Monday, 29 October 2012


That jovial Martin Sorrel – sorry Sir Martin Sorrell – certainly has a way with words.

First he gave us the bath shaped recession, then “the US presidential election has resulted, yet again, in kicking the can down the road”. Now he’s warning us about grey swans (they’re one down from Mr Taleb’s famous black swans). Apparently there are four of them about to zap us. He explains that these are the birds that we know we know but we don’t know how beastly they’ll be. Hmmm…. In plain English Marty is warning us (in contradiction of Dave) that things out there look bleak. Given he has intimate first name relationships with the bosses of a lot of the world’s top companies he should know.

But I don’t much like swans. They weigh about 28lb, have wing spans of up to 8 feet and are remarkably bad tempered. And I see hope not gloom when I look around the real world rather than try diagnosing macro-economics. I see technicolour swans swanning about and proclaiming pockets of good news.

Giles Coren reviewed the Carshalton Boys’ Sports’ College canteen on Saturday. A brave headmaster arrives at a run-down school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood and re-launches it. He hires a well-paid professional chef, gets 80% of pupils to eat school meals (up from 20%), prices meals way below local fast food shops, offers breakfast too and free curry for those staying after 430 to do their homework. Exam results have been transformed.

“I’d pay £10.95 in a restaurant for this which, here, costs £1.65”

Carmel McConnell (social entrepreneur of the year 2008) founded and runs “The Magic Breakfast” supplying free breakfast to 6000 primary school children because BC (before Carmel) 25% of those kids arrived at school not having breakfasted too hungry to learn.

So Carshalton and Carmel are jointly doing something which buries grey swans, providing healthy fuel for learning. Jamie Oliver sits alongside these guys as ambassadors for good.

Colour and laughter shape this school

Schools can teach us other things too. I was at the open morning for grandparents at our grandson’s school, Aldrington Primary, Hove. As I walked around hearing happiness, seeing colour and love, watched 8 year olds creating Tudor seats and children reading in the library, older ones helping younger ones, I reflected that the best, most colourful, buzzy schools like these should be a template to creative businesses and new start-ups. Businesses like swans can be too grey.

Sunday – I’m upbeat and there’s roast swan for lunch. Yum!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


For years MBAs have been preaching the virtues of outsourcing. But the Asian temptress has started getting a bit expensive with wages going up currently in China by well over 20% a year.

Alix Partners, the global consulting firm, said in the Economist in March that if China's currency and shipping costs were to rise by 5% annually and wages were to go up by 30% a year, by 2015 it would be just as cheap to make things in North America as to make them in China and ship them there.

Trouble is the jobs and skills have been largely turned off in the States as not needed.

They will be soon.
But this week I saw some good news from Stoke-on-Trent. Burleigh Pottery is alive and well at last and across Staffordshire, pottery businesses are beginning to revive. Businesses like Emma Bridgewater whose owner laments the outsourcing trend which led to losing touch with buyers, customers and quality control.

A few years ago I was talking to a Chinese apparatchik from Sichuan who confessed that Chinese quality was a problem. He said workers set off focused but then got bored and standards slipped. In fact in China the trick has been increasingly to invest in state of the art machinery not skilled labour and this by definition levels the cost playing field. But the potential plus that manufacturing here has is the existence still of some skilled workers.

Look at the automotive business in the UK. Look especially at the triumph at Jaguar given proper levels of investment in plant.

The flight from manufacture came in part from a generation of graduates and MBAs who preferred spread sheets to factories and who, quite simply didn’t want to get their hands dirty. The ideology went rather further than that. Provenance of manufacturer was judged unimportant or an issue for marketing to solve. Why should champagne come from Epernay (or even from France) or whisky from Scotland or our organic food from Britain or anything from here apart from apps and computer games?

It may very seductive to hear our future lies in the knowledge economy and that farming, manufacture and added-value-stuff are redundant to our needs but it isn’t true.

The moment of truth is approaching.

Making stuff matters and where it’s made matters too.

Alfred Brown makers of worsted cloth from Leeds are more and more visible in M&S and Charles Tyrwhitt.

From Brown to Bridgewater Britain is changing.

Monday, 22 October 2012


I love restaurants. Yes, I’m greedy and yes, I love food. But there’s more to a restaurant than that. There’s the buzz and excitement of a whole cocktail of emotions.

The Wolesley at lunch

Recently we went to the Wolseley (the blonde and I). It was Sunday lunch on a sunny day after walking from Marylebone. The streets were quiet. The luxury palaces on Bond Street looked forlornly on the empty-walleted passers-by…”send me some Arabs, send me rich Chinese, send me some high net wealth” they seemed to murmur.

The Wolseley is heaving at 1pm. It’s full of laughter, the buzz of stories being told, ladies lunching vigorously, couples flirting lavishly and a human conveyor belt of smiling Wolseley staff. This is brilliant.

The Wolseley smoked haddock fishcakes with poached eggs

To learn just how brilliant read this by Jonathan Self (Will’s brother). It describes a day in the life of the Wolseley from behind the scenes.

It’s a metaphor for the best of modern business. Great customer service, easy-going, happy staff, good product, reasonable prices and a sensational ambience….a total, satisfying experience or as my consultant friends (question “friends”) might put it: “with all the right touch-points in the customer journey”.

Few restaurants really have it. The Ivy;  Langans and of course Odins in Devonshire Street.
I went there recently as the guest of a friend. I used to go there a lot – and I mean a lot. Over a ten year period I spent a huge sum there but I loved it. The place is carpeted, the tables are far apart, the staff are quietly attentive. You can hear yourself think and there are bits of interesting art there.

Old Odin’s menu cover

I was greeted by someone I recognised as a junior in the past and who was now maĆ®tre d’: “Mr Hall how lovely to see you again.” After 10 years this was impressive. As I sat down he asked “would you like a Kir – just like you did in the old days?” That’s what I call memory.

And memory is what distinguishes great service from good service. Technology alone won’t take you to the higher plane. Whilst the thought of robot waiters fill me with dread.

Robot waiters in China

Good to hear the front of house and people on the phone at the Wolseley don’t learn scripts but learn how to extemporise and ad lib charm.

But I love being remembered….it makes the food taste even better.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


What I love about this metaphorical picture of modern business is it blows away the corny elephant in the room story.

Life is now about the lion behind you.
It’s about failing to look all around you.
It’s about assuming the only way is forward.
It’s about being cocky when cunning is needed.
I want to know what that lion was thinking…..….?

Monday, 15 October 2012


Aren’t party conferences incredibly old fashioned? They’re the Routemaster buses or Frank Carsons of communication. Great for the hospitality business but that’s as far as it goes.

As I watched bits of Danny Alexander – good grief -  and the four party leaders (I include Boris in that line up) I began to wonder what had happened to the power of argument.

Philip Collins of the Times is the seer of “what they’re really saying”. And sometimes finds more going on in a speech than I do.

 "Good morning everyone (This is in praise of the current measures. The emphasis on “morning” suggests they are just beginning to take effect). On my way to conference this morning I vividly remembered how these conferences used to work (“on my way” describes the beginnings of a long journey and the shock-word “vividly” – brightly coloured – not blue, or yellow or red – suggests a “coalition of thinking” which is counterpointed by the words “remembered” – the past, when things seemed better but were worse. It’s a devastating attack on conservative thinking.)

Ed Milliband got praised for speaking for 70 minutes without notes. What’s the big deal? It’s the content that really matters.

Man or waxwork?

The obsession about speaking without any prompts is weird. Margaret Thatcher read her speeches and so did Tony Blair.

Most of the speeches are far too long and aim to be as blandly uncontroversial as possible ….but we live in deeply controversial times. They need to be edgy.

What seems clear (especially as we discover the murky secrets of Lance Armstrong,  Jimmy Savile and apparently a whole host of DJs) is appearance was everything and minor misdemeanours like cheating or sexual exploitation, even rape, were OK if you were otherwise a good guy….. Yes, that’s just Adolf’s little way….he did a lot for the economic growth of Germany – good guy in very many ways.

I think we are all losing our critical faculties and are judging speeches by the performance not the thoughts contained within them - although some have got under a few skins.

Boris is the most extreme example, undoubted comic that he is.

I found Max Hastings words telling “I would neither trust my wife or my wallet with Boris” although, if I were  Max’s wife, I might have something to say about this.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


I was sent this a while back and thought you might find it interesting.

Monday, 8 October 2012


On Fast Company I saw this ….
“What does an archaeologist-slash-action hero, out to save the world from maniacal Nazis have to do with battling boring bureaucracy?”

The argument that followed was a bit thin – the Nazi bureaucrats who live in a short term tactical world “the Fuehrer asks for regular reports and he expects progress”; the multitasking hero whose life is solidly based apart from random projects; shooting that sword swinging mullah demonstrating how to get to a swift solution.

The reality surely is this: That we have a  need for heroes and to be one too, ourselves.

Just listen to that music In Indiana Jones and we all have to go, kick arse and stop nonsense….we are on a mission from God (check out the Blues Brothers).  This, because it’s so much more fun trying to be extraordinary rather than just accepting the accolade of mere competence.

I have this theory about creating an album of totally inspiring sit-in-the-car-and-then-go-hunting-and-winning music. Here it is. My top six are music from:

1. The Magnificent Seven – this has the rebellious, beat the system confidence that anyone going to a meeting needs. And some great thoughts lying behind that music:
Chris: You don't owe anything to anybody.
Lee: Except to myself.

2. The 633 Squadron – play it for 1 minute 10 seconds (it then slows down) – that’s all you need – this is class A adrenalin- it’s fast, it’s urgent, it’s dangerous. Play it to your sales people and say like Roy realising they were (probably) going to their doom
Wing Cmdr. Roy Grant: Blue Leader to all sections. Enemy anti-aircraft intact. Keep your eyes open. We're going in.
…unsaid – “anyway”

3. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – it’s those weird sounds after that initial drum beat. It has a primal urgency. Listen to this and you won’t be nice. But, my God, you’ll frighten, surprise people and achieve the amazing.

4. The Sweeney – when I was an absurdly young MD I modelled myself on Jack Regan, my staff called me “Guv” and I swore a lot in a cockney accent. This music is about a rough, tough world. It still makes my hair stand on end and make me feel  that I’ve got to inspire my team to win (and – see below – drink).

5. Rockford Files – life is not all about thrills and kills. Here’s a jokey piece of fun music about a laid back private detective – James Garner.  What a fun CEO he’d have been.

6. Officer and a Gentleman – “up where we belong, where the eagles cry on a mountain high”. OK I’m a hopeless romantic. But winning doesn’t have to mean you’ve got be a bastard.

Enjoy the music.
Be a hero.

Monday, 1 October 2012


This wonderful line came from Martin Luther King’s lips. He was talking about that tipping point when it’s suddenly exactly the right time to go for it, what Shakespeare in Julius Caesar described as high tide:

There in a tide in the affairs of men                                                                                                           which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune

Poetic it may be and none the worse for that because poetry manages to dramatise, synthesise and distil all at once. A friend once called me “a marketing poet” which alternately upset and, then, pleased me. I think (I hope) he was referring to my EQ and the fact that I passionately believe that marketing is only about people and how they make up their minds about things and how we marketers manipulate that.

The intensity to which Martin Luther King refers seems especially apt in our fast moving-ball-game of life. We live in a high-drama-present – from the Olympics to the US Open to the Ryder Cup we are in a constant state of breathlessness. In a world so full of speed, making any business decisions has to be done fast relying on intuition not on “give me two weeks to think about that.

Nicolas Colsaerts playing one of the best Ryder Cup rounds ever seen on Friday afternoon at the Medina Club, Chicago.

We are living in the present and that is the only place to live.

In Britain we used to live in the memories of the past. No more.

The Americans have always lived for “now”. An American I knew would say “Richard I’m starting a fantastic briefcase business”. A year later I’d see him and with a flourish he’d produce spectacles from his pocket saying “Fashion spectacles, the next big thing. I’m going into this in a big way”. When I asked about briefcases he’d look puzzled as though trying to remember and would say:- ”Briefcases. No. That was a terrible idea. I got out of that ages back.”

Gurus, meanwhile, try to live in the future, where nobody has any idea what’s going to happen, so they are pretty well bomb proof.

William Sieghart, the founder of National Poetry Day, tried something at a recent literary event. He set up a poetry pharmacy. People would come up and see “I feel depressed” and he’d prescribe a dose of Keats. Or it would be lassitude - “try a spoonful of Milton”. Or for someone who’s lost all hope – “two Emilies twice daily” and it worked apparently.

Well poetry (hopefully) does work.

Especially when poets are trying to manipulate their girlfriends – “Come live with me and be my love” and other such - but I think we know what they’re after – a bit of “fierce intensity of now”.