I think that “gravitas” means really the opposite of being a visibly light-hearted, humorous and happy-go-lucky person. Therefore you have to be able to switch the level of gravitas on and off, that’s the tricky bit. There are people who get noted for being able to make people laugh and sometimes, if they are not carefully, they become regarded as “clowns” who are not really to be taken seriously. On the other hand, too much of the opposite will mean you are seen as someone with gravitas, but maybe not someone with a great sense of humour, which could create distance in situations where you don’t want it.
A certain dignity in not being too open about one’s personal life is probably good – familiarity can breed contempt, and making sure that your use of humour is aimed at quality rather than quantity will do a lot to enable you to come off as someone with gravitas. Other than that it is something which grows with age, experience and the ability to show a certain classic style of speech, choice of language, dress and posture. But you can’t stand on your dignity the whole time. If you make a mistake and people laugh at you, better join in the joke rather than get offended or that will undermine gravitas quicker than anything else.
Certainly a serious demeanour going hand in hand with a genuine reputation for being ethical and having a flawless integrity, these are things which many of us aspire to and should aspire to. For many successful people, this is what they tend to have in common and for many this is what they will sum up as “gravitas”.
A former boss of mine suggested that I increase my level of gravitas in order to get on, he did not say how I should go about it, but I think to a degree I did it anyway. Now I am pleased to say I can still make people laugh, but I can just as easily get them to take an issue seriously. That’s what I wanted to achieve and that’s a target I recommend people to aim for whenever I hear them talking about gravitas.
This week has seen the issue of corporation tax paid – or rather not paid – in the UK come to the boil, after simmering for several weeks with the articles of various MPs from various parties in various newspapers. It has now made the front page news and there has been an open harangue on three companies, Starbucks, Google and Amazon in the Public Accounts Committee by a group of British MPs headed up by Margaret Hodge.
The argument of the Committee is that these are companies who have made a good deal of turnover in the UK but they haven’t paid any tax. The way in which this has occurred is that they haven’t shown much by way of profits in the UK. They are now being told by Mrs Hodge that she doesn’t believe that they have not made profits in the UK given so much turnover, she thinks that profits are being salted away to other countries, like Luxembourg or Holland, using various techniques such as management charges, royalty fees, transfer prices, etc.
There are of course laws which are set up to determine whether profits in the UK are being assessed fairly – there is transfer pricing legislation and the Inland Revenue are able to investigate whether Transfer Pricing has been used. However, in the end what Mrs Hodge’s argument has boiled down to is the fallacious “argument from incredulity” – she cannot believe that the businesses have not made bigger profits (she seems to be oblivious to the fact that there is a recession going on out there and has been for some time, and that companies in all sectors and of all sized are bankrolling losses), and since she cannot believe it, it cannot be true.
In the case of Amazon a particular point was made – in addition to the insulting of Amazon’s spokesman Mr Andrew Cecil by accusing him of “gross ignorance” – namely when he pointed out that of course Amazon has paid taxes, only not corporation tax, they have paid VAT and employment taxes and created jobs – Hodge said that this argument was irrelevant because also the corner bookshops which would have sold those books would have created those jobs (fictional employment was always beloved by the left) and that Amazon, by making offshore structures involving Luxembourg, were making those little corner bookstores less competitive.
The fact is, however, that Amazon is not competing with little bookstores – it’s the Internet, new technology, which is competing with physical bookstores, but anyone with any kind of memory ought to be able to remember how a few large stores like WHSmiths and Waterstones already managed to put the corner shop bookstores out of business long before the Internet came along. Also if you look at markets like Poland or the Czech Republic, where they have online stores for books but not so much by way of the colossal physical bookstores the way the UK has, there the corner bookstore is alive and well. So Mrs Hodge has absolutely the wrong villain in her sights if she wishes to defend the corner store bookshop. But if she really was interested in championing them, then where was her voice railing against expansions by Waterstones and Smiths ten to fifteen years ago, which transformed that industry then just as much as the internet does now? Where is her voice against the Net Book Agreement, which makes it very hard in the UK for small businesses to deal in new books against larger companies? Tax is important, but it is only a thin layer of icing on that particular rather thick cake.
She admitted also that she wasn’t accusing Amazon of being illegal, only of being “immoral”. I am sorry, but is Luxembourg not another EU state in good standing? Is it now “immoral” to use the EU structures that were offered to us as the bait for getting us to sign up to the Single Market in the first place? Well, if there is any immorality in all of this, I can’t see it on the part of the private businesses. I see immorality and utter hypocrisy in the way these MPs, elected members of a government, blame business for their own failures. Failure in so many years of our being in the EU to sort out some kind of harmonisation in income taxes and corporate income taxes meaning that people are able to doing interesting kinds of arbitrage between EU legislations both in terms of their personal taxes and corporate profits taxes. They have had so many years and so many terms of office to sort this matter out.
In fact the answer in Amazon’s case is ridiculously simple – the UK has held a zero rate of VAT for books in order not to penalise reading, but bookselling companies paid the same profits taxes as any other kind of company. That means that book VAT in the UK isn’t even propely harmonised with the rest of the EU. VAT cannot easily be evaded, and even Margaret Hodge couldn’t deny that Amazon paid VAT, merely dismissed it as irrelevant. So what the government can do to produce a more level playing field is to put the general rate of VAT on books and reduce the profits tax for companies all of whose income comes from the sale of books. This would force booksellers who are in a lot of different businesses to be just in books in order to profit from the reduction, and it would mean that it would be of less worry who used corporate income tax reducing techniques, as they would be spending time and money reducing a smaller imposition anyway, and therefore would be less likely to do it.
Schools could be enabled to reclaim the input VAT, the students of university colleges also, therefore the impact on education would be minimised.
I wonder whether anyone in Government will consider this solution, or work towards the harmonisation of EU member state corporation taxes which we all believed back in 1993 was likely to happen before the turn of the Millennium, or whether they will continue, like Margaret Hodge, to blast other people in the private sector for doing their jobs properly while government continues to neglect its own job with impunity.
I was recently reminded of something my old gardener told me about ivy. I had been surprised at how slow some lovely variegated ivy that had been planted by my fence was coming on, and his words were as follows:
With ivy, the first year it is put in, it does nothing, it just sulks at having been put in a new place. The second year is starts to spread out horizontally along the ground by the bottom of the fence, and in the third year it starts to grow upward, like a curtain.
Wise words, from someone who knew his onions. And his ivy. It seems to me that this is a great analogy for many new businesses. Entrepreneurs obviously look for a rapid return on capital employed. They want their profits and the cash back to invest in the next thing. But nature takes its course with some businesses just like it does with the ivy, and you cannot rush it.
The first year, you have set up costs, people are getting used to each other in a new team with a new product, new identity. This is like the ivy “sulking” – just establishing a new root system and adapting to the chemistry of the soil and the direction of the light.
The second year you start to see sales pick up but the prices are not that good yet and also the volumes don’t allow the contribution to cover fixed costs. You get growth but you don’t get the profit. It is like the ivy growing along the ground by the bottom of the fence. It is obviously going somewhere, but you aren’t getting the effect of it yet.
The third year you reach a certain critical mass, you break even you start to nudge into profit, your cash flows turn the corner and you start paying back your seed finance. This is like the ivy making its curtain up the fence.
If the ivy survives at all, it will certainly produce the coverage in time. The same with these new businesses. They simply need to be nurtured and for nature to be allowed to take its course. If the soil is right, the light is there, and the water, the plant healthy, then it will do what it is programmed to do in its own time. Micro-managing it will not help. Restructuring the team which is only starting to gel will not help. it will be like transplanting the ivy at the end of the second year for failing to raise – it will only go through its sulking and creeping years all over again in the new position.
TGC corporate lawyers have sent in the following reminder of legal responsibilities of directors in Poland that are often overlooked. Please take a moment to ensure you know the following if it impacts on you.
Dear Quoracy.com subscribers,We would like to draw your attention to the liability of members of the management board in Polish companies, as regulated by a number of legal acts. Management board members bear civil liability, criminal liability, liability for tax obligations, liability to the Social Insurance Office and liability resulting from specific provisions (e.g. resulting from the Accounting Act – Journal of Laws of 2009, no. 152, position 1223).According to the provisions of the Commercial Companies Code (Journal of Laws of 2000, no. 94, position 1037) members of the management board bear civil liability for actions taken on behalf of the company already at the stage of establishment of the company, i.e. from the date of signing of articles of incorporationof the company. This applies even before registration of the company with the State Court Register.It should be noted that members of the management board bear civil liability towards the company, among other things, for any damages inflicted upon the company in result of the management board members’ activities or omissions contrary to the articles of incorporation. Furthermore, they are jointly and severally liable for the company’s liabilities when enforcement proceedings against the company have proven ineffective.
Criminal liability of members of the management board arises as a result of a property damage caused to the company.
Apart from civil and criminal liability, members of the management board are jointly and severally liable for tax arrears, as well as for lack of (timely) payment of contributions to social insurance. It has to be noted that this type of liability lasts even after deletion of the company from the State Court Register.
In most cases members of the management board may protect themselves against responsibility for the company’s liabilities on condition that they undertake appropriate preventive activities in due time.
We will be happy to give you any detailed information with regard to the liability of the management board members, as well as circumstances of release of the liability.
For further information please contact our expert:
Agata Pastuchow-Brzezińska Director of Corporate Department
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