Liverpool's enterprising future

With all those centuries of entrepreneurial success behind today’s business community, it should be way ahead of other British cities, shouldn’t it?
Perhaps it’s expecting too much of a city which has been through three decades of near-collapse. Perhaps the dramatic loss of confidence both in the city and themselves has knocked the stuffing out of people who might otherwise be running businesses and creating wealth for Merseyside. Why else would this area be so far behind Manchester and Birmingham?
Perhaps Scousers are as stupid, lazy, feckless, and dishonest as they are made out to be in some quarters. Perhaps the talent and drive and courage has leached out of the gene pool and left a watered down version of history’s commercial, industrial and innovative giants. Perhaps we all ought to pack up and move to Leeds.
No? Then prove it. After decades of an image so negative even the seagulls were flocking to Warrington, the world has decided that Liverpool is cool again. Maybe not yet the coolest city on the planet, but getting there.
And if London journalists and the leader of the Tory party are promoting Liverpool as a great place to be, shouldn’t we start believing them?
Confidence to turn vision into reality, turn ideas into businesses, and turn small business into medium sized business – it’s being pumped in with the massive private sector investment from outside the city. So breathe in the new spirit of enterprise, and get cracking.

Opinions of Merseyside entrepreneurs

To get a snapshot of Merseyside’s owner managers, their views of business in general and of corporate finance in particular, we surveyed 900 SMEs in early 2004, with a turnover between £0.75m and £10m.
Two of the most striking statistics were that just over half (51%) would sell their business if the right offer came along, even though 59% of the sample said their profits were up on 2003.
And not a single respondent had an independent non-exec director on their board. Not one. Some businesses had a spouse or other family member on the paperwork as a makeweight, but a working non-exec, no.
Very few – 6% – were backed by venture capital, although 39% said they were willing to explore the possibility. 70% were looking for development capital, however, and most of the amounts needed fell into the classic equity gap (£200,000 – £3m). Over a quarter said they were looking to make acquisitions.
To offer a picture of the people who responded, 43% were founders of the business, just over a quarter had bought the business and 16% inherited it. Most had two or three directors on the board, and 48% had between 11 and 50 employees.
The age of the businesses was spread fairly evenly over the last 100-odd years, with the single biggest group (15%) founded in the 1970s; 10% were less than 10 years old (of which only two were post-2000) and 7% were established in the 19th century.

• Why do you run your own business?
“I started my business when I became unemployed and divorced. It was a decision either to build a future or commit suicide.”

• What advice would you give somebody thinking about starting a business?
“Speak to as many people you can who have done the same thing, and learn from their experiences. Work on and not in the business, and focus on what really makes the business perform.”

1,000 years in Europe

Europeans were colonising Liverpool before it was Liverpool; so being a European Capital of Culture is something this city is well used to. The Celts harassed the Romans, then the Saxons arrived; the Vikings turned up in 902AD and made themselves at home. Then the Normans took over; King John signed the city’s first charter in 1207 and built a castle. The next foreign king to sign a charter for Liverpool was the King of Spain, Philip II (when he was married to Queen Mary) in 1556.
Liverpool has traded with Europe for ever, and Europeans came here to do business: French glass- makers in Old Swan; Italian silk manufacturers in Tithebarn Street, German sugar refiners, Portuguese wine merchants, Spanish clockmakers.
Liverpool merchants were exporting copper, iron, coal, hops, alum, soap and cloth, and importing salt fish, linen, leather and wine, back in the 1500s.
Parisian horticulturist Edouard André won the competition to design Sefton Park; it was a German, Karl Bartels, who designed the city’s very icons, the Liver Birds. The Liverpool Phil has been making music with visiting Europeans, from Max Bruch and Paganini to Rachmaninov and Bartok.
Among Liverpool’s twin cities are Cologne and Odessa; Wirral is partner to the picturesque Transylvanian city of Sibiu, which, coincidentally, will be Capital of Culture in 2007, the year that Liverpool celebrates its 800th anniversary as a royal charter city.

• When Britain was at war with bits of Europe from time to time, Liverpool mariners became privateers and captured French and Spanish prizes, under licence from the Crown.
• The Wirral coast is second only to Cornwall in its long history of wrecking ships and smuggling brandy, silk, tobacco under the noses of the Revenue men.
• For six months over the winter of 1912/13, Adolf Hitler stayed in Toxteth Park with his half brother Alois, his Irish sister in law Bridget and their son.

300 years of global power

Rivers and oceans provide a wealth of images, from trade winds to tides, to illustrate changing fortunes. The Mersey, with its enormous 30 ft range from high to low tide, its ever-changing channels and sandbanks and the speed of its tidal race, is a rich metaphor for Liverpool.
For more than 300 hundred years, Liverpool has exerted huge influence over the world’s trade, transport and commerce. Inventive, brave, enterprising, visionary, ambitious – this city has bred or attracted people who wanted to make their fortune and change history. There are lists of famous individuals: Laird, Rathbone, Hornby, Gladstone, Vestey, Cunard – world beaters, all of them.
But there are their peers and equals who are almost forgotten – Liverpool entrepreneurs today need to know about these astonishing people and what they achieved. Don’t let’s rest on our historic laurels, but do let’s be inspired by these entrepreneurial role models and breathe the spirit of enterprise back into the city.
Bryan Blundell, mariner, dock master, writer, philanthropist, founded the Bluecoat School in 1709; the remarkable William Hutchinson was a privateer (state-licensed pirate) then became Liverpool’s dockmaster in 1759, inventing tide tables, establishing the world’s first lifeboat station at Formby, writing books on naval architecture, and working out how to resuscitate people who were drowning. Endlessly inventive and enterprising.
The start of the passenger railway here may be well known, and George Stephenson’s name famous, like that of his locomotive Rocket. But who remembers Henry Booth, who pushed the huge railway project through from idea to fruition, inventing things in his spare time? And Thomas Brassey, Birkenhead born in 1805, who was the greatest railway contractor in the world, building railways from Canada to India.
Say ‘cooperative’ and most people think ‘Rochdale Pioneers’; but the Liverpool Cooperative Society was formed 15 years earlier.
The Vestey brothers, sent by their father – owner of Liverpool butcher’s shops – to Argentina to find new opportunities; they founded the Blue Star shipping line.
Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, who owned Elder Dempster, opened up trade on the West African coast, imported the first bananas into Britain, founded the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (world’s first). Alfred and Philip Holt designed and built their Blue Funnel ships which dominated trade in the Far East for decades.
Cotton, rubber, sugar, wheat, palm oil – these built Liverpool fortunes and fed industry throughout Britain.
And of course there were the entrepreneurs that Liverpool sent abroad – none more extraordinary than Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution. But that’s a story for another day.

• Henry Tate’s global sugar empire – Tate & Lyle – was based in Liverpool for over 100 years
• James Muspratt, John Brunner and Ludwig Mond, all chemists based in Liverpool, were three of the four cornerstones of the chemicals giant ICI
• Sebastian de Ferranti, born in Bold Street, Liverpool, was an electrical engineering genius, taking out 176 patents in his lifetime. Ferranti was the biggest company of its kind in the world, until the 1990s