If Boris Johnson is going to deliver the kind of change he wants to see, he will need the help, expertise and innovation of UK family business owners and entrepreneurs, says Sebastien Kurzel.

Boris has fulfilled part one of his ambition – to become the Prime Minister. But when it comes to part two – becoming one of the UK’s greatest PMs, he is going to need to tap up highly successful entrepreneurs and family business owners; individuals such as Matches Fashion founder Tom Chapman, Matthew Moulding of the Hut Group, Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, founder of family-owned hotel-group Dominvs.

To date, politicians have been fixated on large corporations; on quoted companies – talking, it seems, only to their CEOs and industry bodies. They have almost completely ignored the huge majority of UK businesses and entrepreneurs; the vast army of successful people and families who do not run public companies and, on the whole, are not active members of trade bodies.      

But will Boris be any different? Is he going to be the first modern-day PM to recognise the fact that entrepreneurs are the key to transformation? Many politics-watchers on the right of centre will be sceptical. But maybe this administration will be different, and we’ll see the kind of one-to-one co-working we need to deliver results across the UK, and not just in the South East.

The benefits of this approach could be huge.

New ideas and innovative solutions to old problems

There is a disappointing tendency in this country to view successful entrepreneurs as people whose sole aim is, and always was, to make money; and to assume that they are exactly like the individuals at the top of publically owned companies. This fundamentally misunderstands the way entrepreneurs and large family business owners think and operate; and ignores the basic fact that leaders of stock-market quoted companies are employees, not self-made innovators.

It will sound obvious to many, but the key aim of an entrepreneur is to solve a single, or multiple, problems. This is why they start businesses – they see an opportunity, a gap with a problem in it; a challenge they believe they can solve. Profit is a welcome, and necessary, by-product. Most highly successful businesses start out as a passion; eBay for example started as a hobby.

Many outstandingly successful entrepreneurs are very keen to play a role in creating a country that works for everyone; to help the government find the solutions to difficult problems because the challenges that affect every UK citizen, affect them too: poor transport, underfunded infrastructure, poor fibre broadband coverage, climate change, housing, schooling, disadvantaged communities, high street decline, poor work skills. The difference is, they can see the solutions and have the strategic ability to help the government force them through.    

But they feel alienated. No one reaches out to these individuals; no one accepts that they have the ideas, experience and innovative mindset to really get things done. No one in government seizes the opportunity, goes looking for the most successful entrepreneurs in every sector, brings them in, listens to them and asks for their help. We all know why they don’t. They already know who these individuals are, but politicians have the wrong mindset – one that’s going to cost them, and the UK, in the future.   

Flip the approach and attitude to business-government working

The prevailing attitude to working with entrepreneurs, and businesses more widely, is to look only at what support they need to grow, thrive, employ more people and pay more taxes. Every instance of government or political contact with businesses seems to involve either government funding, political donations, tendering for projects, or censure or conflict of some kind.  

It’s rare to find an instance where entrepreneurs or businesses owners are approached for their experience or expertise on a serious, rather than a public PR, level; our most successful entrepreneurs are not asked for their opinions or solutions to challenges, and if they ever are, it’s in the context of being seen by the public to involve entrepreneurs in a process which has already been determined by less-qualified politicians and civil servants. This government must radically change the approach and attitude to business.

We all know why governments prefer to keep big businesses at arms’ length. It’s understandable that politicians don’t want to expose themselves to accusations of being too close to big business; and fear what businesses want in return for their help. But I believe that the same attitude should not apply to individuals; the entrepreneurs and highly successful family business owners who have proved themselves over many decades.

Many of these entrepreneurs don’t need the government. They have stepped back from the day-to-day running of their companies or group; they may be investing in other areas, pursuing new ventures, focussing on their philanthropic work or looking to achieve new ambitions outside of business. No government in the world would turn down help and ideas from someone like Bill Gates, would they?       

There are 4.8 million family owned, independent, non-quoted businesses in the UK – that’s 88% per cent of all businesses in existence here. Our entrepreneurs have achieved incredible things against all odds; they have created and driven forward whole new global industries built on innovation in areas such as fintech, AI, automation, robotics, agri-tech, blockchain, biometrics, genetics, green energy, cybersecurity, retail, healthcare and so much more besides. Many of their companies are Unicorns, privately held enterprises worth more than $1bn.

This new government, under Boris Johnson, cannot afford to ignore these individuals any longer. If Boris is as brave as he says he is, now is the time to reach out to them.     

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