In my world

25 February, 2011
Umer Ashraf is a young entrepreneur who owns the Glasgow-based iCafé chain of shops, as well as smoothie and juice bar Paradise Bay in Oban, Scotland
Page 14 

In my journey through life, many of my seemingly mundane experiences have been reduced to metaphors, revealing life-changing philosophies.

Last week, I was in Canary Wharf, the clone of Manhattan planted in south-east London. Whenever I am in the City, I am handed a nicely folded copy of the newspaper City AM, by smiling, welcoming vendors. So, while stepping off the train at Canary Wharf I've not reached limousine status yet I was expecting similar practice. But having made my way to the exit of the station, there was no vendor in sight. I glanced around and asked a passer-by: "Excuse me, where can I get my copy of City AM?" Mutely, he pointed to the other end of the station, where several piles were stacked. With no one handing them out, the number of people carrying copies was substantially lower than in the City.

The meaning to me is: in today's highly competitive world, one has to proactively gain what one needs. One can no longer rely on financial hand-outs. Now that we have returned to a coalition government, in times of austerity, this message is evident on both micro and macro levels. Whether it is expecting your newspaper to be handed to you or having to "get on yer bike" to find work, the message is clear: the onus is on you to hunt for what you want. Despite all the doomsayers revealing, in the holy scriptures of broadsheets and red tops, that we are deep in economic uncertainty, it is still a free market economy. So make the most of it.

Of course, human nature will be put to the test as to how we balance getting what we want without violating the rights, freedoms and access of others to the free market. Whether you care or not, are a city trader or arts workshop facilitator, this is the tightrope we all walk. The good thing is, tough times can bring out the best in humanity.

On returning to Glasgow, I experienced the same thing when stepping off the train at Central Station. This time it was a chap handing out half-folded copies of Business7. I received my copy with a smile and said "Thank you", to which he replied: "You know, you are the first person who has said that all morning. Thank you for saying thank you." This has made me wonder one thing, how much does it cost to smile or are we too busy to even say thank you?

My next stop was to go and have an espresso at one of my shops. While being served by a nice chap who greeted me with a "Good morning", I logged on to my laptop to check the latest reports to see what the first seven weeks in 2011 have been like. Each shop is up on like-to-like sales, despite the VAT increase and, after making a few phone calls, the pattern is seen in some of my friends' businesses too. Too early to say, but let's hope the recovery has started.





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