Monday, 26 October 2015


Recently someone at a conference about the future got cross. The complacency of speaker after speaker enraged him so had a virtually irrepressible urge to punch one futurologist in the face and ask mildly:

Well did you see that coming?

We are living in an age of intellectual aloofness where an exclusive bunch of people seem to think they’re in charge. Take the Kids Company debacle. As an ex-Chairman of a children’s charity I know a little of the sector. Around twenty years ago local authorities started cutting funding and being reluctant to foot the bills for residential care despite impressive results achieved in Care Homes for the most disadvantaged children. Our residential practice quickly reduced to zero.

But what happened to the children?” asked my wife.

They were abandoned and picked up by Kid’s Company that’s what. Camila Batmanghelidjh, their founder and CEO had a reputation for being a bit chaotic and domineering but no one questioned her good intentions about young people. When I’d suggested a possibility of a partnership my CEO said politely “no…that’s a very bad idea.” We were much too professional for all that love I guess.

The vendetta against her by the media and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee chaired by Bernard Jenkin has irritated me. Camila may be an oddity when it comes to dress sense and a little fond of her own voice but one of the committee members’ comments were disgraceful: “I drowned in technicolour blancmange, oozing psychobabble, emotional blackmail & verbal ectoplasm". (Paul Flynn, Labour MP).

Camila has been pilloried as an incompetent weirdo and her Chair, Yentob as a snivelling loser.

Well thank you Mr Yentob for those fifteen years doing an impossibly difficult job (the BBC job is a breeze in comparison) and for giving the charity £250,000 of your own money. And thanks Camila for the nineteen years, having founded it, that you ran Kid’s Company. Independent reports consistently said your organisation made a big difference to young people. But Chairman Bernard Jenkin simply recorded you as a failure because “you went bust”.

The select committee got very cross with Camila whenever she mentioned children …”yes we know”. Watch it if you can on You Tube. It’s enough to make you vote for Jezza.

The support for Mr Corbyn got an unexpected shot in the arm from the terribly clever Martin Amis last week who noted he was third rate or worse and has only got two ‘E’s at ‘A’ level. Some of the Labour Party apparently went to Hull University or worse.

I’m afraid very clever people’s contempt for the rest of society will get them into big trouble. The tone of voice of those who could never do what Kid’s Company did or other organisations like Microsoft founded by people who flunked University, is irritating a not-so-clever majority into getting politically active.

Beware.  And think of all those people working hard with difficult people and being ill paid for it.

Monday, 19 October 2015


Pete Shuttleworth, the founder of a new and very successful Film Production Country, Hoi Polloi, leaned over the table of Café Coho near Brighton Station and asked me if “bastards always won”.

Outside the sun was shining and people trudged along the pavement. In Brighton there’s a curious “sod you,” lumbering walking style which I put down to a shortage of hunger. In London everyone sprints.

Being a bastard works best if you’re a rich genius like Jobs, Bezos or Zuckerberg. It worked for Stalin and Attila too. Bezos comes up with great put-downs like:

Are you lazy or just incompetent?

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tried not to be a bastard. He sent an internal memo out last Tuesday announcing that 336 employees were leaving the company. He wanted to avoid corporate speak, messed up by talking about “roadmaps” and “streamlining” but, to be fair, it was a reasonable try. The corporate bastard took over in the hands of HR (aka the Grim Reapers) closing down Twitter and e-mail accounts of the unfortunate 336 with the cryptic words  “you have been removed”. 

Anyone who hasn’t seen the opening of “Margin Call” should. In a major downsizing exercise, HR assassins in the film swoop into the New York offices of a New York Investment Bank slaughtering as they go,.

But the fictional CEO (Jeremy Irons) and Dorsey aren’t bastards, they are just doing what CEOs do when under critical profit pressure, they cut cost.

The really nasty people are the prevaricators and those who stop talent being as good as it should be. These are the death-eaters of management who suck the energy and creativity from people who work with them. I worked for one of these. There are a lot of them around. And one of their characteristics is they interview well and they’re brilliant presenters. But deep down they are evil. They feed greedily on the talent of others and they are devoid of any generosity of spirit.

Back to those lumberers outside the café in Brighton - well at least they were all smiling - and Pete who got it spot on in saying the key to the business who knew best - advertising - was to be “smart and hard.” 

You also have to strive to work with the best people. As Bezos (again) said:

“Life's too short to hang out with people who aren't resourceful”

At Netflix they say what makes a great business is not perks but “stunning colleagues” who are smart, hard and driven to do great work. When you work alongside really great people, as they also discovered at Pixar, great stuff happens.

But this is a competitive world and to win you have to remember this - the words of George C. Scott in the film “Patton":

Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his county. He won it by making the other poor bastard die for his country.

Monday, 12 October 2015


A friend of mine is over from China where he works in the business I once tormented (advertising - yeah, you probably noticed the resemblance between me and Don Draper.)  He said something I’ve heard a lot recently.

The industry’s in crisis
Yes” I said, “it always was.

It was in crisis when the young Turks with ideas took over, it was in crisis when the Brits took over the US agencies, it was in crisis when the media men like Kraken awoke and plundered the business and it is in crisis now digital is the story. Someone asked recently what a client’s social media strategy was. That’s rather like asking for a conversing-with-friends strategy.

As the lovely lady exclaimed in Smiths today - “bollocks” as for the second time her purchase of some magazine was double-counted by the DIY self-service till. She said “sorry” but I explained consolingly this was the word I’d been seeking to describe “a social media strategy”.

(By the way what a dreary, ill lit and drab place WHS is. And Kate Swann, their ex CEO, left with £13million for the job she did for them?  Astonishing.)

Recently I met someone with whom I was at Oxford. I haven’t seen much of him over the many intervening years but discovered he was so positive, so different from the many Meldrew “just-typical” figures of our generation, so inspiringly hopeful that we were not in crisis but that in fact we’ve, to quote a Prime Minister of my youth - Harold MacMillan, “never had it so good.”

The fact is markets change because technology changes but human beings don’t. I’m struck by how similar marketing ideas and advertising strategies are to those used a century or half a century ago. Our passions for strange football teams remain solid. (And what a great observation that those stunning crowds that Jezza Corbyn drew in his campaign were smaller than 2nd Division Accrington Stanley gets.) We love, we live, we row, we laugh, jokes we laugh at live forever - and we want the same things - safety, comfort and companionship.I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.  - Thomas Jefferson

And one other thing - a bit of rebellion - Thomas Jefferson one-time US President and a genius said a “little rebellion now and then is no bad thing”. The Corbanista and Trumpeters have brought a sparkle back into politics, some real arguments and besides anything else, how lovely to see the looks of confusion on the faces of the establishment.

So the industry is in crisis. Martin Sorrell is, I hear, intent on “horizontalising” (means “integrate”) the marketing services business. If I’d offered to “horizontalise” that young lady in WH Smith they’d have arrested me.

Sorrell wants to re-invent the one stop shop. It was always a lovely idea but it doesn’t work that well. Stick to your knitting and be the best at what your great at.

Because there is no crisis except in our heads and that’ll never go away.

Monday, 5 October 2015


What interests me is how we feel; where our true north is. Where we live, live in our head as opposed to where we physically sleep or where we work are different things. I know people who think nothing of commuting a thousand miles a week, or who camp near their place of work before driving home.

After the wall came down in East Germany someone hailed a cab to go home. He said to the Taxi Diver:-
Can you take me to …
No need to ask,” replied the Cabbie “I know where you live.

Apparently most of the Stasi became taxi drivers when their security role ended. But where they lived had changed in their heads.

I was talking about football to my grandson when he said there was a boy at his school who was exceptionally gifted at it.  In talking about this success he said that this boy came from a different country.

Oh where does he come from?” I asked. To which he replied without missing a beat.

Yes, Manchester a different country,  all on its own, full of great footballers - nothing to do with the rest of us.

It was Christopher Marlowe in the Jew of Malta who said “The past is another country”.  And you realise the truth of this in listening to UKIP. This other country is one of nostalgia, when summers were always sunny, when steam engines drove our trains, when cricketers wore white flannel, when business lunches were fuelled with claret and cigar smoke.

I simply don’t do nostalgia. I think the future is a different country and, if we choose to make it so, a better one.

I am currently doing work across Europe. Sweden, Poland Germany, Greece, Italy, France, Britain, Ireland are all terrific, bright, different but united (in the English language and in in an attitude to doing business). These people are not defined by where they come from but by where they live in their heads.

Unashamedly I’m pro EU albeit anti-Euro bureaucracy. My philosophy of life is the same as one-time US President Lyndon Johnson’s (cynical as it may sound). He was talking about an obstreperous colleague who was thinking of resigning:

It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

That’s how I feel about Europe - the biggest economy and most civilised in the world. The more I work in Europe the more I think of it as one country.

The most changed country is America whose view of the world swung eight years ago. They gave up on old Europe and swung their attention west to the Asian powerhouse. I don’t blame America - that’s probably right for them.

But it leaves an opportunity for us. We can and should be the key portal for the rest of the world into Europe…it’s something we do really well - because it’s where most of us working really live and do business intellectually.

Colourful Thinkers