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Entrepreneurs Panel

Laura Tenison
Debbie Pierce
David Pollock
Julie Meyer
Charlie Mullins
Jeremy Roberts
Jennie Johnson
Richard O'Sullivan
Tony Caldeira
Brian Hay
Steve Purdham
Michael Oliver

Season tickets?

Richard O'Sullivan

Founded Millie’s Cookies in 1985 and went on to sell the Bury-based chain to catering giant Compass in 2003 for £24 million. In 2007 he signed an agreement with Boost Juice Bars – an Australian-based juice chain – to operate its UK outlets. The tenth Boost unit opened in the UK in Bristol in June 2009. O’Sullivan has been chairman of the Liverpool bar chain Baa Bar since 2006 and the Mexican food chain Barburrito since October 2008.

Question: 

Many of my staff travel to work by public transport and have started asking for interest-free season ticket loans in order to buy cheaper annual passes (I think one of them who used to work in London has spread the idea around the office). I'd like to help but worry about the administrative burden (we have a finance department of two and a staff of 80) and the impact on cashflow if too many take it up (my balance sheet isn't looking too clever at the moment). What do you think?

Answer: 

I'm sure, if offered, most people would like an interest free loan for their annual public transport ticket for work travel. In good times, this is a typical "nice to have" and would almost certainly build a little more loyalty among the workforce.

Unfortunately, these are not "good times" and it's clear from your note that you are really not in a position to subscribe to the wish list of certain members of your workforce. This is a time to conserve cash.

It's also quite clear that the days of "job hopping" are gone. Businesses are now seeing decreasing absenteeism and increasing productivity as our employees recognise how precarious many positions have become. If you have not previously been pro-active with your communications to your workforce, this is a great time to start. Ensure that they understand you are not just saying "no" for the sake of it.

Obviously the aim is to make a financial saving for the employees, so why not have a bit of fun and encourage people to share their cash-saving methods with their colleagues by offering a prize to the top three best ideas? It would show a recognition of the issue and a willingness to help uncover cost-saving ideas without jeopardising the company finances.

The fact you say you'd "like to help" indicates that you are a decent employer. I'm sure you are able to communicate the financial issues surrounding this type of scheme to the people concerned and the wider team. If you feel it's really important to help, why not put some productivity, loyalty, or profit hurdles in place?

If it really is a serious and widespread need of the workforce, they will have to take collective responsibility for producing the funds to pay for it. Most people have plenty of common sense and, if we share the issues with them, it does not take long for them to get the picture. And those that don't – well, maybe they are not the best people to be working for us anyway!

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