Brad Burton, founder of the business network 4Networking, tells Pound Sterling Live businesses that adopt a wait-and-see approach to their expansion plans because of Brexit could get left behind.
Burton is accustomed to speaking out on emotive issues such as Brexit - he’s a regular on ‘Money Pit - a programme on the channel Dave.
Despite the uncertainty Brexit is causing for the 50,000 members the networking company holds, Burton is confident.
“All problems have a ‘worst before’ date. One day this will become tomorrow’s chip paper. As dramatic or raw as it seems now, this time will pass and we will move on as we tend to do and find a way through. Let’s stay positive.”
Being positive is a mantra that has got Burton where he is today, despite earlier success in the computer games industry and marketing, it was only a decade ago that he was £25,000 in debt and delivering pizzas.
But he picked himself up and developed 4Networking in 2000 in order to get small businesses together both in person and online, and away from the more ‘stuffy’ traditional formats of networking groups which weren’t relevant to the smaller business.
It also means that Burton believes things to be a bit more black and white. And that certainly is the case with his view on the referendum.
He says, “If you watch a programme like Question Time on BBC television you will see five people with differing views on Brexit so what can anyone expect with millions of views? This is politics, it’s tough.”
It’s a view he shares with his networking business, with over 5000 in person events each year and an online presence of 50,000 you would have expected there to have been a lively debate about Brexit.
Burton agrees, “Within 4N we reflect the vote of the country – it’s like the flip of a coin between the two sides. It’s one of the reasons why this has been so divisive generally across the population. There are different views even within small business with passions running high on either side. I don’t shy away from a debate on it but the country has voted and that’s it. Let’s just get on with it.”
He highlights, as many other businesses have done before him, the lack of certainty that currently blankets the nation.
But Burton doesn’t believe that is necessarily has to be tackled right away.
He says, “The main problem I see today is uncertainty. Businesses of all sizes like certainty, they like things to be predictable and that can lead to a lack of confidence. Except life isn’t predictable. I don’t often know what’s going to happen in the next two minutes, let alone the next two months or two years.”
He condemns the ‘wait and see’ approach, asking people to ‘act now’.
He says, “The truth is I’ve not seen any rise in the price of a loaf of bread down here in Somerset, I’ve not seen any rise in the cost of my suppliers nationwide. That may just be me being naïve but that’s the way I see it and, I believe, it’s the same for many small businesses. That, for me, is the real danger – that through a lack of confidence, business people don’t act, they ‘wait and see’.”
As for the legal case that the current government now find themselves in, Burton believes it is something that could have been avoided.
He says, “Personally I’m pro-Brexit and I’m not embarrassed to say so. It’s a shame that we are where we are at this time, waiting on a legal case before Article 50 can be triggered. But that’s the way it is.”
He does, however, have a message for Theresa May, “Welcome to leadership – this is what being Prime Minister means. It’s tough and you must make those tough decisions and know that some people won’t like it, will be very vocal but you must make those decisions. As a business leader, I’ve had to make difficult decisions which some people don’t like but it has to be done This is your first real test and we need strong, positive leadership.”
Burton worries that the backbenchers in the Conservative party may be driving a different political stance then the one that was agreed on in the ballot box.
He urges caution, “I’d like to tell Theresa May to stick to what you believe – if you truly believe what you are doing is the right thing. There are vocal parties on both sides of this argument but you have to stick to your guns and show that you are strong in your belief.”
Even though the referendum vote, some 5 months ago, has been divisive, Burton holds on to his positive attitude and personally, he still hasn’t lost any zest for Brexit – a view he believes he shares with the majority of the nation.
He says, “The gap between the two camps for and against may have been small but that’s democracy in action. Let’s go for it!”