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Opinion

Having worked with people like Mike Ashley, it is important to understand that this is the way they think

6 months ago
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In this time of zero football, although what Steve Bruce serves up on a normal Saturday could be classed as zero football…

This and the recent antics of our illustrious owner, has led me to share some thoughts on those like Mike Ashley who are self-made entrepreneurs and the way they think.

During the 46 years of my working life and especially the last 24 years, where I have either run my own company or worked as a contractor, I have come into contact and worked for several of these businessmen.

When I say worked, I have been contracted with specialist skills and not on the shop floor, so I have been in meetings with them and had discussions both in work and externally. I will say at this point that at no time were they friends nor have any become one, this is mainly due to me wanting to keep a professional distance and being able to speak my mind.

The highest point on the priority list for them is money. This overrides everything and is the main driving force for them, not money for the company, even if they own the company, it is their money and they will control it to get the maximum return. Now this could be with one eye on selling the business or just taking the money out at the time, either way the business is often starved of running cash, meaning that proper maintenance and investment in the smaller projects doesn’t happen. This is because the maintenance and the smaller projects do not add extensively to the company’s value, either to them or the potential buyer. Large projects or purchases make the company bigger and more attractive to the buyer or to the stock market if the company is to be floated.

Whilst they will splash the cash to family and friends with lavish gifts and drinks the order of the day. Company staff will get short shrift, with the minimum salaries that can be paid, if there wasn’t such a thing as the minimum wage then they wouldn’t pay them anything. Protests on any wages are met with deaf ears and a response that they are doing the staff a favour by employing them, often the companies run with a toxic atmosphere because the staff are dissatisfied. The attitude to workers who are on staff as I found out to my horror in one meeting was “I pay your wages, so I own you”. It was said to me by an associate who worked with the entrepreneur was that “He doesn’t like Staff”, if they could do without them, they would.

Just to go further with this, it is rare that other staff and that is also supposed top management, can make decisions, especially on financial matters, even if the amount is seen as trivial and required. One chief engineer left the company as his sign off was £500 and it wouldn’t get him though a month’s maintenance. They are the only ones who can sign off large amounts including capital spend.

Just to digress from the financial side for a minute, I’d like to consider dealings with them.

If you shake hands with this type of person be sure and count your fingers as if they can sell them, they will, in fact they would sell their own granny to get on. Having said that, family members and close friends can often be found in senior if not top positions, but again without real authority. Having had contractual dealings with this type I get everything in writing, either in the contract or clarification by email. I have found that unlike other businessmen and engineers that I deal with, who will stick to what they say, this bunch don’t, in fact they will try and take any situation to their advantage and profit. If it’s in writing they will stick to it, but you must stick to your side, else the first thing they will do is threaten legal action, it is a type of bullying.

The subject of health and safety is an interesting one in their eyes, they view it as a hindrance to them earning money. They do the very minimum to keep them on the right side of the law. The reasoning in this is that they view it as protecting their assets and not having to fork out for fines, but any work is the cheapest they can get away with. It’s not just the spending on health and safety but the way it is done, or more explicitly how it is ignored, usually until an accident happens and it prompts action, or more specifically as I have seen, the intervention of the health and safety executive, who then look at all points as happened on one plant recently.

When it comes to selling, they have their own rules. Generally, their price is what they want and not what anyone else accepts as fair or morally acceptable. Here it isn’t just the ticket price but the caveats, they want their pound of flesh and then some. This can come in the form of advertising or down the line contracts to supply. They don’t budge on what they want, they expect the buyer to do that. When buying from them it is a case of Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) as they will pull every trick in the book, often with the buyer not getting exactly what they thought they were getting. No one is safe as they will also do it to each other, it appears to give them some sort of perverse pleasure and getting one over on someone.

One of the things about them selling is that they will only sell when they have exactly what they want, or they are forced to sell by events out of their control. There is one other reason, if the company or item becomes a hot potato and gives more grief than it is worth to them, or they have no use for it as they have got all they need from it.

As an extra to the selling is the truth, or as they see it, they have no concept except for their own. In their eyes they are right whatever they do. In telling the truth, to say this lot are economical with the truth is an understatement, they make Pinocchio look like Honest John. They don’t bother who they lie to or about, it is all in a day’s work for them.

As a parting note, if you expect them to get better as they age, as they have earned more that they would ever need, you’re mistaken, they want more the more they get.

From the ones I have seen. Some of these people get bitter and twisted with each pound they earn. As I have said at the start, this isn’t written about one individual but about a certain type of individual.

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