It's a wonderful life

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The name of Nigel Vinson may not be one bandied across the breakfast tables of Britain, but he has done more, for longer, to promote the cause of personal and economic freedom than most. And, raised to the peerage (as Lord Vinson of Roddam Dene) for that and for his work in re-shaping and promoting British business, his impact continues. So it is good to see a new biography, Making Things Happen, written by Gerald Frost and published by Biteback, which provides fascinating insights into Vinson's quite remarkable life, ideas and approaches. He had a good start in life, but built up his own business – and fortune – from scratch.

In the 1950s, Vinson was one of the first to see the huge potential of plastics, particularly as an anti-corrosion covering for metal. Starting from a Nissen hut in Guildford, he overcame the technical difficulties to coat all sorts of metal objects, from refrigerator shelves to aircraft parts. He would later win the Queen's Award for Industry in recognition of the company's technological innovation.

As well as his insight and initiative, much of Vinson's success was cutting through the class barriers that dogged British business in the postwar decades. Vinson saw his workforce as a team, the only distinctions being the different tasks they each did. Even as the business grew, he insisted on personally meeting every new employee and on 'walking the ship'. He kept production units small, so that people felt part of a human enterprise, not cogs in a faceless machine. When he eventually sold the business, he shared a large part of his gain with those workers, even though he did not have to: they were not just his employees but his friends and colleagues.

Vinson's abilities as a successful entrepreneur and enthusiast of the potential of better-managed British business, put him in demand elsewhere. He joined the Council of the CBI and became President of the Industrial Participation Association and Chair of the Wider Ownership Group – again promoting his idea that employees of a business should be participants in that business. Many other businesses sought him for their boards.

Never slow to back the things he believes in, Vinson was an early supporter of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies. In the early 1980s he also supported IOUS, an annual freedom conference for students: the new Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, was one of its first participants. IUOS eventually grew into ISOS, a series of sixth-form conferences run by the Adam Smith Institute, and the Freedom Week student training course, run jointly by ASI and the IEA.

Making Things Happen is an uplifting story of how much one person with a vision can achieve – though it makes you yearn to have just a quarter of Vinson's drive and energy.