Confessions from the City: The disillusioned entrepreneur

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I still remember the day I arrived in the UK vividly.

My backpack was bulging with my new “business wardrobe” (brown brogues, a garish pink shirt and the crumpled suit trousers I’d worn to 20 interviews) on an oddly sweltering London day. I heaved it from Waterloo’s Eurostar platform to a mate’s sofa in somewhere that seemed to be the end of the earth but was actually Norwood. 

After a shaky couple of phone interviews with a City advisory firm in my then-broken English, I landed the job (one up from making loos squeaky clean in the executive washroom). I’d packed up my life in Belgium (it hadn’t taken long, my girlfriend had kicked me out the month before) and was hoping to begin afresh.

It was an inauspicious start. I hadn’t factored in how long it would take to get on the train at Clapham Junction, so was late and sweaty, my shirt a darker shade of pink. In my first month, a deal was held up because I’d only photocopied half a key document, and I swore in front of the chairman when describing my ambitions — for which I received a raised, bushy eyebrow.

Spin forward a decade and change was afoot again. A switch into private equity had proved lifeless — long, dull days full of endless meetings. On a trip home, I had a revelation, a friend from school had branched into specialist beers and, on describing London’s thirst for well-packaged hipster ales over a few too many samples, I realised I could find a way out.

Ironically coffee, not beer, flowed as I stayed up all night researching the crowded market and tapping up stockists. One major deal subsequently emerged, and I’d convinced my brother — who also works in the City — that it made sense to escape our misery and set up together as UK distributors. 

Then Britain voted for Brexit. Sterling tanked, and with it my new venture. The numbers only just added up pre-Brexit, and now importing is impossible. D’oh!

So here I am, stuck going to five meetings a day at which cost-cutting and putting people out of a job top the agenda. A few days after the vote, my brother voiced his concerns about Brexit, saying he might pack up and return to Belgium with his bilingual kids. The response from one colleague with a particularly hairy chin-mole: “Good, more jobs for Brits.”

It suddenly doesn’t feel like the London I arrived in. Luckily, I’ve still got plenty of those samples to drown my sorrows.

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November 12, 2016 |
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