BHS and the Demonization debate

April 28, 2016

BHS

 

BHS, not unlike Boots, is a British icon of the High Street.  Its decline makes it open season for demonization of its current owners and more significantly for Sir Philip Green, who sold it for £1 a year ago

A year ago, Philip Green signalled a tough time ahead for BHS with his peppercorn sale of the retail stores, throwing in a modest sweetener towards its huge pension liabilities. The new owners were either a brilliantly visionary group of entrepreneurs, or a bunch of body snatchers. As BHS heads for administration, the second looks the more realistic.

Its new leader, Dominic Chappell, was described by The Mirror as an ex-racing car driver and former bankrupt. In a last desperate effort to rescue the company, Mr Chappell was reported to have moved £1.5 million from the company in an imaginative but ill-fated manoeuvre more suited to the racing track. He has since paid most of it back.

As the Mirror explained:

Representatives confirmed the news today [April 25th 2016] after talks with Sports Direct – owned by Newcastle United billionaire Mike Ashley – to sell some of its 164 stores collapsed at the weekend. A formal announcement is expected at around noon.

The collapse of BHS would be the biggest retail failure since Woolworths folded in 2008 with the loss of almost 30,000 jobs. It is understood any buyer would only step forward if it did not have to take on the £571m pension deficit.

The Financial Times

The Financial Times offered a rather half-hearted defence of Philip Green. Its article was headed The demonization of Green, arguing this was a result of the prerences of the tabloid press. Then it got down criticisms of the commercial judgement of the life style and financial practices of the tycoon which could be seen as something of a demonization of itself.

These included a charge of ‘Pensions dumping … as the entrepreneur was taking delivery of his third superyacht to his Monaco bolt hole’.

The Daily Mail

The Daily Mail, one of those tabloid media, did indeed give Philip Green a thumping, although the ‘demonization’ was as much it that newspaper’s style than its substance. Its headline ran Can the man who milked the millions from BHS really be allowed to keep his knighthood?

The Mail added to a chorus of demands that Sir Philip be banished to the naughty chair, be relieved of substantial amounts of Moola, and be stripped of his knighthood.

The main points were covered in more robust terms than was found in the Fnancial Times, although the Mail actually cited the FT as for one of its sources for ‘a staggering billion or so moved from BHS into the family coffers under the Green machine’.

The Guardian

The Guardian having done a right royal anti-royal piece on the Queen’s knees-up, last week kept the top on the vitriol bottle.  The article was pretty much like the Mail’s, with perhaps more distain for Green’s life style and the milking of BHS assets.

Mary Portas

Mary Portas was more dismissive. In a radio interview [Monday 25th April 2016] she talked of the lack of vision by BHS over the years, and its failure to grasp a future more like pound savers and the need for more visionary leaders. [Note for business students: can you see some tiny flaw in the reasoning of the person charged by the Government with reviving our High Street?].

To be fair, anyone can get a bit carried away in a radio interview.

In a piece for the Guardian, the Queen of the High Street explains under the headline how I would have saved BHS

If I had been at British Home Stores I would have looked at today’s market place and created a brand that is relevant for today’s shopper.

I would have gone totally after the value market, but made it functional and cool.

I would have started with where it was good – the lighting. Then I would have extended that to become a modern British lifestyle retailer at a great price.

Nice move, Mary

So that’s what Philip Green missed. Fixing the lighting. Mary avoided mentioning him by name. Probably best.  He has been known to sort out opposition in a not particularly functional or cool sort of way.

To be continued


The Queen, The Pope, and the Fidel Castro Conundrum

April 26, 2016

QEII

The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations help explain the nature of charisma

The concept of charisma continues to fascinate students of leadership.  This morning [21 April, 2016], Reginaphilia raged and reached unparalleled levels across the realm.

Somehow I had missed the truth that should have been staring me in the face.  I have been compiling lists of charismatic individuals in business, politics, sport, show-business.  but I had completely overlooked the claims of Queen Elizabeth II. Even when she was (charismatically) portrayed by that charismatic actress Helen Mirren, I still didn’t get it.

My moment of truth

I nearly missed the moment when truth was revealed to me this morning.  The BBC had retained its customary tone of all things monarchic, that is to say deep respect, with the occasional few moments airtime for someone to make the republican case, in the interested of ‘balance’

“Over then to Windsor town where the people had been queuing for a glimpse of HRH.”

How long had they been waiting? Four days and nights, I learned. Roughly the time tennis fans queue for a handful of tickets at Wimbledon. Loyalists is too mild a word for those at the front of the queue. These were utterly loyal and compliant subjects.

“What’s it like to see the Queen?” asks the BBC reporter

“When I see her”, said one young-sounding man, “I have goose-pimples.”

“It’s her aura”, a lady of middle England explained. “I can’t move. If she spoke to me, I couldn’t speak a word.”

And then I understood.  In our modern world the old mysteries remain.  The followers sustain the belief in the divine right of the Monarch to rule over us, and afterwards granted to the offspring (male for the moment, but that’s another story). And if I had ignored The Queen, I had likewise ignored the claims of The Pope.

The Charismatic Pope

As someone outside its fold of the Catholic church, I have felt ill-equipped to follow the charismatic nature of Pope Francis. So as well as missing the Queen’s charismatic impact, I also failed to have noticed that another super-charismatic figure had emerged on the global stage.

I will let a supporter speak the case:

A year on from his inauguration, Pope Francis is showing signs of being the most charismatic Pope we’ve seen yet. What impact is he having on the UK’s Catholic charismatic movement?

It’s not the first time Pope Francis has surprised us since his inauguration just over a year ago. He’s opted to live in a simple apartment with almost no personal staff, swapped a limousine for a bus and chosen a papal name that links him to a saint known for his dedication to poverty, reform and a love of the natural world. He’s been photographed kissing a man with a rare skin disorder and embracing another with a severely disfigured face. He’s blessed a rally of 35,000 Harley-Davidson riders, hired an intern with Down’s syndrome for Vatican Radio and regularly tweets his 3.8 million followers with thoughtful, encouraging words (@pontifex)

Pope Francis has been named Time magazine’s 2013 person of the year, featured on the covers of Rolling Stone magazine and The New Yorker and was described by Sir Elton John as ‘a miracle of humility’. After just a year, his influence is undisputedly running broad and deep

But would Pope Francis go a step further – and describe himself as a ‘charismatic’? The article then outlines the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church which Francis has treated with respect while avoiding the battlefield over the place charismatic Catholicism in the church.

Time for revision

It is time for revision. I mean my own revision in finding no place for The Queen or Pope Francis in my tables of charismatic leaders. Trouble is, unlike Time, Rolling Stone, or Fortune, I just can’t decide where to place them, and whether they should displace the long-standing number one Fidel Castro.


Boots as we still think of it is no more

April 21, 2016

Boots, one of the UK’s venerable and iconic companies, has been the subject of two takeovers since 2007. The company appears to have retained public perceptions of its brand on the high street. Recent allegations against the parent company, Walgreens Boots Alliance, may be threatening its corporate reputation

The breaking story in the US concerns subpoenas concerning the corporate relationship between Walgreens Boots Alliance and a blood-testing company Theranos.

In the UK, the news focus is quite different. The Guardian broke the results from an investigation of mis-use of government funds by the Boots pharmacy operations:

Managers at Britain’s biggest pharmacy chain were found to be directing their chemists to provide medicine-use reviews (MUR) to customers who didn’t need them, in order to claim public money from the NHS (National Health Service) which pays £28 for each MUR, which is carried out by a pharmacist and intended to give patients professional advice on health, diet and how best to manage their medicines.

The Guardian has also seen a recent unpublished survey by the trade union, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), to which more than 600 Boots chemists – more than one in 10 of the entire company’s pharmacists ­– responded. Asked “how often do you believe financial cutbacks imposed by your main employer have directly impacted upon patient safety”, over 75% of Boots chemists said that was true “around half” or more of the time. A number volunteered complaints about being “pressurised into conducting MURs whether or not patients are eligible to receive the service” and “Boots keeps asking me for more MURs”.

As subscribers to LWD will know, we have followed the fortunes of the iconic company over two takeovers in the last decade.

The first takeover (2007)

The first takeover in 2007 was seen as a bloodless coup:

Cherished British Drug company Boots merges with European partner, whose wealthy owner, Stefano Pessina, becomes deputy chairman in the new company, Alliance Boots.

The amicable arrangement suggested that in any leadership transition, Mr Pessina would be a cuckoo in the nest. In short order, chairman Sir Nigel Rudd resigned. further friendly discussions were followed by a takeover by private equity firm KKR. The move was presented openly as a vehicle which would install Pessina as its main driver.

KKR and Stefano Pessina had made it known that they wanted to keep the top team intact. But for all the continuing expressions of good will, the inevitable was to happen.

Thursday July 12th 2007, Richard Baker decided to accept a severance deal that would be worth some £10 million. It seems as if they made an offer for him to stay, or decline with honour

The second takeover (2014)

The second takeover is far from complete. This time it is with the mammoth American firm Walgreens, and was initiated in 2014

 

Walgreens Boots Alliance, has the new Nasdaq label WBA. [not to be confused with WBA, aka The Baggies, or West Bromwich Albion, another venerable brand in England, and a midlands- based Football club.] The merger was suggested to have been imposed on Walgreens by impatient shareholder activists.

The change had more executive bloodshed on the Walgreen side. The veteran Stefano Pessina of Boots Alliance again became the most obvious winner, just as he was when he engineered the Merger of Boots with his own Swiss-based operations earlier. The financing of the deal cost Walgreens five billion dollars plus shares.

National and International Issues

In the UK, liberal regulations encourage international takeovers, where investment and efficiency gains are prized until collateral damage to employees becomes contentious.

Only then is the rhetoric of corporate social responsibility really tested.

The case of Tata steel is still rumbling on. The Indian conglomerate Tata, hailed as a saviour of the aging British Steel Industry, announced closure of its UK operations. Tataa became the scapegoat for closures resulting from the global over-production of steel.

So far, ‘Boots the chemist’ has retained its positive image in the eyes of the public, long after Boots as a corporate identity exists as little more than a convenient product brand.  (Compare the national standing of Cadburys, another mythical beast masquerading as a much-loved national manufacturer of chocolate goodies).

Notes

I still think ‘Boots’ not ‘Alliance Boots’, just as I think ‘Manchester Business School’, when the new name is the ‘Alliance Manchester Business School’.

Ideas and cultures hang around a lot longer than brinks and mortar.


Justin Welby: how a leader deals with news that would devastate most people

April 19, 2016

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/be/Mobilising_Faith_Communities_in_Ending_Sexual_Violence_in_Conflict_%2815862086073%29.jpg/330px-Mobilising_Faith_Communities_in_Ending_Sexual_Violence_in_Conflict_%2815862086073%29.jpg

The Archbishop of Canterbury discovers his private life conceals a secret that most people would find difficult or even impossible to deal with.  His reaction is admirable

The news headlines promised prurience. The spiritual leader of the Church of England finds himself the product of a brief extra-marital relationship between his mother Jane Portal who was Winston Churchill’s personal secretary, and Sir Anthony Montague Browne (1923–2013), Churchill’s private secretary.

Read the rest of this entry »


Jamie Murray: World Number One Doubles Player

April 16, 2016

Jamie Murray

 On March 27th 2016 Jamie Murray became World No 1 doubles player, and the first British tennis player to achieve top ranking since the ATP computer rankings were introduced for doubles in 1976. He strengthened his position at Monte Carlo three weeks later

 Jamie Murray had progressed with John Peers into several Slam event finals, and won six titles over the period 2012-2015, but switched partner to the Brazilian Bruno Suares shortly after the 2015 US Open last September. Almost immediately [in January 2015] they won the 2016 Australian Open together.

 

The Overlooked Murray

Jamie has been overlooked outside (and arguably inside) the tennis following community. Andy Murray has attracted headlines for a range of achievements and firsts for British Tennis (not English Tennis, as he felt required to point out  in earlier years). First to break the drought in Grand Slam winners, and Olympic golds for GB, the driiving force on the team winning the Davis Cup in 2015, where again Jamie played an important part in the doubles victories with Andy.

But it was Jamie not Andy who was first to win a slam event, hardly mentioned any more. Why? Because it was in doubles (lower kudos than a singles win) and mixed doubles at that.

Now it is also Jamie who is first to become the Tennis World No One. as Andy contests for the Number two slot (but of course, again in the higher status Singles rankings).

Jamie probably prefers to stay more out of the limelight, but it would take a very unusual person not to have some hint of sibling rivalry from time to time.

Jamie’s strengths

Jamie’s strength has developed around lightening quick reflexes and net interceptions, and a few specialities which favour guile over power, including a chip forehand, a placed rather than a crunched volley, and a lob return of service.  He still conceals a modest serve which sometimes lets him down.

Beating the Bryans

At 30 he is seven years younger than the Bryan twins who remain committed to returning to the top, and are experimenting with a switch of court positions to do so.

No false mask of confidence

Jamie sometimes cuts an anxious figure on court. He does not conceal tensions he feels. In so many sports, the top cat displays a mask of confidence and even invincibility.

Not Jamie, which is encouraging for the rest of us.

Acknowledgment

Image from Jamie’s wikipedia site.

PostScript

More to come, as Brother Andy prepares to emulate Jamie and get to the final of the Monte Carlo tournament

 

 


John Whittingdale: The BBC bites back

April 13, 2016

The culture minister John Whittingdale is embroiled in a story about his relationship with a consort considered unsuitable for a minister of the crown.  It is tempting to link his story to that of the affair of the hapless John Profumo, many years ago

 The context to this story is the febrile political atmosphere in the UK, where there is an appetite for political mischief in the run-in to the EU referendum.

Read the rest of this entry »


Press Release: Author completes fourth book in a year

April 11, 2016

 

 Picture of Tudor

 Your Editor prepared this Press Release for the anticipated publication of Tennis Tensions which has been delayed by the curious story of Jose Mourinho’s departure from Chelsea.

 

 

Woodford-based author Tudor Rickards completed a third edition of his business textbook in 2015. He then decided to try his hand at self-publishing. In May 2016 he will produce his fourth self-published book.

“When I retired from the University of Manchester, I had got into the habit of writing every day for business executives, using news stories about leadership. I decided to keep going, but publishing for myself.

My first self-published book, The Manchester Method, was written for business mentors, but then I started concentrating on sports leadership. My first sports book described my experiences at the Northern Tennis Club Didsbury, over the last years.

Then the fascinating story of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea resulted in Mourinho Matters, partly because one of my students is a well-known Premier League football player.

That held up publication of Tennis Tensions, for which I studied forty matches at the US Open to see whether top athletes suffer from the same sorts of anxieties as club players. “

 

 

Tennis Tensions is scheduled for publication in May 2015.  Inspection copies are available for review purposes. Professor Rickards is also available for interview.


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