Face up to change

Once the largest company in the world, General Motors files for bankruptcy this week. The expression, 'The only constant is change' has never rung truer.

Like Chrysler, that other former symbol of American industrial prowess, the company has fallen from dramatic heights.

Even by the 1980s its trademark gas guzzler cars had already started to see their heyday. Come 2008, the behemoth had been overtaken by Japan’s Toyota (a pioneer of smaller and more efficient vehicles), which became the biggest carmaker in the world.

Economics aside, a point that shouldn’t be missed here is that American cars are dreadful – and have been for some time. Moreover, these companies are too big and cumbersome to move with the times. Not a problem faced by small businesses, which are able to react quickly to ideas that aren’t working.

Alex Macpherson, chief executive of Octopus Ventures, says: ‘It’s the small, entrepreneurial companies that are able to be nimble and quick, in contrast to the larger companies. As the economy starts to pick up, it will be these companies that are spotting the opportunities available.’

Web hosting provider IoMart is a case in point. The decision to shift its focus from telecoms three years ago not only prevented the company from going under, but placed it in a healthy market position.

Angus MacSween, chief executive, says: ‘There are two economies in the UK – online and offline. From where we are sitting, it is the online economy that is thriving. A recession won’t stop the fundamental shift to operating online; it may slow it down, but it won’t seize up completely.’

Other small businesses are doing the same. Although going on about ‘green shoots’ of recovery is asking for trouble, there are indications that, although still bad, conditions aren’t quite as scary as they were last November. Polls from the Confederation of British Industry and SmallBusiness.co.uk suggest that the economy is no longer in freefall.

It’s those companies with business models attuned to the times that are most deserving of government help and will further our path out of the recession. A UK bailout for Vauxhall/Opel along the lines of Obama’s $4 billion package for GM amounts to more than just throwing good money after bad: it goes against the pace of change.

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