Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Friday November 20 2009

imageA week ago today, I journeyed to White Van Land (aka South East London), to record an interview with Toby Baxendale - businessman, Austrian economics devotee, social activist, boss of Direct Seafoods, and founder of the Cobden Centre, among other things.  We - mostly he - spoke for just on fifty minutes, which is a longish time for a thing like this, but worth anyone’s time (I hope those who give it a go will agree), because he is an impressive individual.  You don’t get from seventy grand in debt at the age of twenty one to running a company that turns over a hundred million quid a year before you are even properly middle aged without having something about you.

Listen to it by clicking here.

The thing I find particularly intriguing about Toby is how his thinking in the academic sense and his business and social thinking are so deeply intertwined, which is sadly not true of far too many businessmen.  His early acquaintance with the economic facts of life, due to his parents divorcing early and him being raised by his single mother, meant that he came to the study of economics with a well developed sense of how the economy worked and how wealth gets created, and regular economics didn’t add up.  Too abstract.  Simply: not right.  He paid for much of this education by himself working, first by part-owning and running a night club, then by buying food for a restaurant that he part-owned, the latter activity being the basis of his later business success.  An early burst of anti-left politics in his teens got him in touch with the legal and social thinking of Friedrich Hayek, and he made a note to chase up Austrian School economics later, once he had got his business life motoring.  Which it did, not least because of his willingness to use the dispersed-knowledge dispersed-profit model of business organisation and business cooperation, rather than just putting all his underlings on a fixed salary and telling them what to do.  He didn’t want the do-as-you’re-told life for himself, and figured they wouldn’t either.  Plus, profit-sharing is more profitable.

His ideological advocacy and social activism now takes several forms.  He is a magistrate.  He is active in a microfinance organisation, for the kind of people for whom any kind of finance is liable to be something of a battle.  He talked eloquently about the example set by such persons as the Quakers - before going to the London School of Economics, he attended a Quaker school for a few years - and by the Manchester liberals, such as Cobden.  And, with his Cobden Centre hat on, he compares the privilege-breaking Repeal of the Corn Laws that the Manchester liberals accomplished with a similar job that needs to be done with the world’s current politically privileged banking system.  What these persons now do, he is at pains to admit, is all perfectly legal.  But, like the Corn Laws, it ought not to be.

So, recommended.  And even if nearly an hour listening to one and half people just talking does not appeal, at least remember the name: Toby Baxendale.  He will surely be making waves in the next few years.

The older I get, the more convinced I become that a lot of getting on and getting ahead in the world is a matter of sheer physical energy, of getting things done, first time, fast, lots of them every day.  I, on the other hand, was not at my physical best when recording this conversation and got quite a lot more ill soon after it, hence the delay in sticking it up here.  Luckily nothing of importance is lost because of this delay, but still, my apologies to Toby for any irritation this delay may have caused.  Toby Baxendale, I sense, doesn’t do ill.  Did I mention that he is an Ironman Triathlete?  No I did not and nor did he.  I only found out about this afterwards.

My thanks to Antoine Clarke for suggesting this recorded conversation, and to Tim Evans for putting Toby Baxendale and me in touch.

It was an obviously good idea.

I’m glad it worked.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 23 November 2009

Excellent interview! Its a shame you aren’t accessible via iTunes. It would make it easier to access your podcasts on the iPhone.

Posted by Simon Gibbs on 02 December 2009

Simon,
I could suggest, shame iTunes is so full of proprietary rubbish that it won’t let you run clean mp3s.

Is this the same iTunes that deleted everyone’s (paid for) copies of 1984 and Animal Farm “by mistake”?

Which is all the worse as the copyright ran out on Orwell’s estate in 1999.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 10 December 2009
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