The Government suffered a defeat yesterday (appropriately, the 1st of May) brought about by the creative actions of two former ministers.
The vote was over the proposed measures against money laundering by the Government, and considered by opponents to be weak on disclosures from well-known territories including the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands. This in turn followed revelations in what became known as the Panama papers.
The leaders (or ring-leaders, from another perspective) of the opposition were an unlikely couple, a former labour cabinet member, and Andrew Mitchell, a former conservative international development secretary. Both are currently out of favour.
Both have reputations of independence of thought and strong enough characters to take on all-comers in causes they believe in. However, without context, it is hard to imagine them plotting together.
The context, and the creativity of their actions deserves study. According to The Guardian, [May 2nd 2018] Mitchell ‘has frequently worked across party-lines’ , requiring independence and resilience in bucketloads. Hodge was a powerful and outspoken chair of the publics account committee for five years.
The strategy they adapted was aimed at protecting recent back-bench MPs from rebelling, as they were easier targets for political influences from the Government heavies (aka Whips). Instead, they concentrated on influential former ministers who were less vulnerable, and some with experience as members of the awkward squad opposing government policy. Mitchell was able to deploy an extra argument, that their proposals were a reviving of plans under preparation in 2015 by the former conservative leader (David Cameron).
In a nutshell, this was no knee-jerk reaction by two discontinued ex-ministers. It was a well-thought out plan which required both creative thinking and a lot of grunt work in the background.
A video of England rugby coach Eddie Jones addressing a group of sponsors has reached the public. It makes an interesting case of a successful leader setting himself up to fail.
The video was recorded several months ago. Eddie Jones is currently the coach of the England (male) rugby team. His appointment in 2015 was controversial. The premier national teams of the northern hemisphere have increasingly selected from coaches the most successful rugby nations. In practice this means coaches from New Zealand and the other Southern Hemisphere countries Australia and South Africa.
After a period of relative under-performing, England chose Eddie Jones, a colourful character of Australian, Japanese and American origins.
Jones played rugby to state level in Australia.. He then embarked on a coaching career mostly with spectacular successes, but not without the occasional setback. As coach of Australia he stared well but a series of successive losses ended his contract. His last loss was to Wales, a point which may have some further relevance.
He achieved success again as national coach to Japan. In rugby-playing terms, Japan is a minor nation. It also lacks an adequate supply of monstrous players in a game which has evolved to require high bulk and mobility. His style is a passionate one, invoking pride in his teams of national and cultural values. Rather than import hefty Samoans, he introduced a fearless flyweight style of play which brought shock wins and delighted spectators during the World Cup of 2015.
This track record, and Japan’s showing resulted in his appointment as England coach.
His initial impact was spectacular, and the team began to show potential to become a serious challenger for the next world cup. At the time of the video Jones could point to a remarkable turnaround of fortunes in results. His leadership impact was clearly a significant factor.
A run of twenty three matches was ended by a firy Irish team, which was also progressing well including a win over the near invincible New Zealand All Blacks.
In this summary I draw attention to the loss to Wales which coincided with Jones losing his Australian post, and then to the recent loss to Ireland which ended his winning streak.
In the video, Jones is heard lauding his own success in converting Japan into an exciting new force in world rugby. He then turns to the defeat by Ireland.
“We’ve played 23 Tests and we’ve only lost one Test to the scummy Irish,” he told his audience. “I’m still dirty about that game, but we’ll get that back, don’t worry. We’ve got them next year at home so don’t worry, we’ll get that back.”
Jones was also recorded discussing Wales in the context of Japan Under‑20s losing 125-0 against their Welsh counterparts shortly after he took over as the Japan head coach in 2012. “Wales. Who knows Wales? Are there any Welsh people here? So it’s this little shit place that has got three million people. Three million!”
Dilemmas of leadership
Another dilemma of leadership. When a leader starts believing his or herself-constructed story. It has contributed to the aura around the leader. Some might call it the evidence of charisma. The leader flushed with success, acts out the self-image in terms which become dismissed as bluster or dismissive of others.
Remind you of any other leader?
Do these words remind you of another leader, often in the news for his provocative statements?
“I’m still dirty about that game, but we’ll get that back, don’t worry. We’ve got them next year at home so don’t worry, we’ll get that back.”
If so, what more general conclusions can we draw from the case of Eddie Jones? And is it coincidence that his team plays that “scummy team Ireland” this weekend, a team which has already won the six-nations championship from England this year, regardless of the result?
Next Saturday, [March 10, 2018] eight top Grandmasters will start their Candidates Tournament in Berlin. The winner will gain the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship crown, in a match to be played in November in London.
Magnus is the successor to a line of great players, often childhood prodigies, to become world champion, While there are others of his own generation, and emerging wunderkind able to complete, will any be strong enough to wrest the crown from him?
It is possible, but would be a surprise. The long-established ranking system at chess works pretty well.
If you think chess is boring and time-consuming, so do some innovators inside the game, who are playing around with the rules to cope with the invasion of technology into the game (or sport, as it controversially likes to term itself). Gone are the matches in which after a day’s play,, one of the papers would seal and move, and spend much of the night analysing what next to do. A century ago, chess clocks were introduced. Then all-night study was carried out replaced by seconds doing the hard-lifting. Then with the advent of powerful chess computers, overnight play withered and died.
Now, if a game seems to be in danger of extending into the night, the speed of play is increased, leading to a survival of the most agile and intuitively gifted. Matches are increasingly tailored to audiences watching on the web.
Today, I came across a humorous account of ten rules for introducing morality into computers (whose programmes are already capable of beating even Magnus). One of the computer programmes did a silicon bladed destruction job on the great champion Gary Kasparov. One of the rules of morality was for the IT chess computers to ‘let Gary win from time to time’.
Don’t know if the computers are quite ready to appreciate the humour.
In February 2018, the Beast from the East brings weather misery to much of the United Kingdom. There is economic misery too, as two high-profile retailers go into administration
Maplins, a major electronics retailer with over 200 stores and 2,300 staff in the UK has collapsed into administration. Attempts to find a buyer have so far failed.
Toys R Us, whose UK organisation is of similar scale, has around 100 stores and 3000 staff. The parent US company has filed for bankruptcy protection last September. The UK arm needed a deal with the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) in December  to rescue its retirement scheme
Both firms provide examples of Creative Destruction, Schumpeter’s chilling term for the unintended consequences of major economic changes and technological ‘progress’.
The opening up of new markets and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as US Steel illustrate the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one … [The process] must be seen in its role in the perennial gale of creative destruction; it cannot be understood on the hypothesis that there is a perennial lull.— Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942
Toys R Us appears to have failed to keep up with changes in the market, and particularly with the impact of the web-based suppliers, particularly the mighty Amazon. Maplin, appear to have been more vigorous in efforts to keep pace with technological developments. Nevertheless, the harsh trading environment since the economic turmoil of a decade ago eventually took its toll.
More detailed case analyses will probably identify missed opportunities for the two firms. Toys R Us appears to have been slow to appreciate the revolutionary impact of the web for retailers, and the benefits accruing to the mighty Amazon operation.
One commentator argued that Marlins failed to maintain stock levels in its stores. I am not convinced about that. The current concept of slimmed-down supply chains encourages Just In Time practices.
Red Glory. Manchester United and Me, by Martin Edwards
I learned about this autobiographic story late last year through an event organised through Simply Books of Bramhall. For personal reasons, I went along to meet the author. It had been nearly thirty years since we had last met. We had both attended a dinner at Manchester Business School. The main guest of the evening was Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister who was a life-long Huddersfield Town supporter. We both vaguely remembered the event.
In Red Glory, Martin Edwards writes as a former chairman of Manchester United Football Club over the golden period of the club’s sporting success. As Peter Schmeichel put it in his foreword to the book, it was the period when United ‘became the biggest and best club on the planet’.
The book covers ground much of which will be familiar to MUFC fans, as legendary in this footballing city. I already knew how Matt Busby escaped death in the Munich air disaster to go on and rebuild the broken team. But nuggets in the book are new. I did not know, for example, that Sir Matt was later granted rights to what became the famed Superstore at Old Trafford. Edward estimates Busby’s assets from these arrangements amounted to a hundred million pounds market value by 1998.
One anecdote describes the negotiation between the young Chairman of Manchester United and the chairman of Leeds United. The style was firm, but not blustering. Schmeichel confirms it matches Edwards’ typical approach to dealing with negotiations. I like it as a counter illustration to the mythology of deal-making according to Donald Trump.
Without doubt, the book will appeal to fans and historians of Manchester United Football Club. I have no hesitation in recommending it to students of football for insights into how a seriously competent leader thanks and acts, written in such a readable fashion.
Acknowledgement: To Simply Books, for organising the book-signing event, and providing the image. [Your Editor is the somewhat shorter figure on the left.]