Capitalism + Marxism – A Brilliant Business Model Bred in Yorkshire

At Leeds Business School Simon Biltcliffe outlined his revolutionary business model –  formed from the bitter dust of the miners’ strike in his native Barnsley. His sense of injustice inspired the creation of his very successful print management business Webmart.  And his “northern values” of honesty, directness and trust are the company’s DNA.  He wanted to both challenge and encourage us to learn from history, to keep things simple, engage all staff, to innovate, share learning, to expect people to think you are mad – yet  to make work as enjoyable and as much fun as possible. In common with Steve Edge he emphasised the principle “what goes around comes around”.

Simon was incredibly open and I was struck that he used many more “share” words than actual swear words. I recommend that if you get the chance, do go and hear him talk. Below I share my edited highlights and I appreciate I’m missing the stories and colour that made it such an inspiring evening.

Recruiting talented, diverse people and training them has been critical to Simon’s success. As a leader his key function is to set the moral code for the business and promote transparency so that everyone knows and understands how they contribute and that they are valued. Trust is critical and everyone is empowered to take decisions by two guiding principles:

  1.            if your mum would be proud of you;
  2.            if you are content for your action to be in the public domain.


Set ambitious targets not incremental ones.

Common Sense – align the right people to do the right things to achieve your targets.

For Webmart their suppliers are ten times more important than their customers – trust is fundamental.

Give people in your business and those you work with 3 things only – which must be aligned:

  1.           an intellectual return
  2.           an emotional return
  3.           a financial return


Give training using the best and most appropriate suppliers (many are free). Create an inspiring and varied work space that is a great place to work.

Simon heads out into the country for half a day each week to read, listen, watch, think- be inspired by others.

Give your best people the biggest opportunities – this will create the maximum added value. Crucially be very tolerant of failure.

Share information and data on staff performance (the gain and the pain) – so everyone is accountable with and to each other.

Don’t become beholden to external investors or banks.

Do well and do good at the same time – never screw anyone over – simply ignore nasty peoples’ behaviour or love them to death!

Little things count e.g. remembering birthdays and employee joining anniversaries – go out of your way to thank people with small unexpected gifts or recognition.  E.g. give sweets as a thank you with invoices and payslips etc.

Don’t look after number one, look after others and they will look after you.

Business used to be characterised by male traits but increasingly female traits: listening, understanding and collaboration are key.

You have to share – you have to do what you say you are going to do and ideally exceed your customers’ expectations. Collaboration rules and we are increasingly becoming an “iRefer” economy.

Remuneration: give value back to the people who deserve it, aggregate the added value created and redistribute the surplus in a totally transparent way – to make everyone feel good,

Revolutionary Thinking