You shouldn’t give power to people who want it too much. That goes for business as much as it does for the next leader of the Labour Party.

Someone once told me that you shouldn’t give power to people who want it too much. That goes for business as much as it does for the election of the next leader of the Labour Party.

The pitch from the leadership contenders is that they need to listen to the electorate – not a bad idea – and become more like those that won the election – great idea if you’re a Conservative, terrible if you are Labour.

The former is laudable but it does remind me of Henry Ford who suggested that if you asked the audience, they’d request a faster horse, rather than a then unimaginable motorcar. The latter is the retail equivalent of launching a discount me-too brand, which can only work if it’s cheaper than the real thing and, even then, is a fairly joyless experience.

Those following this strategy look like they just want power for power’s sake rather than because they have anything new or innovative to contribute.

“You not need to be in government to positively influence society. You are better off in business”

Jacqueline Gold, Ann Summers

Of course the point everyone is missing is that not only do you not need to be in government to positively influence society, you don’t need to be in politics.

I believe, you are better off in business, and in particular those that engage with and serve the public every day.

Lessons from retail

You can learn a lot from us retailers. Take the key issues that dominated the election and that we continue to face as a society – the innovators and influencers sit among us.

Fairness and social reform: today you’d look to the John Lewis Partnership but there’s a long line that goes back to Cadbury’s and Bournville or the work of social reformer and fruit pastille maker Joseph Rowntree.

Economic growth in an age of austerity: if you want to find a new business model or how to spend a little but get a lot, talk to Pep&Co or any of the grocery discounters.

The environment: from Tesla and M&S’s Plan A today and going back to the Body Shop at its campaigning best, retailers have not only ensured that the environment is flagged in our consciousness but have affected real change in the reduction of energy use, emissions and waste, through countless initiatives across our collective supply chain.

Equality: it seems ludicrous now but when I started Ann Summers I was told it would never work because women weren’t even interested in sex. We were expected to know our place and lie back and think of England.

So, instead of burning bras we sold sexy ones – a very retail revolution.

Our influence has contributed to a paradigm shift in attitudes to equality and brought greater sexual freedom for women. In addition our Party Plan business has given women financial independence and the chance to work flexibly.

Given our sphere of influence, the media should be just as interested in who’s going to be the next chief executive of our nation’s leading retailers, because this is where progressive change happens every day.

  • Jacqueline Gold, chief executive, Ann Summers