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Yah-boo to "compelling" propositions

Operatic performances can make "compelling" viewing. So, too, can end-of-season football matches and the screen appearances of the late, great Robert Shaw.

But, please, members of the worldwide business community, don't emasculate this lovely, useful, emotive word by applying it to your "propositions", your "customer experiences" and your "formats".

To join me in saving the word "compelling" from the same sad fate as "solutions" and "drivers" (surely a cigarette-stained guy in a peaked cap who drives rich folk back from nightclubs), please join me in agreeing to cough, splutter or just plain shriek each time you hear the word "compelling" abused in public.

"Compelling" needs us. Together, we can save it.

Africa: the entrepreneur's solution

Even by African standards, Rwanda is a hard luck story. Endemic poverty and the genocide of 1994 have left the country in an abject state, with more than 90 per cent of the population living from hand to mouth. But one American entrepreneur has a remarkable plan to leapfrog the country into the wireless age and turn Rwanda into a global internet hub. New year stories don't come much more hopeful than Hilmar Schmundt's terrific article in Der Spiegel.

Chinese masterclass

The recent HSBC Guanxi Lunch (organised by Caspian) provided a masterclass in how UK businesses can succeed in China. According to keynote speaker David Eldon (HSBC’s former chairman in China and the driving force behind the bank’s Asian success), UK companies face huge challenges in China (corruption, increasing labour costs, indeed skilled labour shortages) but, if they develop their connections and understand the cultural issues (ie, resist all temptations to corrupt practices), huge opportunities also loom from an ever more opulent, educated marketplace.

To hear David’s highly illuminating speech, as well as HSBC global economist Janet Henry’s presentation of the long-term issues facing China, click here.

And to hear flamboyant entrepreneur David Tang (pictured); the man behind Arup’s incredible success in China, Peter Budd; CEO of Evolution Securities China, Ying Fang; and David Eldon in a remarkable panel debate about all issues Chinese, click here.

Really really business

Rb_sept_cov_f_25_rgbOur entrepreneurs' magazine Real Business has a whole new look, shape, feel this month – a touch of glamour in the oft-stuffy world of B2B media. It also carries a big interview with Tory leader David Cameron, who gives away his broad inclinations about business policy (but is also often elusive): claw back UK employment/regulatory rights; take a long hard look at taxes on business; a general entrepreneurial bent; but a move away from classic eighties "on your bike" Conservatism. His conclusions are often as you'd expect, but it's important that he chose a magazine for entrepreneurs to outline his business policies, as the rest of the press noted. We'll push for more details in the months ahead.


Desperately seeking finance?

Real Business hosted a recent, very informative debate at the British Library about fund-raising for early-stage entrepreneurs. You can now watch the presentations and Q&A online. For start-up businesses, gems lie within.


MySpace 4 Business?

I float the idea that the social networking phenomenon will become increasingly pervasive in niche B2B media such as our own titles - Real Business, Real FD, Real Deals etc. Our UK media magazine Press Gazette picked up on the idea. All views gratefully received.

How to be an entrepreneur

We've written about Steve Parks in Real Business before. We rate the Institute of Entrepreneurs founder highly. Now he's written How to be an Entrepreneur and claims to identify the "six secrets of self-made success". There's plenty of good, counter-intuitive sense within. First, Steve believes that entrepreneurial skills and attitudes can be learned. He also rightly dispenses with the oft-cited entrepreneurial stereotypes (tough upbringing, left formal education at 16, school of hard knocks bla). "In fact," he says, "entrepreneurs are more likely to have come from well-off families" - cf Branson, Gates, Murdoch, Green and countless other lesser-known successes. In my experience, the self-confidence and established networks gleaned from a moderately privileged background are particularly helpful entrepreneurial attributes. And I'm particularly smitten by his phrase that entrepreneurialism is a "self-recruiting profession". As he puts it: "For any other job you need to persuade someone to recruit you and give you that job title. To become an entrepreneur, you only need to prove to yourself that you can do it, and give yourself the job title." For budding entrepreneurs, in particular, I recommend this book highly. Good on you, Steve.


First Woman of Finance

One of the biggest cheers at Real Business's First Women Awards this year was for the remarkable entrepreneur behind the utilities price comparison service, SimplySwitch. Karen Darby has, by anyone's standards, had some pretty major obstacles to overcome in her entrepreneurial career – single-handedly raising her two children while building a business in her early twenties, to name but one. So it's gratifying to see in today's news that she's secured the sale of SimplySwitch to the Daily Mail & General Trust for £22m. It's an interesting example of newspaper businesses broadening their consumer sales proposition; and it's not a bad return for Bridges Community Ventures either, which first backed the business in 2002 with £125,000 of start-up capital.


Branson: the sequel?

Like him or loathe him, Sir Richard Branson is probably the UK's most important entrepreneur. Virgin is seen to have led the emergence of the budget airline sector; Branson personally has embraced his public role as "entrepreneur-in-chief"; and there's no doubting that the Virgin brand saw "global" long before many of its peers. So the super-carefully managed, Prince William-like emergence of his 21-year-old son Sam as a potential heir to the dynasty is an entrepreneurial story well worth watching and is covered in some depth in Sarah Sands’ strong piece. My personal insight here is limited, as I've only met Branson on a couple of occasions. However, if Sam is anything like his low-profile but highly impressive, Glaswegian mother Joan, he could be a real entrepreneurial force.


Britain in a nutshell (18.8.06)

One of my favourite news alerts is UK Activity Report, which updates me on corporate announcements and changes across the UK (job losses; acquisitions; plant closures, investment rounds etc). The presentation is bland, but gems lurk within. I did a quick and dirty analysis of this week's news:

* 1,930 new jobs announced. Primarily in retail (M&S, Sainsbury, Aldi, new Trafford Centre in Manchester). A fair few from call centres and financial services. Two notable big recruiters: Tangerine Confectionery adding 450 to the workforce at its recently acquired sugar confectionery business in Blackpool; and 130 new jobs at Metalysis's new metal-processing factory in Yorkshire (nb: patented techniques).

* 1,510 job losses announced. Health & Safety Executive losing 300; a lot from industries such as glass, printing and packaging, furnaces, tablemat-manufacturing (farewell Consett-based Pimpernel International); a laundry factory in Irthlingborough; Thames Water shutting the taps on hundreds of jobs; an egg-packing plant; a confectionery manufacturer (see above); and 200 jobs from Bradford NHS Trust.

* £43m-worth of grants awarded by The Wolfson Foundation to improve displays at 43 English museums.

* Expansion plans: 15 new Fitness First clubs; 15 new Dreams bed stores; five new Sniff footwear shops; 104 new Superdrugs; six new Raspberry Village furniture stores; 30 new Slater menswear shops; £70m investment in new Macdonald hotels; five new care homes for the elderly; 100 new branches of Rok builders.

Received wisdom says that the UK is turning away from traditional industries, becoming instead an ageing heritage economy obsessed with shopping, leisure and food; in which unique innovation is vital; but whose public sector is still bloated. Looks like received wisdom is right. It also looks like this new, changed economy is doing okay.



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