Tuesday, 26 April 2011


There were three events this week leading to the opposite sensation to the one I’d expected.

Firstly the weather.
Phew what a scorcher and all that. I heard a series of misgivings related to global warming and the impending drought but the vast majority were mildly in favour of it until schadenfreude kicked in and mildly in favour became euphoric as we realised it was raining in Alicante, 10 degrees colder in Athens and distinctly chilly in Istanbul. They say it isn’t enough to win. The other guys have to lose. And they were, losers that is, as they grimly set off to Gatwick.

Secondly the weather (again).
As we basked in the summery sun and the birds excitedly copulated and the trees burst proudly into plume all I heard was “well that’s it…our bloody summer…won’t last…never bloody does.” What is wrong with these perverse pessimists? Enjoy it while it lasts and my firm conviction is this is just the hors d’oeuvre before a scintillating summer which, regardless of weather, I intend it to be. And anyway I expect a lot of sun accompanied by “bloody typical…peeling skin…this weather of ours I ask you.”

And thirdly self-esteem and motivation. Both of mine took a knock when we went to buy sanitary ware – curious descriptor – and were offered a 25% discount only running till “tomorrow”. Well, probably not only till then but as the deal seemed OK we went back the next day but they wouldn’t let us buy saying a new deal was kicking in and we now stood to save…wait for it (lots of tapping on the computer) an extra £150…”isn’t that great?” No. It’s bizarre. I felt an idiot being happy with price one and then being offered, without asking, price two. I hadn’t even had the pleasure of negotiating.

And the story of Handlesbanken the Swedish Bank which does not pay its senior people bonuses because, they say, long term confidence does not sit alongside short term rewards and that people’s self-esteem and motivation should come from a rewarding job not large sums of money. "Blimey! That won’t work" they said in Canary Wharf.  Last year Handelsbanken grew by 8%, made an operating profit of £1.5 billion and has quietly built 100 UK branches.

Bet they only came here for this bloody weather of ours.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


I heard someone recently lamenting consumer promiscuity. They went further and said they despaired of a world where 40% of marriages ended in divorce and where employee loyalty was generally absent.

I believe behaving like a lemming, staying with a partner marital or commercial when it isn’t working despite your trying isn’t loyal. It’s stupid.

Anyway if you have a great product and service promiscuity is exactly what you should be seeking so people try other people’s offerings and realise just how good yours is as gratefully they come flocking back.

Brands like BT use this as a key plank in their strategy.

But I want to think about loyalty the other way round.

About loyalty by the brand to the consumer and by the employer to the employee. That’s been pretty absent too hasn’t it?

Just why should the consumer be loyal if the producer has taken cost out of the product, moved production offshore and cut back on R&D? What investment is he putting into retaining your custom?

And that employee who’s constantly reapplying for his or her job, being bullied, trained in idiotic practices and given (in contrast to the board) tiny salary increases…what has the employer done to merit their loyalty?

Politicians are also not immune to demanding tribal loyalty too.
No chance.

It seems to me we should all become exceedingly promiscuous and behave like commercial wantons. Phone your bank and ask them to re-pitch for your business – write to a shortlist of the others and make them say why you should give them your money to look after.
Do the same with your supermarket by having little affaires with the others.

Check out your insurance provider. Say “hey you are too expensive…what are you going to do?”
Taste and check out all your most often buy brands – are they still as good as they say and you remember or have they been overtaken? Kellogg, Heinz, Cadbury etc.

Have some fun in this age of austerity. Spread your wings and become a consumer swinger.

Monday, 18 April 2011


Tesco’s advertising claim promoting incrementalism is belied by its own seemingly unstoppable growth and is irritating because it belongs to that know-it-all neighbour with over-the-fence-homespun-wisdoms (“a stitch in time…”; “time and tide…”;) and because any Tesco executive who was asked how sales were doing in his sector and replied “oh, you know, steady enough, keeping our head above water but, then again, every little helps”, would be instantly fired.

Its growth is matched by its creativity in finding new opportunities and imaginative ways of executing its strategy – yes, Tesco creative …and no, it’s not an oxymoron.

Now it’s into second hand cars creating (for Tesco) a high margin business, for the consumer a lower cost and more trustworthy source of product and at a stroke have changed the automotive game.

To the global automotive business Britain is known as Treasure Island because of the premium prices they can get here.  And car dealers make more money out of selling second hand cars than new cars. Post-Tesco they won’t be doing so much longer.

Despite their success Tesco’s image has taken a bit of a battering over the past few years. In research consumers don’t always say very nice things about them. Ironically it has something of the image problem of second hand car salesmen.

And yet the image right at its core is one of reliability, low prices and, in Tesco Finest, the biggest food brand in the UK. Quite simply if you were as ubiquitous as they are, you’d be up for a panning too – as are the USA or Microsoft or BT. In short the Tesco brand is a strong one in terms of awareness and reach and is respected perhaps more than liked but when push comes to shove, one that has, at worst, grudging approval for its standards.

This move into cars could change the way they are seen by the sceptics. The Tesco brand beats small, expensive, undercapitalised local brands. And one other plus – Tesco actually know how to sell to women which virtually no car dealerships are good at.

It’s already doing advanced trials in reinventing banking and reinventing estate agencies proving that strong brands can reach the parts weak brands can’t.

The scale of change continues especially in sectors where margins are very high, where customer service is wanting and where product and service innovation is lacking. Tesco is an early player in doing what Virgin dreamed and talked of doing.

My guess is this is the beginning of a new wave of looking at things buying a lot of the stuff differently. Sorry Arthur Daley. You are history son.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


The grass may be greener but it’s likely to be a lot more dangerous.

A recent 20 year study in the USA by consultants AT Kearney and the Kelley School of business at Indiana University shows that Chief Executives promoted from within an organisation generally outperform those recruited from outside. They conclude external recruitment is “more risky, costly and disruptive.”

How much more costly? 65%.

How much more disruptive? 40% of outsiders last 2 years or less.

So it’s game, set and match for talent development and succession management.

Which is no surprise to anyone I speak to in most large or smaller corporations. Because whilst non executives and consultants are all going to be proponents for change and disciples of pundits like Lester Thurow of MIT who said:- “A competitive world offers two possibilities: you can lose or, if you want to win, you can change”, few of them are bent on annihilating the organisation they are trying to improve.

Change does not mean big, random, “asserting my will” changes an incoming CEO often from a different culture, a different country and, like as not, a different market, might want to make. Change, as in changing course, seldom means doing brutal hand-break turns or going from 30,000 feet to 10,000 feet to shake up a few people. Change can mean skilful pruning and working with the best one’s got. Usually an incumbent executive will be better at that than a stranger who’s got a huge package with vast incentives, a mandate for carnage and is unencumbered by knowledge.

UK companies who tend to promote from within include Tesco, Shell, Next, HSBC, Glaxo SmithKline and GKN. And in the USA General Electric, Intel, Nike and a host of others are succession management junkies. And when Apple went outside look what happened to them.

This puts a big premium on Talent Management and Leadership Coaches. Yet this is where the most important investment any business can make resides. Their task is not to clone conservative CEOs who don’t rock any boats but to grow and develop free thinkers who understand what RA Butler, the 1950s brilliant politician, called “the art of the possible.”

There’s a great book on golf by Robert Rotella called “Golf is not a Game of Perfect”. Neither is running a company or finding a new leader.

In fact that greener looking grass might be more toxic than it looks or it might be concealing some very venomous snakes.

Monday, 4 April 2011


Not  in fact the departing words of Sir Fred Goodwin or Chuck Prince, perhaps, but if we are honest most of could do with a grandfatherly figure who can fearlessly, and with our best interests unconditionally at heart, advise us and, most important of all, get the best out of us.

Leon Taylor is an Olympian. He won a silver medal at Athens doing with Peter Waterfield, the most difficult dive invented in history. He fought injury, disappointment and still threw himself off the top of a three storey building, hitting the water at 40mph again and again and again. In short he’s crazy.

But he’s written a great book on mentoring and he’s Tom Daley’s mentor (so. if Tom doesn’t win a gold in 2012, Leon’s entirely and brazenly to blame.) A great book because it has an innocent clarity about it. No cynical management book this, it prescribes laughter, hard work, excitement, and good planning as keys in the success recipe. But having the calm, inspiration and support of your mentor can make the difference between hero and nobody.

There are two things Leon says that stick with me:
You can’t always choose what you do but you can always choose how you do it”.
I’d rather be a great check-out operator than an unenthusiastic brand manager and so on and so on. Do what you do brilliantly and with enthusiasm and the rest will follow.

The second is a quote from Dr Steve Peters and his three rules of life:
1. Life is not fair.
2. The goalposts always move.
3. Your job is to do your best under the circumstances.
Steve has pretty well captured the dilemma mankind faces. And by making us face it does us all a great service. Stop whingeing – get up and get on.  But as a mentor I think I want to add a fourth point.

4.  Your mentor’s job is to help you understand how great you can be if only you press the right buttons.

When people say “but what does a mentor do?” I feel like saying “what does a gardener do?” Answer “makes the soil sing with colour.”  Mentors are those button locators. We are the messengers of hope and inspiration. We help people see what good is and how to get there. We fuel laughter and adventure. We make good people become great and sometimes good people do something different in order to become great.

Life is like high diving. It’s frightening. It hurts. You haven’t got enough time to think but if you have a mentor like Leon Taylor, or a select group like him,  you can learn to press the right buttons and do your best under any circumstances.