What’s the difference between Jeremy Paxman and Jeremy Clarkson?

February 13, 2009
Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Simon Mayo had mistakenly introduced his BBC radio guest as Jeremy Clarkson. To me, Jeremy Paxman sounded remarkably like Jeremy Clarkson. Which suggests that the two celebrities may have something more in common than a name …

Driving home this afternoon [Feb 12th 2009], I heard the familiar urbane tones of Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 live. He was introducing his guest, Jeremy someone. He then apologised for confusing Jeremy Clarkson and Jeremy Paxman. The guest accepted Mayo’s apology not totally happy with the start to the interview. It amused me to suspect that one of England’s celebrity broadcasters had been peeved at being introduced as the other, even through a slip of the tongue. A bit thin-skinned, which ever one of them was there.

Then something curious happened. I listened more carefully to find out which Jeremy was in the studio. My point of reference was an interview on the same show, also conducted by Simon Mayo a few months ago, with Jeremy Clarkson the self-confessed petrol head. I could not decide whether this was another Clarkson interview, or one with the Paxman the political journalist.

It was curious, because I (like many others living here in England) have to exercise the off-switch to avoid hearing one or other Jeremy on a near daily basis. But I had never remarked on any similarity in their speech patterns before. Now for quite a few minutes, as far as I could detect, the voice might have been that Petrol Head or Political Journalist. What’s going on? Did they really have such similar delivery styles? If so, why had I never noticed it before? And why should anyone care anyway?

Why might it matter at all?

It might matter if you are a friend of both Jeremy C and of Jeremy P and you get a phone call from someone announcing “Jeremy here, I want you to appear on my programme next week”. It would make a difference if you then agreed and found yourself on the wrong sort of programme.

For those us not in that hypothetical position, why might it matter at all?
Probably not a lot, but the unexpectedness of that interview today set me thinking about sense-making, and role-playing. I’m intrigued enough to invite subscribers to share their views.

Mandrill management

I have an interest in evolutionary models of human behaviour, as they throw light on leadership patterns. In this respect, Jeremy P has long struck me as a fine example of what I have called Mandrill management. The metaphor implies a highly developed power drive which ultimately takes its toll on the alpha male and those further down the order in the social group. If I had thought about it, I would have noted Jeremy C as having similar characteristics. Clarkson’s recent public outburst against Prime Minister Gordon Brown (“that one-eye Scottish idiot”) seems illustrative of the almost uncontrollable and habitual actions of the Mandrill manager in action. These are gifted but rather fearsome creatures who may be conditioned to act out their need to be alpha males in their public interactions. Under stress, the Mandrill comes to the party.

It turned out that it was Jeremy Paxman being interviewed. The following interpretation of the interview is even more speculative than my usual efforts. But [At first Mr Paxman] seemed to have a restricted range of delivery, but even a more exaggerated way of emphasis (compensation?). Later in the interview, the familiar wide range of tones re-emerged. The staginess at the start reminded be of an actor with a rather over-ripe style which was then replaced by the staginess of a consummate professional interrogator and public speaker.

Clarkson’s normal delivery is closer to someone acting out the on-stage heavy from a crime drama. Paxman’s voice at the start of the interview was closer to Clarkson’s explosive attacks on the English language. Perhaps the ‘threat’ of not being properly recognised triggers a surge of adrenaline in a Mandrill manager’s blood.

Maybe there are a few ideas about leadership behaviour to be gained from an episode in which one gifted radio performer made a little gaff, and another reacted in a surprising fashion.


Home Depot needs more improvements

July 11, 2007

frankblake.jpgHome Depot is known as the largest home improvement firm in the world. High-flyer Bob Nardelli failed to sustain its early growth, and was fired. Six months on, his successor Frank Blake is also struggling in a tough market place. We look back at the board room battles that have beset the company

Financial warning signs are looming for Home Improvements giant Home Depot. Market conditions are tough even for a one-time glamour stock. Time was, when the company was outperforming Walmart. But then the company growth slowed.

AS USA Today put it in January, Home Depot boots CEO Nardelli.

According to Business Week,

the Board did not want to sack their CEO, neither did he want to go. In the end it came down to the headstrong CEO’s refusal to accept even a symbolic reduction in his stock package. Home Depot Inc.’s board of directors wanted their controversial chief executive, Robert L. Nardelli, to amend his whopping compensation deals for recent years. After he pulled down $38.1 million from his last yearly contract, angry investors were promising an ugly fight at the company’s annual meeting in May.

How Bob was recruited

Nardelli was recruited in 2002 after building a reputation of a high flyer under the legendary Jack Welsh at GE. But Welsh could not promise his ambitious executive the preferment he craved. A director of both GE and Home Depot had secured his services for Home Depot, whose board removed the company’s co-founder. A Fortune article at the time of his appointment offered a picture of a determined and driven character, and a battler. He had wanted to become a pro footballer but was rejected as being too small. He wanted to be chief of GE but was passed over.

Enter Frank Blake

Frank Blake was appointed chairman and CEO of Home Depot in January 2007. Prior to this position, he served as vice chairman of the board of directors and executive vice president of the company. He joined The Home Depot in 2002 as executive vice president, Business Development and Corporate Operations, and was responsible for real estate, store construction, credit services, strategic business development, growth initiatives, call centers and the Home Services business.

Frank did not have a great leadership honeymoon. Progress remained unimpressive. This was not for want of leadership initiative. Recently he was praised for bringing in the expertise of the founders:

Baboons drive the dethroned alpha male out of the pack. Eskimos set their elders adrift on ice floes. And so it goes with departing CEOs, who are often shown the door as part of the new regime’s assertion of power. In 2000, Bob Nardelli was named CEO, replacing Arthur Blank; within the next two years, Blank and co-founder Bernie Marcus gave up their remaining ties to the company.

“No one ever called or asked us our advice,” Marcus recently told Fortune. As a result, Blank and Marcus became outsiders at their own company – until January, when Nardelli stepped down amid charges of bloated compensation. The board tapped executive vice president Frank Blake to take charge, and on his first day in the job, Blake called back the founders.
Experts suggest Blake is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to recognizing the value in retired brass. “They’re an incredible resource,” says Jeff Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management. “They know where the bodies are buried.”
The risk, of course, is that the old team hangs around too much. Blank and Marcus try to keep their distance. Blake says the founders have struck the right balance: “They’re responsive, but not intrusive.”

Happy ever after?

Leadership is not that simple. Blake has a participative style that increasingly wins support from Business gurus. It fits nicely, for example, with the Sloan leadership model. This model reminds us that no leader is perfect, and it is a strength not a weakness to acknowledge that. On the other hand, shareholders invest for returns, not leadership theories. Home Depot may now have enlightened leadership. Will it achieve improved results before another leader departs, this time with a less generous golden goodbye?


The Apprentice: Is Sir Alan Sugar acting out the Frankenstein myth?

March 29, 2007

_42740811_gorilla.jpgIn the third series of The Apprentice, Sir Alan Sugar further develops his iconic status as business leader and TV celebrity. But is he acting out the Frankenstein myth, and will he be remembered only for the monster he created?

Update (April 24th 2007)

Dan, and others suggested (in the comments) the possibility of a ‘turned table’ game in which Alan Sugar and others are successively fired. The application of avatars also cropped up in a blog by Paul Carruthers.

4 pm Wednesday March 28th. Message from the pink one. Would I be willing to give a telephone interview about The Apprentice? Do Bears trade in the markets? Yes, I would be willing to give an interview.

This is how it works. The Business Journalist has a list of contacts, and calls around for a few comments that can be knitted together for an article. Mostly the journalist wants to embellish a story-line. Is Alan Sugar a good role model? Is the series just another version of reality TV? Is reality TV unreality TV? The bulk of the final article may well have been assembled – perhaps in an earlier face-to-face interview, or developed from a pre-view of a TV show. The conversation between journo and quote-provider is usually quite pleasant. The discussion may even respect the convention that you are been offered a chance to express your views to a mass audience. Later you will find whether you supplied the sort of quote that the interviewer was looking for.

In pre-blog days, the rest of the discussion would never have been reported. But that was then. Here’s what I would have liked to seen published in a fully reported interview. My reasonably crafted replies here are of course far more coherent than the spluttering efforts I might have made at the time.

Journalist: The Apprentice is starting another series tonight. I’m writing a piece for the Financial Tube and wondered if you had any comment about the programme

Self: Yes. I’m with Digby Jones on this one. He thinks Alan Sugar is a bad role model for a business leader. So do I.

Journalist: Why do you think that?

Self: Alan Sugar is a successful businessman. But the structure of the programme gives a false one-dimensional picture of him acting as an old-fashioned alpha-male ..

[Journalist asks another question but I go on with the earlier answer]

.. He has to act as he does. There are the scenes where people are sycophantic about him, then they get the victim part in the scene where he has do his catch phrase ‘you’re fired’.

Journalist: [possibly asking the question again. The one I hadn’t answered]: What do you mean by an old-fashioned alpha male? Isn’t he typical of successful business leaders:

Self: There are still successful alpha-male leaders. They are increasingly being compared unfavourably for similarities with violent animal group behaviors such as the so-called Mandrill Management. You find them particularly in certain jungle industries. Media – film tycoons, barrow-boys. [And newspaper magnates, but I might not have mentioned that. I have in the past, a few times. If the journalists get it, they don’t publish it. Can’t think why.] But we need to show other models of business leaders. People who can help in tricky negotiations – get our people out of Iran at present, get politicians around a table in Northern Ireland.

Journalist: Have you ever seen the programme?

Self: A few times. But I’ve stopped now. I can watch kids behaving badly in my day job. I don’t want to switch on and watch a phonier version of business dynamics at night.

I respect Sir Alan’s business success. But that’s something else. He’s been sucked into a different game here. There is every chance that he will eventually be remembered by a catch-phrase ‘you’re fired’. I’m not bothered about that.

We ban violence from our screens on the assumption it leads to copycat behaviour. I’m not for taking our TV without Sugar, but I don’t like the way it reinforces the idea that a successful boss has to be a bully. Is this the image of the charismatic leader we aspire to? The leaders we help create and deserve?


Tata bags Corus. Think Tesco, think Unilever

January 31, 2007
Jamsetji Tata

Jamsetji Tata

Update

Eighteen months after the original post of January 2007, Tata has acquired more global visibility through its acquisitions policy [Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford] and the launch of ‘the world’s cheapest car’.

The original post follows:

Indian company Tata Steel has won the battle to buy its Anglo-Dutch rival Corus. But what’s Tata like? In scale, Tata’s impact on the Indian economy at present can be likened to Tesco’s in the UK. But in other ways the company’s historic leadership and culture are better compared with those associated with the global conglomerate Unilever.

After a long running battle between rival suitors, The Ango-Dutch steel-maker Corus has been bought by the Indian company, Tata [January 2007]. Corus is itself a relatively unfamiliar name in the UK, in comparison with the historic British Steel organisation. This to some degree reflects Tata’s unobtrusive move to the centre of attention as a global player.

So what’s Tata really like?

Business travellers in India are quickly made aware of the country’s industrial success stories. Close to the top of everyone’s list is the Tata group. Visitors to Mumbai learn of the origins of Tata, perhaps first through ‘the other Taj Mahal’, the luxury hotel built by Jamsetji Tata, the founder of today’s corporate giant. They will perhaps be driven (definitely not drive!) in a company car, perhaps one such as the Indica better known in the UK as the City Rover. The will be unlikely to leave without being tempted into acquiring a Titan watch, another success story for Tata. They will learn how a familiar ‘British’ product, Tetley tea has been acquired by Tata Tea. They may also visit Jamshedpur, the model town founded by Jamsteji Tata, and the centre of Tata’s world-class steel operations. The town itself is an obvious parallel with the social vision of William Hesketh Lever, founder of Unilever, at Port Sunlight, on Merseyside.

The Tata dynasty

Jamsteji was to found not just a company, but a dynasty. Both sons (Sir Dorab and Sir Dorab) were to progress the company, and establish huge trusts). Later, JRD Tata (a son to a relation to the pioneering line of the family, and his French wife) founded Air India. He had progressed from his start as an apprentice, to lead the company over five decades.

The era had also seen the impact of another industry giant, in the romantic figure of Nathan Tata who had been adapted by Lady Tata after spending his early years in an orphanage. Through a combination of ability and more than a modicum of charm and charisma he was to become a major national figure and diplomat, sporting administrator as well as a business leader.

Today there is still a Tata at the head of the group. Ratan N Tata is a Cornell and Harvard graduate and continues the family’s involvement in the social as well as the economic well-being of the country. Unsurprisingly, he is a Tata ‘lifer’, having joined in 1962 and seen through his time the transformation of the company into a global player.

Tata and Unilever compared

An immediate comparison, based on scale can be made with Tesco, for its national impact, with its £1 of £8 in consumer spend passing through its UK tills. Tata contributes nearly 3% of India’s GNP. However, I am more taken by its similarities with Unilever. For example, Unilever employs more than 206,000 people and had a worldwide revenue of US$50 billion; Tata claims 2,46,000 people and revenues of $22 billion

The obvious product link is between Tata tea, now owners of Tetley’s. Unilever’s Lipton is still the leading brand internationally. However, for me, the link is not so much in products as in culture.

Unilever was also founded by a pioneer who started a dynasty. William Hesketh Lever (Lord Lever) created a model village, Port Sunlight, which still can be found a walking distance from the soap ‘manufactury’, and Unilever’s modern research laboratories. The Leverhulme research trust is one of the nation’s greatest philanthropic institutions; Tata’s trusts are as significant for India.
.
Assessment of corporate culture is a tricky business, and coming under increasingly scrutiny from campaigns promoted through the internet. However, Unilever and Tata have both largely escaped the vituperation heaped on other global giants.

Through my observations and contacts with both companies, employees and managers reflect a healthy culture.

Their leaders have at critical times followed a sense of ‘duty to history’
akin to fifth-level leadership principles and also to servant leadership.

By and large, this has protected the company from the damage that can be caused by Mandrill management

Students of leadership may find it constructive to reflect on the patterns of leadership found in Tata and Unilever in achieving ‘built to last’ companies.


Waterhole warriors and mandrill management in British Airways truce

January 30, 2007

According to a Ghanaian saying, when the big beasts arrive at the waterhole, it’s time for the mice to hide. Yesterday, the leaders of British Airways and the Transport and General Union moved their troops to the waterhole. It seemed a case of Mandrill management. But the body language of the leaders had already signalled their intentions of reaching a bloodless truce.

Mandrill

The strike of Cabin Crew at British Airways scheduled for today was called off yesterday after last-ditch negotiations by corporate and Union leaders. The drama reminded me of something a colleague from Ghana was fond of saying about industrial conflicts, that when the big beasts arrive at the waterhole, it’s time for the mice to hide.

Waterhole behaviors and Mandrill Management

Why should a Ghanaian maxim about jungle beats throw light on the current industrial relations battle at British Airways? The metaphor suggests that in times of conflict we may see patterns of human behaviour reflective our deeper instructs for fight/flight.

The process has even been described colourfully as Mandrill management.

This variety of ape, famous for its red nose, turns out to be one of the biggest bullies in the simian world. Mandrills are creatures dedicated to the cult of the Alpha Male. They spend their lives climbing to the top of the group hierarchy and, once there, behave abominably. Bottoms are flashed, willies waved, rivals clobbered and females impregnated with abandon.

Waterhole behaviours tend to be ritualistic. There may be some baring of teeth by the alpha-males, but more often than not the conflicts are resolved peaceably. For the alpha males, a temporary truce is the preferred outcome.

If we are to take the analogy further, we might note that the ritualistic nature of the conflict also preserves the superiority of the leaders over their own followers. In this instance, as a pitched battle seemed likely, the leaders took their place at the head of their respective armies, replacing their deputies.

At this stage, the language (speech acts as the social scientist would call them) of each leader was that of respect. They met to parley, not fight. And parley they did. Yet, the ritual has its own demands. The waterhole rituals can not be abandoned too swiftly. Why? Because that would leave open the opportunity of another wannabe leader stepping up to challenge not just the enemy without, but as importantly, the position of alpha-male in his own troop.

The key points agreed by BA

In practice, the outcome of such a stand-off will be couched in win-win terms. Concessions are reported, even if they had not figured highly in earlier stages of the conflict, making it difficult foe either side to claim total victory.

For example, the current dispute has been described as being about excessive sickness days by BA cabin crew (BA version), and bullying of crew to work even when they were sick (Union version, and an accusation of Mandrill management methods at BA). The agreement yesterday indicated that

BA and the union have also agreed on the implementation of the current sick leave policy, introduced 18 months ago, whereby staff have to explain to managers why they were off sick .. The T&G says it is now happy that the policy will be implemented fairly, and that staff will not feel obliged to go to work if they are sick.

That wasn’t Mandrill Management

The wider issues of concern between BA and the T&G union have been ‘resolved’ with plenty of scope (it seems to me) for future renewal of hostilities. A pay deal for two years has been agreed. Company efforts at addressing a major pensions fund deficit have been ‘noted’. Cabin crew team leaders are to be reduced from four to three on the largest planes of the fleet.

Overall, the outcome is adequately complex to defeat efforts at establishing winners or losers. Try as we might, we can hardy make sense of what happened ‘at the waterhole’ as essentially down to two leaders engaged in Mandrill management. The complexity of the agreement suggests extended and thoughtful effort by wider teams dealing with matters requiring high levels of experience and professional knowledge.

But there might still be a culture of confrontation

So congratulations are in order to the leaders who snatched at least a temporary respite from all-out conflict. Nevertheless, we can understand the reasoning behind the BBC observation that

BA also has to continue to deal with what some analysts see as an ongoing environment of worker militancy.

The content of the negotiations might demonstrate creative problem-solving. Nevertheless, the implicit messages are of Mandrill Management embedded in the perceived culture of alleged bullying of cabin crew to work when sick. Willie Walsh and Tony Woodley both won their present leadership positions with track records as tough confrontational leaders.
Which suggests that the truce at the waterhole may still only be a prelude to more serious battles.


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