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  • Writer's pictureMarcus Markou

Small is beautiful underpins the film – now jail the bankers

I’m often asked how my background as an entrepreneur has influenced Papadopoulos & Sons. Certainly, the themes of the film and my own business values are the same. As economic crisis grows, it deserves a blog entry.

Because I run (with my brother) a business that helps people buy and sell small businesses ( I have found myself championing small businesses. This was never my goal in life. I wanted to be an actor. But I fell into business ownership and fell into an internet startup and I fell into the idea that small is beautiful. I’m an accidental entrepreneur. If you take the boom out, I would not be doing this.

The internet bubble of the late 90s opened the door to people who would normally never be in business – freaks, geeks and creative Greeks. Certainly, I’ve never referred to myself as a businessman. I don’t really look like one, I’ve never aspired to being one (I find Sir Alan and the Dragons in the Den embarrassing), I certainly don’t sound like one but apparently I am one. If there was ever such a thing as ‘Entrepreneurs Anonymous’ I would be there. “Hello, my name is Marcus and I’m… I’m… I’m an entrepreneur.” Cut to polite applause for Step One – admitting you have a problem. Really – it’s quite humiliating.

But I can’t help myself. Sometimes my entrepreneurialism borders on the insane. Last week, before the news about Barclays broke, I said to my wife that I was going to stock up on razor blades and massive vats of liquid soap. How much could we keep under the stairs, I asked? When quizzed, I told my wife that if the banking system collapses and the economy collapses (as it did in Argentina in 2001) I will feed our family by selling razor blades and soap because people will still need to shave and wash! Silence. She’s used to it. Yes, I would ignore me too, if I could.

I’ve talked at Start Up exhibitions and I’ve also spoken to young offenders in prisons about the benefits of a legitimate business over an illegal one (often a drugs related one). Via Young Enterprise I have helped students start and run everything from their own publishing companies to tee shirt businesses.

Whenever I give my talks – especially to the young offenders and the students – I say that there really are only two ways to make a lot of money (if that is their goal). Either, we make a product or service that makes people happy or we become criminals. I give the example of Steve Jobs becoming rich because he created something that people valued. I give the example of Nusa Soup on Old Street – which often has queues outside the door and round the block – all year round – just from selling soup. It is a soup kitchen, I say. They charge £5 (or so) for a pot of soup. People gasp. But it is soup that leaves you with a smile on your face. It’s the best soup in the world.  So whether you change the world with the iPad or you make amazing soup – you must make the world a better place. Or… become a criminal (that doesn’t get caught).

To the young offenders I say that in order to succeed in a criminal business, you need to have the same entrepreneurial skills as any other businessman but be twice as smart because you still need to evade the law – and that is just a whole layer of costly overhead you could do without, not to mention stress. If many of them put their energy and business skills (they are often the best sales people I have ever met) into a legitimate business they would fly. On one occasion, a young offender asked me (referring to the purchase and resale of ecstasy tablets) what other wholesale product could be bought so cheaply (for pennies) and sold for pounds? The room fell silent – the game is always to mercilessly rip the ‘do gooder liberal’ to shreds in prisons. I thought about it, didn’t panic and came up with “Coffee”. Coffee retails for more than oil, I said. Coffee beans are bought for pennies (you add hot water – which is mostly free) and then the coffee is sold for pounds. Why else are there so many coffee shops? Three on every street corner in London. It’s a legitimate form of ‘daylight robbery!” I said (to lots of laughter). It’s better than any drugs business, I said! It’s the ultimate rip off too – if that’s your thing, I added quietly. A chorus of “He’s got you there!” from the other lags meant I had survived for a few more minutes.

One of the themes of Papadopoulos & Sons and something that was influenced by accidental entrepreneurialism – is the idea that in the post economic crisis world – the thing that will save us all is small businesses. That is where the creativity lies. That is where the invention lies. That is where the honest labour lies. It’s where the magic lies too. Make it easier for a million small businesses to employ one person and you will get one million people into employment. There is also the possibility that these people will be happier working there than in a battery farm in the basement of an insurance company. This is at the heart of the film. Harry is forced to go back to a disused, forgotten chip shop and make it a thing of beauty, a place of happiness, a home for the family. Sustainable. Profitable. Valuable.

The latest news of banking scandal confirms that there are people at the very top of our system doing the very thing I advise young offenders and students to do if they want to get rich without providing any value to mankind’s experience – namely, to become criminals (that don’t get caught).

There is endless legislation that burdens and prevents small businesses from starting and growing. And now we are learning that there was no legislation in place to stop banks from fixing interest rates in their favour. Yes, I think I am allowed to say “WTF?” Technically, these people are not even criminals.

It was corporate greed and abuse that plunged the world into crisis in the first place and we are now learning that the system seems to have been rigged this way – from the outset. Again, we all say, “WTF?”

One young offender I spoke to, told me that he was a plasterer by trade. He earned £20k per annum but the temptation to make £100k in one weekend by driving to Spain and filling the tyres of his van with cocaine was too great. He got caught and was doing something like 10 years.

Our bankers, to this very day, are not being arrested or jailed for doing so much worse. They have brought down the entire economic fabric of our society causing hardship to millions of people around the globe because the laws don’t exist to outlaw their behaviour. Many of them are now confused about the fuss being created because they just have no understanding that what they are doing was wrong/ is wrong. They are the real definition of supermen – amoral. But they are also the definition of criminals too. They’ve managed to get rich without actually providing any value to society. In fact, they’ve gotten rich by creating harm and chaos to society.

PS – The character in the film that represents this person is played brilliantly by Ed Stoppard as Rob. Got to love a downturn! Click here to see Ed in amoral action

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