Billionaire entrepreneurs have a duty to protect staff

Q Should billionaire owners of a business such as Virgin Atlantic be reliant on Government bailouts – or should they dig deeper into their own pockets first?

A Entrepreneurs who spend their life building a successful business are entitled to retain a share of the profits, but they also have a duty to look after the colleagues who helped them along the way. 

Successful start-ups need inspirational leaders who, in the early days, are willing to invest all their time and money to build a profitable enterprise. If they’re lucky and wise enough to become, in time, the sole or major shareholder of a substantial company that creates a lot of cash, they must consider the best and most responsible way to spend it.

When allocating the surplus, there are four priorities. First is special support for business colleagues, which in normal times could be hardship loans, free-stay holiday homes and major rewards for outstanding superstars. Second is investment in the future of the firm (no company can stand still). Third is help in the community; every profitable business has a chance to make a difference to a cause of their choosing. Finally, it’s perfectly proper for the owner and driving force to take a decent dividend in addition to their salary. 

That all works when things are going well, but the coronavirus crisis has already turned the world upside down and we can expect things to get even worse before they get better.

I don’t envy the compilers of rich lists, who base most of the figures on the estimated value of the companies people own. The lockdown has all but put some of those companies out of business, Virgin Atlantic included.

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