Business leaders criticise Liam Fox over golf comments

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 16, 2016 11:46

A number of business leaders have criticised UK trade secretary Liam Fox for saying the country’s prosperity is at risk because people prefer to play golf than do deals.

John Merriam, a director of Golden Acre Dairy Foods, said he works very hard and golf is essential to enable him to relax.

“I’m a mediocre golfer,” he said. “I’ve been playing for eight years and other than family and work it’s one of the biggest things in my life. I try to play every weekend. Our local pub has a golf society and I play a few times a year with them too. Do I play on weekdays? Very occasionally.

“My company’s turnover is £51 million, we directly employ 32 people and many more indirectly. I typically work a 10-hour day, which is fewer hours than I used to work, and far fewer than many others. But when you have your own business you can almost never switch off.


Liam Fox

“If you run your own business, you tend to work very long hours. People put themselves under tremendous pressure. The upside is there is sometimes flexibility in the working week, compared to the traditional nine to five. If that gives you the occasional Wednesday off, from my point of view that’s a good thing.”

Liam Fox was quoted as saying recently: “If you want to share in the prosperity of our country, you have a duty to contribute to the prosperity of our country. This country is not the free-trading nation that it once was. We have become too lazy, and too fat on our successes in previous generations.

“We’ve got to change the culture in our country. People have got to stop thinking about exporting as an opportunity and start thinking about it as a duty – companies who could be contributing to our national prosperity but choose not to because it might be too difficult or too time-consuming or because they can’t play golf on a Friday afternoon.”

Merriam said this was an odd comment to make.

“It’s bizarre to associate golf with being overweight or lazy, because golf is a form of exercise, and good golfers are incredibly skilled,” he said.

“The reason I love golf is because it’s so hard – you’re hitting a little ball with a big stick and when it goes right it’s the best feeling in the world, but it so often goes wrong. For me, being outdoors is the most important thing. It’s a relief to spend three or four hours in the open after 12 hours in the office. And I think it’s a good fit for people who work in business because we have a competitive streak.

“Fox was talking about exporters, but it felt like a cheap shot at all businessmen. To talk about fat, lazy politicians would probably be an equally cheap shot. Golf is such an easy target – it has a slightly elitist, Jaguar-driving image that, like most stereotypes, has some truth to it. But it’s less like that than it used to be.

“Our former chairman, who is now in his 70s, did a lot of deals on the golf course, but I don’t think I’ve ever done one. There are a number of people in my industry who like golf, and once or twice a year we might meet and play, but that wasn’t my reason for taking it up. It can be a useful topic for small talk in the lift on the way to a meeting, but it’s not the only one.”

Innocent Drinks co-founder Richard Reed added: “Fox has never done a day’s business in his life. And I have never played golf in my life.”

Yorkshire Post business reporter Ismail Mulla stated: “One in three new business owners admit that they haven’t had a holiday in more than two years, while a third of people who run a start-up do not have a holiday – with or without golf clubs – planned in 2016 or beyond.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 16, 2016 11:46
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