21 Nov 2013

When Goldman Sachs met the sticky label factory in Stockport

Tonight on Channel 4 News, a TV first: Inside Goldman Sachs. Later, more from a fascinating interview with Michael Sherwood, the Manchester University alumnus who the Financial Times tips as a successor to Lloyd Blankfein at the head of the global banking firm.

First let me tell you about the background to our insight inside the institution that dominates world finance. I filmed in summer with a small but thriving automotive company based in Rugby, Automotive Insulations.

Boss Jim Griffin seemed a rather different type of SME boss. Very positive, imaginative, and with a very international perspective.

He is making a global business from the Midlands, based around the soft felty noise insulation bits in your car. It reminded me of the steady unnerving focus one gets meeting the bosses of a German Mittelstand company.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

Ten Thousand Small Businesses, run by Goldman Sachs and its foundation. I was a little surprised. First question: did they try to sell you some sort of toxic derivative? No. Did they load you up with debt and sell you to private equity? No. How much did they charge? Nothing.

After meeting Jim and blogging about it, I met with the people overseeing the scheme at Goldman Sachs. The bosses of hundreds of companies, starting in Manchester and Leeds, and continuing to London, have been through Goldman developed courses at local business schools. It has sparked new networks and clusters, and undoubtedly injected some small British businesses with some can-do ruthless world-beating DNA.

Last week we visited another company in Stockport, Cheshire. Windmill Tapes and Labels does what it says on the tin. And vaguely comically after going to the Goldman small businesses scheme, it then wrote to 30 local competitors offering an unsolicited, and yes, leveraged, takeover. A label company 20 miles down the road in Congleton was eventually swallowed up. When I visited this week, a brand new facility for high tech printing had been opened (and all the staff kept on).

On Monday I met a further four alumni from the Goldman Sachs scheme at the offices of the Shadow Robot company in north London. Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna popped along, and left rather convinced that though the financial system still had a lot to give back after the crisis, this scheme showed that “the financial system has to be part of the solution and this demonstrably shows that Goldman is, from the companies I’ve been speaking to”.

I have to agree. It is a great scheme that its participants believe is doing more for their growth prospects that the dizzy spectrum of government support programmes. That is not to say that the other schemes are worthless. But that if big controversial corporates put their mind to it, they can use their undoubted skills to great effect.

Clearly this does not obviate the need for high ethical standards in all parts of business, but credit, as it were, where credit is due. More from that interview soon. And if you run a small growing enterprise, take advantage of the scheme.

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