CategoriesThought of The Day

8 years ago today…

On Monday 30 April 2012, I gave birth to Truth Legal Limited. Sharing a desk, in the office of local surveyor, Andrew Kempston-Parkes, I was free. I knew that it would work. It felt, well, natural.

My firm only obtained regulatory approval on 14 August 2012, so there are a few more months to go until our proper eight birthday, but we still celebrate the April date.

Over the years, adhering to the Ray Dalio school of business, I have recorded my business principles, some of which I share below.

  1. Follow the water: it always gets its way.
  2. Wow the customer, always.
  3. What gets measured, gets managed.
  4. Know your why: the best businesses must have a purpose over and above profit-making.
  5. Avoid debt.
  6. Always know where the wolf is: Collect three months’ cash.
  7. Enhance the environment.
  8. Hire well.
  9. Trust is central:
  10. Be thrifty, but not tight.
  11. Do not waste time: it is the only resource which cannot be replaced.
  12. Plan for the long-term.
  13. Know your key financial numbers.
  14. Learn from mistakes.
  15. Manage risk well: the only constant is change itself.
  16. Know the key legislation relevant to the business.
  17. Very few people ever washed their hire car.
  18. Be transparent.
  19. Give constant feedback – good and bad. Good in public, bad in private.
  20. Leaders eat last.
  21. Difficult shared experiences build deep trust between the participants.
  22. If the evidence changes, update these principles.

And just in case I were to ever lose my photos, and certainly not for reasons of vanity, here are some business photos from over the years.

2012:

andrew gray in 2012

2013:

andrew gray in 2013

2014:

andrew gray 2014

2015:

andrew gray in 2015

2016:

andrew gray in 2016

2017:

andrew gray in 2017

2018:

andrew gray in 2018

2019:

andrew gray 2019

2020:

andrew gray in 2020

CategoriesThought of The Day

In Memory of Their Sacrifice

Yesterday, The Daily Express ran with the headline IN MEMORY OF THEIR SACRIFICE.

in memory of their sacrifice

 

I do not know the specifics of the brave medics who perished (often without PPE), but what is likely is that very many of them were first or second generation immigrants. Statistics reveal that a higher number of BME medics are paying the ultimate price. According to the House of Commons library, 153,000 out of 1.2m of the NHS staff are not British.

We should never forget that the two nurses who saved the life of Reckless Boris were immigrants: one from Portugal and the other from New Zealand.

At such times, images make the point.

news headlines

CategoriesThought of The Day

Insects, hot water and Covid

Shhh…. I have a secret. Promise not to tell?

Last night, I forgot about the NHS clap. I know, I feel dreadful about it. As the clattering – and why was there clattering? – commenced on the dot, I was luxuriating in a hot, deep, bubbled bath. (In my defence, I had been working or looking after the children since 6 am).

I don’t know about you, but I am always impressed with and grateful for, hot water. Perhaps my relish stems from my backpacking adventures, staying in some of the grottiest South East Asian hostels, always without hot water. When hot water arrives – each time – my mind is blown when I consider that out of all human beings to have inhabited this dying planet, I have always been spoiled with plentiful of the warm stuff.

But it isn’t just with hot water that you and I have been blessed. Most of us have enjoyed limitless food and a never-ending supply of all forms of energy. Julius Caesar would envy us.

If we are really honest with ourselves – really candid – we have known, deep down, that our callous, unthinking use of the world’s resources was going to bring a day of reckoning. Just as a puppy sheep dog intuitively knows that it must do something when it sees a sheep for the first time, humans know that we reap what we sow. Our actions have consequences.

I also believe that, deep down, most of us knew that perpetual economic growth, the obsession with ever-increasing GDP, and the expanding population of the planet, had to end, either through our own deliberate actions, or forced upon us by nature.

These last six weeks, unless you have been on the frontline, or if you were unlucky enough to live in a high-rise flat, like many people I have enjoyed the unusually delicious weather, intermingling with nature as much as possible. Delightfully, no longer can I hear the hum of the roads. And unless my mind is playing tricks on me, nature seems more pronounced, bolder than she was six weeks ago. The birds are cheekier, but there are far fewer insects than I can recall.

In the last few days, oil prices in the United States had a negative value. Now that’s a sentence I couldn’t have imagined writing. Oil – let’s think about it – is so cheap, due to the dramatic drop in demand, that the producers pay other companies to hold the oil. The black gold – cause of so many wars and manmade climate change – has negative value. A cause for planetary celebration?

Quite clearly, I would not wish this pandemic on the planet. In the last 24 hours, the death toll in the UK is at least the equivalent of three Lockerbies. Terrifying, traumatic. This opportunity, though, for the world to recuperate, to breathe, is welcome. The good outcomes, set against the ghastly.

This new world reminded me of the controversial English economist, Thomas Malthus, a population expert. In 1798, he famously wrote: “Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature.” I.e. nature’s in-built brakes control the human population (largely, this has been disproved). I do not claim that nature conspired to send us Covid, nor that a supernatural being sent us this plague to teach us a thing or two. But it does seem pertinent to draw parallels with what Malthus wrote, though flawed, with the impact of coronavirus.

Are we in the developed world at peak economic development? Will we fly as much after this? Will we work as hard?

I mourn the dead. I mourn the collapse of businesses, leaving millions out of work. I mourn the increase in domestic violence. And I mourn so many of the other Covid-caused horror stories.

My hope –though not my expectation – is that for those of us who have had time to think, about the world we want to inhabit, that we come out of our imposed hibernation determined to seek balance with our environment.

I can do no better than quote Jonas Salk, an expert in viruses.

“If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”

The Covid crisis blurs into insignificance when compared to environmental collapse.

CategoriesThought of The Day

In the spotlight  

Yesterday, as Starmer took on Raab for the first time at a mostly virtual PMQs, the Yorkshire Post printed my essay – featured in this blog – regarding the pros and cons of having a solicitor as de facto PM. After that, the paper requested another article about the failing Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan – a scheme which will go down in infamy.

Here is the printed version and here is the link.

andrew-gray

As pleasing as it is, to have a well-known media outlet publish my essay, it does not make the content any more valid. A Stoic philosophy obsessive like me shouldn’t welcome praise when it was not deserved, nor feel lousy when unfairly criticised. Most of these blogs will not be printed elsewhere, but you – the reader – should judge them on their own merits.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Where to make decisions

If decision-making is the primary element of your job, as it is for me, then it’s imperative that you make the best possible decisions, given that your actions are likely to impact others. Should a decision-maker, form a conclusion whilst typing on a computer – letting the words flow – or is there a better way of working?

As is common, my best thoughts come to me in the shower, or on a train, or whilst out running. Something about the repetitive sounds of these experiences, dulls the consciousness, and allows the good stuff to float to the surface. Would it be fair to say that the shower, the train, or the woods is my office? If not, why not?

All too frequently, I quote Abraham Lincoln to my kids, as evidence that they should keep their body and mind sharp:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Wise words.

Decision-makers should rid themselves of the lazy thinking which goes: only when sitting in an office can work happen. For decision-makers, work, specifically the chewing over of potential courses of action, is a permanent feature of our consciousness and sub-consciousness. I must remember: my office is wherever I make my best decisions. And, I must sharpen the axe, doing what I can to switch off, whilst keeping the body healthy.

 

CategoriesThought of The Day

Where to work?    

Yesterday, I considered the definition of work. Today, my thoughts turn to – where do we do our best work?

Running a firm of knowledge workers, I have always been conscious that many of my colleagues did their deepest work from home. Those pieces of work which demanded no interruptions, for it was too important to get even the teeniest bit wrong. For years, I have encouraged working from home, for at least part of the week.

For most knowledge workers who aren’t furloughed, working from home is the new normal. Many may never return to working in the office, for it is usually the commute which is most objectionable.

Faced with this new work order, a colleague kindly shared with me Sam Harris’ podcast with the founder of Word Press, Matt Mullenweg (worth $400m). In it, Matt extolled the virtues of working from home: everyone in his huge company does. The key take-away for me was Matt’s statement that with home workers, they are entirely judged by their performance, rather than for how long they were chained to their desks. Presenteeism is irrelevant. Unlike office-based work, those who can get their work done quickest aren’t penalised with more work. Matt argues that this a true work meritocracy. His ideas are compelling.

Although I foresee more of my colleagues wanting to work additional days from home, I am convinced that most of us have missed interacting with each other in person, eager to return to the office when it is safe to do so. We may do our best work at home, but we humans need to see each other in person.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Can I say this? The kids have never been happier

As we roll into our fourth week in lockdown (we started earlier than most because of my wife’s high temperature), my children – 8 and 10 – are the happiest we have ever known. Against the backdrop of the daily carnage, the children’s joie de vivre is uplifting.

It sure didn’t start that way. Their affection and friendship for each other has grown each day. When they were bickering at the start, they are now enthralled with each other’s company.

If the role of the parent is to provide a safe and happy childhood, though we have tried our best, the pandemic has caused us to reconsider how we will continue to parent. It is disconcerting just how wrong we got it before all this.

Why are they happier?

Let’s start by deconstructing how we are living. For the kids, the day starts at 9am with exercise: either Joe Wicks on Youtube, trampolining or scooting. Pre-corona, at 8:30am, we would be flying out of the house – often late, often in the rain, often angry – on foot, evading angry cars and the pollution. So far, the day has got off to much more pleasant start!

At 9:30am, the children practice their set spelling and then – here’s the cool part – they test their friends on Zoom. Not only does this give the children the chance to see a friendly face, but they learn the role of the teacher, whilst using awesome, free tech. Every session has been a success.

At 10am, shared between two other families, my children begin their second Zoom lesson of the day, this time with a brilliant teacher who had the previous night emailed to us the lessons. Taking three children at a time, whilst the other child finishes their homework, at a cost of £10 per hour per family, my children are enjoying a ratio of 1:3 with their teacher. At school, the ratio is ten times higher.

With my wife and I having completed a morning’s work (or there or thereabouts), we have a homecooked meal together as a four. Surely this beats a school dinner!

Following a spell in the garden, at around 1pm, Gran teaches them both German via Zoom – something that they wouldn’t be doing at school. At around 2pm, Grandma reads to them, or listens to them read, again via Zoom. (We appreciate just how lucky we are to have both grans on earth, with both being former teachers.)

At around 3pm, I take over…. My time – which I adore – consists of either exercise in the form of a walk, or the building of a treehouse. As the least practical person I know, my kids have never experienced their father using his hands, other than to type. Away from the constant pinging of email, I’ve had some awesome time with them both, whilst my wife works.

We eat at around 7pm, eating better than we did pre-pandemic: our third meal of the day together as a family. At bedtime, oftentimes a grandparent reads to them via Zoom. And then we press “repeat”.

Of course, their new-normal is so very different from their pre-pandemic lives. Adaptation has been easy for them. But as their lives pre-pandemic were so – we thought – good, why are they happier now? I don’t know, but I must apply my mind to it. Some possible answers, or a combination of them, are:

  1. They now spend much more time with each other, rather than being in different classes.
  2. The children enjoy more time with their parents.
  3. And more time with grandparents – significantly so.
  4. We have had to allow them greater use of technology, earlier than we had planned.
  5. We spend more time outside.
  6. We eat better food.
  7. The children now have the time to get bored.
  8. We no longer rush to meet deadlines, either to school or clubs.
  9. We don’t face pollution on the walks to and from school.
  10. The confines of the curriculum are no more.

Are they better placed in this new world than their old world? I don’t know, but they are happier. I accept that we are one of the most fortunate families in lockdown; that most families don’t enjoy our options. We are doing our best, playing the hand we have been dealt.

The answers to what to do post-corona may lie in the seminal Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Our brains are not wired for today’s hectic world. In the history or our species, it is only in the last few hundred years that parents have sent their offspring to school. Before that, parents, grandparents and the tribe raised the child. It takes a village to raise a child goes the African saying, rather than a system of education designed by Victorian industrialists, politically tinkered with each time a new Education Secretary is appointed.

Back to the drawing board, literally.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Captain Fantastic

The title of this blog doesn’t refer to our sick PM – no, no, no – rather it refers to a 10 out of 10 film I watched last night, which made me blubber throughout the second half. Though it felt juxtaposed to watch a film whilst the heroes in our NHS are at war, with 260 people losing their lives yesterday, I’ll remember that film, always.

The premise is that a family – husband and wife and their six children – isolate themselves in a forest in the US, with no connection with the outside world. Thriving in their self-built accommodation, hunting for food, growing vegetables, and playing instruments in the evening – life was rosy. Educationally, the children read literature many years more advance than what is “normal”, with their father playing the part of an Oxford Don coupled with Bear Grylls.

Undisputedly, the father is the boss, though the family appear comfortable with his strict regime, which included sprints through the forest and mountain climbing in the rain.

The children were athletic, collegiate and brave. No bickering. Who wouldn’t want such children? Which father wouldn’t want to be that dad? Father envy, I had: there was no task he couldn’t do.

But where was mum? It transpired that mother was in hospital, suffering from a mental health condition. When mum commits suicide, the family undertake a road trip to attend her funeral. I won’t write any more about the plot.

I cannot adequately put into words what it was that made me blubber more than I have ever done. Watching it during this weird period of time, perhaps heightened my reaction. Isolation, home schooling, death, joy, with a reliance on family from afar, all made for a gripping watch. It had all the best ingredients from The Beach, The History Boys, Dead Poet’s Society, Road Trip. Watch it and weep, both in joy and in sorrow.

CategoriesThought of The Day

What should my personal life look like post-pandemic?

  1. Family and friends are still with us.
  2. As a family, we have grown closer.
  3. Proud to have played our bit to help society through this awful time, forging long-lasting relationships.
  4. Aware of the simple things in life, perhaps having slowed down a little.

What should my business life look like post-pandemic?

  1. Alive, so it can we can continue to help people.
  2. Nobody having been furloughed.
  3. We should have stronger relationships with our wider connections.
  4. Feeling fulfilled: that we have been useful to humanity, through our pro bono advice.
  5. Rewired as to how we function as a business, with more flexibility, better technology, higher productivity, with happier colleagues, moving towards a 24-7 business.
  6. Ready to seize opportunities.
  7. All less important to-do items complete.
CategoriesThought of The Day

What trends will emerge from this pandemic?

As a business owner, with all the responsibilities which go with it, I need to grasp how the world is going to change – both socially and economically – in order to scope out the likely future. Planning, though, is perhaps now pointless, given that no plan would have foreseen this pandemic.

This blog is primarily for me: for me to organise my thoughts. By committing my thoughts to writing, I find answers. This blog helps me to make sense of things.

  1. The UK has moved leftwards, with a reliance upon the State.
  2. People now know their neighbours – neighbourliness is here to stay. Localism is here to stay.
  3. People will be more appreciative of their public services and the welfare state.
  4. People are beginning to value the simple things in life, which might mean that fripperies are out.
  5. People will become more self-sufficient, planting their own veg.
  6. If the self-employed are largely unscathed, will there be a movement towards self-employment? This looks unlikely.
  7. If employees are left largely unscathed, then the self-employed may choose to become employees.
  8. Environmentalism will accelerate: you can now hear the birds.
  9. As uncertainty is the new norm, people will spend less, accumulating cash.
  10. Young and old will rely on technology.
  11. Home working is the new norm.
  12. School curriculums will become less relevant.
  13. People will cook more, rather than eating out. Foraying outside unnecessarily may feel risky.
  14. People will travel abroad less: will you get back home unquarantined? Will you be quarantined upon arrival? The cruise-ship industry will decline.
  15. There will be less reliance on post. Ever more communication will be electronic.
  16. The new war heroes are the key workers: supermarket staff, delivery drivers, NHS workers, social care staff and all the others. They will receive pay rises. Who is and who isn’t a key worker will become part of the culture.
  17. Medical technology usage will accelerate.
  18. The individuals and organisations which stick with you during the pandemic will garner loyalty for years.
  19. People will spend more time and money on home improvements.
  20. People will be more comfortable with death: people will prepare.
  21. There will be a greater interest in medicine and biology.
  22. International comparisons will be increasingly made for most issues.
  23. If we fair worse than other countries (we are far behind South Korea), British exceptionalism will diminish as a concept.
  24. Many grandparents will have learned how to care and teach their grandchildren from afar.
  25. Families may choose to live in larger houses, pooling resources.
  26. Flats will feel too small, so more people may opt for homes with gardens, which may lead to people leaving the cities.
  27. Religiosity may decline: God didn’t prevent the virus and collective worship spread the virus.
  28. Older generations may fear the spread of germs by younger generations. Care homes will change the mechanics of family visits.
  29. People will become more hygienic. Enforced washing of hands when entering premises will become normal. The spread of other diseases will decline. Cleanliness is here to stay.
  30. There will be a small reduction in the usage of public transport.
  31. Having experienced clear roads and clean air, every traffic jam will grate more than it used to. People may become more local, so that journey times are reduced for all.
  32. The pre-pandemic speed of life may never return.
  33. Parents will feel closer to their children and, though this lockdown period will have been tough, many may feel more confident to home school, thereby reducing the workforce.

And what does this all mean for the economy? I foresee large sectors of the economy reducing in size. The sectors which are hardest hit now will not return to pre-pandemic levels. Cities will experience decline, whereas rural areas and small towns will thrive. Offices will have become less attractive as places to work, though people will still want connection with other humans – so 50-50 home and work will become the new normal. Commuting will feel increasingly pointless.

Given that people will spend less, and that Government will struggle to stimulate demand, coupled with a drop in international demand, a depression seems highly likely. Unemployment will therefore increase, though fewer men (more than women) and women will return to work, choosing instead to spend more time with their children. There is likely to be a move towards a universal basic income, perhaps introduced to stimulate demand for the non-essential items. Obsession with GDP will decline. The pace of life will have slowed down, permanently.

If unemployment is militated against by the introduction of a universal basic income (something which may take years to be introduced), and a reduced full-time workforce, this new world order is likely to be kinder, greener, nicer. However, a large swathe of the private sector is going to have a few challenging years.