Staying positive, valuing your job, scrapping Transition Year and getting the younger generation to earn their corn are among the ways in which Ireland can get moving again, according to ‘Apprentice’ star Bill Cullen.
Speaking to The Munster Express at the InterTrade Ireland (ITI) Business roadshow seminar in Waterford last Thursday, the straight-talking self-made millionaire called it as he saw it.
“The doom and gloom is around alright, but we’re looking for some positivity from the Government in terms of actions that might help us get out of it, but that’s just not happening,” he said.
He felt the month-long run-in to the Emergency Budget was a major mistake on the Government’s behalf.
“Everything stopped,” he stated. “When you know there’s a Budget coming, people opt to sit it out, to wait and see what comes out of it. What happens when that happens? No one buys cars, no one spends any money and that’s what happened as a result of the Budget – it stopped business for a month.”
The absence of hope from Government, of ‘emotional leadership’ such as that currently being provided by Barack Obama, was also cited by Mr Cullen, sporting a tee-shirt given to him by Tiger Woods.
“We heard nothing from the powers that be about what was going to be done to prevent jobs being lost, what was going to be done to create more jobs, what was going to be done to stimulate the economy and what was going to be done to get the banks up and running fast.
“We didn’t hear any of that and that’s where our Government leaders are letting us down. Yes, you have to give us the pain, but you have to give us a massaging as well with some good news and they don’t seem to be able to do that.”
To coin a Cullen-ism, the absence of positive thinking has badly dented public confidence in the Government.
“That’s the word, positivity,” he replied. “There’s no positivity. You can even present bad news in a positive way but they haven’t even done that.
“We’re sick listening to the way they’ve presented that news to us. We know things are bad, but what are they going do about it? The people want some action and right now they’re not getting it but let’s hope something happens in the next couple of months.”
So what’s the Bill Cullen mission statement set against the backdrop of the current economic climate?
“My message is ‘you come into the world with nothing and you go out of it with nothing’. It’s what you do along the way that counts. And I’m telling people to stay positive.
“Through events like this in Waterford, I try and show people in business how to stay happy every day and you stay happy by thinking happy thoughts. Now losing a job or having to close a business might happen, but you can challenge these things and address them in a much stronger way if you’re keeping positive.”
Bill Cullen added: “For many, to do that involves changing your mindset. You have to look at it like this: right, we’re in a bad place, but we’re going to get out of it and I’m going to make sure I get out of it, roll up my sleeves and work twice as hard.
“And I’ve always said that if you want to keep your good job, go in a couple of hours earlier in the morning, stay a couple of hours later in the evening, always be available and you’ll be the last person to go.
“Mind that good job. Your time might be down but it’s better than nothing. It’s better than not having a job at all. And give. Give a full week’s work; get your 40, 50 hours into three days, work your butt off, keep that company going and keep the money stream going from wherever it’s coming from. That’s much better than losing those three days.”
Reflecting on the Celtic Tiger era, Mr Cullen felt that too many people got things too handy and “lost the run of themselves”. He also reflected on one of its social by-products.
“Our kids are growing up with their hands out,” he said.
“They do nothing – we drive them here, we drive them there, they go on holidays, they’re away for three months. Transition Year in school is supposed to be about getting them out to work – it’s not, they’re dossing.
“They don’t do work at all. I’ve said it before; Transition Year is something which should be done away with. Either let them out of school a year earlier or if you’re going to keep Transition Year, then really put them to work during that year.
“They should be working during the holidays the way we used to do and I’m sure you did as well. We all had to go out and earn a few shillings – kids today don’t know anything about that. And then they have to go to college for four years: why can’t we do that in two? Let them get their practical experience as well but let’s let them do it quickly.”
Mr Cullen’s message was compelling, his passion bounding from every utilised syllable. After all, there’s an economy that needs stimulating and a country that needs to be positively mobilised.
“There’s only so much you can do in college. If you want to get into business or set up your own business, get out of college as quickly as you can because most of the degrees you get in college are really a badge to fit you in somewhere on the professional ladder but it might mean nothing to you in terms of the career you’re going into.”
Bill Cullen later repeated his positive mantra to the 100 businesses which had gathered at the Tower Hotel.
“Go after new markets because they aren’t going to come to you and invest time in networking and promoting your business,” he said during an intriguing half-hour presentation.
“Do things differently, do it better than the next guy, and get out there and sell it. Above all, stay positive.”