Monday, 24 April 2017

WHY I FEEL CHEERFUL (most of the time)

“Bounce, skip and hop”… synonyms for “spring” and this Spring, which has been especially colourful, has given me feelings of joie de vivre.

This was heightened as I went to Lords on Friday to see Middlesex play Essex. For those not versed in cricket let me explain it’s an English pastime that’s a cross between baseball, ballet and chess that can last four or five days. Like steam trains it was on its way out commercially but as the recent relaunch of the Flying Scotsman steam engine showed the past can be recreated and a fan base re-inspired.

I recently saw an advertisement for Jack Daniels. Here’s the bit of copy that stuck in my mind. It observed:
“That simpler things are probably better. That when something works you stick with it till it doesn’t. And that change is fine so long as there’s a good reason for it.”

It seemed an appropriate philosophy as I walked around the “Home of Cricket” (as its marketers style it.) Only one word can describe the architectural perfection, summer green grass and ambience here - “gorgeous”. But no longer is this place, as it were driven by steam, it’s been transformed from a noisome old boys’ club to a world-class entertainment arena with brilliantly modern and fragrant loos, excellent food, comfortable places to sit and always that smell of Spring and the sense of a hot, lazy summer waiting in the wings.

The game has changed and is now a 21st century contest with the 3 hour versions (20:20 Big Bashes as they are styled); these are the real money makers through TV rights. Think baseball on speed and you’ll get the idea.

In the Sports Shop I looked at the “new” equipment. To fully equip oneself, as I’d have done when I played 20 years ago, would cost around £2000 (you could pay less but I liked the best). Everything is lighter, better, more powerful or more protective. This is not a men’s game anymore. It’s an athlete’s game. And that’s a big difference.

So Lord’s and cricket itself have managed brilliant transformations.

But my bucking, seasonal good humour was dampened a little by two stories I noticed last week.  The first about Joanna Coles, chief content officer at Hearst Media (no me neither) who has a treadmill in her office on which she walks in high heels whilst phoning or emailing and, to save time, watches all her TV on double-speed. Why not? Elon Musk has a diary broken into 5 minute slots. I’m going to try that (not).

The second is about Sir George Buckley, Chairman of Stanley Black & Decker and the Smiths Group who gloomily says: “Every company in the world is dying, the trick is knowing what to do next.”

Hell, we are all dying. The real trick is to leave a memorable legacy and  wait for the next Spring. Nature has a great way of renewing itself.

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.