My introduction at the fifth meeting of members of SMEalliance
Welcome everyone to SMEalliance and thanks to you all for coming. Thanks also to Metro Bank for hosting us once again– we are very grateful to you .
This is a big day for me – I think this could be the first SMEalliance meeting not chaired by the semi-legendary Jon Welsby—huge shoes to step into.
Just over one year on and we are going brilliantly . Did Nikki , Jon and I think we would have got here by now – no way.
So, by way of a very short intro to today after which you will hear a selection of speakers , why do I think the SMEalliance is unique in how it’s doing what it’s doing, so well? Maybe it’s all about silo-breaking—one of my pet topics and I’m hope I am on the right track as Gillian Tett, US managing editor of the FT has recently written an excellent book called The Silo Effect on this very subject.
A bit of what follows I wrote as an intro for one of our recent very successful sessions at the Cambridge Symposium on Economic Crime. Some of you might have already seen this , but to me it is the key to how we operate .
Silos normally act as barriers. They stop people mixing and ideas mixing and therefore inhibit positive “ stuff “ happening. The SMEalliance is a wonderful example of silo breaking.
Our members are mostly ( but not entirely ), people whose businesses who have been hammered by various High Street banks over many years.
But that is by no means the whole of SMEalliance. For example, James Nicholls ( who sadly couldn’t get here today) and I are both lawyers ) and partners at gunnercooke . Although we are two of the few not affected, we well understand some of the effects of what the banks and some of their advisors have done to you . We both have a genuine interest in SMEs , their businesses , management and how their owners take on large vested interests. These are normally, but not always financial institutions, which you all know still deploy huge amounts of money and other resources against you , our members.
SMEalliance includes other experts ranging from those involved in derivatives to ex- police. As you will know we also work closely with some members of the media –and we have managed to interest MPs ,civil servants and senior government advisors in developing several of our themes and schemes. I think I can say we continue to punch well above our weight–new and small , but noisy and growing.
As a practicing business lawyer, in my mind silos consist of four distinct groups – clients , academics, professionals and the Whitehall / Westminster machine. I am fortunate enough to straddle all of them. Too many people in each silo don’t, neither do they want to. Clive May the world’s greatest simple brickie can I think confirm the benefits of silo breaking . How else would Clive , the simple brickie and Nick Gould , the common sense lawyer, be working together so effectively.
We do however need to rope in some academics to help us with some of our projects. I have tried many , but no luck so far they always seem to have other things to do. Odd, because this would give them a lot of raw material for any number of projects—we must keep trying.
Can I also please make a plea for as many of you who can , to keep spreading the word. We simply don’t have enough members and although a lot of people know of us , we could do with a much broader membership. Use social media whenever you can. Thanks again to our core tweeters. Please join them as twitter and social media generally is a powerful tool and not to be underestimated. We don’t want numbers just for the sake of it — but there is no doubt a bigger membership would help.
I would like to give a special mention to Nikki and Paul Turner and their daughters Laura and Sophie for the enormous effort they have given to help not only SMEalliance and but many of our members individually. Thank you all so much. With help also from many others here and not here today , we have all made SMEalliance what it is, although we know we have much more to do.
Those of us who founded SMEalliance, believe strongly that an inclusive, non-ego driven organisation will be a much stronger force than the alternative —one which remains , for whatever reason , silo driven. And you know what our way has worked so far. Because so many of you have been ill-served by your advisors in similar ways , please remember the SMEalliance can try and assist just by being around for you — the coming together in events such as the one today I hope will be seen as beneficial for you all.
Too many people tell me they feel stupid because essentially they have been done over by people in suits and ties . That is completely the wrong way to look at things. Owners of businesses are entitled to trust their advisors- it is those advisors who have been found badly lacking in professional skills as well as morals and ethics – not you.
Two other points – I know many of you dislike intensely almost all professionals – particularly lawyers bankers and accountant/insolvency practioners. The other groups can speak for the themselves and am I certainly not here to defend the entire legal profession—many of you know my views on the topic but please don’t forget this . There are many , many lawyers doing the most amazing work to help,for example abused women and children. Others take on the power of the State when those affected have no way of doing so themselves. Others help their local communities in numerous ways . So we are not all the lying, greedy bastards some of you keep thinking we are –as I have said in the past, generalisations to my mind are never helpful.
Last and importantly for me right now—slightly off topic but to me ,completely relevant. I have just read a most sorrowful yet uplifting book by a US lawyer called Bryan Stevenson. The book is called Just Mercy. From a small office in Montgomery, Alabama which he started over 30 years ago he and a group of dedicated lawyers and others have essentially forced changes to key parts of US criminal law .
For example in 2010 they won a case in the Supreme Court which agreed that life imprisonment with no parole for children ( as young as 14 ) for non-homicidal crimes was a cruel and unusual punishment and constitutionally impermissible . This affected some 2,000 children. In the same year they won a case to free Joshua Carter, jailed for rape at age 16 and still in jail nearly 50 years later. The fact his confession had apparently been beaten out of him , seemed to be irrelevant to the legal system. Nikki maybe that is the difference between law and justice as we keep discussing.
If Mr Stevenson and his organisation , the Equal Justice Initiative, can succeed in the Supreme Court in this way– imagine what we should to be able to do. So let’s go and do it.
Thanks very much