Thirst for growth.
But do UK firms really have this thirst, and who is helping them quench it?
An interview with Siemens UK CEO Roland Aurich at the conference touched on the now traditional comparison of UK SMEs with the more mature German Mittelstadt, characterised by professional management despite often being family owned. By comparison, later comments from an expert panel of industry leaders and finance professionals linked family management in the UK with a ‘lifestyle’ approach to business which often dulled aspirations for expansion.
This linked to debate on access to finance. A divide became apparent between those with anecdotal evidence of being turned down for the funding they needed in order to invest and expand, and bank representatives who insisted that they were willing to lend to good business propositions but were experiencing little demand.
What is it we love about the Mittelstadt?
Mark Ridgway, president, the Manufacturing Technologies Association: “I strongly believe that the internationalisation of SMEs is essential in achieving UK growth. But the conference exposed a confused view of SME ambition and competency. We heard family run businesses described as the backbone of the German manufacturing sector with stable long term strategies, but similar ownership in the UK being associated with ‘lifestyle’ operations. It also became clear that understanding of supply chains and the potential position of SMEs within them is weak in some quarters. The possibility of an SME being a capital equipment ‘prime’ was ignored in the supply chain workshop.”
Is non-party political decision making really possible?
Craig Naylor, managing director, NTR: “It was great to hear [the shadow Chancellor] say that they are working on a system to reduce the influence of party-political interests in policy making. But at the same time he admitted that political point scoring is getting worse! We can only hope that the aggravation of effecting change is making things worse before they get better. I only know that businesses are tired of the rhetoric. I’m more interested now in seeing what we can do independently as an industry – with customers, suppliers and academia – to create confidence.”
Let the macro message get you moving
Chris Tompson, CEO, Xpresss Group: “I’ve been made aware that we must accelerate our investment plans. Jim O’Neill made it clear that, for wider industry and individual companies, the opportunities are in the BRIC economies – for Xpress the focus is Brazil. But his startling statistics on the rate of growth in the BRICs and how quickly those markets are developing show that we must move faster to gain a meaningful competitive position. We’re doing the right things strategically, but we must do them quicker.
Chris Sullivan, chief executive of the UK Corporate Banking Division at Royal Bank of Scotland stated that the bank “is holding £55bn in SME current account deposits.” He held this up as proof that most companies are not looking for debt and are cautious about re-investing their reserves in an uncertain climate.
Lord Heseltine agreed. “There is no army of people looking to increase their debt,” he stated, also asserting that this is reasonable in a time of low confidence.
In such a context, Heseltine argued, it becomes ever more important to effectively stimulate competitive spirit. He is confident that his plan to deliver regional business funding, won in competition between 39 local enterprise partnerships, is an effective way of doing this, if coupled with better capability in the nationwide network of the British Chambers of Commerce and sector trade bodies. The UK compares unfavourably with European peers when it comes to the clout and strategic alignment of these networks.
Heseltine’s plan for growth is driven by a belief that the UK must raise its average business performance. “It is easy to find examples of excellence in Britain,” he said. “But the global economy will judge us on our average.”
Negativity ill received
The positivity of Jim O’Neill and Lord Heseltine was well received by most delegates in stark contrast to the negative campaigning of shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. While delegates welcomed news that Sir John Armitt has been tasked with finding ways to reduce the impact of party political interests in long term policy making, most were doubtful that any real difference could be made to such an embedded aspect of British politics.
It was also observed that, while Mr Balls preached long termism and identified the need for an industrial strategy, he failed to acknowledge or respond to the strategy issued by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills last September. He also sidestepped a request from one delegate that Labour should adopt EEF’s industrial strategy, Route to Growth published in November.
High-End Fashion Startup Material Wrld Makes Its Official Debut.
Material Wrld, the fashion startup seed funded by Warby Parker and Bonobos investor Great Oaks VC, is today making its public debut. The e-commerce site has come a long way since the beta it had running late last year, and to kick off its launch, the company is introducing a number of new features to help its fashion community discover new styles, ideas and people to follow.
The marketplace was founded by Rie Yano and Jie Zheng, who met while in grad school at Harvard. Both had worked in the fashion industry themselves – Yano in digital media marketing at Coach, and Zheng at Ralph Lauren and J Crew.
As the company name hints, the site plans to go after an international audience. And Yano tells us that currently, some 30 percent of the service’s traffic comes from outside the U.S., despite the Material Wrld’s still heavy New York focus.
“We’re aggressive about entering new markets,” explains Yano, “because at the end of the day, a marketplace is only exciting when it’s international. More than half of eBay sales are done internationally,” she adds. “From the beginning, our business model has been about allowing people to discover and purchase from anywhere in the world.”
The service is going after the high-end fashion consumer, allowing them to photograph and share the items in their closet, and then sell those items to other users in a peer-to-peer marketplace setting. It’s a concept that’s been tried before from startups like Poshmark, Threadflip, Twice, and even kids’ clothes marketplace like ThredUp. But Yano notes that Material Wrld isn’t going after “fast fashion,” as she calls it; it’s very brand and quality conscious. Price points for clothes on sites like Poshmark tend to fall in the $20 to $30 range, she remarks, while on Material Wrld, it’s much higher.
“We’re not disclosing our sales figures yet, but our average order price is around $100,” Yano says. “And we’re actually focused on bringing that average order price up. We’re differentiating ourselves from the rest of the resale space, which is much more like ‘thrifting’ than ‘luxury consigning,’”
With today’s official debut, the site is offering its early adopters half a dozen new features, including real-time notifications of site activity, in a style similar to what you would see on Facebook, a personalized “live feed” of the closets and groups you’re following, also reminiscent of Facebook’s News Feed, and more.
Rosie: Lindsay Lohan ‘isn’t capable’ of playing Liz Taylor.
Rosie O’Donnell says Lindsay Lohan is not ready to tackle Elizabeth Taylor in that upcoming Lifetime movie.
Tuesday morning Rosie joined Star Jones and Donny Deutsch on “Today”‘s professionals panel to weigh in on a variety of topics. When asked about Lohan, Deutsch defended the decision to cast the troubled star in the film. But Rosie was adamant about it being a bad move.
“I feel very sorry for her. I think she needs a lot of help,” said Rosie, jumping in to comment first. “She needs time away.”
“But is it a good idea to cast her?” interrupted Matt Lauer.
“No,” said Rosie firmly. “Because she’s had a lot of trouble doing every single movie, including SNL. She was out and not at rehearsal. I think she’s not in a place to work.”
Said Star: “I used to think she was extremely talented, but I have not seen enough of her as an actress in recent years to really make an evaluation.”
Said Donny: “It’s a great idea. She’s our generation’s Elizabeth Taylor.”
“You’re out of your mind. Get out of here!” said Rosie. “The last thing she did good she was 16.” She added, “I don’t think she’s right for the role and I don’t think she’s capable at this point of doing what’s needed.”
Lindsay’s dad, Michael Lohan tweeted to Rosie after the show, saying, “of ALL people,I can’t believe YOU would judge my daughter or her ability. Second chances aren’t up to you, they’re up to God”
She replied to him: “she needs help – nobody around her seems to get that – it’s tragic what has become of her life – work isn’t gonna fix her”