Clear vision and an exhilarating environment are what retailers require.

Clear vision and an exhilarating environment are what retailers require.

I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the fact that we are taught by ‘good business practice’ – and no doubt the finest business schools – to make decisions based primarily on facts and figures. Those of us who I’d call retail traders – who have worked on the shopfloor or sold directly to customers – know that successful retailing is often intuitive and frequently determined by the ‘softer’ influencing factors, which are typically emotional and always harder to both quantify and control, such as consumer confidence or the attitude of your staff.

At an operational level, facts and figures work well – at your weekly sales meetings, they’ll help you make better decisions about re-merchandising, the timings of stock drops and pricing and promotions. But at board level there are three key qualities and skills the leadership team must demonstrate: a vision for the future of the company, an ability to create the right environment within the business so that the staff who run it can flourish, and the balls to make decisions and stick to them.

In some ways it’s just like sex.

If you’re just a facts and figures retail manager, you’ll be making love by numbers: 36, 24, 36, once a week and twice at Christmas. If your place is in the boardroom, you’ll be candles, D’Angelo and Dirty Martinis: demonstrating a clear vision within an exhilarating environment.

At the macro level, it is our politicians who are responsible for putting on the mood music and scattering petals on the bed: step forward Cameron, Clegg, Cable and Osborne. They’ve certainly been decisive and steadfast on monetary policy but I’d like to hear more about their vision and see them use more business leaders to help create the conditions where British firms can flourish. So I was encouraged to read Lord Heseltine’s recent government-commissioned report: No Stone Unturned In Pursuit Of Growth. It’s not Fifty Shades Of Grey but it does deal with other frustrations. If like me you have a burning sense that collectively we could all do so much more to address the deep-rooted challenges our economy faces, then you’ll find yourself saying “yes, yes, yes” as you read his provocative suggestions.

Writer Dorothy Parker famously said “brevity is the soul of lingerie”.

The same could be said of good Government: cut the red tape, reduce our reliance on publicly funded capital projects, give greater incentives for private investment and collectively focus our resources on growing our economy for the long term.

Above all else though, it’s all about having that vision for growth and facilitating the circumstances where it will naturally happen: a coming together, if you will. If we don’t approach these challenges with the passion that Lord Heseltine advocates, especially with the talent we have in retail and other industries where we lead the world, then rather than the explosive growth we all want to see, our collective dereliction of duty will be the economic equivalent of us saying: “Sorry, darling, I just don’t feel up for it tonight.”

  • Jacqueline Gold is chief executive of Ann Summers