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"We've had to stop everything and start again"

He’s used to bad times. John Bird was born in poverty and spent time on the streets and in prison before reinventing himself as a social entrepreneur, founding the world-renowned street newspaper The Big Issue in 1991. A passionate social reformer, he was awarded a life peerage in 2015 and now sits as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords.

But, as he explains in this exclusive interview, the current challenges are redefining the term adversity. “I don’t think anyone has been through anything like this before,” he says. “We had built The Big Issue as a social business over 29 years. Now we’ve had to revisit everything.”

After the lockdown, with no-one on the streets, no vendors selling – and no readers buying – the entire Big Issue business model had to change. Lord Bird explains how he and his team have totally transformed the business, moving online and to a fast-growing subscription model, continuing to support street vendors now and in the future.

Lord Bird is a regular speaker at BCMS events – and he has some inspiring words for fellow business owners, who may feel a crushing responsibility for the future of employees and the community at large. His message is clear: “In this situation we don’t have many choices. Take things day by day, and don’t blame yourselves for this – it’s not your fault. Above all… don’t take things personally!”

Talk to BCMS: the coronavirus pandemic is obviously having an impact on business sales and the global M&A industry, and the picture is changing daily. To find out more, including how to prepare your business for a potential sale in the future, why not speak to one of our senior advisors? We can offer impartial advice, analysis and an assessment of the market, personalised to your business and your sector.