Monday, 12 September 2016
Britain's complacent entrepreneurs.
At last a leading Tory, DR Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade no less, has blown the gaffe. Britain's poor export performance is due to "business executives [who] would rather be playing golf on a Friday afternoon than negotiating export deals."
Good for him and about time too.
For most of my lifetime Britain's poor economic performance has been blamed variously on lazy workers, obstructive trade unions, inadequate education, absenteeism, restrictive red tape (even before we joined the EU), too many holidays, excessive pay demands, suffocating bureaucracy (this particularity in the nationalised industries), and any thing else by which the onus can be placed on the workers and measures to protect their interests and dignity.
My own list has placed more emphasis on under- investment, short-termism, under-investment, poor management, under-investment, feeble marketing, under-investment, lack of language skills, under-investment, failure to integrate the workforce into the management structure, under-investment, lack of training and retraining (unless someone else pays for it), under-investment, and a tendency to produce what people used to want rather than what they will want in the future. Oh, and under-investment.
For the twenty or more years after the war "Made in Britain" was still seen as a guarantee of quality and Britain's firms tended to rely on this, rather than efficient marketing, to sell their products.Foreigners who wanted one of our products could form an orderly queue and when convenient we would supply one. This certainly seemed to be the case with Landrover and Papua New guinea. Until the 1960s even the German missionaries used Landrovers. If you needed a spare part then a posh sounding firm would order you one and it might come in on the next boat but three.
Then along came Toyota, highly competitive on price as well as quality. I think they trained mechanics and set up their service centres and spares departments before they sold any vehicles (as I believe did Volkswagen before they sold any cars in the US). By he time I left PNG nearly all 4x4 vehicles were Toyotas or Suzukis, and Landrovers had become a rarity.
In marketing, our reliance on quality has now been replaced by the belief that, since much of the world speaks English, we needn't bother to learn their languages. However I understand that, whereas foreign buyers are very happy to talk to our representatives in English - they appreciate the opportunity to practise - they tend to buy form those who speak their language.
So Dr Fox is right - those complacent entrepreneurs should get off the golf-courses and, among other things, get stuck into learning Chinese, Spanish and Bahasa Indonesian.