2014 in review for Leaders We Deserve

December 30, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 95,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Editor’s note

I hope this report is immediately visible for LWD subscribers. The original post was not.


City Link: Jon Moulton plays the Fighting Talk game of defending the indefensible

December 29, 2014

TO BE UPDATED AS THE STORY DEVELOPS

Fighting talk is a BBC radio comedy programme which includes a challenge to panellists to defend the indefensible. Entrepreneur Jon Moulton found himself playing a version of the game defending the closure of the delivery firm City Link over the Christmas period City Link Van

The breaking story is the closure of the parcels delivery firm City Link, with likely loss of over 2000 jobs. The firm was acquired by Entrepreneur Jon Moulton’s venture capital vehicle Better Capital from Rentokil, in a fire-sale offer eighteen months ago [April 2013]. The announcement of the firm’s foreclosure took place on Christmas Day. Employees, many unsuspecting the news, learned of this through the media.

It’s their fault

As every lawyer, politician, criminal and naughty school-child knows, defending the indefensible is a necessary survival skill. Success in the game often involves finding someone else to blame, or finding a less difficult position to defend.

In a press interview, Jon Boulton was reported as saying that the Unions were to blame for the company breaking the news on Christmas Day. His hand was forced, he insisted, by a Union message on Christmas Eve. Better Capital intended to make the official announcement on Boxing Day [the day after Christmas].

Now look what you’ve made me do

The BBC’s Today Programme is a more refined version of Fighting Talk. In a radio interview, Mr Bolton had a chance to reprise his defense of the indefensible. He continued to insist that he could not have behaved in any other way, without breaking the law.

The official announcement which was made public [on 29th Dec, 2014] outlines the matter in legal terms.

Learning from mistakes

Mr Moulton has a knack of learning for his mistakes. His company was named Better Capital, allegedly as an ironic statement of intent to better the financial performance of earlier ventures. Other people including employees of firms acquired by Better Capital are the more obvious losers.

Dec 31st 2014

Jon Moulton reported as having offered assurances to City Link of funding support for a year in September 2014

January 1st 2015

Redundant workers told to check Face Book for job opportunities


Wimbledon transmission among ‘UK’s Cultural Crown Jewels’ under threat

December 26, 2014

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A range of sporting events broadcast in the UK is protected by law. This attempts to control transmission arrangements for Football and Rugby World Cup finals, the Grand National, and The finals of Wimbledon

The BBC enjoys privileged transmission of a range of such events. These are under increasing threat through commercial pressures.

Recently, [ December 16, 2014 ] a story broke that The BBC has begun talks with British Telecomm [BT] about sharing transmission of Wimbledon after the BBC current contract ends in 2017.

Wimbledon is a protected species

Wimbledon fortnight in July is a cultural as much as a sporting event. Its symbolic significance is up there with the National Health Service. Political parties are united in the need to protect and preserves both in the public (and their own political) interests.

The arrangements illustrate something about the broader social culture in the UK and a widely held suspicion of unregulated commercialization of cultural events.

Mixed economy or mixed-up interventions?

I have never successfully explained the rationale to American friends who tend to view the phenomenon as quirky, and evidence of unhealthy state intervention in the workings of a free market economy. Any defense has to explain the funding of the BBC through a ‘license to view’ charged to anyone receiving BBC transmissions. In an earlier era this was enforced through the use of sinister transmission vans, targeting homes with TV aerials around the land.

“It’s the way we do things here” I say, rather defensively.

When culture and commerce collide

For all its iconic status, Wimbledon is also derided as a symbol of middle-class values state-sponsored and propping up an elite and effete sport. It is the target of much blokeish bile to that effect, as each July approaches.

When culture and commerce collide, the battles tend to be highly emotional. The discussion polarizes traditional values and the need for innovative change.

To be continued


Sepp Blatter remains a figure of controversy. What gives him leadership power?

December 23, 2014

Sepp Blatter remains a powerful figure as President of the FIFA organisation, resisting attempts to persuade him to step down after mounting allegations of incompetence or worse

FIFA logo

The most recent controversy [December, 2014] concerns the resignation of Michael Garcia, the author of a report into the selection of the venues for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals which FIFA is procrastinating over publishing.

Allegations of vote rigging and bribing

LWD subscriber Paul Hinks noted earlier

There are accusations that the selection of venue for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals were unfair – allegations of vote rigging and bribing were reported by the BBC in 2010 when Russia was awarded the 2018 finals; Forbes are amongst credible sources echoing similar concerns about the successful Qatar 2018 bid.

The selection of Qatar for the 2018 finals appears even more confusing, given that traditionally the World Cup Finals are held in summer – in Qatar the summer temperatures would expose teams to temperatures of more than 40c – even today’s highly conditioned footballers cannot expect to excel for 90 minutes in that heat.

Then there is the deeper analysis of how FIFA are attempting to correct the situation – prompting closer inspection of Sepp Blatter’s tenure as President of the FIFA organisation.

What gives Blatter his leadership power?

I recently redrafted the chapter on power for the next edition of textbook Dilemmas of Leadership. The subject has been studied particularly as a way of understanding prime examples of apparent all-powerful leaders, including tyrannical CEOs and political dictators. The handbook of power remains Machiavelli’s The Prince with its chilling messages of resisting the overthrow of the powerful by their enemies.

What next for FIFA?

The BBC report cited above suggested that Fifa’s image is truly at an all-time low, and that reform can’t occur until there’s a change of leadership. Mr Blatter remains clear that he intends to stand for election in May [2015], and will seek a fifth term of office, at the age of 78.

LWD will continue to monitor the leadership story by updating this post


Sony cancels plans for the film The Interview after cyber-attacks and terrorism threats

December 18, 2014

The Interview will be remembered for the wrong reasons

The story itself seems one straight out of a Hollywood movie. A comedy is planned about the assassination of a political dictator. The computer records of the production company are seriously hacked by a mysterious group. This is followed by threats of terrorism by the same hacking group on cinema audiences. The company cancels its planned release.

Fact or fiction?

The above is as they say ‘based on real life events’ which took place in December 2014. In the real-life version, according to The Telegraph, a hacking group, which uses the name Guardians of the Peace [GOP] ‘issued threats against movie-goers and cinemas and invoked the memory of the September 11, 2001 terrorist atrocities’.

The same group had caused considerable security breaches at Sony over the last few weeks, with potentially serious financial and personal consequences. The GOP group is considered to have originated in North Korea.

Cinema chains initiated their own actions in cancelling any showing of the film. This would have contributed to Sony’s actions.

Pre-release reviews suggest the film appeals at a scatological level. The Guardian commented: ‘Rarely outside the playground has there been this much giddy conversation about the digestion process. Sphincters, buttocks and all that navigate these byways should get third billing next to Seth Rogen and James Franco in this dirty Hope and Crosby-style film about assassinating Kim Jong-un’.

A Significant or trivial event?

This is a trivial event in a week when a monstrous attack on a school in Peshawar in Pakistan resulted in the butchering of over hundred school children and their teachers.

The relative triviality of banning a film is amplified by the reactions in America, which themselves illustrate the adage of the reality of fear of violence. That is not to deny some significance to the whole incident, and the sense we make of it.

December 20th 2014

US claims it has evidence of implication of N Korea which denies the accusation and proposes a joint investigation.

To be continued


Diversity and its downside

December 15, 2014

In a Newsnight interview, the Economist Paul Collier sketched out his concerns over diversity and its political implicationsThe Human Development Context: Paul Collier

The BBC Newsnight interview [by Kirsty Wark, Dec 11th 2014] was partly framed by the increased importance being attached to the question of immigration control in the build-up to the General Election next May.

The distinguished economist Sir Paul Collier was introduced as a ‘liberal leaning’ figure who nevertheless had ‘expressed concerns about immigration’ in his work, including his analysis to be found in his recent book Exodus

Unsurprisingly, Sir Paul gently evaded attempts to simplify his ideas into an ‘immigration good or bad’ discussion. He suggested that the economic consequences of immigration were less significant than might be believed from the current narrative. His own concerns were that the consequences could result in a deterioration of socially cohesive factors of generosity, trust, and willingness to collaborate.

Loss of generosity
Loss of trust
Loss of collaboration

Wark suggested that her interviewee had been reported as relying too much on anecdote rather than evidence. Collier pointed out that the use of anecdote in his work was to illustrate the technical evidence, not replace it.

I found the interview a serious contribution to a debate on immigration that has increasingly demonstrated a preference for the glibness of absolute beliefs and evocative anecdotes. The issue is not so much whether immigration is good or bad, but how leadership and citizenship deals tolerance, trust and a willingness to seek collaborative over confrontational actions.


Malcolm Gladwell attacks NFL as a ‘moral abomination’

December 11, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell displays considerable talent as a potential American thought leader in his analysis of the NFL as ‘a moral abomination’

Any lingering doubts about Gladwell’s intellectual weight are dispelled in this interview. Its primary focus is a considered response to a fine imposed on colleague Bill Simmons by ESPN for ‘calling the NFL commissioner a liar’

The wider issue The broader context was a report by the NFL on long term brain injuries sustained by its former players.

The interview by Emily Chang was reported in a video put out by Bloomberg [Nov 12, 2012]. Gladwell starts coolly, but then produces a coldly-calculated moral rant against the NFL, and secondarily against ESPN for their treatment of Bill Simmons.

I have little doubt the video will polarize opinions, and no bad thing either, but watch the three minute exchange. If you are a teacher, show it in class for discussion. You may find it has potential as an educational experience.


Uber’s image is taking a beating: How will the market react?

December 8, 2014

Uber barges ahead, picking up major criticisms of its business policies and practices. Will the marketplace result in a shift towards more responsible corporate behaviours?

The Uber story is heading for business case stardom. It started in 2008 as a brilliant ‘why didn’t I think of that’ idea of using new technology to revolutionize personal transport arrangements. The smart phone car service is now valued at $18 billion and rising.

Success factor no 1. Clever use of IT

The basic proposition is easy to understand. Personal travel could be revolutionized by the use of information technology.

Success factor no 2. The creative leap and ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

The creative leap is easy to communicate if the initial AHA insight triggers the admiring and envious response ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

Success factor no 3. ‘It’s so obvious. Why didn’t I do anything about it?’

Maybe the reception to its early adaption is the stronger if the now-obvious insight was already widely considered. Most of us might have speculated of using IT car-sharing. Über acted on the idea.

Success factor no 4. The founder and named executives are tennis nuts

Only partly true. The corporate web site introduces its team of dynamic young thrusters as sporting enthusiasts to a person.

The thumbnail sketch of CEO Travis Kalanick lists his achievements as founder of the first P2P search engine, and as someone who ‘racked up the second highest Wii Tennis score in the world’. It seems somewhat less keen to reveal that Travis is approaching 40, a rather ancient codger among the Wii-wielding juveniles of California’s Venture community.

No brainer or roller coaster?

Like all radical innovations, Uber looks to be thriving in crazily dangerous conditions, more roller-coaster than no-brainer for market activists.

The matter of corporate social responsibility

A highly damaging story is bubbling up [November 2014] over errors of corporate social responsibility. The whiff of near adolescent energy and self-confidence in the web-site is being linked to an apparent pride in a corporate skill at accessing information of potentially valuable but illegal kind from its customers. As such tracking is part of the Corporate USP, the story at very least suggests insensitivity to its CSR implications.

Maybe in the dash for growth, any publicity was good publicity. That has been the slogan of more than one successful entrepreneur who later modified the approach for pragmatic or ethical reasons. Meanwhile the Ubervolk continue their search for global success for a powerful idea.

Tuesday December 9th

Über ban in Delhi by Transport Authorities after an alleged rape in a Uber taxi, Friday December 6th.

To be continued

[Comments and suggestions from Uber users and leadership students are particularly welcomed]


Mr. Turner’s charismatic charm

December 5, 2014

Fighting TemeraireBefore viewing Mr Turner, I had read and heard almost universally positive views of the film. What was it that produced such unconditional praise?

Partly, I suspect, because the film appeals through visceral rather than intellectual means. That is not to deny an exceptional level of intelligence behind its creation and delivery. My point is that we risk being dazzled and beguiled perhaps in ways similar to those produced by close encounters of a charismatic kind.

Charismatic lettuce and tomatoes

Charisma remains a fascinating concept. It has become over-used in popular culture. In his excellent book on the subject, John Potts gleefully reported the description of a charismatic lettuce, which presumably resulted in charismatic sandwiches. [I was reminded of the recent headlines in which Ed Miliband was confirmed as lacking in charisma because of the way he ate a bacon sandwich in public.]

The review of reviews, Rotten Tomatoes, confirms my point about the charismatic effect that Mr. Turner has had on its critics. Not so much rotten tomatoes, symbolizing artistic abuse, but veritable vegetable accolades.

Mr. Turner’s charisma

The film oozes charisma. there is a self-confidence in its visual impact. The demonstrations of sky- and sea- scapes were stunning and dog-whistle evocative. Reading the reviews is a humbling experience of dimensions of technical excellence which go unnoticed by amateur critics like myself.

The central performance by Timothy Spall as Turner was utterly compelling. This was the charisma of the physically near-grotesque yet ultimately endearing character. It also celebrated the notion of the disregard for convention of the creative genius. Does that sound like a cliche? If so, is it my cliche imposed on something subtler intentions?

Mike Leigh and distributed leadership

Over the years, Leigh has earned high regard for the integrity of his work, characterized by his unique improvisational style permitting artists to co-create characters. In leadership terms, this proves opportunities for distributed leadership.

The outcome is a set of performances mostly of high-quality, but inevitably individualistic. This has creative impact at the level of the individual and at the dyadic relationships with Spall’s Turner. What the approach gains in differentiated performances it loses in a lack of cohesion at the wider level of a narrative.

High on artistic values with a whiff of the didactic

The film manifests high artistic values. We are drawn to the scenic beauty and accompanying existential anguish which inspired Turner. We are invited to appreciate his innovative techniques he brought to his art.

For me, at times, the overall impact had rather too much of the earnest and didactic about its treatment of Turner’s artistic and moral integrity. This is rescued by a non-judgmental insistence on its ambiguities and contradictions.

Beyond Worthy

The result is an experience that is visually engaging and intellectually stimulating, this is a film beyond worthy, if not quite the masterpiece implied by critical comment. Which, come to think of it, is another way of interpreting Mr. Turner.

Image

The Fighting Temeraire [creative commons via Wikipedia]. One of many wondrous paintings by Turner weaved into the film.


Amanda Staveley, celebrity broker

December 3, 2014

Network Activator

Network Activator

Paul Hinks

The celebrity entrepreneur Amanda Staveley is involved in a consortium of investors bidding for three leading London hotels: Claridge’s, The Connaught and The Berkeley

One report suggests that the bid is from Middle East investors.

An earlier LWD post traced her background and rise to business success. Staveley, a former girlfriend of Prince Andrew, and one-time beauty model as student at Cambridge University, has a credible reputation for broking billion dollar deals through her networking skills. In 2008, she was instrumental in negotiating a £12 billion investment in Barclays Bank using money from Abu Dhabi and Qatar, before helping broker the purchase of Manchester City Football Club by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour .

Doing well what bankers do badly

Members of her network of wealthy contacts invest not only their cash, but also invest their trust in Staveley’s council and advice. The London Evening Standard speculates on important qualities that help her to deliver successful outcomes for her clients:

So how does she do it? As a woman, Staveley is negotiating uncertain terrain. She attributes her success to luck and an ability to assess and evaluate information quickly. “I can see an opportunity or a problem faster than any lawyer,” she says. “I can see a document and find a hole in it, or I can understand what I can put in to make the contract work.”

Private-equity veteran Guy Hands, who has known Staveley for years, says: “Amanda acts as a confidante to some very wealthy individuals and funds in the Middle East. She finds opportunities for them, which fit what they are trying to do. She has a very good track record and she realizes what her place is; she doesn’t tell her clients what they should want, instead she distils their wishes for them. She does what most investment bankers are bad at — she listens.”

Courage in adversity

The enviable story of success conceals personal misfortune. The Daily Standard also reports that Ms Staveley has been diagnosed as carrying the gene for Huntington’s disease, a degenerative condition which will progressively restrict her career. She has responded with courage and determination:

“It definitely gets me to the gym every day. When I have done all my exercises, I work with a therapist doing balance exercises, and I inhale antioxidants. I also shout at God occasionally.”

The author

Paul is a regular contributor to LWD on sporting, business and technology stories. His post on Apple Foxconn is the most visited, since its publication in 2012