It'll never fly - British business

It started well but later lost its way. According to German sociologist Max Weber, it was Henry VIII's act of severing our ties with Rome that gave British business an early boost.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Weber observed the correlation between the Reformation and the growth of modern capitalism, and coined the phrase 'the Protestant ethic'. Other historians have argued that the indolent stay-at-home-on-the-estate ethic of the British aristocracy then held us back. Napoleon disdainfully described Britain as 'une nation de boutiquiers', indicating a healthy level of high-street SME activity in the UK. But ol' Boney wasn't alone in thinking we Brits lack big-picture enterprise.

Back issues of MT do little to counter this unflattering image - the late '60s period is stuffed with articles on the poor state of this and how not to do that, and a depressing amount of self-flagellation. And yet Napoleon was wrong.

We Brits were first off the blocks with the industrial revolution and, as the empire grew, demonstrated an impressive willingness to travel to the ends of the earth in the pursuit of trade. We're still at it - British companies and their outposts can be found in all four corners of the globe.

And we excel at good ideas. Some estimates have it that over the past 50 years, 40% of the world's inventions originated in Britain. If we didn't then stand by and watch other people nick them, the flag of British business could be flying even higher.

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