Border Crossings: Brodie Clark and Rob Whiteman add their stories to that of Theresa May

November 15, 2011

Brodie Clark and his manager Rob Whiteman of the Border Authority appear before the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. Clark resigned his post after being suspended in order to be able to testify openly to the committee. His suspension followed severe criticism from Home Secretary Theresa May. The conflicting testimonies promises future political dramas

The context

The story is difficult to capture in one post. The context is covered in The Guardian which portrays the Home Secretary as under political threat.

In the same newspaper, a detailed account of the Select Committee proceedings today [Nov 15th 2011] and further background to the case can be found in Andrew Sparrow’s blog.

The story is of interest for its insights into leadership dilemmas and behaviours.

My notes at the time:

I followed the entire session as it was transmitted by the BBC. I did not intend to do that, but it was gripping viewing, and quickly sent me scrambling for my lap top computer. My initial notes are reproduced, with additional comments [in parentheses]

BC [Brodie Clark] is convincing and considered in his responses. Assertion he is ‘no rogue officer’ Powerful. Indicates ‘a possible conflation‘ [mixing up two distinct entities) between a Pilot and ‘Custom and practice [of the Pilot trial supported by Home Secretary Theresa May, and established procedures in a 2007 operational document].
Rob Whiteman’s evidence started rather badly. Seemed unwilling to supply a key memo to committee [ He] Believed info had to be sent to an on-going investigation. Committee not pleased. RW concedes only to check if it’s OK before complying. Chair [Keith Vas] makes the committee’s powers to order compliance clearer.
Main focus [of testimony] at start [is] the 24 hours when RW met and next day [when he] suspended BC.

Says ‘Suspension is a neutral act…’ [but was it common…for someone 5 weeks in post?]

Says the suspension was ‘normal’ [later repeating] ‘in organizations’.

His statement less convincing for me. Why? Insistent that he made the right decisions.

Vas ends session asking for more transparency [than the committee had obtained from the Agency chiefs in the past].
RW said he [wanted to and ] would be transparent.

A few reflections

The notes above help me keep my reflections more aligned with initial observations [good for transparency?].

The committee now has to consider the testimonies and explore them for credibility. Beyond the rationality of the arguments is the impression made by the two main protagonists.

Two elements within Mr Whiteman’s testimony made an impression on me. He found it difficult to accept an invitation to acknowledge Mr Clark’s distinguished career. Secondly, his explanation of the manner of his suspension of Brodie Clark did not stack up with my experience of studying organizations over a lengthy period. His statement that the procedure was ‘normal in organizations’ cried out for a follow-up question. It was far from normal leadership behaviour in the hundreds of organisations with which I am familiar.

The Political Soap

The wider story has the makings of a political soap. Meryl Streep, of course, would make a very suitable Theresa May. I’m still working on the other leading players…

Three interesting facts about IBM today

November 15, 2011

Three interesting facts about IBM. It has shifted away from reliance on marketing computers. It has appointed a female insider as leader. And Warren Buffett has invested heavily in the oldest of technological giants.

Although this is a story about IBM, it is also one about Warren Buffett, pictured here, arguably a very atypical business leader. (Maybe there is no ‘typical’ business leader, but that’s a digression).

Decline of the heroic leader

The decline in news stories about successful leaders has been noticeable since the heady days when I began collecting them for LWD some five years ago. Even the BBC has spotted the trend, identifying recent research which adds to suspicions of the hero-worship approach to studying CEOs.

That old war horse rides again

So it give me some pleasure to mention that old war-horse Warren Buffet, and IBM a company once lauded as the world’s biggest technological giant and now re-inventing itself as a software house. Buffett, who bought a railroad in his biggest acquisition, turned to a century-old technology company in the third quarter to help guard his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. against economic slumps.

Business Week outlines the developing story [15th Nov 2011]:

Buffett has [recently] spent more than $10 billion buying International Business Machines Corp. stock, his biggest investment in the period. The stake gives Berkshire 5.5 per cent of a company that has moved from competition with Apple and Dell to focus on providing business clients with software and services. IBM sold its personal-computer business in 2005 and has beaten the Dow Jones Industrial Average each year since.

Buffett, 81, [An ‘ageist ’ comment? But I would have mentioned it, too… ED, LWD] has built Berkshire to withstand recessions and market declines by seeking firms with lasting competitive advantages, or what he calls “moats.”

Buffet bucks leadership fashion

One endearing aspect of Warren Buffett stories is the manner in which he avoids fashion in his investment decisions and in his leadership style. It is hard to fit him into the mould of the corporate CEO identified with a great vision. His charisma is that of reputation rather than idealised influence.

Warren as a thought leader

It is easier to see him as a thought leader rather than a transformational figure. His company goes on succeeding as safe rather than innovative. His reputation is as a safe pair of hands, which places him in the category of ‘manager not leader’ according to one way of distinguishing between the two labels.

IBM’s revival

He has now become interested in IBM which has long passed through the stage of being labelled a technological innovator. It grows its own leaders internally, risking remaining within its famed IBM culture while failing to bring in the brightest charismatics that money can buy…

On the other hand

On the other hand, IBM is about to appoint as leader one of the few females in Corporate America’s boardrooms. Insider Virginia Rometty will take over from her mentor Sam Palmisano in January 2012. In an earlier post LWD covered her appointment


The image of Warren Buffett above is from Reg Trembley’s insightful blog The Director’s Cut.