Taken to the cleaners

Private equity types in the UK would be forgiven for being a bit sensitive on the subject of their cleaners. After all, it was a provocative headline in the Financial Times about buyout executives paying less tax than their cleaners – courtesy of an interview with SVG chairman Nicholas Ferguson – that helped make the industry front-page news for all the wrong reasons a few years back. However, in this era of economic stagnation, where innovation is a critical plank of any portfolio company growth strategy, they may also be an untapped resource.

According to new research by Orange, a UK mobile phone operator, one in four businesses are now picking the brains of their support staff in a desperate bid to come up with innovative new ideas that will keep them ahead of the game. “There is a new connected culture of bosses asking their whole organisation for ideas,” insists Martin Stiven, vice president of Orange’s business division. ‘With fears of a double dip recession growing, new ideas are exactly what is needed to kick start the economy.”

Lesser magazine intro sections may wonder just how on earth the cleaner and the security guard are going to come up with better ideas for new products and services than the people who are paid to dream up new products and services. But as a truly original free thinker, First Round understands instinctively that it’s all about fresh perspectives, and coming at problems from a different angle. Besides, perhaps private equity is a special case. The industry kind of got off on the wrong foot with its cleaners over the whole tax thing. What better way than this to find a lasting rapprochement?