Leaders rewarded, leaders shunned, in New Year honours

December 29, 2007

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Retailer Stuart Rose and Scientist Ian Wilmut are rewarded with knighthoods in the Queen’s New Year honours list. They seem to have identikit records of significant leadership contributions to their fields. But another influential and distinguished scientist Colin Blakemore, is deemed too controversial a figure to be recognised publically for his services to the public

Stuart Rose was arguably a knight-in-waiting. It is a tradition within the British establishment to recognise our high profile business leaders, even when there is no cash for honours involved. We have tracked the high-profile Rose elsewhere, including his titanic battles with the doughty warrior Sir Philip Green.

Ian Wilmut, who led the team which created Dolly the sheep, is among a handful of scientific names whose achievements pioneered cloning research, and turned him into a public figure. Perhaps less known is his more recent work into stem-cell research. Ian Wilmut was again a near identikit national figure, whose knighthood could be explained as a process which had followed a time-honoured path.

Then there’s Professor Blakemore

Oh, yes. Then there’s Professor Blakemore. Among his fellow scientists there is a resigned acceptance that once again he has been passed over for recognition of his services to science.

On several counts he has been considered for ennoblement over the years. But for quite some time, Professor Blakemore’s advancement has been blocked. According to The Independent he is:

A leading British scientist who led the Medical Research Council for five years before stepping down earlier this year has been refused a knighthood in the New Year Honours List because of his outspoken support for animal research.

Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP and veteran parliamentarian, deplored the decision, saying that the snub could only be attributed to cowardice on the part of government ministers worried about a possible public backlash…

Other scientists also criticized the decision on the grounds that Professor Blakemore has done more than anyone to explain to the public why many medical breakthroughs would have been impossible without animal experiments. “Irrespective of his role as head of the MRC, I’d have expected him to be honoured for his really critical role in promoting the need for animal research in bio-medicine,” said Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of Durham University

The Blakemore file

Journalists have now returned to an earlier story about the scientist. The affair reached which reached a House of Commons select committee in 2004, after a leaked memo which suggested Blakemore had in fact been blackballed.

Chairman: May I welcome our witness this morning, Professor Sir David King. It is very good of you to come and talk to us. We are not a committee concerned with science but with the administration of public affairs. We are looking, as you know, at the honours system amongst our different inquiries at the moment. You have probably worked out for yourself the line of connection which brings you before us. We had an interesting session a week or so ago with Professor Blakemore, who of course figured in the leak of the honours committee’s work

Sir David then offered some remarks intended to clarify the affair but explained that he was not able to divulge names of members serving on certain official committees [don’t ask me why. Or rather, ask why, although that is another story altogether].

The chairman tried his best to make progress with Sir David.:

Chairman: We are talking [speculatively] but, if I may read the offending leak quotation so that we can get our minds around it, “The (science and technology expert) committee were unlike to recommend [Blakemore] for his scientific work, particularly in view of his controversial work on vivisection. He has now moved to the [Medical Research Council], however, and it was possible his reputation would be improved. We should look at him again when he has had a little longer at the MRC.”

Professor Sir David King: I admire Colin Blakemore unreservedly, not only for his outstanding scientific work on the functioning of the brain but also for his courage in standing up to this very small bunch of extremists ..acting against the democratic interests of the country… I believe that Colin was courageous to stand up and speak on that issue … I would be very surprised if anyone on that …[mysterious Science and Technology] committee expressed a view differently from what I have said to you.

Chairman: That is what we are interested in. That makes it even more perplexing, does it not, because if we have had you the Chief Scientific Adviser heaping this paean of praise on Colin Blakemore, and if we have had the science minister Lord Sainsbury doing something likewise, why on earth do we get this statement that they are “unlikely to recommend him for his scientific work”—so they are saying that his scientific work is not good enough—and then they add “particularly in view of his controversial work on vivisection”. That word “particularly” is a bit of a giveaway there, is it not? It is not just the controversy about vivisection; it is that he is not up to it anyway and particularly because of his work on vivisection.

Professor Sir David King: That phrase is a complete nonsense…

Chairman: Where did the phrase come from?

Professor Sir David King: I believe the secretary wrote it down. I cannot believe that the committee expressed that view.

Chairman: He just made it up?

Professor Sir David King: He or she.

Clearly ..

There’s not much clarity about the process through which honours are dished out, or not, in this instance. Just about the clearest thing is the lack of clarity. [Rumsfeld, this is one for you]. Small wonder that the prolonged investigation into cash for honours never got anywhere, at considerable public expense.

Does it matter?

A messy question for a messy story. Professor Blakemore has demonstrated that his motivation is relatively immune to public acclaim as it has been immune to quite outrageous personal attacks by animal rights activists.

Nevertheless, the issue raises questions about how a culture rewards or withholds rewards for service to the public. It adds support to the idea over time a culture arrives at the leaders it deserves.


Assess your club and team’s leadership

December 26, 2007

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This post invites you to take part in a sporting leadership survey. It is part of a plan for introducing more interactive elements into Leaders We Deserve in the near future

If you would like to see our intended approach to collecting information on sporting leaders and their clubs (sporting institutions), you can try out the survey. It has ten quick items, and takes about three minutes to complete.
[But these initial efforts are proving difficult to download in the first place, and I am finding myself too often redirected to the Survey Monkey site which provided the survey template. A period of experimentation will follow ...]

Click Here to take the general survey

Click Here to take the Manchester United survey

Click Here to take the Liverpool FC survey

Please be sure to confirm your entry, and exit the inventory before trying to enter another set of responses. I use the back button, to return to Leaders we deserve, which avoids my current computer seizures.

Any suggestions, or offers of support are particularly welcome.

In its present form, there are no facilities in the survey for feedback of results, but this option will be one of the next elements added. It will begin ‘active service’ in asessing teams in the English Premier division, but there is scope for its extension to a far wider range of sporting institutions internationally.

Thak you for you help in developing Leaders we deserve


A Leadership Quiz for Christmas

December 24, 2007

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We extend best wishes for the festive season to readers of Leaderswedeserve, and offer a light-hearted challenge. drawing on the first two hundred posts published [in 2007]

A Leadership Quiz for Christmas is in the nature of a trial, and upgrades are planned. Feedback is particularly welcomed on suggestions for improvements to the format.

The quiz has ten multiple choice items, and can be completed in about three minutes. There is scope for reviewing how many items you scored correctly.


Richard Harvey: A case example of servant leadership?

December 23, 2007

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Update Feb 2011

Richard Harvey, chairman of P Z Cussons, was the subject of a post in 2007 in which he was presented as an example of servant leadership

Original post [2007]

Richard Harvey ‘retired’ from his high-profile job as head of the Aviva financial organization to what he called ‘the gap year I never had’, as a charity worker in Uganda. In doing so, he seems to illustrate the concept of servant leadership

Servant Leadership is a term that crops up in leadership texts. It sits uneasily with other leadership concepts which emphasize superior personal characteristics, greater drive and motivational needs. It attracts those in search of a spiritual counterweight to the economic thrust of much of the literature, and particularly to the so-called dark-side of leadership.

Let’s take as a given, for the moment, that servant leadership exists. If so, Richard Harvey can stand (‘serve’) as a good example of the genre, when good can mean exemplary as well as of high moral standing.

Background

Nearly a year ago (January 2007) a news story broke in the UK. My earliest reference comes not from my usual business sources, but from the Sun Newspaper, which reported:

One of the City’s most powerful figures is quitting his £1.9million-a-year job to do charity work in Africa. Richard Harvey will step down in July as boss of Aviva, which owns Britain’s biggest insurer Norwich Union. The dad of three, 56, is swapping his London office ..to live amid mud huts and grinding poverty for a year. Mr. Harvey and his wife Kay, who have a £2million house in swanky Chelsea, West London, were inspired to work in Africa after their daughter Jenny took a gap year there. He said: “Kay and I are going to have the gap year we never had.”

The spiritual and mundane dimensions

A cursory examination of Richard Harvey’s business career suggests a rather conventional high-achiever. After a degree in mathematics at The University of Manchester, he pragmatically switched from his intended career as a nuclear engineer into accounting. There followed a succession of increasingly successful jobs in which he demonstrated considerable business skills not without controversy.

In March 2004 Harvey ..came under heavy criticism, this time by members of Parliament in the Treasury Select Committee, for accepting what was described by the Manchester Guardian as “bumper raises” when millions of policyholders were suffering shortfalls on mortgages and pension plans.

The previously hidden private life of the business leader was later to become more publically known. It appears that that the family holds strong religious convictions, which helped overcome the trauma of a serious illness to Kay Harvey. Richard is believed to provide serious but discrete financial support to various charities.

It turns out that the couple’s ‘gap year’ involved them on behalf of Concern International

This has since received publicity through a BBC programme about the charity efforts scheduled for screening over the Christmas break [2007].

Idealism and pragmatism

Servant leadership tends to create an idealistic picture of someone. We should not ignore the dilemmas facing business leaders. A strong sense of values needs a healthy streak of pragmatism to survive and thrive. As Mr Harvey’s charitable activities were gaining publicity, his pension arrangements also were the subject of news attention [March 2007]


How much is a leader worth? The case of Fabio Capello

December 19, 2007

gold.jpgHow much is a leader worth? Whatever it takes to get the best available, according to FA chief Brian Barwick. The assumption is that the right leader will make the difference between success and failure. But how rational is this financial market model of leadership?

When Fabio Capello was introduced to the media as the new England Football manager and rescuer in chief, The BBC reported the discussion over Capello’s remuneration.

As a spiky question flew in about Capello’s reported salary of £4.8m a year, the perspiring FA chief [Brian Barwick] decided to throw himself into the barb’s path.

“It’s important to realise that the FA’s gross income in the next four-and-a-half years may well be in excess of a billion pounds,” he trumpeted.

“The money is a secondary thing,” added Capello through his interpreter, which is perhaps easy to say when you’re about to trouser £13,150 a day until 2012, with a bonus of £5m if you bring home the World Cup… And what about the arrival of his backroom team of four fellow Italians, who between them will be costing the FA an extra £1.4m a year? Was this not the footballing equivalent of buying an extremely expensive gadget for Christmas, only to unwrap it and find that it won’t work without four additional batteries (not supplied)?

Is it ‘what the market will pay?’

So we have a simple equation based on what the market will pay, what an organization can afford, and its estimated costs of success and failure to achieve its objectives. The simplicity of the calculation is one of the attractions of the theory of rational market economics. Unfortunately such simple calculations are almost certainly wrong.

Academic attempts to find the relationships between corporate performance and remuneration of chief executives have indicated that the relationship is far from straightforward. There is, for example, differing degrees of ‘stickiness’ between organizations attempting to change things. Football has tended to be at one extreme, with a tendency for managers to be fired perhaps prematurely, rather than too tardily. Other institutions cling on to their leaders after their shortcomings seem to be reflected in performance indicators. For rather obvious reasons, family firms fall into this category.

But in any case, the survival or departure of a chief is premised on a belief that any change in fortune will be a direct and simple consequence of a change in leader. That relationship is just too simplistic. Strategy formation and execution have different dynamics, over which a leader has differing kinds of impact.

One international expert, Dr Ismael Erturk, at The ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, (CRESC), commented on the recent stories in leaders we deserve of executive succession and remuneration:

There are several dimensions … that relate to our work on financialization. One of them is the continuous reinvention of banking institutions in a period defined by financial innovation. Morgan Stanley like other investment banks now earn more from using their own capital than their customers. Goldman Sachs [GS] is the leader in this aspect and the likes of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch are the followers. Merrill Lynch lost its CEO trying to be more like GS. Barclays Capital Bob Diamond is another star name with lots of leadership capital who suffered in recent financial crisis. GS and Deutsche so far have come out OK. From our research, we argue that banks have become opaque organizations, which are among the official classification of large complex financial institutions [LCFIs]. These all have interesting implications for the executives of such giant complex organizations, that have government protection in bad times and now are too big to fail.

A second stream of our research is executive pay. What determines the high levels of pay? There is no link between performance and pay, almost everyone agrees on this. Pay for failure is accepted and that is an interesting social phenomenon, causing serious deterioration in income distribution taking us back to the early 20th century. In a financialized economy, financial services and related intermediary businesses (law firms, accountancy firms, consultants, etc.) need new deals -structured finance, private equity, securitization, hedge funds, etc.- to derive high fee income and remuneration. There is a large literature on how pay packages are designed to achieve the going rate rather than linking pay to performance. Stan O’Neal’s package when he was forced to leave Merrill Lynch was $160 million, which would pay the salaries of the six members of the Federal Reserve, who are responsible for sorting out the mess created by the likes of Stan O’Neal, for 100 years! [Mervin] King in the UK [head of the Bank of England] gets lots of stick as well, from all corners, because of his lack of leadership skills, but his [low] remuneration has no relation to the [high] responsibilities and the risks he carries. Business elites, and the role of intermediaries in a financialized economy, pose interesting research questions.

Theory into practice

There’s nothing so practical as a good theory. The English FA took the views of a range of experts into account in arriving at a deal with Mr Capello and his agents. They may have got the right person, at the best rate they could negotiate. But the statement by Mr Barwick suggested they had not been over-influenced by financialization theorists.


Fabio Capello gets a make-over

December 17, 2007

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Fabio Capello, The New Manager for England’s football team, has been appointed to one of toughest of leadership posts in sport. The mechanics of myth-making are illustrated in the first episodes of what will be a long-running drama

Within days of Fabio Capello’s appointment as England football manager, the myth-making machines were into full-scale production mode. Strictly speaking, they were mostly engaged in reworking the ideas from an earlier text.

The Build-up to Fabio’s appointment

The build-up to his appointment was itself conducted with considerable intensity, albeit with a few too many overtones of awaiting the puff of white smoke from the Vatican conclave which would announce the appointment of a new Pope.

We learned a lot about his unrivalled success as coach in the largest clubs in the world.

We learned of the credentials of his impressive back-room team he would bring with him

We could even see the poke-in goal administered by a youthful Capello against England at Wembley in 1973.

The established story

These initial accounts provided a consistent picture of the new manager:

Capello has guided teams to nine league championships in 16 years as a coach, although Juventus were stripped of the 2005 and 2006 titles because of the club’s involvement in a match-fixing scandal …he was the mastermind behind one of the greatest ever club performances when his AC Milan team trounced Barcelona 4-0 in the 1994 Champions League final, but he will also arrive in England with a reputation as a fierce disciplinarian …Capello is not in football to make friends. He is interested only in success …Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon likened him to a dictator while he played under him at Juventus

The media, and fans appear mostly very positive, although with a minority vehemently holding to the view that ‘The England Coach needs to be English’.

The BBC as viewspaper?

A somewhat disturbing illustration of how news is fabricated can be found in the BBC treatment of the appointment. In the absence of a direct interview (for the moment), producing a news story requires a certain amount of creative effort. (Just why the story is needed so urgently seems to me a more complicated matter.)

Attempts to win an exclusive interview had stopped short at the gates of Capello’s Milanese villa. With some resourcefulness, the BBC finds one of their own expert commentators Marcel Desailly, and proceed to interview him (Sunday December)

I listened to the interview on the morning Sportsview programme. Desailly has a rapid-fire delivery, and delivers his observations with energy and emotion in fluent English. He makes it clear that he has enormous respect for Capello’s virtues as a coach.

This is hardly news. There follows that special kind of nurturing to ensure that story takes the required shape. In courtroom dramas, such actons are followed by the objection that counsel is leading the witness.

Desailly is pressed to work a little harder.. Doesn’t Capello have any weaknesses? Desailly obligingly tries to be of assistance. Maybe the new coach is not a good listener.

Hm, that’s not much of a story either, I thought. I wondered if ‘not listening’ meant not receiving the message, or not taking the views of others into account.

I was very shortly more than a bit surprised at the speed with which the replication process was taking place. The leading sports item in the next BBC news bulletin, a few minutes after the interview, was the self-same ‘story’, presented as a kind of mini-exclusive: Capello will have trouble communicating. He is a bad listener.

This was later was incorporated into the BBC webpage account of Capello’s appointment.

Former France defender Marcel Desailly, who played under Capello during both of the Italian’s spells in charge of AC Milan, believes language difficulties might not be the 61-year-old’s only barrier in the England set-up. “You can’t really communicate with him,” Desailly told Sportsweek. “When you are talking about tactics or other players he doesn’t really listen but he’s a wonderful man and loves to travel and discover new countries …”He’s not very open about football, but most of the time his ideas are the correct ones.”

This is not news

I have several problems with the ‘story’. It is not news. The widely-received story of Capello is that he does not suffer stupidity, including stupid questions from the press. He has been known to ignore such questions (‘not listen’?). He may even walk out, ending such sessions prematurely.

Another problem I have with the story is that the sense placed on Desailly’s comments is different when taken out of context, as it has been.

My third problem is that the story has been fabricated rather obviously, with the BBC interviewing one of its own, (that’s OK) and then presented the results in a dodgy way and claiming them as an exclusive. (not OK). That’s how news stories are fabricated and replicated.

The process followed the pattern at the BBC in the stories involving Robert Peston and Northern Rock, which we reported on in an earlier post.

BBC financial expert Robert Peston has an inside track into City chatter. He reports the chatter. Usually with insight and authority. Then the BBC takes its own exclusive story, from its own employee, and makes another story out of it. In the role as celebrity, Peston is now presented as making news rather than reporting on it.

This sounds to me rather like The Independent’s stance as ‘a viewspaper not a newspaper’. Maybe that’s what the BBC is also in danger of becoming.


Breaking News: English Football isolated from Jose Mourinho

December 14, 2007

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This was the week that Jose Mourinho was not appointed manager of the England football team. ITV ran an interesting and intelligent report on the special one. It concentrated on his charismatic leadership style as much as on his achievements.

The TV report was mostly confirmation of a much-told story. One or two of the anecdotes were new to me, and rather striking in their demonstration of a leadrship style that deserves study for its more general description of a charismatic in action.

To put the leadership aspects in context I will draw on the notions of charisma from the monumental studies of Max Weber, as interpreted as a contibution to new leadership research by Alan Bryman, and later by Rickards and Clark.

Weber in translation

Weber was not the first or last German scholar to write in a complex and unforgiving style. His name is frequently mentioned as the father of sociological thinking on charisma. It may be realistic to assume that his ideas might have lost something as they have become distilled into Anglo-American academic folk-lore.

As Bryman noted:

Weber’s writings [on charisma] are highly diffuse, sometimes contradictory, and often [lack] definitive exposition

Weber’s ideas imply that charismatic leadership is an ancient mode of social dominance. The charismatic leader wins power and authority through exceptional personal characteristics. He is indeed the special one, maybe the chosen one. At the extreme, cult leaders are ‘pure’ examples. Followers are also believers. The special one has powers of revelation. He displays symbolic evidence of his unique gifts. He is likely to have been also ‘blessed’ with hypnotising personal presence.

Jose as cult leader

The programme gave examples of Jose’s near mystic powers. Let’s not forget they were backed by meticulous prepararation. We know the mysterious powers of the ancient soothsayers derived from their acute observational powers, and even careful . This is an anticipation of scientific method, although with claims for a quite different epistemology.

One episode was impressively stage-managed. It took place at press conference before an important game in the European Champions League. The press were demanding something. (A sign from the special one?).

His response was startling, but in keeping with the wiles of the oracles of old. ‘You want me to name my team? I will do more than that. I will name their team.’ Which he did. With complete conviction. Live, to camera. He was to be proved completely correct.
[Students of leadership: discuss].

Playing chess with the media

In one interview he was asked if he played chess with the media. His reply indicates the care with which his performance is planned:

When I face the media … before or after the game, I feel it as part of the game. When I go to the press conference before the game, in my mind the game has already started. And when I go to the press conference after the game, the game has not finished yet.

Cult leaders and sacred texts

JM even has a secret document, which records his extended labours. A book of Jose, written by himself. It is said that no-one knows what’s in it. So secret is it that his words will go to the grave with him. Secret, and with the whiff of the supernatural associated with sacred texts which mere mortals are not permitted to see.

Paying penance

After one particularly epic performance by his team, he ordered the players to commit a highly symbolic act. They returned to the field acknowledging their legions of followers. The players removed their shirts. What or who was all that about? The religious symbolism persists. [Students of theology: discuss].

Righteous indignation

Another anecdote reveals the wrath of the special one if an acolyte falls short of expectations. He once publicly rebuked the Chelsea player Joe Cole for a lack of the dedication and work ethic expected of all acolytes. In a game shortly afterwards, Cole scored a magnificently-taken goal, JM gestured to him in agitated fashion from the touchline. When the player approached his manager, he discovered that he was not being acclaimed for the goal, but abused for his lack of commitment to defensive duties in the build-up to the move. The programme claimed that JM eventually succeeded in upping Cole’s contributions to the team ethic, where previous coaches had failed.

Trials and temptations

The program also examined the strained relationship between Mourinho and Roman Abramovitch, billionaire owner of Chelsea FC. The disputed territory appears to have been over the owner’s wish for success both in terms of results, and in terms of style of play. While Mourinho’s personality sparkled, his team failed to capture the imagination -say in the style of envied rivals Manchester United. Abramovitch had taken steps to intervene more directly, acquiring support staff and two expensive players that had not been part of Mourinho’s plans for the future of the club. Among the support staff was Abram Grant, personal friend of the owner, and who was widely accepted to have been installed as likely replacement for JM.

The programme featured a psychologist exploring the messages to be found at film of a press conference held shortly after the arrival of the two international stars Shevshenko and Ballack. His body language is distant. No eye contact left or right. The
The psychologist suggested a desire for ‘total control’ , and in this instance, partial loss of control.

A few weeks later the Special one was gone. ‘By mutual consent, and with great love’.

So much religious symbolism. In the programme, Mourinho ducked questions about his religion, but talked a lot about the importance of love. Like a true charismatic, he seems to have worked out his own ethical philosophy.

Footnote

Following McClaren’s departure, Mourinho emerged as the strong favourite for England manager in the media and among most football supporters. BBC Radio 5 Live football correspondent Mike Ingham said:

In many ways he would have been perfect ..The job is about giving players an extra 10% and I think he would have done that ..Mourinho ticked all the boxes bar one – I’m not sure how much of a diplomat he would have been.

He might had added on behalf of a minority of fans and English wannabe managers, “… pity he’s not English”.

The Guardian also considered that Mourinho was the FA’s first choice, though Soho Square sources say he was never offered the job and they clearly remained uncertain of his motives. The FA’s caution was borne out when talks between Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, and the FA director of football, Sir Trevor Brooking, ended with the Portuguese ruling himself out.

Three weeks later, and a complex deal was sealed, and another of the world’s supercoaches, Fabio Capello, was appointed England manager. The special one had just faded from the scene.

Acknowledgement

Image is: edcommunity.apple.com/…/38/isolation.jpg
with echoes in the post of the famous headline:
Fog over channel, Continent isolated

[To be continued …]


Interesting Times Ahead for Times Warner

December 10, 2007

jeff-bewkes.jpgThe arrival of Jeffery Bewkes as CEO signals interesting times ahead for the under-performing Times Warner giant

Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX) has announced that its Board of Directors has elected Jeffrey L. Bewkes as Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Inc., effective January 1, 2008.

Mr. Bewkes currently serves as President and Chief Operating Officer, and he will retain the title of President. Mr. Bewkes will succeed Richard D. Parsons as CEO, and Mr. Parsons will remain as Chairman of the Board

The announcement by the head of the appointments committee could serve as a model for communicating a well-executed leadership transition. It indicated

“Today’s decision is the culmination of a thoughtful and disciplined process that began in early 2006, when Dick Parsons initially approached the Board to discuss the timetable for the CEO succession ..”

“Jeff is the right person to be the next CEO of Time Warner, and I couldn’t be more delighted that he will lead this Company into the future,” Mr. Parsons said.

Behind the briefing

So what’s behind the briefing? The story is candidly told by CCN Money’s Jon Friedman, who states that Jeff Bewkes

needs to show the world that Time Warner isn’t merely some bloated, tired symbol of the out-of-breath media industry. He must demonstrate to Wall Street that he is on shareholders’ side.

Friedman further asserts that Parsons took control of Time Warner following a period of chaos.

The AOL-Time Warner combo proved to be an utter disaster; the two factions hated each other and there was no spirit of cooperation. The stock flirted with single digits. By the time Parsons took over, Time Warner had become a corporate punch line, if not a punching bag for the media. A born politician, Parsons stepped in and smoothed the troubled waters by adding the informal title of “chief facilitator.” He sold off some noncore assets, tried to prop up morale at AOL and basked in whatever triumphs the company had, such as the booming properties in its vast film division, including such blockbusters as the Lord of the Rings, Matrix and Harry Potter series.

The New Man

According to Reuters

Jeffrey Bewkes’s ascension to the top executive post at Time Warner Inc, unlike his predecessor’s, surprised no one. His rare combination of financial savvy and knack for managing creative talent made him an obvious choice to succeed Richard Parsons, who was viewed in 2002 as a dark-horse candidate to run a company that controls some of the top brands in media: CNN, People magazine and paid cable network HBO

Bewkes had risen spectacularly within HBO, and has been associated with a string of media triumphs including The Sopranos. This is a view shared by other commentators, who acknowledge the leadership successes of the former No 2

The Shift

The shift, hardly indicated by that smooth press announcement, signals intent to change bigtime.
The master conciliator is succeeded by someone quite different. According to The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Bewkes’s management style is expected to signal a radical shift in Time Warner’s corporate culture. Where Mr. Parsons won over employees with a grandfatherly manner, Mr. Bewkes’s style is more no-nonsense. Mr. Bewkes, who started his Time Warner career at HBO more than 20 years ago, is widely expected to be tougher on the company’s performance, or lack thereof.

From Smooth to Hairy

If Mr. Parsons had a smooth leadership style, it seems that Mr. Bewkes has a more hairy one. Interesting Times ahead for Times Warner …


‘Tell me, Mr Murdoch, when did your father discover his perfect successor?’

December 8, 2007

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James Murdoch is now believed to have been identified as the heir to his father’s media empire, following his appointment as head of News Corp’s European and Asian businesses. What sense can be made of the appointment?

The most powerful man in Britain. The headline from the Daily Telegraph hints at the political as well as the commercial implication of the ascent of James Murdoch to his new post. My own headline is a tribute to the talents of Caroline Aherne in her role as Mrs Merton, a chat-show host with innocently barbed questions to her celebrity guests.

In her discussion with Debbie MacGee, the young wife of the TV magician Paul Daniels, Aherne produced one of the funniest of one-liners.

‘So, what attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?’

It would take a Mrs Merton to ask the same sort of question of James Murdoch ‘Tell me, Mr Murdoch, when did your father discover his perfect successor?’ Or maybe: ‘What did he see in his youngest son, now that his older children have rejected any involvement in the family business?’ [OK. I’ve just proved how hard it is to write a good gag, or a good headline].

The Telegraph provided one of the best resumes of the spectacular rise of James Murdoch, and notes the political implications of his coronation.

James Murdoch is stepping down as chief executive of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB to head News Corp’s European and Asian businesses. He will take control of News International, publisher of The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World newspapers, as well as Sky Italia and the Star television business in Asia. He will not sever his ties with BSkyB, however. He replaces his father as non-executive chairman.

That could turn out to be very bad news for Gordon Brown. James Murdoch is an instinctive free-marketeer Tory. Friends say he “talks as if he thinks he is a latter-day Adam Smith”. Thanks to friendships with Al Gore and Bill Clinton, he has developed deep green instincts, which have made him a close confidant of the Tory leader, David Cameron.

The prodigal son?

The younger James showed all the dedication to following his father’s footsteps as did the younger George W Bush. He dropped out of a Harvard visual entertainment course, to found Rawkus, a hip-hop record label. But like Bush, he eventually returned to the fold.

In an earlier post on the Murdoch dynasty I noted

James is the youngest of three Murdoch offspring to a previous marriage. His sister Elisabeth seems the sparkiest of the three, but both she and brother Lachlan seem to have sought more independence, and have broken with promising roles within Murdoch’s media empire. But there may be other candidates to succeed father Rupert, who also has potential heirs from a more recent marriage.

Young James seems to have had a somewhat rumbustious time in his formative years (hardly surprising). His roles in the family firm have been conducted with inevitable publicity. Progress has been swift (hardly surprising). Results have been not totally convincing, but public skepticism has been somewhat weakened through his sure touch in leading the BSkyB business.

The formative years

The Telegraph provides a sketch of a near-stereotype of an over-achiever, shaped through early family influences.

He is fiercely competitive – the result of all those Murdoch family meals when, by his own admission, his father often pits sibling against sibling in a competition for his affection.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more competitive,” says one former colleague. “He’s like a coiled spring. If he thinks he’s being challenged unfairly, he literally stands up at the table in a meeting or even at lunch and wags his finger in his challenger’s face and says: ‘No, no, no. You’re wrong!’ ”

The governance issue

The BBC raises the governance issue as follows:

British investment institutions dislike chief executives becoming chairmen of their respective companies. So Sky’s British shareholders are bound to complain about James Murdoch’s elevation to the chairmanship. However, Sky non-executives have sounded out the group’s leading US shareholders – including Templeton, Capital and Janus – and believe they are supportive of the management re-organization.

But the younger Murdoch comes with good references. Father Rupert is quoted in the Telegraph as saying:

“James is a talented and proven executive with a rare blend of international perspective and deep, hands-on experience in improving operational results,”

Maybe his father would have given such a reply he had been a guest of Mrs. Merton, and had been asked one of those innocent questions on his son’s spectacular rise to business success.


Celebrity journalists as thought leaders: The case of Robert Peston

December 7, 2007

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The Australian journalist Mark Day argues that celebrity journalists today follow far earlier examples. We examine the cases of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Winston Churchill. Parallels with Robert Peston’s role in the Northern Rock drama can be made

Mark Day is the doyen of Australian journalists. He recently raised concerns about the rise of the celebrity journalist, citing cases from Australia, from Rupert Murdoch’s father at Gallipoli to the notorious New York night club story which did the aspirant political leader Kevin Rudd no harm at all. Day suggests TV journalism is continuing the tradition of the celebrity journalist.

It was Mr Day’s reassuringly sage and bewhiskered visage which first grabbed my interest. This, I thought, is the face of someone who speaks with the wisdom of the ages. A role model more callow bloggers. Perhaps it was his headline: Journalists become the news.

Day has his say

Mark Day argues that journalists have always been tempted by celebrity as a route to career success. He cites the example of Keith Murdoch, father of Rupert, and war correspondent at Gallipoli, as well as confidant of the Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Murdoch ’s capacity to become part of the story is famously illustrated in an incident in which he was charged with delivering a letter from Gallipoli to authorities in London. When ‘Intercepted and relieved of his letter’ he wrote his own extended version, handed it over, when it appeared to have had some influence on British understanding of the unfolding military disaster.

Another time, another land. He might have mentioned the rise of Winston Churchill, already famed as war correspondent, and by then heavily involved in the Gallipoli campaign.

We can stretch things even further in considering the merging of journalism and social comment. Take Charles Dickens, for example, who would have been a great TV personality born a century later.

In these enlightened times

Has much changed from the days of Dickens? Not a lot, according to Day. He gives various contemporary examples from political life in Australia. One interesting one is the incident in New York some months ago, involving the youthful Kevin Rudd, at the time a wannabe Prime Minister. The story was internationally covered.

According to The Daily Telegraph

KEVIN Rudd’s hopes of becoming Prime Minister have been rocked by a visit to a New York strip club where he was warned against inappropriate behaviour during a drunken night while representing Australia at the United Nations. Mr Rudd yesterday issued a statement to The Sunday Telegraph, confirming he went to the club. But he said he could not recall what happened at the night spot because he had “had too much to drink”.

Rudd’s embarrassment was short-lived. He went on to victory a few months later.

Day introduces a further twist to the tale suggesting that the incident which had occurred four years earlier, had been rather sleazily treated by the journalists, who had persuaded the notoriously high-minded Rudd to loosen up a bit. But that’s another story. He concludes that the journalist as part of the story is inevitable, and that blogging is an even more exaggerated process in which each blogger seeks to place themselves right at the heart of the story. I plead the Fifth on that one.

The campaigning journalist

Charles Dickens began his journalistic career reproducing the speeches in Parliament for his readership, a feat requiring phenomenal powers of recall. In the meanwhile, he was churning out hugely popular fictional tales which made up an outstanding social commentary of the times. Dickens as performing celebrity became even more the centre of his stories.

Then there was young Winston, whose exploits seem to have had some parallels with those of the first of the Murdoch dynasty, Keith. Churchill’s reports from the Boar war made him famous and wealthy. His fame outlasted his periodic bursts of affluence. But fame and wealth came from his creative tales in which we wrote himself as the central character. And what about Mark Twain, yet another itinerant journalist whose genius with words excused him from proximity with factual reality as he reported on his journeys?

These were early celebrity journalists. They were at times hugely influential. Another example this time from France, is Emile Zola in exposing the Drefus scandal, In this case, the author used his fame to help promote the story, rather than use the story to promote his fame.

Back to the Rock

All of which takes us back to the still smouldering case of Northern Rock. This appears to have acquired its own celebrity journalist in the shape of the BBC’s Robert Peston. It The story continues to run. Now the BBC is able to maintain a stream of exclusive scoops by interviewing someone right at the heart of the story, namely their very own Robert Peston.

Peston’s influence on events these has been mentioned in Parliament. An overview can be found in a newsletter within which the following quote summarizes the impact of Mr Peston’s journalistic activities

The following press release was issued as Update No. 5 on 18/10/2007: Press049_Northern_Rock_Value (mainly to try and stifle some inaccurate press comment), together with the following notes: Some of you may have seen Matt Ridley and Adam Applegarth responding to questions from the Treasury Select Committee on TV news on Tuesday. Not a lot new was learned from the session except that both the Chairman and the rest of the board had volunteered to resign if required. It was also clear from the evidence given, and comments by Robert Peston of the BBC later that evening on BBC TV, that the BBC announced the rescue by the Bank of England in advance of it being issued in a Regulatory News Announcement based on a leak from someone. I have so far heard three different versions of who leaked it so am not sure which is a rumour and which is the truth. But it would appear that this premature announcement stampeded the company into making the announcement and we know that it was not possibly as judiciously worded as it might have been – the end result was an unexpected rush of depositors to withdraw their cash.

Truth, rumours and Robert Peston

The thought expressed in the above had been nagging away as I followed the Northern Rock story. Clearly, The BBC’s Robert Peston was leading the pack. He must have been the envy of less well-connected political journalists around the land.

But how much is straight reporting, how much highly personalized story telling? He is clearly very much part of the story. Peston is doing no more than the heroic journalists from bygone days, who thrilled the public by not just witnessing the story, but by playing a starring role in it. Not so much communicators as creators.

Stop Press

I was about to publish this post when I heard of a story breaking, on BBC’s radio four, related by a familiar voice, that of Robert Peston. The story? A member of the third generation of Murdoch, young James, is making his mark as celebrity journalist. He becomes head of the Dynesty, and heir apparent.


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