Monday, 17 April 2017


Like so many leaders in the past, like Jack Welch and Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy, Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, had a folksy way of distilling management wisdom. He said.
“It takes two weeks for your employees to start treating customers the way you treat them.”

This makes you wonder how the management of United Airlines treat their people. The story of the week was not that of Bomber Trump but the ordinary (but extraordinary) story of a Doctor who’d paid for his seat, had been checked in and then allowed to sit in his seat and do up his seatbelt being dragged bleeding and broken nosed from that seat because they wanted it for an employee and had arbitrarily chosen him to “de-plane”.

Think about it.

United must have managed to create a culture of utter hatred. The idea of beating up someone who’d given you their money to fulfil a contract is just so weird as to defy analysis.

They had a problem - the way to solve it was crudely by money. They wanted people off the plane so they could get employees to another airport. An airline like Virgin (maybe) and South Western (certainly) would have turned it into a win-win game:-

“Do you want $2000 plus an all-expenses-paid night in a top hotel and a first class flight to your destination tomorrow? All you have to do is give up your seat, so raise your hand….your names go in a hat and the lucky ones win.”

Have we lost the art of marketing? Have we become stupid?

United will rue this and their top team will be punished. But consider this first response from their CEO:-

Well Oscar this is an upsetting event and we apologise for having to re-accommodate you in the dole queue. As regards the passenger involved well it was his fault apparently for refusing to leave the seat he’d paid for. That’ll teach him not to stand up for his rights.

Yet some experts in the aviation business say the incident unavoidable given the regulations involved.

Recently - it was Sam Walton again - I read this:-
“There is only one boss - the customer - and he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

If you don’t feel valued as an employee or as a customer bad things will happen.

It was not a good week for business ethics with Aspen Pharmaceuticals trying to achieve a massive price hike on cancer medicines.  Leaked internal e-mails depict the company as unscrupulous and prepared to actually destroy cancer pills if the Spanish Health service thwarted Aspen’s price increase. Meanwhile at Barclays CEO,  Jes Staley, is in trouble for having broken their rules in trying to unmask a whistle-blower.
The media, on the other hand, had a great week teaching CEOs to behave properly…or else.

Or else what?

United’s stock value fell by $1 billion this week.

Monday, 10 April 2017


No he isn’t.

But the other morning as I emerged from the shower I saw this blancmange of a person in the mirror. It was me. I reflected I needed to do something about my weight. Christmas indulgence had been going on far too long for Mr Blobby.

I started to get dressed pulling on a pair of freshly laundered black jeans I hadn’t worn for a while. They seem a bit tight I thought grimly; no it was worse - they were as tight as a tourniquet. Unbelievably they were several inches too small to fit round my waist. I had ballooned overnight.

Then I discovered, as I miserably considered my obesity, that I’d been trying to put on my sylph-like wife’s jeans - she’s size eight. I was a bit fat yes, but not that fat.

In the Times the same day - gloomy Tuesday - I read a piece entitled “How to get fit enough to be the CEO.” It was about a couple - Tim Bean and Anne Laing - whose mission in life is to put executives on the kind of gruelling regimens that are required to survive in today’s rat race. Here’s their mantra:
“The business world is relentlessly tougher, faster and more stressful….the stakes are high and the cost of failure inconceivable. You have to be on your game physically for your business brain to operate at peak performance.”

How depressing to see the number of CEOs doing marathons has doubled which is a “personal branding tactic” says a Professor from Cass Business School ….oh my, pass me a glass of Cote du Rhone and a doughnut.

So are these alpha-fit, Olympian cyborgs going to run our world? Harriet Green - remember her at Thomas Cook? She’s now at IBM still getting up at 4am every day and pumping iron. She is part of a clique who believe your muscles must match your mind.

I don’t buy it.

Roy Jenkins one of the cleverest and most successful senior politicians of recent times didn’t run except when he heard the cork being extracted from a bottle of claret.  Nor was Churchill a great advertisement for working out. Some of the most stupid people I know are the fittest. Intellectual stamina and physical stamina are not necessarily linked.

Whilst I’m not advocating the benefits of what existed in advertising years ago - “The Fat Boys’ Breakfast Club” - or the brilliant Peter Mead, co-founder of the agency Abbott Mead Vickers who would sit down at lunch at the Connaught and order “20 Marlborough please”, this unhealthy obsession with pecs and running times runs counter to the need to think and converse over a glass of wine.

When you hire superman or superwoman don’t expect their athleticism to translate into business results. Some of the most lamentable stories about company super-leaders have been like this one:

I took my top team up Kilimanjaro - do you know some just couldn’t make it.

Monday, 3 April 2017


This week as our politicians debated (sic) the invoking of Article 50 I was reminded of a Bob Monkhouse joke:  “I want to die like my dear old father quietly in my sleep not like the passengers in his car screaming and terrified.”

I am tired of being treated like a lemming, being told to get over it and make the best of it, that they were right and I was wrong and that no one likes a bad loser. Why am I so gloomy? Why am I so uncharacteristically pessimistic? Quite simply it’s because nearly all the people who’re most likely to make this county prosper and grow, especially our young people, think Brexit is a terrible idea.

Just look at the people who most vociferously espoused it and of course still do. They are bringers neither of joy or greatness. They are mostly mediocre in their ability to change things except in levelling downwards. But apparently I should like and appease them now they’ve won a referendum which proves that they and what - if anything they stand for - is right.

H. L. Menken, one of the greatest socio-politico writers ever, said this:
“Democracy is the theory is that the common people know what they want. And deserve to get it - good and hard”

I do not believe in schadenfreude so it pains me hugely to say I believe in the medium to long term we’re in for a horrid time. Like wars many major disruptions start slowly so it’s probable the consequences of Brexit will unfold only gradually.

Amongst the many myths we’ve heard recently is the assertion we are a great trading nation. Well this is isn’t strictly true. We were a great and successfully rapacious Imperial force but trade has never been our strongest suit except in finance and creative services. It’s myths like these that the ”voice of the people”  have proclaimed as they reach back into history comparing Theresa May with Elizabeth1 and talking about “Henry V111 powers”. Churchill that gnarled old bulldog has also inevitably been dragged from the kennel of history - our spirit is his spirit. Oh really? Here’s what he said about the voice of the people:
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

A five minute conversation or a referendum….

What can we do? We can keep on arguing and being awkward. We can and should be intransigent and disputatious unlike most of our timid parliamentarians. That after all has always been the British way. We answer back and are stroppy.

And if all else fails we can stop eating breakfast.

Professor Terence Healey, a leading biochemist, said he’s reversed his own Type 2 diabetes by giving up “dangerous breakfast” which raises blood glucose levels. Giving your kids breakfast is he claims “child abuse”.  But he has some good news for us.

Alcohol, especially wine, reduces blood glucose levels.

Cheers. I just love experts.

Monday, 27 March 2017


In this fast-changing world which many people seem to think is spinning out of control, it’s not just the older of us who are caught out by the need to adapt. The photographs I take on my mobile phone are better than those taken on my Pentax and recently I saw an interview filmed on a hand held iPhone that looked terrific. Presentations driven by Ted Talks have got slicker, funnier and with a powerful narrative drive.

Most of all what used to be considered amazing, as the founder of Wired Kevin Kelly said:
no longer amazes people…which in itself is amazing.”  Our capacity for being shocked exercises the inventiveness of the writers of series like “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards”. But nothing amazes us now…

So when I read that it was commonplace to train your cat to use the lavatory, yes climb up on to the seat and neatly evacuate its bowels into the bowl I was not amazed.  I was like whatever….

By the way I really don’t talk like that ...”like whatever”… but I wanted to see if it amazed anyone and am pretty certain it just met with bemused indifference.

Cricket is a game I played and loved. The greatest player in the last 100 years statistically and in terms of his impact on the game was Don Bradman who scored around 7000 runs in Test Cricket, averaging just under 100 an innings. He hit just six 6’s in his test career. A contemporary payer, the Englishman Ben Stokes, has scored 1900 runs, averages about 34 per innings and has already hit thirty three 6s.

The game has changed. Bats are heavier, meatier and players are coached in the power-play principles of hurling and baseball. Coach Julian Woods Talks about the importance of hand speed. Sam Billings of Kent has a hand speed of 100mph.  My current hand speed is about 17mph. These are not human beings. These are cyborgs.

Golf is no different. Golf courses that for most of us are marathons are pitch and putt sprints for modern professionals who hit golf balls well in excess of 300 yards. Scores of 60 and less - 12 or more under par - are becoming commonplace.

Human beings are learning to adapt and through trial and error exceed previously aspirational levels of achievement. None more so than Dick Fosbury who adopted a new high-jump technique in the 1968 Olympics where he won a gold medal.  High Jumping was transformed. Before Fosbury 2.10 metres was regarded as great but he improved it instantly with a method which today approaches heights of 2.5 metres.
We are ingenious. We find new ways, new techniques and new skills. We don’t know our limits or whether there are any limits. Ocado is working on how to deliver groceries to our homes in just one hour. Meanwhile cats are working on how to nick that steak before the owners get to it first.

Monday, 20 March 2017


I was at a management conference in Croatia last week in an out-of-season luxury hotel overlooking a sun-drenched sea. There was, predictably, little sleep, some hard work and a few moments of drama. These revolved around debate on the pace of change technologically and socio-demographically.

Those of you who know me will be unsurprised by my enthusiastic support for the young, their attitudes and their behaviour. Equally I prefer looking forwards to backwards. Unlike most of my generation I was born with a defective nostalgia muscle. I just don’t do yearning for the glorious past when our trains were driven by steam and we smoked Sobranie cigarettes.

Today is better and the future will be better still.

But that future is here right now according to a presentation given by a bright, charming millennial about the life of his generation.  It’s all social media, instant messaging and a happy, pastel world of good intentions. In my own past we had Howard Marks, the self-styled Mr Nice, and mind-beautifying drugs. Plus ├ža change… only the mind altering tools are now online.

A few months ago Simon Sinek spoke provocatively about millennials. He described them as having a huge sense of entitlement and impatience. Their life he said was one of instant gratification, a “me-now” society and is founded on a belief that they can do anything, achieve anything and that this delusion is the result of bad, indulgent parenting.

As my mother used to say to me when I was tiny “life is real and life is earnest” which given V2 super-bombs had shortly before been screaming out of the sky above us was reasonable. Life was not a barrel of laughs for sure.

But it’s still quite tough. Most companies are not like Advertising Agencies, Google or Apple designed to engage the millennial workers. Most companies are quite serious places where getting to the top is like climbing a difficult mountain. There are no quick fixes.  Distraught by their failure to understand the Millennials many companies are asking them what they really want.

Sinek reports:
“They reply ‘to be in a place with purpose, to make an impact and to have ….free food and beanbags.’ But when you give them all that they still aren’t happy.”

The very tools being praised so highly at the conference, various forms of social media, are part of the problem. Research shows the more time spent on Facebook the more likely people are to be depressed. For many mobile phones are an addiction as bad as excessive drinking or gambling.  And as the recent furore at Google shows all is not entirely sunny in this hallowed territory. Indeed the decline in social media is on the verge of seeing off some pillar brands like Twitter.

Millennials are to be taken seriously but not so seriously we allow them primary authorship of the strategies we set and the societies we create.

Above all they need our help and understanding not our blind worship.

Monday, 13 March 2017


I could have nothing to add to this except…thank you.

“We must speak up...and speak out.

For 216 years, our elections, though bitterly contested, have featured the philosophies and character of candidates who were clearly qualified. That is not the case this year. One is glaringly not qualified.

So before you do anything with your well-earned degree, you must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process, divided our house, to fight against, no matter your political persuasion, the dictatorial tendencies of the candidate with zero experience in the much maligned but subtle art of governance; who is against lots of things, but doesn’t seem to be for anything, offering only bombastic and contradictory promises, and terrifying Orwellian statements; a person who easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter; who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens a free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants and all Muslims; a man who took more than a day to remember to disavow a supporter who advocates white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan; an infantile, bullying man who, depending on his mood, is willing to discard old and established alliances, treaties and long-standing relationships.

I feel genuine sorrow for the understandably scared and—they feel—powerless people who have flocked to his campaign in the mistaken belief that—as often happens on TV—a wand can be waved and every complicated problem can be solved with the simplest of solutions.

They can’t. It is a political Ponzi scheme. And asking this man to assume the highest office in the land has been like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.

As a student of history, I recognize this type. He emerges everywhere and in all eras. We see nurtured in his campaign an incipient Proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothing-ism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic saber rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong.

These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past. But they now loom in front of us again—all happening at once. We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires. The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.

We no longer have the luxury of neutrality or “balance,” or even of bemused disdain. Many of our media institutions have largely failed to expose this charlatan, torn between a nagging responsibility to good journalism and the big ratings a media circus always delivers.  In fact, they have given him the abundant airtime he so desperately craves, so much so that it has actually worn down our natural human revulsion to this kind of behaviour.

Hey, he’s rich; he must be doing something right

He is not.

Edward R. Murrow would have exposed this naked emperor months ago. He is an insult to our history. Do not be deceived by his momentary “good behaviour.”  It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert.”

Monday, 6 March 2017


When Dickens wrote in David Copperfield “Procrastination is the thief of time” he was wrong. It isn’t procrastination it’s technology and bureaucracy. I recently came across a Bain & Company Consultancy study on where time goes in the average organisation. Here’s the tawdry truth:

  • 40% in meetings
  • 23% doing e-mails
  • 18% doing unproductive work
  • Which leaves 14% on “getting real work done” - like selling stuff (actually it’s 19% but Management Consultants never could add up.)

Bain are being kind because other research shows goofing around, looking at stuff online, playing video games etc. accounts for 25% of the workday (in banking at any rate) so that 14% is probably overstated and is more like 10%.

It’s a joke.

In an organisation of 10,000 only 1,000 are working full time whilst the rest are doing nothing, zero, zip. So when Len McCluskey warns Peugeot, who’re about to buy Vauxhall that there must be no loss of jobs, in the 4,500 UK Vauxhall work force (go figure the math) nearly 4,000 are doing nothing anyway - in theory.

Yes I know applying statistics like this doesn’t really work.

No, the real issue is not that people are lazy, because in general they’re not, it’s that we manage to build organisations and working practices that steal their time. Meetings are too long (cancel half the meetings and then halve the time of every meeting that’s left - it’s easy if you try), only allow morning e-mails or WhatsApp messaging, afternoons are for creating opportunities, talking to customers, getting out into shops talking to consumers.

What, I was asked, are the processes that would allow this to happen. Try these for starters: turning off the WiFi every afternoon, appointing a squad of ‘Time-Police’ whose only role would be to break up unproductive meetings and to punish people for talking too much and especially for writing long and useless documents.

We have to stop a few myths - being in constant contact electronically isn’t good, it’s unproductive and stressful. Creating forms to complete, making people clock on, having an HR department, trying to achieve corporate identities (for whom? Not the brand, not the consumer. It’s only done so there can be internal debate). So much of the “work” is mythical, politically correct and impenetrable that you need more meetings to translate it.

A smart management consultant - yes there are some - said “trust” is the most precious corporate commodity. It’s time to work from the bottom up. We need to destroy systems not create them. We need to trust people to lead the fight against time-wasting at work. And although it may sound counter-intuitive chatting with people, having lunch with new people and actually getting to know your colleagues can actually lead to saving time because when you know someone, asking them for something, information or a favour, is easier and quicker.

So find out who these rascally thieves of time really are. And banish them.