Britain: The Rise and Rise of Black Business

By Osei, Eric | New African, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Britain: The Rise and Rise of Black Business


Osei, Eric, New African


Black-owned businesses are a rising economic force in London. Reports by the UK Business & Enterprise department and Barclays Bank, as well as research by the London Development Agency, shows that the majority of new businesses are now started by people from ethnic minority backgrounds, a large proportion of whom are black. Eric Osei reports.

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There are now around 16,000 businesses owned by people of black African and Caribbean descent in London--making up 4% of all businesses in the capital and a further 27,000 black Londoners are self-employed--up by 80% over the past decade.

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London's black-owned businesses now generate a combined annual sales turnover of [pounds sterling]10bn and employ 100,000 people. Coupled with the [pounds sterling]4.5bn spending power of London's black community, African and Caribbean people are wielding increasing economic power.

A decade ago, the majority of black-owned businesses were concentrated in traditional, ethnic niche sectors like hairdressing, food retailing and catering--and were limited to serving mainly the black community.

However, an increasing number of black entrepreneurs are now running multimillion pound companies in mainstream growth sectors such as financial services, law, business, and professional services, ICT, media, fashion, retail, property services, consulting and recruitment.

There are many reasons for this shift. Part of the answer lies in the increasing numbers and the generational changes that have occurred within the black African and Caribbean community over the past 40 years. There has been a growing increase in the black population in London, and the figure is projected to grow by 31% in the next three years.

Most of the second and third generation black people are either British-born or came to the UK when they were young. This experience, coupled with the greater economic opportunities now available to them compared to their parents who came in the 1960s and 70s, has resulted in a major shift in mindsets and ambitions.

These newbreed second and third-generation black entrepreneurs possess higher levels of education and communication skills as well as a range of business and social networks, all of which influences their entrepreneurial behaviour and business decisions.

Furthermore, they tend to establish their businesses in mainstream sectors because of the larger market size and greater business opportunities that exist in these sectors.

A shinning example of a British-born Caribbean entrepreneur who is excelling in the corporate business world is Damon Buffuni. The managing partner of Permira, Europe's biggest private equity/venture capital firm, his company recently acquired major UK firms such as Homebase, New Look, Bird's Eye, Travelodge and Little Chef.

The 43-year-old's business journey is a classic rags to riches story. He grew up in a single parent household in a tough Leicester council housing estate. He later went on to graduate in law from Cambridge University and MBA from Harvard. His personal fortune is estimated at [pounds sterling]300m.

Other notable examples are Michael Webster and Dawn Dixon--founders, joint MDs and partners of Dixon Webster Solicitors, the only black-owned law firm in the "City of London", the UK's financial capital.

Specialising in business, tax and employment law, the 13-member law firm has built an impressive client base including multinational companies, banks, satellite TV firms and radio stations.

Black business women are an integral part of the black business success story as they now own more businesses than any other female ethnic group. Recent UK government figures show that black women have the highest level of business ownership in London with 29% owning businesses, compared to 21% of whites and 15% of Asians. …

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