For an issue of my online publication Streetwise, I grabbed the opportunity to give an insight into a business man whose achievements I can only admire. I started my Streetwise article with the quote “And now for something completely different.” For anyone who didn’t know where it comes from, hands up all of you who watched Monty Python.
I meet Scott regularly at events and we have had fun disagreeing on many issues. Taking into account the wide range of views I heard him express, I struggled to define him so I asked him point-blank if I could interview him for Streetwise and got a quick and clear “yes”.
So here we go!
Scott started by sending me a couple of “here’s one I prepared earlier” transcripts and his entry for the Mancoolian Awards. So he gets 9/10 for efficiency and that dealt with the questions about the rise of the business. What I wanted was to get behind the man who is seriously anti-European Union and has such empathetic views on youth employment.
I start at his office. Great atmosphere. The first time I went (on another mission with my begging bowl for Bridgewater Hall Community Education Trust) it was 9.00am and everyone arriving seemed pleased to be there which I reckon is quite an achievement. If I had accepted every cup of coffee I was offered I would have drowned.
Next time (for the interview) Scott was in a meeting. He left to say sorry for delaying me and he clearly revelled in the wind up photo session.
Back bedroom to boardroom
So here is a brief rundown of how he got to the boardroom. Scott has shown entrepreneurial tendencies since his early years. He had his own bank account at age 7 and as a teenager sold cockles and whelks in pubs. He did not say if it was illegal for him to be in there and I chose not to ask. I knew he had been a child actor. He said it got him out of the school system. So was he unhappy at school? No, he thought he did quite well but was not as successful at Sixth Form College.
His parents encouraged him into ‘am drams’ to give him a diversion. He started at an Oldham Theatre Workshop where he was encouraged. It did its job. It took the tension of home away and led to a possible career.
From there he got the chance of a professional career at the Royal Exchange and on the box. I Googled to see if I could find him. The bully he played in Jossy’s Giants is not the man I talked to. He told me he had loved acting; he had some money in his pocket and was transported from an ordinary life.
But he had to choose between a life on the stage and a more commercial career. He went on a YTS scheme doing IT. He got a job and ended up with a team of 20. When his employer went under he acquired the ongoing business which was the seed corn for ANS.
His modus operandi in business growth does not need an MBA. People on the street know what they need. One size does not fit all. Find out what they need and give it to them. That philosophy has led to a £60m turnover business with a staff of 170.
So now we get to the ideas part.
Scott is more than enthusiastic to give chance not charity to young people. ANS takes 50 apprentices every 12 months. If they make the grade, they have a job. Yes, as a society we need to tackle the issue of young people whose parents have never had a job but he is running a business. It is not fair to the team leaders to saddle them with dead weight. Give the recruits a chance and not a hand out. Apprenticeship as training for work is the way forward, not a university degree. STEM is an important part of that progress. Why do Siemens train 4 times as many engineers as the Universities?
I have heard Scott in public meetings enthusing that every business could and should take school leavers equal to 10% of its existing workforce. They can still make good money, perhaps better. His view is that the welfare state is there to catch those who need it. Don’t give hand outs; create the economy for everyone to work.
So what else? Scott is pretty straight forward. He reckons that if it had not been for the theatre when he was a boy, he could well have ended up on the wrong side of the law. I don’t meet many people prepared to admit that. He is a big fan of the Factory Youth Zone where not much money makes a huge difference to a community. There should be one in every town and city. But he says currently it is not properly joined up and there is too much tick box bureaucracy.
Yes of course we talked about feminist issues. How could I not when he has such a happy work force? It was no shock to me to learn that everyone gets the same chance and reward regardless of gender. There is flexible working to fit in with family life or indeed any other life that a person may want. It bothers Scott that women with great potential may do themselves a disservice that he feels powerless to prevent. Anyone who chooses not to participate in the camaraderie and banter after the office closes may find that they do not have the same rapport with their colleagues which may in turn affect how they are seen by their teams. Of course, that would apply to men too wouldn’t it? Yes.
The European Union
Then inevitably we get to the European Union about which we both are passionate. I already knew what Scott thinks because he was a panel member on a Downtown Business in Manchester discussion ardently arguing for us to get out. He does not want EU regulation, to give money to the EU just to get a bit back or to be kidded that the EU is necessary for us to be able to trade. Well, as I take quite a different view (but this is not about my views) we had a bit of fun comparing ideas. The Fletcher view is that if we got out we could have free movement of people and money. As a Nation we should keep our own taxes and distribute them as we want. We take no subsidy and we contribute to none. He is not impressed with the overarching principle that the EU was designed to discourage European Nations from war and to promote the values that the Western Nations hold dear.
For him the better is trade unfettered by the regulatory requirements of other nations.
Oh, and he thinks UKIP have got some good ideas. Sorry, had to put that in.
Scott is more than relaxed about public appearances. He does not want public office. He does not want the morning papers full of him if he went out and had beer on a Saturday night. But “I’d rather lead the debate than sit in the audience”. As long as he can make a difference he will be on our platforms and in our press.
So how did it end up?
When I went in, I had great admiration for him as a business man and I had already seen him as a man who cares about the fate of the young.
And when I came out?
His thoughts on Europe? No surprise there.
Humanitarian approach. A big but commercial embrace to help people get on in life.
His generosity? Remember I said I had previously been looking for cash. That was for Bridgewater for all of which I am trustee. He said yes. But yes tempered with business sense. Not a dripping tap then. But fair dos. Most people just say “No budget”.
His politics? I don’t think he has politics. He has opinions, strong ones and is not interested in where they fit on the left/right spectrum. Caring that young people have a decent start and chance sounds a bit leftish. But UKIP? What a mixture.
At the end of the exercise I concluded that there is no fitting Scott into a pre defined box. This thrusting entrepreneur is his own man and does not care who knows it.
Despite UKIP. I still like him but you have to make your own mind up.
And he runs a fab business.
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