Why ‘yes’ is the only answer to the question of life

Michael Hayman looks back at the life and times of the entrepreneur and statesman, Lord Young of Graffham who passed away in December.

Michael Hayman looks back at the life and times of the entrepreneur and statesman, Lord Young of Graffham who passed away in December.

Michael Hayman looks back at the life and times of the entrepreneur and statesman, Lord Young of Graffham who passed away in December.

“Under no circumstances are you to do it.” So, of course, I did.

The circumstances of my defiance couldn’t have been better. Lunch in New York at the historic Four Seasons restaurant with a friend from the Big Apple.

On the table immediately to the side of me sat venerable company indeed: American political aristocracy, the former US Secretary of State – Henry Kissinger. 

I had told my dining companion that I intended to say hello and it was this prospect that had caused such alarm.

“Mr Kissinger. Greetings from London. I work with Lord Young on all things enterprise and entrepreneurs,” I blurted out.

For a moment, silence. Then a smile. Then, “my good friend David! How is he? Please do pull up a seat and let’s have a chat.”

So, we did. And for some time. It’s a wonderful memory. The day I met / had lunch with Henry Kissinger, depending on how well told the tale is.

Back in London, Lord Young loved this story. The nerve of it. The shameless name-dropping. He thoroughly approved.

It is just one of so many brilliant memories I have of working with someone who personifies the ideal of a life well lived.

Michael Hayman looks back at the life and times of the entrepreneur and statesman, Lord Young of Graffham who passed away in December.

I had first met him briefly through the Prince’s Trust, but our adventure together began in earnest during his time as David Cameron’s enterprise advisor.

From StartUp Britain to StartUp Loans, I sat in a ringside seat, watching a master back at work. 

He was a worthy holder of the reputation of bringing solutions not problems – an observation made by Mrs Thatcher herself.  During my own time working with him, the often made comment by civil servants was that David was “the best minister we’ve never had.” 

This was partly fuelled by a respect for his incredible track record as a business leader, a civil servant, then successive Cabinet posts and latterly as an advisor to the then Prime Minister. However, the real crux of it was the acknowledgement of his incredible ability to get the job done.

Trouble and the bag carrier were two nicknames I was to earn in my relationship with him. The first bestowed by him and the second coined by me.

“Trouble’s arrived” would be a regular greeting when I met with him and the recognition that we might cook up an interesting new idea together. 

While asking when my apprenticeship as his ‘bag carrier’ would end was mine. “No time soon,” would be his comeback.

Many of the obituaries written about him make much of his time in the Thatcher government. It was a period of great personal achievement but it was his time working on the enterprise agenda in the 2010’s he told me was his happiest and most fulfilling.

I think it’s an important part of his story that needs a light shining on it. He was an incredible convenor of fellow doers across all aspects of government and business. Freed of Ministerial responsibility he was in effect running a start-up within government. A style and a substance the current government might do well to reflect upon.

Getting things done was only one part of it. He had a keen mind to the very end and he was a tough adversary if occasion demanded it.

But it was his kindness and wit that I will remember most. He was one of life’s great smilers, one of its great encouragers and one of its great enthusiasts.

He was brought back into government by David Cameron as one of a number of ‘elders’ who had held high office and were to be let loose in the new coalition government.

I remember one reception at No.10 in support of business in Liverpool. In strode a fellow elder. No less than the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine.

Hardly political soulmates, David whispered something to him, which caused much laughter between them.

What would you say to so grand a figure to elicit such a response? The answer was a simple but excellent life leveller of a question. “Have you brought your bus pass?”

On his last day in Downing Street the Prime Minister held a reception for David and all those that had worked with him on the enterprise agenda.

In his fulsome thanks to his enterprise advisor, I remember him eliciting the words of the Lone Ranger. “Your work here, my friend, is done.”

And while on one level that was true, David Young was to go on for years to come. He always found new things to do, new people to help and he remained a revered figure in government until his dying day.

My latter experience was to work with him on the Small Business Charter – a marque of quality for business schools and their work with small firms. In due course it would go on to become the deliverer of the government’s  flagship enterprise programme, Help To Grow.

It’s an organisation I chair and I can speak first-hand to his incredible energy and enthusiasm as our patron.

It was US President Ronald Reagan, who said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

It’s a good quote and one that captures the spirit of David Young’s public service and contribution to small firms. 

And it was another US President, Barack Obama, who coined the campaign slogan “Yes, we can.”

And it is in the word “yes” that I would commend his memory to you. 

His unwavering positivity, cheer and encouragement brought out the very best in people to go for it, get out there and do it.

And it was in knowing him that I was to find the best person in me. 

Michael Hayman is chair of the Small Business Charter and was a co-founder of StartUp Britain, the national campaign for early stage firms.

Michael Hayman MBE DL
Michael Hayman MBE DL

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