Compete or collude: can't our "business community" do both?
I was properly put in my place today. Halfway through my starter at an awards do at the Hyatt hotel I launched into my stock rant about "the business community".
I have a bugbear about it. Not the concept of community itself, just whenever the actual word is used. It's all too often. Think about where you last heard it. Put inverted commas around it with your air-fingers and say it. "Community."
It was first drummed into me when I was a novice flack via The Economist Style Guide wrapped across my knuckles. Its entry reads: "The business community means businessmen (who are supposed to be competing, not colluding.)"
So that's been my mantra all these years. But today I was resolutely corrected.
I was sitting next to John Handley from Finance Birmingham, who told me I was wrong. The concept of the business community used to exist in this city, in the context of the financial sector at least.
When he was working for an investment firm, he admitted to colluding with other firms. They worked together to practise in a certain way. It was based around keeping the action here in Birmingham.
If you had a deal going through, the gentleman's agreement was you would use Birmingham advisors rather than send work to London or Manchester. You'd select your law firm and accountant based on the energy of the people pitching for the work. And you'd look for genuine spirit. People who you believed in; and vice versa.
Also, as Handley told me, he went head-to-head with his mates when there was a deal to be done. You'd talk about the strategic vision for the city and try to turn it into reality, then slog it out against each other to close a new piece of business. Maybe not "community" as much as a squash game.
So perhaps we should collude in business? We can sit down and agree the core rules which govern us. We can agree a bigger common purpose we support and strive for. It doesn't make us any less competitive. It may even make us more civilised.
We're not a business community. But we are all taking part in a big game of squash, perhaps without even knowing it. I don't think that's any bad thing. Now, who wants to play?
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.