The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tony Robinson OBE

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Tony Robinson OBE


Summary: Sue reads quite a lot of business books but very few have such an engaging mix of satire and sage business advice as Freedom from Bosses Forever. It's mainly about Canadian businesswoman Leonora Soculitherz, but Sue had quite a few questions for author Tony Robinson OBE when he popped in to see us.
Date: 18 September 2013
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue reads quite a lot of business books but very few have such an engaging mix of satire and sage business advice as Freedom from Bosses Forever. It's mainly about Canadian businesswoman Leonora Soculitherz, but Sue had quite a few questions for author Tony Robinson OBE when he popped in to see us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Tony Robinson OBE: I see people from 15 to 70, from all backgrounds and of all nationalities that are wondering if earning a living from their own business is the best way forward for them and their family. Most will start their own business at some time and 1 in 7 working adults in the UK are already running their own business. Amongst all the slightly perplexed faces are many people that have started a business but still don't feel ultra confident that they have the know-how to keep going. Most of all I see people that would never read a business book from beginning to end unless the book made them laugh and had a story to it. Fortunately when I close my eyes I see them all smiling and gradually looking more 'yes I can' - confident.

  • BB: Leonora Soculitherz advises us that small business owners should never take advice from someone who hasn’t done it themselves. Do you have the experience in this area which she would require?

TR: Yes I do but only for certain types of businesses. I've started and run micro enterprises (0-9 employees) with my business partners for over 27 years but there are certain types of business I couldn't give professional advice on - for example I've never started and run a high street shop or manufactured chocolate or cinder toffee ice cream - even though I've always wanted to. I've also researched, with colleagues, over those 27 years what makes the difference between only 30% of new starts surviving after 3 years trading and 80% surviving after 3 years. I've tried to translate what we found it from this research into practical tips throughout the book.

  • BB: I would get quite annoyed with Leonora Soculitherz if she constantly put me down the way that she does you. Do you never want to extract your revenge?

TR: Soculitherz as she prefers to be addressed (single celebrity name like Beyonce, Cher, Rihanna, Madonna and Batman) appears to have got more irritated with me as the years go by. It's got to the point now where she tells me what I have to wear and what I can't carry (e.g. a glass of wine, plate of food or briefcase) when I'm with her. If I want to speak to her I have to text her - even if we're in the same room. I can't afford to seek revenge though because her books are very popular and she always pays me on time. I just wish she'd pay me with money instead of self improvement DVDs and elocution lessons.

  • BB: I sense that you’re not too keen on Civil Servants and politicians. Do they have their uses?

TR: I'm reliably informed that the most senior politicians and the most senior civil servants are regarded as providing invaluable assistance to the 200 largest companies, many American, in the UK and these companies' advisers. I am sure my information is right as I have noticed that when they finish in government they take on lucrative directorships or consultancies wth these same companies or their advisers. Don't ask me what they do for them though - it's a mystery.

  • BB: What was the inspiration for Soculitherz?

TR: I thought So-cool-it-hurts was just such a .... well.... cool ... name, that I just had to meet her and work with her. I'd also never met a fashionista, we don't have many of them in Scarborough.

  • BB: But you do have Peasholm Park, Tony. You can't have everything.

What do you see as the future for small businesses in the UK?

TR: Despite governments around the world giving 95% of public funding to the 5% of the largest businesses - the 95% of small and micro businesses will continue to increase in number and in contribution to the economy. The largest companies have been in melt down regarding employing people so everyone will have to at some point consider working for themselves. Most of the new jobs and nearly all the innovation and by far the greatest contribution to local communities comes from small and micro enterprises. I'm very proud to be co-founder of the Enterprise Rockers Community of micro enterprises - a network of networks - and I firmly believe that for business owners willing to collaborate and give back to their communities that the future is very bright. Eventually, because we have the Power of Plenty (4.5 million of us in the UK alone) and are becoming a less fragmented sector governments and large companies (that pay our bills in an average of 68 days - damn 'em) will have to listen to us.

  • BB: What’s the best business book ever written?

TR: I think it was Tom Peters first - In Search of Excellence. However, for small businesses it has to be The E-Myth by Michael Gerber although I don't feel it is quite as relevant now as there are at least 5 times more small businesses than when he first wrote it and we're now in a social media age where businesses like mine would rather use virtual assistants than employ staff. Both these 'best business books' are well worth a read still though not easy to read from start to finish and very short on laugh out loudness.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? With or without music?

TR: I come up with ideas, characters - lines and behaviours and plot whilst walking or in the bath and I develop the ideas either in my office, on trains and in hotel rooms - I travel a lot for speaking engagements. I prefer to have music playing but often find that when it comes to the hard graft of writing I have to shut the music off. I can't write at home - too many distractions like my guitars, dvds, rioja, cheese, biscuits and chocolate.

  • BB: You’ve got one wish. What’s it to be?

TR: I'll do a world concert tour like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan do - but singing the blues and telling my stories.

  • BB: What's next for Tony Robinson OBE?

TR: Tomorrow night I have a speaking engagement with business owners in the Peak District. It's at Bakewell Town Hall so hopefully there'll be cake too. Soculitherz wouldn't be impressed. I know it's only rock 'n' roll but I like it.

  • BB: Have fun, Tony - and thanks for talking to us.

You can read more about Tony Robinson OBE here.

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