Cars and cash shape entrepreneurs' identity

Published: 8 September 2015 at 14:00

Chelmsford campus

Study shows Del Boy caricature still rings true among UK small business owners

The 1980s caricatures of Del Boy and Loadsamoney are still alive and well in the UK, according to a new study published by the International Small Business Journal.

The research, carried out by Professor Simon Down of Anglia Ruskin University and Dr Andreas Giazitzoglu of Newcastle University, studied small businesses owners – all white, male, middle aged and from a semi-rural area – in a familiar setting: their local pub.

The 10 entrepreneurs meet in the pub every Friday night and the research examined their conversations, their masculine behaviour, and the hierarchy within the group, which ranges from the "local business elite" to those "in awe" of the more successful members.

The researchers found that the entrepreneurs regularly discuss expensive commodities, which are used as props to demonstrate their success.

Two commodities in particular dominate their talk: luxury cars and 'wads' of cash. Driving a new German sports car with a private registration plate is seen as a clear way of signalling a higher position in the hierarchy.

Carrying cash, and offering to buy drinks from their publicly displayed 'wads', signifies success and shows they warrant respect from other men in the pub. One member admitted to withdrawing a large amount cash, to be used to pay for his weekly bills and shopping, just before going to the pub, so he was able to display it at the bar.

The second most common theme relates to how the men position themselves as 'winners'. The men often greet each other by asking 'how business is going?' to which the answer 'I am winning' is regularly ventured.

'Winning' features in a broad range of conversations which forms part of their masculine identity, as winning also demonstrates their ability to provide for their family.

Another regular theme is boasting about their success compared to 'city people'. The men frequently express the notion that businessmen in urban areas fail to take them and their businesses seriously, which can be seen as a threat to their masculinity.

The men take pride at stories of how they, or other local business people, 'got one over' on city-based businessmen.  One of the group told a story of how an expensive, though apparently incompetent, London-based solicitor was made to look foolish by a local solicitor who he paid 'only £35 to' to avoid some potential legal trouble.

Professor Down, Director of the Institute for International Management Practice at Anglia Ruskin University, said: "It's fascinating that while the participants have different identities outside the pub – they are of different ages and own different kinds of businesses – together they manage to collectively agree upon and perform a remarkably cohesive version of entrepreneurial masculinity.

"This is a sense of hierarchy, a concept of winning and providing, and a clear distinction between themselves and entrepreneurs from urban areas. The men use these aspects, as well as more superficial markers of masculinity like driving expensive German cars and displaying cash, to construct their identities."