Liam Rhodes

Why I (mostly) turned my back on the private sector

Why I (mostly) turned my back on the private sector

Liam August 20, 2020
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As a teenager, at the age of fifteen, I became the youngest managing director in the country. That was perhaps commendable, you might think. I’ve no doubt that it did start me on a path to understand marketing, the need for prudence at work, efficiency, entrepreneurship and many other vital skills which have followed me to this day in my career.

See, I had grown up in a family which experienced poverty at a young age. Inspired by my mother’s enterprising spirit to elevate us into a greater life and my Stepfather’s ability to fight for his family (as he had “adopted” us as his own), I wanted to make them both proud. And I did – for a while. When things went a little bit wrong, not so much. But if you find me a business which did not experience some shock during the financial crisis, and I will owe you a pound. (That’s not actually a guarantee.)

This was largely the result of an autistic obsession with ICT. That is not necessarily a bad thing: In fact, it allowed the business that I co-founded, at my insistence, to support the third sector with web hosting and development services. I am proud of that.

What I am not particularly proud of is the amount of greed-driven out-manoeuvring of others within the sector at that point. Competition is always a great thing, but when you have someone at such a young age, maybe not so much. We were successful and we did sell the web hosting arm of our firm during the financial crisis. We would have sold our client book for web development services, but by that point, so many firms had gone bust that it was essentially useless.

I have since been informed by a former friend that I did not “have what it took” to be in business. That person has felt the sting of the COVID-19 recession in his own business, and I wonder now whether he reflects on that conversation. I certainly had what it took, but I was – and am – also autistic. This means that an element of social justice enters business thinking, not the rampant pursuit of profit at all costs.

Herein lies the problem: When you cannot conscionably act against the interests of others to further your own, you really have a problem in business. I balanced it, at the time, with our work to dedicate 10% of profits and operational management to supporting the third sector. That was enough. It was sadly, though, not enough to ensure that we could run the business when we sold it – of all companies, to a firm fronting Libya Telecom & Technology, a Gadaffi firm – that we could ensure its stability. I believe in a moral duty to your customers in addition to a commercial one, and we made that call because we could not sustain it ourselves. I suppose, when you consider LTT and its owners – or rather, owner – it perhaps was not that much of a moral decision after all, but I was at a tender age of twenty.

Between a year out and university, I went into IT sales and marketing – largely cold-calling. This was an incredibly stressful job and one which I would not repeat (due to the cold-calling). I had little victories; I got bonuses. At that moment in time, I was still driven by avarice, kidding myself with some form of donating to the third sector from my wage packet – and I am not particularly ashamed to admit that as a thirty-one year old man who has learned from his mistakes.

Sales is not in and of itself unethical. The business I worked for is an excellent one, but it did not feel right. Something was wrong.

I went into politics, with an intention to make a difference. I spent five years working for a Member of Parliament in a key seat in Derbyshire. It was a (broadly) fun and rewarding job. I enjoyed making a difference to the constituency by organising jobs fairs, by helping constituents, by successfully campaigning to raise the Personal Allowance in Income Tax to £12,500, and by helping to advise my employer on what we needed to do to ensure that we did stand up for our constituents. He did not need much advising in this respect, but we all have our distractions and different backgrounds, and I was there in service to the public before my party.

I since resigned from the Conservative Party, and I do not envisage under this leadership why I would or could possibly join again. The fact that Dominic Cummings got away with his blatant lies – and anyone who believes that story just wants to – sickens me to my stomach. The fact that we are about to experience a crisis at the end of the COVID-19 recession (if predictions are correct), which will be self-inflicted by that same “competent and pragmatic” party also makes me feel ill.

Considering my options, I turned to HEI administration. That was also a mistake, for reasons which I cannot post.

But what has not been a mistake has been moving into the third sector in general. I was a trustee of First Steps ED, and I am proud of the work that I did there in advising their marketing strategy. I am immensely proud of the fact that I now work for an autism charity, which impacts people’s lives directly.

Politics cannot do this. You are trapped within a system over which you have absolutely no control. Even backbench MPs privately admit this, which is why sometimes we see bizarre explosions in the Commons from them. For the most part, however, politics is controlled by those who are at the very top of it, and the rest are lobby-fodder.

It has taken me a while to fully understand and comprehend where my purpose lies. It is in the third sector, trying to develop a charity and make it work. I love my job: It allows me to use my marketing skills, my administrative skills, my development skills, and my entrepreneurial thinking to apply things that really matter. Business does matter, but I would rather leave that to people who are more concerned with profit. I am concerned with people’s lives, what makes a difference to an individual and not what makes a difference to my bottom-line.

As I am involved in development, of course I must ensure that the charity remains stable and obtains grants and contracts. However, I am not concerned about the additional money which must be required to pay shareholders. Call me wet, but that is what I believe to be the ethical way.

Who I do not have sympathy for is the Brexit wrecking-balls who have decided to up sticks and move to Singapore, for example. Dyson was always a hypocrite who took money from the European Union and decided to stick up two-fingers to them while you and I will be left to pay for his reckless actions. I also have no sympathy for those who decided to avoid supporting society by avoiding tax in the good years who have been rightly excluded from the Self-Employment Assistance Scheme.

Yes, I still consult on a part-time basis to businesses in order to make some money if I need it, here and there. That is fine, and it’s something I enjoy: It keeps my commercial focus sharpened. It does not mean, however, that I need to start my own business again. And I can only think of those who are struggling in business right now who genuinely want to employ people and make a success of it to help them pay their mortgages.

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