THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Confidence?

The latest revelations around financial fraud in Wall Street seem to have sent a final shudder through the corpse of the financial markets. Its difficult to imagine how one can have confidence in the financial regulators who are supposed to watch over our pension funds and investments, when the story of mismanagement around “Bernie” and his $50bn unfolds with the same level of incredulity that accompanied the horrific mistakes that led to the death of “Baby P” or Mr Menendez. Does anything work any more? I feel less well protected and represented than perhaps at any time in my adult life. We still are obliged to do business with banks that have recklessly gambled our deposits away, chasing unrealistic returns by investing in low quality lending and ridiculously exposed hedge funds. Pulling people out of branches and eliminating customer service from their agenda as I bemoaned last week. Has a single bank chief executive been called to account? We have an unelected Prime Minister who is making financial decisions to submerge the country in debt for generations – without any ratification from the electorate. Has a single voter been asked their opinion? It seems “OK” to bail out banks with endless loans from the taxpayer – and then to idly stand by and announce 30,000 pre-Christmas job losses at Woollies and predict 50,000 jobs gone in the Royal Mail, 70,000 jobs in the City, 150,000 jobs in estate agency. It seems OK for the Barclays CEO to calmly predict 2.5 million unemployed in 2009 and worse to follow – and then be driven home in his limo after presiding with his fellow “experts” over the second biggest financial system collapse in the last 100 years. In the middle of all that, I invest many hours and miles in meeting with dental practice owners – genuine “real” people and teams who are doing their level best to provide customer service and clinical care – to operate healthcare businesses on a sound financial footing – and to accept the responsibility for their contribution to the communities they live in. I tell you – I’m feeling very revolutionary this morning – if this were Paris in the 19th Century I think I’d be leading a march. I’ve maintained a solid resolve in these last 6 months that “a recession is a period of time when we have to work harder for our money” and I STILL BELIEVE THAT TO BE TRUE. But I also believe that this credit crunch, recession, downturn, slump – call it what you will – is going to bite deep and hard after New Year – and you had better be ready:

  1. careful analysis of overheads and fixed costs

  2. a contingency plan for what you will do if sales drop by 45%

  3. a campaign to get as many patients as possible to become members of your practice plan

  4. a robust marketing system that is turned right up to full volume on 1st January – marketing as if your life depended on it.

The fittest will survive – but I predict casualties. My highlight of the last few months was the good folk of my home town Manchester vigorously throwing out the proposal to introduce a congestion charge – transparently a plan to provide inward investment for a costly and unnecessary extension of a public transport system that would have provided jobs and revenues “for the boys”. Us Northerners were not fooled – and expressed our democratic opinion, much to the chagrin of the Council and their industrial drinking partners. Democracy does work – when its allowed out. People are not as stupid as politicians (and bankers) would have you believe – but ignoring their feelings is a dangerous game, whether you are Gordon Brown or Robert Mugabe. I’m going to enjoy Christmas and the New Year – and then get my battle gear on for 2009. I recommend you do the same. I think there’s a revolution coming.

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