Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Capitalism in Action

Avid followers of my Facebook status updates may be aware that the small, charmingly-eccentric but brilliant-when-it-needs-to-be company that I work for has recently been largely taken over by a massive Chinese company. I say "largely" because they've bought a controlling stake in us, but don't want a hand in the day-to-day running. To put it in context, there are nine of us here, and four of us work part-time in some fashion - two because they're nearing retirement, one because he's retrained as a psychotherapist and does that one and half days a week, and me because I look after LittleBear two days a week. The company that's bought us has an annual turnover of £1 billion and employs over a thousand people.

Up until now, the company has always been privately-owned, largely by the founding members. Occasionally one of them has sold shares. There's also been a tranche of shares that have been sold around between three or four other companies who've at various times been interested in our technology. Not being a founder member, I didn't start out with any shares, but did buy a handful when they came up for sale. Only a handful, as they were £1 a share. The founders got their shares at £0.01 a share, just for context.

So... SDL invested £1.65 million in purchasing shares. I received £2,800 of this. The (three man) board of directors, who are the founders and majority shareholders, received most of that investment. Which is fair enough, given they founded the company. The fact that I (and the other drudges employees) have sweated blood for the good of the company for almost as long is irrelevant. I've been here 17 years out of the 25 we've been in business, but I wasn't in at the beginning, so it counts for nothing. Or 0.17% actually, which rounds down to nothing.

Meanwhile in China, despite the crash on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, the announcement that SDL had bought us resulted in their share price jumping by 10%, adding £200 million to their value. Mr Big, who founded SDL, promptly sold 2% of his shares and realised £4 million. Which is pretty good off the back of a £1.65 million investment on 9 men in a shed.

So there we go, being in the right place at the right time gets you money. Employing really, really good people and convincing them to work hard for your benefit gets you lots of money. Having lots of money gets you lots more money. Working your arse off for a company? Not so much. Capitalism in Action. Now, where's that ballot paper with Jeremy Corbyn's name on it?

For the sake of balance, I will point out that I have earned a good salary for 17 years, no longer have a mortgage, have had fun and interesting work, have worked with some of the brightest and best in the world, and for some of the most revered scientific institutions on the planet, so it has not been an unrewarding or thankless experience. I would not in fact mind in the slightest that the directors have profited so massively if even one of them showed the remotest shred of humility, or the slightest jot of appreciation that the company has only succeeded and only brought them their good fortune because of the accumulated blood, sweat and tears of all of us. When faced with venal, hand-rubbing smugness at how splendid it is that we've "all" done so well, or self-righteous pride at how much they "deserve" their good fortune, quite frankly I want to gouge certain money-grubbing hearts out with a spoon. Even a simple "thank you" would do. Once. In seventeen years.


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