Should we stay or go? SMEs talk Europe at Daily Telegraph’s Festival of Business. Louis Saha talks business leadership

Former footballer Louis Saha talked about the challenges of running his own business

Former footballer Louis Saha talked about the challenges of running his own business

It’s been a busy week this week. On Tuesday I went to the Festival of Business at the lovely Brewery on Chiswell Street to cover a few of the talks for The Daily Telegraph.

Obviously most of the debate among SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) at the moment is about whether we should be in or out of Europe. And what exactly are the terms we should be renegotiating with the European Union if we do decide we want to stay.

Not surprisingly it seems most of the speakers and the audience thought Brussels shouldn’t have the final say on Health and Safety or Employment legislation and the amount of ‘red tape’ that prevents us from doing business should be reduced. However, it seems that much of this legislation doesn’t actually come from Brussels but from our own Government instead!

Another interesting discussion about innovation and entrepreneurship was provided by two sixtysomething CBEs – Tony Pidgley, founder of Berkeley Homes and John Timpson of shoe repair business Timpsons fame. I learned a lot about both businesses and their founders and a bit about what it takes to build multi-million pound companies (hard work, giving people control, getting a mentor and luck, it seems).

Undoubtedly most striking was the fact that around 10 per cent of Timpsons employees are ex-offenders, some are even still in prison and run the shops on day release. And while 50 per cent of those who go to prison re-offend within 48 months, only 3 per cent of those working for Timpsons do so.

It’s a brave initiative, and one that is clearly working for Timpsons and society at large, but I still don’t know how I’d feel about a possible former burglar cutting my keys!

It was also interesting to hear about Tony Pidgley’s colourful background. A Barnardo’s Boy, brought up in a railway carriage by travellers from the age of 4, he is your archetypal self-made man setting up and selling a haulage business in his twenties before founding Berkeley Homes in the 1970s.

Not as if it has been all plain sailing for him.  He has had to fight off a couple of hostile takeovers along the way, including one from his very own son which put somewhat of a strain on family relations and cost him his first marriage.

Finally, I went to see ex footballer Louis Saha talk about his latest business venture, Axis Stars which aims to protect professional sports people from fraudsters. He talked about having to make the adjustment from being a footballer where everything was done for him to making his own decisions and leading staff in business!

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