Brian Williamson: Optimism in business is always better than considering the alternative

Dave Allen's attitude to old age impressed Brian Williamson
Dave Allen's attitude to old age impressed Brian Williamson
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Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative, comedian Dave Allen once quipped.

People say I am a serial entrepreneur and an off-the-scale optimist. Pessimism does not cut the mustard in my book, and I have spent 60 years creating resilience to it.

Why on earth would I do that? Well it makes me feel great with the side benefit being a pretty nice standard of living.

However, does pessimism impact GDP?

Well in 2014 the pound was 13 per cent up on the US dollar and the smart money was on a continued rise.

The BBC reported this really bad news and found the owner of a gasket manufacturer who said that they were in danger of losing business. The article expanded to say that in total 14 FTSE 100 firms, which make an estimated 80 per cent of their revenues overseas, issued profit warnings in the first quarter of the year.

Reading this made me think of that line from the television programme Dad’s Army: “We’re doomed, I tell you doomed”.

However at the end of 2016 the pound was, and still is, really weak. The BBC found the owner of a widget manufacturer making parts for the NHS who said that the weak pound – some 25 per cent below the 2014 levels – was bad news as well.

Increased costs would have to be passed on to the NHS. The BBC expanded on this story and found someone who said that increased costs to the NHS could be as much as £900 milion. Again, “we’re doomed.”

Rain, hail or shine it seems to be bad news. Why does all that matter?

A few years ago I stopped tuning in to breakfast television after watching a feature in a similar vein. It was about the car industry and – guess what – it was bad news. The result of a one-person survey was that it was not a good time to buy a new car.

So 20,000 fewer resilient to pessimism people watching TV that morning decided that was sound advice and delayed their £25,000 purchase. That took half a billion pounds out of the automotive sector in one swift minute of the morning news.

The following month there was news that car manufacturers were laying people off. It was apparently made worse because the exchange rate was, well, neither up nor down.

So this time exchange rate stagnation compounded the problem, it needed to move.

Surely not up because the gasket man would be laying people off and the FTSE 100 would have more profit warnings than presidential tweets. And hopefully not down because the widget man would be part of a £900m NHS problem meaning we would be three years in A&E and only there because it took us four years to see a doctor.

“Optimism isn’t that bad when I consider the alternative”.

Thanks for that, Dave.

Brian Williamson is an entrepreneur based in Stirling