Rainbow leadership. Let’s not do a black or white on Green

June 15, 2016

Retail billionaire Philip Green appears before a parliamentary committee over his governance of British Home Stores.  He is already cast in the role of villain by some, and a heroic defender of entrepreneurial success for others. There is need for more rainbow leadership, as I will explain

The specific news story in this post deals with Sir Philip’s appearance before the Work and Pensions Committee. I also introduce a new approach to leadership, which I have labelled rainbow leadership.

What is rainbow leadership?

Rainbow leadership attempts to relocate leadership understanding through the ‘whole spectrum’ metaphor of a rainbow.

It stands alongside earlier attempts to present alternative images of reality, such as are found in the classic text Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan. The existing and familiar metaphors include the machine metaphor, the network or brain metaphor, the culture metaphor, the organic metaphor, and so on.

The rainbow metaphor connects particularly easily with interpretational approaches to exploring the real and the imagined.  In my own writings it is implied in my various treatments of creative thinking, and most recently in Dilemmas of Leadership, earlier this year. Specifically, there is emphasis on ‘Yes and’ thinking, and its comparison with Either Or thinking, for which the metaphor is often black and white or binary thinking.

What’s black and white and red all over?

What’s black and white and red all over? The Christmas Cracker teaser only works if it is spoken not written. Rainbow thinking is, according to its metaphor red, green, blue and other colours which together may recombine into white.  Rainbow leadership recognizes this part-whole issue and deals with it rather than trying to over-analyse (splitting it down to its parts).

Black and white and Green

Leaders we deserve has followed the turbulent career of Philip Green since our blog started ten years ago. His titanic battles for ownership of M&S revealed Green’s pugnacious (sometimes literally) leadership style in the heavyweight category against Stuart Rose.

His appearance today [15 June 2016] focuses on his sale of his vast retail interests in British Home Stores for a peppercorn £1 with 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.

Its new leader, Dominic Chappell, was described earlier 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.

The Chairman of the select committee, Frank Field, spiced up today’s contest in advance. His remarks were followed by Sir Philip’s calling for his resignation, and threatening to pull out of the ‘invitation’.

This risks further censure. Calls have been made for his Knighthood to be withdrawn.

Back to rainbow leadership

The select committee has been accused of lacking the Rottweiler style of its former Chair, Margaret Hodge. My viewing last week suggested that their conversations  with Mike Ashley showed more than a hint of rainbow leadership.

Ashley, famed for his impulsive and confrontational style, was himself more conciliatory, accepting his corporate deficiencies. He even accepted that his company had broken the minimum wage employment legislation.

It will be interesting to see whether Sir Philip also enters into this spirit of rainbow leadership today.

To be continued


Mike Ashley to run for leader of the Conservative party

June 8, 2016

shirtless-newcastle-fan.jpg

It is rumoured that self-made billionaire Mike Ashley is to run as leader of the Conservative party. The plan was put in place after secret meetings with Donald Trump, Lord Alan Sugar and Simon Cowell earlier this year

Mr Ashley’s chances of becoming leader of the Conservative party was rated as “a good bet at 1000-1” a figure now famous for the odds available at the start of the season for Leicester City Football Club winning the league. Now, after his effortless intellectual bettering of the Commons Select Committee this week [7th June, 2016] the odds are likely to drop even further.

Getting a safe seat

He is, at present, ineligible to stand, but  a safe seat in Parliament has been identified from a short-list of current MPs who are in danger of being deselected, declared insane, or imprisoned for various criminal offences.

The Press Magnet

Sociologist Tony Scrivener of Urmston University says that Mr Ashley has the characteristics needed to get to the top in politics.

“He has a track record of success in business. He is seen as not a member of the ruling elite. He is a ‘press magnet’, a larger than life charismatic personality, not afraid to take on the establishment. He will build on what he will call his triumph over parliamentary attempts to lock him in Big Ben for contempt.

His physical bulk, and his macho image also work for him, often appearing in the style of President Putin, stripped to the waist surrounded by adoring fans at Newcastle, the club he owns.”

Abolitionist firebrand

He intends to bring in advisors to help in his plans, which include the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, as ‘wastes of time and space’, the creation of five million zero-hours jobs, and winning the World Cup with the English football team.

The Ashley team

We have not been able to confirm the names of the advisors, but they are believed to include a top BBC football pundit who once worked for Mr Ashley, and possibly the Portuguese media specialist Hose Nourinho, to strengthen his PR department.

The Queen is safe

He intends to preserve the monarchy until after the demise of the Queen, but after her departure he is believed to  favour of an elected head of state who knows a bit about business.

My Pal Donald

He believes he will turn the criticisms about his own business affairs to his advantage. In this, he is being advised by someone he refers to as “my boony pal Donald”.

Other parts on his brilliant vision include the purchase of The Sun from another of his close friends, Rupert Murdoch, and holding mass rallies at Newcastle United Football Club. During each of these,  he will descend in a massive balloon bedecked in the club’s famous Black and White colours. [The balloon that is, not Mr Ashley], who will emerge, shirtless, displaying his Putinsque Six Pack, to the thunderous chords of Local Hero.

Stop Press

I have been unable to confirm [8th June, 2016] that Mr Ashley is about to join the Remain campaign to add his formidable communication skills in a last desperate attempt to win over supporters swayed by the brilliant rhetoric of  Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and particularly Michael Gove.

 


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


Berkeley group as a study of entrepreneurial leadership

September 15, 2015

Tony PidgleyBerkeley Group reports a profits surge as it prepares to enter the FTSE 100 index. This news is tempered by resistance from its instructional investors over its executive remuneration arrangements

The Berkeley Group corporate web page suggests this is a modern company complying with the ‘newer bottom lines’ of Corporate social responsibility. Its financial growth has been found attractive to institutional investors. Now the cachet of entry into the FTSE 100 as a solid blue chip company beckons.

Its situation is even more positive at present as government house building policies have given the sector a boost.

Read the rest of this entry »


Why did Mike Ashley sack Chris Hughton?

December 11, 2010

Some leadership stories are simpler than others. The departure of the Newcastle United manager this week seems sad but relatively uncomplicated to explain. But there may be possibilities beyond the most widely-accepted explanation

There has been wider-than-usual condemnation of the abrupt removal of Chris Hughton from his post as manager of Newcastle and his replacement with Alan Pardue. The consensus was high among footballers, pundits, fans, and fellow managers.

The popular story runs as follows

[1] The owner Mike Ashley has ‘previous form’ for ill-judged and hasty decisions in hiring and firing managers.
[2] This dismissal follows a pattern.
[3] It is ill-judged this time because Hughton had done an admirable job in the rescue of the club from relegation from the Premier league (a decline itself widely attributed in part to its dubious governance under Mr Ashley).
[4] The revival this season in the Premiership was better than expected even by fans. A relatively brief run of poor results recently has still left the club close to the middle of the Premiership table.
[5] Chris Hughton is widely admired as a capable manager.
[6] Claims that his replacement, Alan Pardue, will bring an experience which would strengthen NUFC’s future are unconvincing.

Chorus of disapproval

Among this chorus of disapproval, one voice offered some justification for the owner’s decision The Guardian suggested that:

Maybe, just maybe, Ashley will get this one right. Hughton was popular with the players but not so popular, apparently, that the team felt like breaking sweat at West Bromwich Albion last weekend, when Newcastle did not so much have an off day as a day off. A manager should never be one of the boys because boys occasionally play truant. Newcastle’s record since Hughton brought them back to the Premier League has been surprisingly good…yet impressive performances against Aston Villa, Sunderland, Arsenal and Chelsea have been offset by losing at home to Blackpool, Stoke and Blackburn. It seems that under Hughton, Newcastle were up for some fixtures but not others, a bit like Middlesbrough under Gareth Southgate. Christmas departures are sad but not necessarily bad.

The Guardian analysis differs from the widely espoused view that Newcastle are cursed with a particularly stupid Chairman who fails to see what is obvious to almost everyone with an opinion on the matter.

Other possibilities

There are other possibilities. Mr Ashley has in the past revealed an emotionality in his leadership style. His actions may have repeatedly influenced by irrational feelings of frustration and a failure to win the approval of the Newcastle faithful.

Or maybe, and I find this rather convincing, the owner is an entrepreneur who was successful in earlier business dealings. He may well be pursuing an entrepreneurial strategy for preparing the club for his exit at as good a price as he can obtain. In which case, the sacking may not necessarily be bad for Mr Ashley. As for Newcastle Football Club? New ownership may also ‘may not necessarily be bad’ for the club.

“If you always do…”

The team turned in one of their best performances of the season a few day’s after Pardue’e appointment [Saturday 11th December]. A new dawn? More systems-oriented fans may feel that “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”


Ashley, Kevin and Hostages to Fortune

September 15, 2008
Mike Ashley in Newcastle Shirt

Mike Ashley in Newcastle Shirt

Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United Football Club has become a high-profile leader for all the wrong reasons. His strategy and style have combined to leave him vulnerable to rejection by the fans he joined on the terraces during games

It was a popularist move which always risked creating a hostage to fortune for Mike Ashley. On match days he regularly appeared on the terraces, wearing the black and white striped shirt among (allegedly) Newcastle fans. A man of the people. TV pictures would show him downing a pint of brown stuff at competitive speed.

The phony image

But even the drink was dismissed by fans as not the real stuff. And the media hinted at hubris to come. This was a man from the people, of the people. A leader with the common touch. A veritable Napoleon, in there with the front-line troops. Or maybe not. A rich man playing the game of ordinary bloke made good.

The hostage to fortune

The hostage to fortune was the cultivated image of someone who shared the vision and dream of the fans. Mr Ashley was applauded for his actions in bringing back Kevin Keegan, the man the fans described as The Messiah.

But at the same time, Mr Ashley seemed to be putting other plans in place which were deeply offensive to the proud Keegan. A uber-managerial appointment of Dennis Wise. Transfer actions without adequate consultation with Keegan. It was not difficult to predict that Kevin, for all his love of Newcastle United, could bale out.

The fans could not square this with the image the owner was cultivating.

The outcome

A remarkably swift resolution. Within a week of Kevin Keegan leaving, ferocious protests against Ashley as Newcastle slump to a home defeat against Premier League newcomers Hull. The protests were pre-planned, and the loss is largely irrelevant to the momentum of events.

Mr Ashley issues a lengthy and personal statement indicating that he no longer sees any merit in his retaining control of the club.

I bought Newcastle United in May 2007. Newcastle attracted me because everyone in England knows that it has the best fans in football. When the fans are behind the club at St James’ Park it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It is magic. Newcastle’s best asset has been, is and always will be the fans.
But like any business with assets the club has debts. I paid £134 million out of my own pocket for the club. I then poured another £110 million into the club not to pay off the debt but just to reduce it.

The club is still in debt. Even worse than that, the club still owes millions of pounds in transfer fees. I shall be paying out many more millions over the coming year to pay for players bought by the club before I arrived.

But, he continued, events over the last weeks led him to the decision to put the club up for sale. Fan power indeed, which he concluded had put his family and himself in the path of physical danger

I am not stupid and have listened to the fans. I have really loved taking my kids to the games, being next to them and all the fans. But I am now a dad who can’t take his kids to a football game on a Saturday because I am advised that we would be assaulted. Therefore, I am no longer prepared to subsidise Newcastle United.
I am putting the club up for sale. I hope that the fans get what they want and that the next owner is someone who can lavish the amount of money on the club that the fans want.
This will not be a fire sale. Newcastle is now in a much stronger position than it was in 2007. It is planning for the future and it is sustainable.

The Entrepreneur as survivor

The message is unusually personal. It is consistent with the image that Mike Ashley projected from the terraces. But for all the emotion, there remains a healthy survival instinct within the actions of a permanently successful entrepreneur. Mr Ashley may have lost the club, but he is likely to do so in a way which may keep him off the terraces, but is unlikely to force him and his family on to the streets.


“You’re not Fit to Wear the Shirt. Take it off!”

January 5, 2008

shirtless-newcastle-fan.jpgNewcastle fans are known for taking the famous Magpies’ shirt to bed, and only removing it during the chilliest of mid-winter games. Is the terrace chant to new owner Mike Ashley an invitation for him to go topless for the toon? And what should Alan Shearer be wearing for his Match Of The Day appearances?

Mr Ashley as new owner of Newcastle United Football Club hit on a highly symbolic way of letting the fans know he was not in it just for the money.

He announced his matchday arrivals by appearing not in the directors’ box, but on the terraces. He didn’t just turn up, he arrived wearing the black and white shirt, that ultimate symbol of fandom. Then he began fraternizing on the supporters’ coaches.

But these actions were not enough to secure a leadership honeymoon for the new owner. Results continued to go south. Those ultras, fans who strip off faster than the cast of the Full Monty, could be heard crying “You’re not fit to wear the shirt”.

Were they inviting their new Chairman to follow their bare-buff example in support of the club? Somehow, I don’t think so…

Knowing me, knowing you

A new leader from outside a company or a football club has to address the matter of distinctiveness, whether arriving as an outsider or an insider. The is sometimes called the sociological dilemma of the other, a term only rarely incorporated into terrace chants.

The outsider has to work hard to avoid being dissed for not being one of us. The internally promoted leader has another kind of credibility problem through local knowledge and gossip about behaviours in earlier non-leadership roles.

In either case, actions speak louder than words. The leader has to convince by his actions, and words (speech acts) sooner rather than later.

Who is this Brian Ashley anyway?

Newcastle United has figured in several earlier posts. The culture under the long-standing chairman Freddy Shepherd was examined in an account of the possible struggles of the new coach Sam Allardyce. But any such problems for Sam were compounded when Freddy rather reluctantly handed over control to another outsider, Brian Ashley.

Mike Ashley is the entrepreneur behind Sports World, who became a paper billionaire early in 2007 with the public floatation of his business empire and renaming as Sports Direct International. Until then he had largely avoided courting publicity. This was an area in which he was to become increasingly less successful. Publicity over a costly divorce settlement became news, and then as he really hit the headlines after his successful bid for Newcastle.

Writing for the North East, local journalist Mick Lowes examined the end-of-year situation.

As [Newcastle] United enter their 116th year, the question has to be asked: has there ever been a 12 months of such radical change in the long and illustrious history of the North East institution?

Clubs under repeatedly new ownership – nothing new.

Clubs hiring and firing managers left, right and centre – old hat.

Clubs buying, and dispensing with, players at a rate of knots – as old as the hills.

A club, though, that in a few weeks finds itself with a new owner, new chairman, new manager… backroom staff and nine new PLAYERS – unheard of!!

Lowes goes on to examine events since Mr Ashley’s arrival:

[At first] Suspicion was fuelled by a lack of information, a case of simply not knowing who, or what, was Mike Ashley …[Although] Like Sir John Hall and Freddie Shepherd, Ashley is a self-made man ..[however] he might not have, as yet, the same “feel” for Tyneside but it’s clear he has the right kind of working-class grounding to appreciate what the football club means to the rank and file supporters.

The change of chairman is also indicative of the current climate in football. I’m sure, even by his own admission, that Chris Mort [The new Chairman] would consider his feelings for Newcastle United Football Club to be somewhat less impassioned than those of his predecessor. With a background in sport, he is clearly geared up to the demands of the “football business”… Whether talking to fanzine editors, or those of us in the local media, it’s also plain to see that, like his boss, he’s well and truly “bought into” Newcastle United…

Appointed by one regime, and inherited by another, the one thing you have to say is that life can’t have been easy for Sam Allardyce over the opening half of the season.

[However] Nobody has a divine right to success, but the fans in the business definitely deserve better. If not, sadly, 2008 will see more change.

That intense piece of journalism seems to me to capture one aspect of the culture surrounding the club. Initial suspicion of the new owner and chairman has been somewhat overcome as they demonstrate that their loyalty goes beyond the bottom line.

Sam on the other hand is judged by expectations of what goes on every Saturday. Poor results, rather than his ‘otherness’ , is the immediate cause of discontent among the fans.

Which brings us to Alan Shearer…

Alan Shearer: The Leader we Deserve?

Alan Shearer was being touted as the next manager, the hero-rescuer for the club, before he had retired as a player, before he had completed a coaching professional course, before Sam’s appointment.

I don’t know the degree to which this was media initiated manipulation, or whether there really was and still is a ground swell of support for the idea.

To outsiders it seems increasingly inevitable that Allardyce will have trouble surviving long enough to overcome the difficulties of an outsider at Newcastle. It is unlikely that Shearer will transform the club’s fortunes.

The problem is partly that club seems likely be reducing its options far too severely, if an insider is to be preferred over all other candidates.

THis would be a problematic approach even if the insider had an outstanding track record of success.

In times of crisis, an organization may well turn to an insider who has achieved great things elsewhere. Jurgen Klinsmann is the latest such example in his appointment to the German national team during a period of poor performances. Klinsmann had not many more direct credentials for the German top job than Shearer does for the one at Newcastle.

Rightly or wrongly, there appear to be pressure to get rid of Sam, perhaps seeing that it might increase the chances of a Shearer succession.

I have the impression that Shearer will be tempted eventually, but will be cute enough to resist what might prove to be an impossible job in the near future.

Far trickier than commentating on the problems of other managers for BBC’s Match Of The Day.


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