Coffee with a Lord, as you do

Originally Publised on Thursday 8th September

 

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet Lord Digby Jones for coffee with a few of my fellow UpRisers.

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I was very excited about this event. I’ve been organising it for months. So you can imagine my self-directed annoyance when I managed to cock up the time of the meeting, telling two of my fellow UpRisers that the meeting was to begin at 3pm…when actually it was 2pm (with the relative chaos I returned to from Europe at home and uni I suppose something had to give, but that was a pretty big mistake to make :s ). Fortunately I like to be early, a whole hour early in fact so I managed to contact everyone and disaster was averted. 
 
From that less then promising start the meeting turned out to be a total success. For those who don’t know Lord Digby Jones is a very successful businessman, originally hailing from Alvechurch just outside of Birmingham. He’s proven his mettle, and business know how, in a variety of fields starting in law with Edge&Ellison (1980-2000), moving on to public affairs as Director General of CBI (2000-2006) and leaping into politics as Minister of State for UK Trade & Investment  (2007-2008). He was knighted for services to business in 2005 and made a life peer in 2007. He’s also a surprisingly down to earth and friendly guy with a passion for socially inclusive business and a palpable love for his country and its business sector.
 
The conversation flowed easily and after giving a brief introduction to what the UpRising programme is, does and what it aims to achieve we moved on to a general chat about how to set up a business before a question and answer session on a wide range of topics. So much was discussed, in fact, that picking out a few key points and interesting responses is pretty tough, but for me the most memorable moments were:
 
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1) Fellow UpRiser Brook Simons-Akwah is in the process of setting up a brand new business/social enterprise aimed at helping young entrepreneurs set up their own businesses by working with the council to utilise empty shops and offices. UpRiser Daniel Blyden also runs his own business (YEP Media http://yepmedia.co.uk/). They wanted advice on what it takes to make a start-up business a success. Over the course of the discussion Lord Jones provided some very clear and to the point advice:
 
–         ‘It takes bloody hard work. I’ve worked my balls off every day of my life and I still do’
–         ‘The people who make things look easy work harder, prepare more, and leave nothing to chance’
–         ‘You’ve got to have confidence …every day I look in the mirror and think “my god I love you” …the inappropriately named ‘soft’ skills are important, nobody likes a limp handshake’
 
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2) Given Lord Jones’s experience as a leader in a variety of fields I was interested in what he thought about free leadership programmes, such as UpRising and what skills he thought they should be teaching. His response was very interesting, not least because of the very precise and technical nature of the skills he thought were important:
 
– ‘[programmes like UpRising are] extremely worthwhile, but they are only worthwhile if they operate on three levels: the first is if they get young people talking and understanding risk in business, the second is that they bring bright minds together and the third is if they have clearly stated aims and know what they want to achieve’
– ‘[they need to teach young people] how to write a business plan, get them understanding capital and cash flow…they need to understand that they have to deliver and have discipline’

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3)
Earlier this year Lord Jones published a book entitled ‘Fixing Britain’ detailing his views on what Britain needs to do to improve its economy and skill up its work force (I recommend giving it a read, it’s surprisingly interesting and easy to absorb). Whilst certain sections talk a lot of sense I had to query a few – namely one section where he proposes increasing the number of male primary school teachers by offering them higher wages than women and another where he proposes freely encouraging trade with countries that, shall we say, don’t exactly have the best human rights track records – so I asked: how far should businesses take into account moral and social problems in their actions? And I again received a typically candid response:
 
–         ‘I believe in social inclusive wealth creation…Businesses can take all of society with them’
–          ‘Business is the most important part of our society…Only businesses create revenue for the government in the form of taxes paid on their profits and employees’ wages…the taxes they pay pays for the NHS and the public sector. But business has a responsibility to train its people…The bankers had it wrong, business has got to take those at the bottom with them’
–          ‘23% of single mothers have never lived with a man…85% of primary school teachers are female…boys need strong male role models because if they don’t when an older boy asks them to join his gang he becomes the role model, you may disagree with it but we need more men in teaching and one incentive that works is money.’
–          ‘Business encourages human rights…if the Western World hadn’t been trading with China, if we hadn’t let them host the Olympics its citizens would have even less freedom…It’s different for different nations: where they need us more than we need them we can impose sanctions but if we need them as much if not more, realistically we can’t limit trade’

 


4) Lord Jones also had some strong views on what was the primary cause of the August riots:
– ‘Enhanced, disgusting criminality…look at the locations; in London it was organised and planned to stretch the metropolitan police to their limits.’
What to do about the illiteracy problem amongst Britain’s youth:
–          ‘Fire teachers if too many of their mentally and physically healthy pupils over 11 can’t read, write, count and use a computer…[and] stop parents benefits and replace them with food stamps if their kids can’t read, write, count and use a computer’
And a whole host of other interesting issues (many of which appear in his book if you fancy finding out more).
 

We then rounded up the discussion, said our thank-yous and left Lord Jones in the company of UpRising Director Alveena Malik, who was delighted to inform us that he had agreed to become an UpRising ambassador. So I’m guessing the programme organisers and us UpRisers impressed him almost as much as he impressed us.
 

In short, whilst some of Lord Jones’s personal views may be, shall we say, somewhat divisive, there is no denying his belief in the potential of the youth of today and his social conscience. Here’s a final quote from the discussion which, I think, aptly illustrates this dedication to practising the socially inclusive attitude he preaches:
 
–         ‘Young people are the future – that’s why I’m here on my lunch break giving you pointers…I can’t afford to just give young entrepreneurs money, but I can try and give my time’
 
 
He may be blunt and opinionated but he certainly believes in the future of our nation’s business. And his positive attitude is very infectious.
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