In a study I did a while ago, we asked 15 year-old girls about their perceptions of business people. The results were striking. Businessmen were 50-something grey-haired men in suits working in offices.
Businesswomen were younger, power-suited, high-heeled women rushing off to meetings somewhere. There was no mention of what these people’s companies actually did. Business was an end in itself, not something that produced anything.
If that’s the general perception of business, it’s no wonder that Google, Apple and Facebook top the list of companies young people want to work for. They’re a long way from those business people in suits. But when big, well-known companies are chastised for their tax avoidance in the UK, however legal it may be, it goes to the heart of what business is really about, in my view.
Business is about providing products and services that people want or need. But it’s also about more than that. There are nearly 5 million businesses in the UK. They provide 25 million jobs; 5 times more than the public sector. They pay £172 billion in taxes. That’s a third of the government’s total revenue. If you add the income tax paid by those 25 million employees, it’s even more. These taxes pay for schools, roads, hospitals, the very pavements on which we walk. Profitable business is something we all benefit from. Business makes the world go round.
I work in the B2B (business to business) sector, where businesses are selling to other businesses rather than directly to consumers. This sector drives over half the UK economy. It makes me feel proud to be part of it, even though it’s practically invisible to the man or woman on the street, and really hard to explain in the pub!
Earlier this month, I visited a big energy company – the bad guys, some might think. But they pay millions in taxes. Their profits get re-invested to develop renewable energy solutions. And they employ thousands of people.
One thing I particularly remember from my visit is the trainee receptionist, a young man who was learning from the two experienced hands, who welcomed visitors and answered calls with consummate ease. I imagine that he could have easily been unemployed, but instead he was learning important skills.
Hopefully he was also enjoying the proven benefits of work: a sense of purpose and worth, and greater self-esteem. That’s how I see business, but it’s not the bit that most people talk about. Perhaps we should.
Francesca Brosan is Chairman of Omobono, the digital marketing agency she co-founded in 2001 to focus on business brands. She is an Executive Committee Member of the BMC (Business Marketing Collective), a new organisation aimed at driving the B2B marketing industry forward. Fran is also the mother of four daughters.