Craig Dearden-Phillips: I have done more good running a business than I did running a charity

Do not mistake the fallen giants of banking for the mainstream of business in this country, writes our columnist

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

The spirit of enterprise is alive and kicking in Britain. Last year, 400,000 businesses were set up - that's one in 10 of the working age population setting up in business in just a single year. The country is, it appears, waking up to the joys and possibilities of entrepreneurship.

Of course, I am one of their number. Three years ago, I stopped being a charity chief executive and set up a for-profit business called Stepping Out. At the time, a couple of people asked me, slightly disdainfully, why I was going to the "private sector" - assuming, I think, that grubby money had got the better of me.

My report back, if I were to meet those people again, would be that I think I have done more good in the past three years than I did in my preceding three as a slightly careworn charity chief executive.

Why so? Well, I have created seven full-time jobs, including two for recent graduates. And the business now gives HM Treasury enough money to fund the education of a whole classroom of kids for a year. Stepping Out has also given £15,000 to our foundation, which invests in entrepreneurial charities. On top of this, we donate 30 days a year for our staff to sit on trustee boards.

I say all this not to big myself up for an OBE, but to make a point about the private sector. We are, basically, a force for good, particularly for the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Charity people are often quick to paint business with a single brush - especially since the financial scandals of recent years, nearly all involving large financial institutions.

If you are one of these anti-corporate types, look again. Do not mistake the fallen giants of banking for the mainstream of business in this country. Most firms in the UK are led by passionate people who care as much about their services and customers as you do about yours. Any profit these businesses make is not due to skulduggery, but to getting it right for customers, treating staff well and taking risks on new products and services.

I know this because I spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs. Right now I am attending a brilliant course for business owners run by Cranfield University. The buzz in the classroom is like nothing I have experienced before. I love my fellow students' energy, drive and generosity of spirit - not something I always felt in the company of charity chief executives.

What has this got to do with the third sector? Think about it: SMEs will be providing the economic growth needed to get donations flowing again. It will be their taxes that will fund the future public service contracts of many charities. And finally, SMEs will be getting tens of thousands of unemployed young people into real, unsubsidised jobs. Not an achievement you will find in many charity impact reports.

So let's all celebrate the UK's entrepreneurs - no ifs and no buts.

Contact Craig, who writes in a personal capacity, at

Craig Dearden-Phillips is managing director of Stepping Out

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