Thursday, July 28, 2011


This is a simple but highly effective presentation, from the USA, on how entrepreneurship can help change the lives of young people from deprived communities.

Given the lower rates of entrepreneurial activities within the South Wales Valleys, but the talent that exists amongst young people in these areas, should we be doing something similar in Wales to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which inspires young people from low-income communities to stay in school, to recognize opportunities and to plan for successful futures ?

Monday, July 25, 2011



Last week, I came across a profound piece of research from the USA that demonstrates not only the potential of the so-called green economy, but also suggests how government can help develop this sector over time.

Called “Sizing the Green Economy” and written by researchers from the Washington-based Brookings Institution, the report claims to be the first comprehensive study of green industries and its impact on the US economy.

A video from the launch of the report is shown below

In the report, the “green” economy (otherwise known as “clean” or low-carbon) is defined as those industries that produce goods and services with an environmental benefit. These include not only energy developments such as wind farms and solar parks but also green developments in industries such as food and appliance manufacturing, sewage treatment or recycling and a whole range of environmental goods and services.

The first major finding from the study is that the so-called “clean economy” employs around 2.7 million people in the USA, which is actually more than those employed in either biosciences or, more relevantly, the fossil fuel industry. It also found that the clean economy is both manufacturing and export intensive, with 26 per cent of all green jobs to be found in manufacturing businesses (such as electric vehicles, chemical products and lighting), which is three times the rate for the entire US economy.

In addition, the green economy exports twice as much per employee, led by industries such as biofuels and green chemicals. Therefore, the growing importance of the green industry sector cannot be overstated and this is reflected in the funding being provided for the sector. For example, around $1 trillion of investment capital was pumped into into clean energy sectors alone between 2004 and 2010.

The green labour force commands wages that are 13 per cent higher than the median for the US economy although a higher proportion of jobs within the industry are taken up by less skilled workers, That is an important finding for policymakers – that unlike many high technology industries, the sector can have a direct impact across the entire workforce and not just those with high skills.

In terms of location, two thirds of current green jobs are to be found in metropolitan areas, a result which has implications for the development of industries here in the UK. Indeed, the study found that job creation was boosted by the existence of specific green ‘clusters’ made up of businesses in similar or related industries, usually in urban areas. These included, for example, professional environmental services in Houston, the solar photovoltaic sector in Los Angeles and fuel cells in Boston.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the Isle of Wight’s previous cluster in wind farm technology, there are no similar concentrations of companies in any green sector in the UK. In Wales, the development of Anglesey as the ‘energy island’ is, unfortunately, a concept that remains on the drawing board.

The report’s conclusions has considerable implications for policymakers and there are certainly lessons for the British and devolved governments to encourage a more vibrant green economy on this side of the Atlantic.

First of all, the green economy could be encouraged if the public sector could develop measures to encourage greater domestic demand for low-carbon and environmentally-oriented goods and services. These could include a greener approach to procurement by the public sector, which could use its purchasing power to encourage the development of new practices by private companies.

Government could also adopt innovative financing solutions to reduce the upfront costs of investing in clean technologies, which is why the UK Coalition Government’s plans for the world’s first state-backed green investment bank cannot come quickly enough.

There also needs to be a greater focus on developing innovation across the green economy, by focusing on providing funds to encourage and support energy and environmental research projects, especially as there is growing demand from industry for expertise in this area. For example, a recent survey by Ernst & Young found that 75 per cent of major global corporations will increase their “cleantech” expenditure over the next three years, with 40 per cent of that spending going into research and development (R and D).

In Wales, the development of the Low Carbon Research Institute (LCRI) led by Cardiff University, is definitely a step in the right direction to link up academic expertise with emerging green industries. However, given the final conclusion of the report, namely a focus on regions to drive the clean industry agenda, I would propose that the UK Government needs to consider more R and D investment into regional projects such as the LCRI as exemplars of good practice for the whole of the country.

The research undertaken by the Brookings Institution should certainly be replicated here in the UK so that we have a full picture of the potential of the green economy for the future prosperity of the nation. It would not only ensure that policymakers are not operating in a vacuum, but demonstrate that government, academia and industry can work together in an efficient and effective manner to make the most of the opportunities that will arise in this sector during the next decade.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Whether you love him or hate him, Sir Richard Branson is one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th Century.

Here is a short interview about his childhood and how that influenced his future career.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I have just closed the annual Fast Growth 50 list for 2011 and following an enormous amount of interest, it is very different to what we have seen in previous years and reflects the changing face of the Welsh economy. Certainly, the overall turnover of the fifty firms will give many people something to think about. Now the real work begins, including writing the 50 profiles and organising the 2011 gala dinner which, judging by last year's response, looks set to be another sell out with over 450 people attending.

As it is open to only the sponsors and the fifty companies, here are some of the comments from those who attended the 2010 gala dinner to give you an idea of what I think (obviously!) is the best business awards ceremony in Wales.

I just wanted to say a personal thank you from myself and everyone associated with Smart. The evening last night was exceptional (not just because we were on stage..!) and demonstrated that Wales does have a vibrant business community, your goal of raising awareness and the profile of this has certainly been achieved! I cannot wait to get back to work on Monday with renewed enthusiasm and to tell our employees about their recognition from FG50, I am sure it will act as a catalyst to us all and help us push Smart to the next milestone.
Nathan Bowles
Smart Solutions, Fastest Growing Firm in Wales, 2010

Just wanted to say, on behalf of the whole Trojan team, how much we enjoyed the awards dinner on October 29th. The new features – the fire-eater, the rope climber and the magicians, as well as a really first class group, combined with the awards process, made it truly a night to remember.
Malcolm Rash, Trojan Electronics

On behalf of all the guys please accept our sincere thanks for a truly great night. As always we were the last to leave with the exception of a couple of "die hards" in the bar who really should have gone to bed hours before! Apart from a great night our team found the whole event very inspiring and has made them determined to No 1 in FG50 awards in the future. Once again sincere thanks and congratulations to you and the FG50 team. It was just brilliant!!
Kim Beynon, Celvac.

Just a quick note to say thank you and congratulations to you and your hardworking team on a great event last Friday! We really enjoyed the evening and We are going to make the most of being part of the elite Fast Growth club and will hopefully make it again next year– it’s a proud badge of honour to wear.
Clare Jenkins, Tewdric

Many thanks for getting us to the presentation last Friday, it was a fabulous evening from what I remember. I hope you get commission for every bottle of wine sold, if so you’d be well rewarded.
Kerry Thomas, Sinclair Finance and Leasing

I just wanted to show my gratitude for a fabulous night last Friday. My guests and I enjoyed the evening very much indeed. It must have been loads of work for you and your team organising all that but, it was a perfect night. Congratulations to you!
Malcolm Evans, Kids at Play

Congratulations on a great evening. We thoroughly enjoyed it. We'll endeavour to keep our name on the list and also aim even higher.
Owen Roberts, Tracesmart

Monday, July 18, 2011


Last week, I examined the statistics regarding the differences in public sector employment in Wales.

At the time, I was keen to emphasise that it was not a case of “private sector good, public sector bad” but it is important to realise the scale of the problems facing the Welsh business community that has been over-dependent on public sector jobs for the last decade, often at a cost to improving the performance and potential of the private sector in Wales.

And there continues to be a debate on the differences between the sectors, although it was a debate that was unfortunately described as ‘sterile’ by the Welsh Government earlier this month.

Yet, it is clear that understanding these differences can help us to begin to realise how both sectors can actually learn from each other.

Take, for example, the latest report on public and private sector pay from the Office for National Statistics, which indicated that the difference in average earnings across the UK between employees in the public and private sector has increased since April 2007.

The headline analysis showed that, in April 2010, public sector employees were paid, on average, 7.8 per cent more than private sector employees. That seems to blow, out of the water the myth that public sector workers receive better benefits but lower pay.

Such simple statistics do hide the fact that, over the last two decades, much of public sector has been happy to outsource most of its low paid menial jobs to businesses. Consequently, there is bound to a higher concentration of high skilled and highly paid jobs within the public sector.

In fact, if you dig into the data, there are some interesting statistics that emerge to show that both sectors need to re-assess their employment patterns, especially as the relative importance of the public sector decreases over the next few years.

If, for example, the link between qualifications and pay is examined, then the statistics reveal that those who have a degree in the public sector actually earn 5.7 per cent less than those in the private sector in 2010. This may be surprising as 53 per cent of those currently employed in the public sector had a higher education qualification as compared to 32 per cent in the private sector.

There are certainly questions for both organisations and policymakers with regard to this one statistic.

Why, for example, do graduates go into the public sector even though the pay is lower? Why does the private sector, even taking into account factors such as outsourcing, perform so relatively badly at attracting those with degree qualifications into the workforce?

It could it be argued that if we are to be spending money producing the graduate talent of the future that there should be greater policy interventions to ensure that they are attracted into the productive side of the economy, namely the private sector?

If we examine the evidence on gender, then the research shows that female employees in the public sector earn considerably more, on average, than their counterparts in the private sector.

One explanation for this is that a significant proportion of low paid jobs in the private sector, such as cleaning and catering, are carried out by women.

Of course, whilst women still perform lower paid jobs, such as caring and clerical work, for public employers, there are also a high proportion of women employed in professional, higher paid occupations, such as nursing or teaching.

The data showed that 28 per cent of women in the public sector in 2010 were employed in high skill jobs, compared with 18 per cent in the public sector. This suggests that the so-called glass ceiling is not merely confined to boards of directors, as suggested by the recent review into inequality by Lord Davies of Abersoch which revealed that only 5.5 per cent of the executive directors within the UK’s top 100 companies were women.

It does not take a genius to work out that if less women are being employed within high skilled jobs in the private sector, then fewer will make the step into boardroom.

However, in addressing this, government must be careful not to impose quotas on companies as this simply would not work. Instead, a greater cultural change needs to be encouraged within our business community that encourages the leadership development of women in middle management.

Businesses can clearly learn lessons from the public sector in this regard, especially as research suggests that more diverse boards take better and more responsible decisions.
Therefore, understanding the differences between the private and public sector is not a sterile debate at all.

In fact, it is important not only in developing organisations in both sectors but ultimately the Welsh economy if we get better boardrooms and more highly skilled graduates into businesses.

Friday, July 15, 2011


According to the Western Mail yesterday, a row has broken out as "Labour backs proposals to elect all AMs (Assembly Members) by first-past-the-post" with Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain calling for a change in the voting system in Wales.

According to Mr Hain “The only acceptable option given the AV referendum result is to have all AMs elected by first-past-the- post, and we believe that each of the 30 new constituencies should elect two AMs by that system".

As is usual with the Labour Party, this was not a rogue voice but part of a co-ordinated campaign and Leighton Andrews had already softened up  members with exactly the same message last week, stating "that they can expect a bid by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition to change the ratio between constituency and regional list AMs".

Mr Andrews went on to state that "“There is no electoral mandate for these fundamental changes. No party put it in their General Election manifesto, in their Assembly election manifesto or raised it in the referendum held just months ago".

Of course, such logic, if it applies to any changes to the regional list, also equally applies to Mr Hain's proposal, something that  the Labour Party has conveniently forgotten in its follow up yesterday.

Not that creating red herrings over the electoral system in Wales is something that Peter Hain does not have a track record on.

Back in November 2009, he was scaremongering by suggesting, along with Rhodri Morgan, that any future reductions in the number of MPs would result in an Assembly with just 30 constituency AMs and only 15 AMs from the top-up list. Clearly, that was never going to happen but why let the truth get it the way of the headlines in the Western Mail.

At the time, I responded in this blog stating that the Hain-Morgan logic was flawed and that if any changes were to happen, then

"one would assume that any incoming Conservative Government, in changing the number of MPs across the UK, would also make legislative provision for changes to the Government of Wales Act to enable the regional list calculation to change accordingly i.e. this would allow for the reduction in the number of MPs whilst maintaining the current number of AMs, as has happened in Scotland. Of course, if the reductions in MPs were to be made and the link maintained between Westminster and Cardiff Bay constituencies, this could mean that there would be 30 first past the post AMs elected and a further 30 from the regional lists".

Such an approach is clearly common sense if you are to maintain the same number of AMs and maintain the link with Westminster constituencies and there is no reason why this should be in any manifesto as it is the only rational conclusion to such changes, given that we already have the mixed system in place in Wales.

Whilst we would all like to think that both Mr Hain and Mr Andrews have the democratic concerns of the Welsh electorate at the centre of their arguments, unfortunately the real truth is that their attacks have more to do with maintaining Labour's grip on power in Wales.

Indeed, as I said back in November 2009 about the adoption of a new 30-30 split between first past the post and regional Assembly Members, "I wonder what that would do to Labour's election prospects in any future Assembly election?"

I think we all, including senior Labour members, know the answer to that question.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


A great video from MIT's Industrial Liaison Programme (which the University of Wales belongs to) in which James Dyson discusses his career as well as his thoughts on the future of Western economies. As he comments:

“My worry is that complacency in (the U.S. and Britain) that we’re the best engineers and designers will soon be wiped off our faces. Then our problem is we’ll have forgotten how to make things. That’s my depressing view. My optimistic view is we’ll actually turn a corner and start training more engineers, and realize engineering and science are exciting -- there will be a resurgence of science and engineering and we’ll be able to fight off the competition.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011



For a newspaper that has prided itself on publishing scandal, the demise yesterday of the News of World may, one day, come to define the word irony.

As soon as the accounts of phonehacking by private detectives allegedly hired by journalists went from listening to the banal conversations of Z-list celebrities to potentially interfering in the judicial and criminal process in this country, it was clear that its owner, Rupert Murdoch, would have to do something radical to save the reputation of the rest of his global media empire.

In the business world, such product withdrawals are commonplace as corporations try to salvage their reputation quickly and show the markets that the owners are acting decisively to address the issue at hand. These are usually short term with the product quietly re-introduced later.

In the case of the News of the World, it surprised many within the industry that a decision had to be made not to temporarily stop the paper but to actually close it after 168 years.

However, its brand, despite being the bestselling paper in the world, had become toxic through its relationship with the phonehacking scandals, and it is probable that the paper would have lost advertisers and readers very quickly over the next few months.

Instead, its owners News International have taken the decision to close it down permanently, although many are suggesting that the News of the World’s sister paper, the Sun, will create a Sunday edition within the next few weeks, and so any loss of business may be temporary.

Of course, dealing with the loss of reputation to its owners may take longer.

Other reputations are also on the line, especially given the unhealthy and cosy relationship between journalists and political classes which many track back to the sofa style government run by Tony Blair and his PR supremo, Alastair Campbell.

Certainly, the current Prime Minister needs to review carefully his own actions in appointing a former News of the World editor to be one of his advisers and whether the government would be better served by having a more arm’s length relationship with the press.

Whilst the Labour Party has been critical over the last few days, its own cosy links with the Murdoch empire, particularly during Blair’s premiership, mustn’t be forgotten. Indeed, it is reported that senior Labour figures, including Ed Miliband, outnumbered Conservative ministers at News International's recent summer party hosted by Murdoch himself.

Not surprisingly, other newspapers have gone overboard over the last few days in gleefully reporting the problems facing News International and yet it is becoming clear that phonehacking was not confined to one newspaper.

Certainly, the closure of the News of the World does not conveniently exonerate others who have been involved in such practices. Indeed, the newspaper industry as whole must work collectively to restore public trust and be honest about any past misdemeanours.

The last thing this nation needs, despite the excesses of one or two newspapers, is government imposing restrictions on a free press that stops the “great and the good” being held to account for their actions, as they were during the MPs expenses scandal.

Indeed, it has been stomach churning to listen to those formerly in public office who have been legitimately caught out by the paper’s journalism trying to justify their own previous misdemeanours.

As the great Thomas Jefferson once said, “No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.”

The challenge for the newspaper industry is to show that it can sort itself out and again be a force for free speech and democracy for without it, we are a much poorer society in more ways than one.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Earlier this week, it was reported that the Welsh Government was not interested in a sterile debate over the relative size of the public and private sector.

Yet, ignoring the simple facts behind this balance risks continuing the economic decline that has been experienced in Wales over the last decade, especially as statistics suggest that understanding and dealing with the differences could help politicians understand some of the real issues behind the Welsh economy.

Let’s examine, for example, what has happened to employment within the private and public sectors during the term of the last Assembly Government? An examination of the official statistics show that there was a fall of 4 per cent in private sector employment in Wales during the period 2007-2010, a reduction of 34,000, with the biggest decreases to be found in Blaenau Gwent (-19%) and Torfaen (-14%), both local authorities within the poorest areas of Wales that are in receipt of billions of pounds of European money.

Such a failure to create much needed jobs within the most deprived areas of Wales is certainly not a “sterile debate” and needs far more detailed examination and understanding by the Welsh Government as to how it has managed to spend so much money with so little tangible results. In fact, such a review may finally conclude that past attempts to generate jobs within the Valleys simply have not worked and that creating a transport infrastructure that brings workers into urban hotspots such as Cardiff, Swansea and Newport may be the only viable solution to an age-old problem.

If we examine the public sector over the same period, then we see a very different picture as employment actually went up during the period 2007-2010 by 11,000 (or 3 per cent). Indeed, nearly a third of all those employed in Wales are currently to be found in the public sector, far higher than most other regions of the UK. Apart from the administrative centre of Cardiff, the counties with the highest proportion of public sector workers are Ceredigion (36%) and the Isle of Anglesey (36%), which suggests that a range of rural policies need to be examined to rebalance the economy in these areas.

However, what politicians should be most concerned about is that during the last Assembly Government which promised so much with its revamping of the support given to business, the public sector has continued to grow whilst the private sector has declined.

But this is not merely a matter of blaming the last Labour-Plaid coalition, as it is not an isolated trend. Indeed, if we look at the statistics available for the period 2001-2010, then we see that the private sector in Wales has been declining in relative importance, at least in terms of employment, since the First Assembly Government. In fact, during the last decade, the actual number of those employed in the public sector in Wales has increased by 67,000. In contrast, the number employed in the private sector has declined by 12,400.

Of course, the convenient answer given by the Welsh Government is that the private sector in Wales is too small but, as the statistics above show, there has been little success by successive governments in Wales in addressing this issue, despite having billions of pounds of European funding available to support the business community.

Indeed, if public sector jobs are protected in Wales as has been suggested some within Government, then in order to achieve the balance of private to public sector employment last seen in 2001 (i.e. ensuring that our private sector is not "too small"), an additional 170,000 private sector jobs would need to be created over the term of the next Assembly.

These are the simple facts and it is certainly not as a case of private sector good, public sector bad as we need efficient and effective public services in education, health and government. However, politicians must stop ignoring the current situation and pretending that there are no real structural problems in the Welsh economy.

More importantly, they must begin to understand the scale of these problems that are before us, and realising that if we are finally start to get Wales off the bottom of the UK regional economic league table, then jobs need to be created in the productive sector of the economy, the one that creates wealth and prosperity.

To paraphrase President Bill Clinton, “it’s the private sector, stupid” and ensuring that that they do everything they can to help the business community create the jobs that are desperately needed in Wales is the only challenge that should be concentrating the minds of our leaders over the next five years.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The OECD has recently published a useful companion book to academics, policymakers and practitioners interested in the phenomenon that is entrepreneurship.

"Entrepreneurship at a Glance" is a new, recurrent publication that presents an original collection of indicators for measuring the state of entrepreneurship along with explanations of the policy context and interpretation of the data.

This publication also includes special chapters that address measurement issues, and solutions, concerning entrepreneurship and its determinants. In this first issue, the special topics covered are: business demography and green entrepreneurs.

Whilst the book is, unfortunately, not available for free, the press release does give some indication as to the new data available.

For example the, statistics on enterprise creations and bankruptcies shows the major impact that the economic and financial crisis has had on entrepreneurial activity.  After a significant decrease in the second half of 2008, the number of new enterprises started to recover around the first half of 2009 in most countries (see graph below)

However, by the second quarter of 2010, the number of newly created enterprises was still below its pre-crisis level in most countries. The impact of the crisis was particularly long-lasting in Denmark and Spain, where the number of new firms being created during 2010 was still well below the high point before the crisis, but also in Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

Other findings include:

  • National culture affects the attitude that individuals have towards entrepreneurship, the likelihood of choosing entrepreneurship as a career, the ambitions to succeed and to start again after a failure, or the support provided to family and relatives planning to set up a business, according to the report.
  • People in the Nordic countries and the United States have the most favourable image of entrepreneurs, with more than 70% of those surveyed saying they viewed entrepreneurs positively, according to a survey of adults in 36 countries. At the other end of the scale, only one person in three expressed a positive image of entrepreneurs in Eastern European and Asian countries surveyed, including Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Japan and Korea.
  • Green entrepreneurship stands out in Sweden, Finland, Spain, Italy, New Zealand and Brazil, all of which display exceptionally dynamic performance.
  • Indicators on women entrepreneurs show that there are no major differences in the way male or female business owners perceive obstacles to starting a business or growing it. Men and women entrepreneurs agree that obstacles facing start-ups include legal and administrative matters, developing contacts with customers and access to finance. Subsequently, the obstacles to success come from the level of competition, business costs and the state of the economy.
Given my links with the OECD, will try and blag a copy soon so I can go into more detail on the different chapters.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Daily Post Column July 4th 2011

The last couple of weeks have not been good for the high street across the UK. Thorntons is closing 180 outlets, Jane Norman and Carpetright have gone into administration and TJ Hughes is closing its doors.

Not surprisingly, many are blaming the fact that consumers are now cutting back on spending as a result of austerity measures, although others are pointing out that for every shop that goes under, others are actually increasing their market share - John Lewis’ sales were up 20 per cent as compared to a year ago, whilst Debenhams announced that it is creating 600 jobs across its stores.

However, it is generally agreed that the high street across the UK is changing and that a number of key factors are largely responsible for the changes. For example, there is increasing use of the internet by consumers, who are able to sit in the comfort of their home and surf the web to find the best, and cheapest, bargains, across a range of retailers. Not surprisingly, internet retail sales in the UK hit over £22 bn in 2010 as compared to £9 bn in 2006. Although this is less than 10% of all retail sales, it is set to grow by a further £14bn by 2014.

Of course, the problems for the retail sector actually started well before the current round of closures took place.  Many of the shops across the UK that closed a number of years ago have yet to be re-occupied. Indeed, it is estimated that more than 300,000 small shops have been closed across Britain’s high streets during the last 30 years.

Some commentators have placed the blame on these closures of small independent retailers firmly at the door of the large supermarkets that sell not only food, but a range of other goods and services from clothing to televisions to insurance.

However, these supermarkets can only be built with the permission of planning authorities that have allowed them, with little resistance, to extend their premises to sell non-food items. Indeed, each additional 3000 sq ft of space granted to large supermarket will kill off at least one shop in the high street, according to some experts.

The changing face of the high street across North Wales and other parts of the UK is best exemplified by a recent study which showed that whilst there is a growth in hairdressers and beauticians shops, newsagents, butchers and independent fashion stores are closing down in droves as a result of having to compete directly with the larger chains and supermarkets parked on their doorstep.

Given this declining situation that many of us witness daily across towns in North Wales, I am sure that small retailers will welcome last week’s call by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to the Welsh Government to set up a retail strategy for Wales.

The wide ranging proposal is suggesting compulsory independent retail impact assessments on all supermarket developments, affordable or subsidised retail units to be a condition of new shopping developments, and more powers for planning authorities to hold off large developments and to preserve small local firms. It is also making the case for town centre business rates to be affordable so high streets can compete against out-of-town retail parks.

It is a radical strategy that could begin to revitalise the small retail sector across Wales.

In fact, given that politicians across all four political parties at the last Assembly elections were so keen on emphasising their support for local business, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get them to persuade the new Business Minister of the importance of supporting local business communities in this way and ensuring that high streets across North Wales have a viable and positive future.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


During the recent ICSB World Conference, we had a keynote speech from Professor Hans Rosling which alone was worth the admission speech.

Hans Rosling is Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and co-ounder and Director of the Gapminder Foundation. Rosling's research has focused on links between economic development, agriculture, poverty and health in Africa, Asia and Latin America. He was listed as one of the 100 leading global thinkers in 2009 by Foreign Policy Magazine and is regular speaker at events such as Davos.

Below is an abridged version of the talk he gave in Stockholm.

Watch and marvel!

Monday, July 4, 2011


Western Mail article July 2nd 2011

Fifteen years ago, I started my first day as Professor of Small Business Management at the University of Glamorgan and I hope you will forgive me if I use this week’s column to reflect on the period that led me to return to Wales to take up that appointment.

It had been an interesting journey in my academic career up until then.

I had left my hometown of Pwllheli in 1984 to take my physics degree at University College Cardiff in a department led by the brilliant Professor Robin Williams.

However, following my graduation, I had concluded that a scientific career was not for me and went on to undertake a Master’s degree in Technical Change and Industrial Strategy at Manchester University.

A unique course, it covered the sociology and economics of innovation and enabled me to dip my toe for the first time into the study of Welsh economic development, as my thesis was entitled “The role of development agencies in promoting innovation amongst small businesses in Wales”.

Following this, I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship to research innovation into small firms at Aston University and in the summer of 1989, I jumped on the train to Birmingham for an interview to return with a three year commitment to undertake a Ph.D.

Aston Business School was a stimulating environment to undertake my doctoral studies, as there was a tight knit group of young researchers from all over the world examining different elements of innovation and enterprise led, ironically perhaps, by one of the editors of Marxism Today.

Certainly, the period I spent examining technological entrepreneurship in the UK - the title of my Ph.D dissertation - gave me the opportunity to present papers at major conferences, such as the annual Babson Symposium in the USA, which led to a job offer on the first rung of academia as a research assistant at Durham University.

This was a life-changing experience in more ways than one.

Not only was I lucky to work with the leading small business group in Europe under the leadership of Professor Allan Gibb, but the research unit I joined was actually broke!

The Centre for Entrepreneurship in the Service Sector had been set up with external funding from business but when I turned up at Durham, I found out that it only had enough funding left for another year.

The potential demise of your career before it had even started certainly concentrates the mind so I spent the next 12 months frantically developing proposals for funding that eventually resulted in grants from the Nuffield Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and the European Commission, projects which enabled me to develop new directions of study in the field but, more importantly, enabled me to start publishing papers, the simple standard by which every young academic is judged.

The uncertainty of my employment situation when I was literally jumping from grant to grant taught me the simple lesson that you cannot rely on senior academics for support! Indeed, it was that lack of support which led me to look for new opportunities elsewhere and I found myself being attracted across the Irish Sea for another project that would transform my career.

At the time, the Graduate School of Business at the University College Dublin was developing a major initiative to examine the competitive advantage of peripheral regions. Under the supervision of Dr Rory O’Donnell, Director of the National Economics and Social Council, and Dr Frank Roche, special advisor to the Minister for Industry, the two-year project funded by the European Commission’s Marie Curie initiative was set up to look at how the Celtic Tiger was going to perform during the next decade.

It was a fantastic opportunity to be part of a multidisciplinary team that was based at one of Ireland’s premier institutions but had a direct line into policy and politics at a very exciting time in the Irish economy. My brief was to examine entrepreneurship and innovation in Ireland and there was some wry amusement as a young Welshman tried to bring together a disparate group of Irish researchers in these fields to examine the current state of play.

Looking back, it was one of the most important periods in my career, mainly because I was allowed to get on with publishing over a dozen papers from my research, as well as undertake studies into Irish entrepreneurship within the project. It also established in me a love of Dublin and Ireland that remains strong to this day.

As the two year project was coming to an end, there were a number of options open to me, although an increasing sense of “hiraeth” meant that I had already decided to return to Wales to try and develop my academic career back home, especially as, at the time, there were no university positions at any level in the field of entrepreneurship and small business.

As luck would have it, the University of Glamorgan had advertised a professorship in this area at this time. Certainly, I had no illusions that I would even be considered for the job but I thought that if I submitted an application, I could at least showcase what I had done in my two previous positions and get my CV known back in my home country.

It was therefore a total surprise when I was invited to interview in the first week of May 1996 with a number of other candidates, including a professor and a reader in the field. However, that surprise paled into insignificance when I was called back into the interview room to be told that they were offering me the job as Professor of Small Business Management.

And so, fifteen years ago, I walked through the doors of the University of Glamorgan Business School to take up my dream position back in the country of my birth.

What happened then for the next four years before I took up a professorship at Bangor University? Well, that is a story for another column in the future.