Mike Coupe of Sainsburys shows how to deal with the media, avoids tricky questions

August 28, 2015

MIke CoupeMike Coupe, the CEO of Sainsburys, was on the BBC’s Wake up to money programme this week. His main objective was to present his company’s decision to pay employees a living wage.  He skilfully kept away from several potential pratfalls

It was an easy ride for the confident sounding CEO.  [I might recommend him for student study, I thought.]

Parson’s hand grenades

The interviewer, the thoroughly well-prepped Adam Parsons, had a few obligatory hand grenades to lob across the table.  The interviewee defused them skillfully.

The questions and answers

Basic wage payment? Part of a long term plan

Supermarkets screwing farmers over milk prices?  Some do, we don’t

Petrol prices at store are loss leaders.  Prices very competitive and (of course) good for the customers

Would your shareholders say you are paying out a lot of money?  [That’s an interesting question, I thought.]  I waited for a standard answer about Corporate Social Responsibility.  Instead, Mr Coupe briskly made his only obvious venture into Corporate speak territory.  He referred to the importance of maintaining the company’s reputation of having the highest level of customer satisfaction and the importance of motivated ‘inward facing staff’. In other words, the pay rise could be justified in financial terms in the long run.

Overall  impact of the interview

Mr Coupe would have been pleased to have kept away from contextual issues such as the tough trading conditions at Sainsburys, the recent laying off of nearly a thousand of those ‘inward facing’ employees as part of an efficiency drive, and pressures accompanying the decision to introduce the modest wage rise.

His answers were clear, coherent and confident.  If I had one concern, they seemed too well-prepared, too quickly delivered.  Getting leaders to sound empathetic  is harder than preparing them to deliver  a convincing rational set of answers in role playing  rehearsal. Terry Leahy when boss of Tesco managed it well, although Sir Terry’s style was more informal and a little warmer.

Student discussion questions

How would you evaluate the interview from the perspective of a media coach?

From Mike Coupe’s perspective?

From the interviewer’s  perspective?

Background materials

BBC’s summary of the interview

Management Today’s interview with Mike Coupe

Is the wage rise ‘a publicity stunt’?


Margaret Heffernan’s model of ‘super chickens’ will change the way we think about leadership

August 26, 2015


In a recent article in Real Business the author and academic Margaret Heffernan reports on work that challenges conventional wisdom of leadership and team effectiveness.

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Theresa May arrives to lead the fight against invaders

August 24, 2015

thatchertankTheresa May arrives to lead her border troops into action in the battle of Calais. Comparisons with Margaret Thatcher are irresistible. But will her admiration for Geoffrey Boycott be career-limiting?

The Home Secretary has avoided the rather blood-curdling descriptions of ‘swarms’ of migrants ‘breaking in’ to our country, as favoured by The Prime Minister. Today, [August 20th, 2015] however, she takes the initiative from Mr Cameron with a visit revealing details of a plan to deal with what the BBC calls The Calais Migrant crisis.

Reading Theresa’s intentions

The role of Home Secretary requires the holder to survive periods of public invisibility interspersed with possible career-threatening high profile decisions. The job also carries with it healthy aspirations to move into the top job.

So, some statement such as “I have great pleasure in serving my country under our beloved leader than whom there is not nor has there ever been an equal for wisdom, integrity, and fragrance literally and metaphorically” may be taken to mean “you bet your bobbly bits I’m ready to take over, the moment I get the signal that the time is right to give the heave-ho to that spineless apology for a leader “.

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Leadership lessons from Carlisle Football Club’s epic journey

August 20, 2015

At 10am on a bright late summer morning in August 2015, the official bus for Carlisle United Football supporters pulled out of the club’s ground, not far from the Scottish border. Its destination was Plymouth. It was to be an epic journey that would enter into club historyCarlisle United

The plan was for the fans to make the 779 mile return journey (1250 kilometres) to Plymouth on the South Coast of England in order to support their team in a mid-week evening match.

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By popular demand Camila Batmanghelidjh and Batman enter the Charismatic league tables

August 18, 2015

Following a request from a subscriber in Gotham City, Camila Batmanghelidjh and Batman have won promotion to the Charisma Premier league. Their names and ranking will appear when the list is updated in September

A subscriber purporting to come from Gotham City has successfully nominated both Camila Batmanghelidjh and Batman for inclusion in the Charisma league table.

The Batman nomination was accepted after his strong charismatic leadership performance over a period of many years.

Dr Batmanghelidjh , author of Shattered Lives, has been in outstanding charismatic form this month, as she battles to defend her company’s record under her leadership.

Another strong contender for the Charismatic leader of the month award is Donald Trump, with standout performances against a Fox News commentator and several Scottish wind farms, and for persuading a little girl that he is really Batman in disguise.

Alphabet Soup as Google reinvents itself

August 17, 2015

Goggle springs a surprise with the announcement that it is restructuring itself under the holding company name of Alphabet

Google’s co-founder Larry Page explained what was going on in a blog post.

Being Google, it has created a quirky domain for itself.

One alternative explanation for the change offered by outsiders is that such restructuring efforts permit creative accounting. Google’s track record on tax minimization has become a matter for public protests in Europe.

Differentiation and Integration

The restructuring is explained by a much respected idea addressing the need to balance differentiation and integration of an organization. You can think of the restructuring as differentiating individual components including the core activities of the former Google Empire. The integration or coordination takes place through the new holding company Alphabet. You can read the classic paper in Administrative Science Quarterly here

To general approval, Silicon Valley whiz kid Sundar Pichai is to become CEO of the new slim line Google division, which remains the most profitable and largest revenue generator.

Hint to business commentators:

Practice saying ‘Alphabet’ while thinking ‘Google’s Holding Company’ Keep saying it until it loses all meaning except ‘Google’s Holding Company’. On the infrequent times you are using the word alphabet in its old sense, explain that you mean ‘Not Google’s Holding Company’.

To go more deeply

Business students needing to study the early days of Alphabet will find the following sources useful to back up more scholarly articles.

The new businesses explained

The new businesses listed

tech crunch explanatory video

Google in a 45 Second video

How Kyrgios unchained his chimp and changed his career

August 15, 2015


Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios lost a set of tennis to the new French Open winner Stan Wawrinka. His lewd outburst threatens a promising career. One of its immediate impacts is on an eBook published the same day describing the match and predicting that he might become the games’s next superstar

To meet a deadline, I completed the text of the Kindle eBook Tennis Matters with a few last minute corrections. and sent it off to Amazon. The time was approximately 3pm BST in the afternoon of August 14th, 2015. Within an hour, news broke that the volatile 20 year old was facing suspension as well as a hefty fine for a grossly offensive and obscene remark aimed at his opponent.

My corrections had been about the match I had watched live overnight. The title and general positive tone of the short amendment were both overtaken by events.

Here is the entry describing how the Australian overcome the loss of the first set, and winning as Wawrinka retired with a back injury. [Channeling his chimp refers to the popular approach of sports psychologist Steve Peters for controlling potentially destructive emotions.]

Kyrgios channels his chimp

Bad weather had delayed the match deep into the evening. A close first set went to a tie break. This was again tightly contested. Kyrgios was keeping his demons bottled up. At 9-8 in the breaker, an incorrect line call threaten to release them. Kyrgios had a brief explosion of emotion at the change of ends at 9-9 with his racquet skittling across court. A brief exchange of views with the Umpire followed. Kyrgios appeared to have gained control of himself, but nevertheless quickly lost the set.

Now playing with more control but simmering resentful energy, Kyrgios demonstrates his power and potential. He outguns his higher ranked opponent and wins the set 6-3.

The injury may weaken the case for declaring the victory complete evidence of the arrival of the next superstar. But the match suggested to me that Kyrgios will be able to deal with his chimp as he takes on the best players in the world.

Time for a new edition

Before the first edition of Tennis Matters had gone through the few hours required for Kindle Direct publishing, it was already out of date.

I am planning a second edition as soon as possible. The main change will be to amend the title and the ending to the story of the Kyrgios Wawrinka match.

Sunday August 16th, 2015

During the following week, Kyrgios apologized and then sensibly kept quite as the media storm burst.

Calls for further sanctions have begun. It has been suggested that the Australian tennis administration faces a dilemma regarding his inclusion in next Month’s Davis Cup semi-final against Great Britain.