't faint, or trip, as I went inside.

I shouted for Matt, and in I'm sure slightly overexcited tones asked him to call 999 and his mum "...I'm not in a good place here son..." I said, as I sat down, put a tea towel round my exposed flesh and thought of the many horrible outcomes that could befall me.

Jean got back in around 10 minutes. She looked as shocked as I felt. I've fallen off my bike a few times, incurring cuts and bruises, but this was something potentially far more serious, and we both knew it.

Keith and Kirsty were the paramedics who arrived shortly after. Keith an experienced, calm health professional. Kirsty younger, learning the ropes. Keith calmed me down and tested my fingers and wrist for damage.

Amazingly, there didn't seem to be anything wrong mechanically. In what must rank as one of the luckiest escapes ever, I appeared to have missed slicing anything important. I could squeeze, push etc - although actually being able to see the tendons moving was hugely unnerving. At this point I just looked away. "Right..." said Keith "...if you want, we can sew you up here..."

"Go for it" I said. And so Keith and Kirsty proceeded to put 16 stitches into my arm on my dining room table, in full view of my wife and son, at 12.30pm on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday afternoon.

Out came the "Gas and Air" so frequently given to expectant mums starting childbirth. You women have kept this secret from us blokes for too long! Within seconds I was high as a kite. We were laughing and joking with each other as the sutures went in - nothing had ever seemed as funny as falling off that ladder, slicing my arm open, leaving the flag half erected. I laughed so much we needed a second tank of the gas! Or was it because putting 16 stitches into a nine inch long wound just took so long?

1.30, and Keith and Kirsty were gone. I might have some strong views on how we organise and pay for the NHS - but I've never doubted the professionalism of those who work in its ranks - and Keith and Kirsty lived up to every ideal we like to imagine the NHS strives for - cool, calm, courteous, professional, and good. Life savers.

2pm - dosed up with codeine, I am contemplating what this means.

In the short term, it means I can get the charity dinner sorted, which Jean and I do, me through gritted teeth and more painkillers. Never has a fun evening seemed so long and arduous! We raised £12,000 though, to help rebuild a school in Christchurch in NZ devastated by their recent earthquake. Job done, we left just after midnight - as bone tired as we've ever been.

Sunday was our Free Radio "Walk for Kids". I was planning to walk it - as I have walked every one we have ever done so far. I was in no shape though, so Matt stepped in and did it for me. I did go along to cheer everyone off - and many of the real walkers must have looked askance at the tall chap in the official green jacket who looked like he was missing an arm! I will do it though, later in the Summer - I'm not going to have that blot on my copybook.

During that first two days, everyone I met, at the dinner and on the walk, told me I looked pale and shocked. And that's because I was - and I still am if I'm honest.

Given how tightly I was gripping the flagpole, completely unaware of the damage I was about to do, I was maybe half an inch away from tearing into muscle and/or tendon, severely damaging my left, dominant arm, causing me a lifetime of pain and inconvenience. More worryingly, I was also half an inch from tearing open my Radial or Ulnar artery. And that's what haunts me. I could easily have bled out, lying by a stupid flag pole, on an otherwise perfectly normal, boring Saturday, with no-one knowing quite where I was, my wife out doing errands, my son a few hundred yards away, watching rugby on the TV.

It isn't very often you come that close to your own mortality and live to tell the tale - but I did. That image, of me lying there, bleeding out, has been in my dreams for a couple of nights, but thankfully is receding. I will get over this, and will fully recover I'm sure. Writing this down and sharing it is part of that recovery process. But I understand just a little more now how folk can easily get post-traumatic stress disorder, even when people tell them how lucky they are to have survived a car accident, or industrial injury etc. it's the thought of what might have been, how close you came to something far worse, that lives on in your mind.

I do feel lucky, incredibly so. In fact, for an arch-rationalist, I did the unheard of on Sunday, and bought a Euro millions lottery ticket. I'll let you know if I win!

Quite how Jean, Matt and Alex (who came back from work helping set up for the Walk when Jean called her) coped with the blood and gore unfolding on their dining room table is beyond me.

Even more mortifying for me was the thought that had something terrible happened to me, Jean would have blamed herself for making the phone call about the flag. We had a heart to heart about that late on Saturday night.

So my three takeaways from my brush with mortality are:

  1. You need to tell those you care about that you love them as often as possible.
  2. You need to take care on ladders - and never get on one on your own if you can help it. There are thousands of serious accidents in this country every year, and dozens of deaths, from falling from height. I am glad I am one of the former rather than latter.
  3. We all need to be grateful we live in a country where you can make a call, and in 15 minutes someone like Keith can come by and potentially save your life.

He's given me a bloody big scar though - I'm going to have to invent a more dramatic back-story than falling off a ladder.

Here are the pictures - take a deep breath.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Should we be worried about Apple

There's a lot of talk on-line about the imminent launch of "iRadio" or some such name for a new streamed music service from Apple. This follows fast on the heels of Google's "Music All Access" announcement

We've been here before of course - services like Pandora and Rhapsody in the states, and Spotify/last FM/We7 over here in Europe have been operating various forms of streaming music services for some time.

The concern being expressed is the impact of a launch of a streamed music service from someone with the market power of Apple or Google. Then there's the rumour that Amazon will follow suit! That's an awful lot of streamed music services, many of them from big players with lots of knowledge about us and our purchasing/browsing/music consumption habits.

The two issues I see are as follows

Will this plethora of services eat into traditional radio audiences?

Can they make money - and if so will this cannibalise traditional radio revenues?

Dealing with each in turn - I have said repeatedly that I don't believe customised, streamed music delivery is radio. It may, at the margins, take some consumer time away from radio consumption, but I believe it is much more likely to be a substitute for existing music consumption via CD/MP3 players or other devices. Pandora is the most entrenched service in the US, and whilst it claims to be "Radio" it isn't really - read this great analysis from Mark Barber to understand why - but even Pandora is only claiming a tiny fraction of the cume/TSL of traditional radio. Will more and more of these services grow TSL to streamed music - sure, to a degree, but cannibalisation of existing streamed services is more likely.

Of course I could be wrong - but even music intensive radio stations offer far more than a streamed set of tracks. Brand values, companionship, personality, interaction, news/traffic and other utility functions all make the user experience of listening to a radio station completely different in my view. And radio is ubiquitous, and free. The opportunity for listeners to consume streaming audio is also more limited, either because of the lack of proximity to internet access in certain places where radio is available, or just the cost if accessing on a mobile device. Radio has consistently faced challenges from other, newer media, but its ease of access, versatility and variety, information delivery and companionship features have consistently allowed it to co-exist alongside new entrants. I don't believe streaming music is an existential threat to that co-existence.

More critically - can these streaming services make money - and will this impact radio revenues. Well, a little bit of maths is in order here - so bear with me. A radio service listened to by 1,000 people in any particular hour could theoretically charge £2 for a 30" spot at prevailing commercial rates. So assuming 20 spots per hour (10 minutes) it could generate £40 of income for each 1,000 listeners. Or 4p per listener.

Apple is rumoured to have struck a deal with the major labels to pay them 0.16c per track played according to this article in Business Matters. Assuming 13/14 tracks per hour that's a 2c recording rights cost per listener per hour. Now that's just for the recording rights. Publishing rights are likely to double that cost to 4c per listener hour. That's about a 3p cost to Apple for every hour someone consumes their steaming service in UK currency.

So if that's what Apple are paying just for the music rights, and they also have to cover all of the infrastructure/technical costs of their service, run sales teams (as Pandora do I understand) and make a profit, they are going to have to generate a significant premium to the 3p they are already paying out every hour someone might listen to them.

Maybe 10p would cover everything and allow them to make a profit. But that's 2 to 3 times what traditional radio is making for every listener hour. And we are running 20 ad spot loads - could any streaming service interrupt its music for that heavy an ad-load - I doubt it. Maybe 5/6 ads tops I would think. So really they are likely to require spot prices getting on for 10 times more costly in terms of cpt to make their revenues stack up.

Ah, I hear you say - but they've got all this data, so can sell spots at higher value. Possibly - but Radio isn't a classified medium, so ads have to be made - and sold. And that's expensive. I can't see the Google ad model of text ads in search (or as pop ups on screen in you tube) being converted to audio-based streaming services.

Subscription might work, and certainly Pandora and others are trying this. I'm not sure if the labels would want even higher rates if subscriptions are involved, but this might be a way for these services to monetise their audience.

I just can't see the ad-supported business model though. They've got to sell all those ads, every hour, because they are being charged for every stream. And with Apple vs Google vs Amazon vs Pandora etc, the competition for ad revenues for this type of service will become pretty fierce pretty quickly.

Might this lead to massive downward pressure on radio rates. Well actually, the reverse might be the case - certainly these services will have to charge cpts much, much higher than we do - so maybe we'll get dragged up (!) It's worth also pointing out that a very high percentage of our income now comes from campaigns where sponsorship or promotion or brand advocacy is an essential part of the mix. A straight spot only campaign is becoming rarer on radio - and SPI/Brand Advocacy is pretty near impossible on a streamed service. So I think our revenue base can be largely protected - but for sure some advertisers will try streaming services, so we mustn't be complacent.

Will these services be disruptive - yes.

Do they spell the death-knell for radio - I don't think so.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Three Words

I wanted to find three words to describe the qualities of my mum.
The first is Stubborn. Not in any negative sense of course – but mum was stubborn in defence of her own interests, and those of her family.
Perhaps one of the three defining moments in mum’s life took place in the autumn of 1958, when she fell pregnant with me. Being a young, single woman expecting a baby in Ireland in the 1950s was not a comfortable position to be in. But she was stubborn in not wanting to marry my biological father. And she was stubborn in not wanting to give me up. So she put herself, and the rest of the Kinsella family it has to be said, through a fair bit of heartache leaving for Manchester, having me, resisting the British social services – every bit as bad as the Irish it seems – and persuading my grandparents to look after me while she began to build a life in Manchester. Looking back on it now, over 50 years ago, it took great courage, determination, and yes I’ll say it again, stubbornness, to remain true to herself and do what was best for me. I will always be grateful to her for that. I saw that stubbornness over and over again as I grew up, my mum fighting for me against a system in Britain in the 60s and 70s which seemed designed to put obstacles in the way of a working class kid, raised of Irish catholic parents, trying to grow up in northern England.
The second word could be love – but I wanted to use a deeper, more meaningful word to describe her relationship with my dad. Faithfulness comes closer perhaps, or constancy. Perhaps Steadfast captures it best, because without doubt the second defining moment in mum’s life was meeting Jim, in Manchester, back in the early 60s. What a lucky man Jim was, meeting such a wonderful woman – and what a lucky woman my mum was, meeting such a man as Jim Riley. I was doubly blessed to have such a powerful, courageous woman as my mother, and for her to have met such a warm, loving, selfless man as my dad, who treated me as his son from the moment he met me, and never wavered in his love for me or mum. The third defining moment in mum’s life was Jim’s own death, back in 1996, and that steadfastness remained with her long after his passing. There would never be another man in mum’s life – because Jim was the man she’d decided to share her life with.
The third word is sociable. My mum was quite the extravert in her day. She loved making friends – even to the end. I’d sit with her at Cubbington Mill, where she spent her final months, and whenever one of the staff members walked past, mum would chip in with a greeting and turn to me, to say, sotto voce, “she’s my friend you know”. She loved the fact her picture was in the paper recently, and one of the greatest sadness’s of her last year with us was that she wasn’t able to get out and see her friends in the way she used to do. I think this joy of life is a Kinsella trait – certainly many members of mum’s family are larger than life characters – and I guess you had to be pretty confident in yourself as one of six kids to get anywhere in No 6 Vincent Street in Dublin back in the 40s and 50s.
What would mum say now – how would she want her life to be remembered. Well, she’d want to say thanks to her mum and dad, Daisy and Peter, for everything they did for her. She’d want to send her love to her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, especially Yvonne, who I know she came to view as the daughter she never had. She’d say thanks to all her friends, old and new, for making her life so happy. She’d want to tell me off for using so many tissues writing this eulogy, and finally she’d want to say a special thank you to Jean, for raising three grandchildren who were the light of her life.
Alex, Jess, Matt – she loved you more than words can say, and I know you loved her too.

If you three can be stubborn as she was in the defence of those important people in your life, as steadfast as she was in your love for your family, and as sociable as she was in remaining friends with all those who cross your path during your time on earth, Grandma will have passed on to you three of the greatest qualities life can give us. Thanks mum.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Speech to Coventry and Warwickshire Young Enterprise students

Capitalism ,  Private Enterprise  and the Free Market economy.
Call it what you will, it’s one of my passions in life, and I’m thrilled to be here tonight to see some of the next generation of entrepreneurs take their first steps along the road, I hope, to running their own successful businesses.
Young Enterprise is a great organisation.
In my view, schools don’t do nearly enough to encourage and promote the study of business, private enterprise, and economics, and so YE fills a much needed gap.
And why is business so important. Well, to answer that, you have to start by asking “where are we ranked in Britain on the ladder of human wealth?”
Well, we are one of the richest countries in the world, ranking 22nd out of 200 countries overall.  Given many of the countries below us have significant populations (China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil), the average Briton is probably in the top 5% of the world from a wealth perspective.  
So why are we so rich in Britain?
I believe there are three reasons, which have their roots in our rich history as a nation.
The first reason is the creation of Limited Liability companies. These allow you to invest in an enterprise, knowing that if all goes wrong, you will not be made to pay for all the debts of that company. That’s important, because if you thought that any company you backed could end up with its creditors chasing you for the company’s unpaid debts, and that you could therefore go bankrupt – you’d never invest in anything, especially anything risky, even if it had potentially high rewards. This concept of limiting someone’s liability just to the money they invest was a critical innovation that allowed risky enterprises to flourish after it was invented.
The earliest recognized company was the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands, chartered in 1553 in London with 250 shareholders – and the definition of  “Adventurer“ is a businessman who ventures capital – i.e. invests money. I love the fact that adventure and business are linked terms. And you can see why we needed limited liability. Putting ships to sea to explore strange lands to bring back exotic gems, spices etc – hugely risky – but potentially very rewarding. We needed a mechanism to let these explorers fund their adventures – and this was it.
Trade between nations flourished because of these companies. Great trading cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai sprang up because of these new found links
The second Innovation was the industrial revolution
This was a period from 1750 to 1850 where changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the world. It began here in the United Kingdom, and then subsequently spread throughout Western Europe, North America, Japan, and eventually the rest of the world.
In the two centuries following 1800, the world's average per capita income increased over tenfold, while the world's population increased over sixfold. And Great Britain provided the legal and cultural foundations that enabled entrepreneurs to pioneer the industrial revolution.
The third innovation is the fact that the intellectual underpinning for the concept of “The Free Market” also sprang from the United Kingdom, with Scottish philosopher Adam Smith’s book “The Wealth of Nations” being arguably the first modern work of economics. Smith’s description of the invisible hand remains, today, the most powerful descriptor of how free markets work.
He said “......It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages...”
Whilst we rightly revere the english language itself, Shakespeare and the concept of parliamentary democracy as some of our greatest cultural exports, I would also say that the establishment of limited liability companies, the Industrial revolution, and the intellectual underpinnings of the Free Market represent a trio of British exports to the world which stand head and shoulders above anything else in terms of their effect on global living standards
So – we need business to maintain and increase our wealth – and we need you guys to be in business to carry that torch forward to the next generation, and to continue to create that wealth for us all to enjoy. So I want to spend the next few minutes talking to you, the finalists, to encourage you to think about making business your career.
Why should you choose business, and not become a doctor, teacher, architect, or any of the other professions your parents probably want you to pursue.
The first reason is – you just might not have a choice in the matter. If you have discovered that starting businesses and running them is your passion in life, you simply must do it.
I believe we must all strive to lead great lives – not just good lives or OK lives – but great lives. And that starts with passion. Only by pursuing your passion can you lead a great life, and if you are genuinely passionate about business and enterprise – we need you to pursue that passion at all costs for everyone’s benefit.  
As well as passion by the way, you need perseverance, resilience and a positive mental attitude. I think you need those three traits to lead a great life in whatever path you choose – but you most certainly need them if you are choosing the path of the entrepreneur. You won’t meet too many successful businessmen who aren’t passionate about what they do, give up easily, or who feel miserable most of the time.
The second reason why I’d encourage you to go into business is because it’s great, competitive fun. There’s much talk of the need for competitive sports in school. But not everyone is good at throwing a ball. However, collectively we can all apply ourselves to competitive enterprises. And that is what business is. The daily pursuit of competitive advantage over ones rivals.
O2 competes with Vodafone every day. Apple with Samsung, Coke competes with Pepsi. Lloyds competes with Santander; Free Radio competes with Capital FM.
And this rivalry has two effects.
Firstly, if you are competitive, it makes it stimulating to go to work – and I can tell you there are many supposedly “good” careers out there where you will not be stimulated every day. And secondly, it produces benefits for the consumer. Every day, in every great business, the people who work there are thinking of ways to outsmart their rivals – and that inevitably means thinking of ways to increase the benefits for customers – exactly as Adam Smith predicted back in the c18th.
The third reason to go into business is that it teaches you teamwork – and this is particularly why I think more emphasis should be placed on business in schools. You simply can’t build a great business alone – you have to be able to recruit, retain and inspire the people who work alongside you. That requires you to develop skills in emotional intelligence. Being able to manage teams, and inspire them to great things, is integral to business, and certainly gives me a thrill when I see it happening in my own company.
One other benefit of running your own business by the way is that you don’t have a “boss” to answer to – which for some people is reason alone to start their own firm.
Another reason is giving something back. Businesses don’t work in a vacuum. We are all part of society. And whilst I dislike the term “Stakeholder” and the increasing view from government that they can “force” businesses to be social partners, many, many businesses do engage in socially useful activities off their own bat – because they want to.
My company organises a series of charity walks each year. There’s one here – walking from Warwick to Coventry on Sunday June 23rd, and it’s sponsored by this great University we are in tonight. There’s another in Brum, one in Wolverhampton and one in Worcester. Last year over 20,000 local people took part, and raised over £750,000 for local charities. We hope to beat that this year. It takes us a lot of time and effort to organise these – but we do it because we can, because we want to, and because it helps us help others.
Finally, you should go into business to make money.
Let’s be clear – being in business and being successful means making money. Money is the scorecard – and if you are successful you should expect to earn great rewards. And if you’ve created jobs for others, improved the lot of your consumers, and given something back to the community in the process – there’s nothing wrong in you enjoying material rewards too.
I don’t want to belabour the financial point – because, in Britain at least, discussing money is quite often seen as “not the done thing”, but it is precisely because the butcher or baker wants to make money that he offers us the ingredients for a good dinner. So we should all want these young people to make money – because by doing so they will make us all richer as a result.
And the end result of amassing great wealth quite often turns into the creation of huge social benefits. Just look at Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Two of the world’s richest men, who have not only pledged all of their money to a foundation working to alleviate poverty and illness – but they are busy persuading many, many other rich businessfolk to follow them in putting their money to good work.
Starting and running business is hugely challenging. Raising capital, dealing with banks, sorting out the legalities of it all, finding customers and suppliers, all difficult, all challenging, sometimes even frightening.
But it’s also one of the most exciting and important things anyone can do. Aspiring to lead a great organisation – like Richard Branson, James Dyson or Steve Jobs – creating jobs, creating new products and services is a worthy goal – in my book entering business is on a par with entering medicine, finance or law. Well done to all of you for achieving the goal of being here in tonight’s finals. You should all be rightly proud of what you have done so far, and I hope this experience has given you the appetite to “take on the world” by starting your own business.