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A Marxist-Capitalist Approach To Business: Meet Simon Biltcliffe

Today’s guest is Simon Biltcliffe, CEO of Webmart, a print management business in Bicester.

Simon’s on a mission to make print more affordable for everybody. He’s built an amazing business with some impressive specs! They’ve capped the number of people, they share profit share with employees, Simon’s capped his salary and the business is owned by a trust so he couldn’t sell it even if he wanted to.

Simon declares himself a “marxist-capitalist”, because without capitalism there’s no wealth, and without wealth there’s no redistribution. Join us for a fascinating conversation with plenty of takeaways for everybody!

On today’s podcast:

  • The marxist-capitalist business model
  • Transforming his employees into entrepreneurs
  • How they hire new people
  • Why they do biannual team peer-reviews
  • Simon’s book recommendations

Links:

A people-centric approach to business

At Webmart, they buy and sell printing and related services. The printing marketplace in the UK is now an astounding £13 billion. It’s turned around from being kind of mass market to being more personalized.

Using big data, Webmart can also make bespoke mailing campaigns. And they also develop their own software to procure print better than anyone else in the world. They basically tie in physical print with digital data.

Simon used to work at a company that didn’t really care about its people. It was all about the financial return and it was pretty dreadful. He wanted to be very different from every company he’d worked for before, he wanted to be people-centric.

So he started studying a lot of behavioural economics and psychology, and realized that if your company doesn’t deliver value to your employees, then they’re not going to want to be with you in the long term.

What is the marxist-capitalist business model?

Webmart is a “marxist-capitalist” business. What that means is that they use capitalism to create value (intellectually, emotionally and financially). And then they use marxist principles to redistribute it fairly amongst their employees.

They have 42 employees, a £30 million turnover and a very strong balance sheet. They’ve never borrowed any money and they attract really interesting people to work with them.

The first £400k of post-tax profits is retained in the business. Between £400k and £1 million profit, half goes to Simon and half goes to the team. Above £1 million profit, 100% of it goes to the team. These numbers are fixed and they make their employees feel that they are also entrepreneurs.

An interesting hiring process

Simon believes that a business is a bag of people. In order to have the best business, you have to have the best people you can afford.

At Webmart, they are really rigorous when it comes to onboarding and managing people. When they hire a new person, the first step is a 10-minute Skype call. If people are comfortable doing that, that means that they are comfortable with technology. Also, it’s not an interview, it’s a chat. If the Skype chat is ok, then they will do a psychometric test.

Then they have a team interview. If they get hired, after 3 months everybody votes on them (anonymously). There are 3 questions:

  • Do you think they’ve got the capability to do this job?
  • Do you think they’ve got the desire to do this job?
  • Do you think they’ve got the ability to be a long term webmartier?

Everybody after 6 months is peer-reviewed by the team. The only review that’s made public is Simon’s.

What are the books that everybody should read, according to Simon?

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

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