One of the most eagerly awaited presentations at this year’s MADE festival will be from Simon Biltcliffe. unLTD’s Richard Fidler finds out more.

 

For a lad from Staincross near Barnsley who says he used to be considered a ‘circus act’ Simon Biltcliffe is rapidly becoming a mainstream business thinker.

The founder and chief executive officer of national print services agency, Webmart has for years received critical acclaim for his brand of Marxist-Capitalism that has seen him turn £10,000 of his own savings into a £30 million turnover organisation with 44 employees.

However, he says that he used to be a bit of novelty at TED talks and speaking events where he would explain how he redistributes the wealth his organisation creates back to the company and wider community.

“I used to be the circus act they put on at the end of conferences and events,” he said. “But I’m now a 21-year-old case study that shows things can be different and not the way that the ranks of accountants, lawyers and bankers say you have to do them.”

In essence what Simon does is common sense. The capitalism is the bit that funds the ability to put something back – the Marxist bit.

He told unLTD:

Capitalism is great at creating value from scarce resources but poor at sharing it out fairly while Marxism is good at sharing but not good at making the value in the first place.

“It’s important we get the capitalism bit right in the first place which gives us the ability to share surplus profits with everyone who creates the value.

“We run a scheme called SEXI (Senior Executive Incentive scheme) which is open to everyone who has been with us for more than two years. If you’ve been here more than two years then you’re in and you benefit.”

It would be easy to pull on Simon’s Barnsley roots. He is frequently described with traits that many would associate with the town – gruff, outspoken, challenging and authentic.

But people are products of their environment and Simon’s way of doing business is no accident.

He said: “There were a couple of things that shaped my thinking. The first was seeing how Margaret Thatcher treated Barnsley during the miners strike in the 1980s. There is no intrinsic value in having power, it is how you use it and she used it to destroy the miners.

“The second is working in other companies and seeing their command and control methods. It doesn’t make the best use of individuals and sees them just as a subset of a financial target.

“We’re the same people whether we’re at home or at work. The hardest thing for companies is to keep and engage talent. No one can compete with the likes of Google salary wise but we can offer something different.

Security is very high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. People perform better and give more when they feel secure. They will give their all when they feel valued; they’ll be more creative.

It’s important to remember that Simon is a businessman no matter how much he puts back into his company or the wider community – the latest figure on the Webmart website for charitable giving is a whopping £519,191.

Pragmatism – another Barnsley trait – is important.

As he explains: “There’s always an infinite need and a finite resource. IT within an organisation like ours is very much like the NHS, no matter how many resources you throw at it there is always more needed so you have to cut your cloth accordingly.

“We have never borrowed money to develop the business so that means we retain control of the decisions we make and the direction we go. It may take us a bit longer to get there but it is done in a sustainable manner that never puts the business in jeopardy.”

At a time of business and economy uncertainty, whether that’s due to Brexit or the devolution deals in the wider Yorkshire region, Simon’s message is well worth listening to.


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