Is Coca Cola a good match for Costa Coffee?

September 1, 2018

This week the most powerful global soft drinks conglomerate acquired the second largest chain of coffee shops in the world. A perfect match?

The announcement has been met with near-universal enthusiasm from business and financial commentators.

According to The Guardian, Alison Brittain, the chief executive of Costa Coffee’s owner Whitbread, said the coffee chain had been approached by a number of potential buyers but Coke’s desire to snap up the 4,000-store chain was a “dream deal” for investors.

“The other suitors weren’t wearing the right suit or driving the right car,” explained Brittain of the other approaches it received. “It’s Coke we decided to go up the aisle with, with a very large ring on our finger.”

 

There is an easy-to-understand logic in the move. There is growing movement against sugary drinks as a contributing factor in the growing problem of obesity (bad pun intended). Coffee, while still suspect for its caffeine, is successful in decaf versions with only a few pedants frothing at the mouth about oxymorons. Overall, Coca Cola is investing in a healthier future.
It avoids the years of denial required of the cigarette manufacturers over links between its product and assorted life-shortening impact on consumers.

Coca Cola Innocent

 

Smoothies

The logic adds to an earlier case studied in LWD and at the Alliance Business School’s Executive MBA programmes. Coca Cola revealed its longer-term acquisition policy when it snapped up Innocent, the environmentally fragrant smoothies business.

How to screw up a good deal

Superficially, then, it’s a good deal. Onward and upward. Whitbreads are making reassuring noises that they will spend the cash responsibly and not just in helping fat cats get fatter. Shareholders will benefit. Some money will go to plugging a hole in the pension funds. So at least employees will get some benefit (even if they were already entitled to negotiated pension rights.)

Leaders we deserve has examined similar acquisitions in which a larger organisation introduces a strategically promising unit to strengthen or diversify. The process is much loved in Business Schools for providing yet another case for the Mergers and Acquisitions component of its courses. Kraft/ Cadbury; Pfizer/Astra Xenica are two important heavyweight examples.

The received wisdom is to avoid messing with the brand assets of the acquisition. This is easier said than achieved, as some of the anticipated gains call for re-organisations, consolidation of back office staff and computer systems. It helps, if there is a rationale beyond rescuing an ailing brand by liberating its potential. In this, I leave readers to decide whether project Brexit might be an example.


Ingerland win historic penalty kick drama amid scenes of mass hysteria

July 4, 2018

 

St George

Yes, I can remember where I was when ….fill in the gaps: Princess Di was killed; Johnny Wilkinson kicked that penalty to win the Rugby world cup for England; Barack Obama was sworn in for the first time …

And last night, where I was when England won a penalty shootout for the first time in the world-cup of football.

Like many others I was alone. At home. A deliberate choice. I could have bonded at the Northern Tennis Club which where for once Wimbledon coverage took second place to the footie. I could have joined the football-scale crowds in Manchester’s public viewing areas, or cheering on the football at the other Old Trafford, where the spectators were more interested in the news from Moscow than in the cricket where England were taking a right pasting from India in a T20 match.

My voice of viewing may have meant I was partly isolated from the hysteria which appeared to sweep the nation. Yes, the nation of Inglerland, Motherland of parliaments. There even appeared to be support, even in bastions of nationalism in the Celtic fringes of what is for the moment  still a United Kingdom of Ingerland, Wales, Northern Ireland,(and for the purposes of any referendum, the Rock of Gibraltar).

The match seemed to be heading to a close Ingerland victory, thanks to wonder-striker Harry (Hurricane) Kane after a close and very illegal encounter with Carlos Sanchez. Then the (inevitable?) drama of a last minute equaliser by the colossus Yerry Mina imported from Barcelona along with forty thousand fans from central casting.

And so to extra time

Extra time which was always destined, as was the penalty shootout at which Ingerland is spectacularly bad. It’s when we do, part of the brand. But that is only an absolute and universal law when we are playing against Germany.

And so it unfolded. The great football script-writer in the sky arranged for Columbia’s goalkeeper Ospina (on loan from Arsenal)  to save Henderson’s penalty kick brilliantly. The tragedy unfolds.

Dier only has to kick the ball into the net to save Ingerland from a fate worse than a hard Brexit.

But there is another twist. A Columbian miss onto the crossbar.  That twist was from Ingerland’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford whose trailing leg keeps the ball out. Eric Dier, who had slipped on the the field unnoticed during one of the frequent late skirmishes, steps up and only has to kick the ball into the net to save Ingerland from a fate worse than a hard Brexit.

OK, then. A breathless nation watches. Time stands still.  At 21.22 Ingerland Mean Time. He steps up, he kicks he scores. The heavens open. The Gods roar. The earth spins on its axis located in St John’s Wood.

Being partially protected, (and more than partly a member of one of the Celtic outcroppings), I am not completely and utterly swept up in an exultant surge of nationalistic pride. The unworthy thought occurs to me that the moment might be historic, but it is even more so a hysteric one.

The moment might be historic, but it is even more so a hysteric one

A celebrity showing signs of chemically-aided exultation sent a semi-coherent message to the world from his kitchen. The next morning, BBC Radio 5’s Nicky Campbell, left behind to look after a deserted studio in Salford, found a way of morphing his love of all things Scottish, with a new fervour for Ingerland. He was even unable to find time to mourn the reported murder of a giraffe by an American trophy hunter who had claimed she was helping the giraffe gene pool by giving young bulls a better chance to mate.

It’s a funny old world. Or, as another of the Guardian journalists put it “Do not adjust your reality. This is really happening”.

 

Even the snowflake-whiteness of The Guardian was temporarily red-blooded in its joy for the boys. (“Joy and review as England break curse of the penalty shootout”). In that same illustrious newspaper in its new shrunken tabloid format, news of the Tham Lung rescue attempt can be found on page 8, and news of Brexit left to a column from their sublime satirist John Crace. Football 9 Brexit 1.

It’s a funny old world. Or, as another of the Guardian journalists put it “Do not adjust your reality. This is really happening”.

 

 


From Manchester to Moscow: A tale of two visas

June 18, 2018

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“We would like to invite you to Moscow this May, to address our students on creativity and leadership.”
I accept the offer to swap Manchester for Moscow for a week in the late spring as a great deal. The attraction of the assignment fades, as relationships between the two governments cool after the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury. I discover later that even Roman Abramovich is having similar visa problems, but from the opposite direction.

An announcement on the Russian visa website makes the official position clearer:
“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the UK Government, which lead to an expulsion of 23 diplomats of the Russian Embassy, the consular service for applicants has been seriously affected.This leaves us no option but to temporarily limit the number of all visitors. The Embassy is doing its best to reestablish the ordinary workflow.”

Days before the proposed visit, I am seriously considering a fallback position. I find myself muttering that nothing is decided before everything is decided. My fall-back is to walk away. They need my goods more than I need their visa, I argue with myself. Withdrawal means withdrawal.
As in all good dramas, there is a final twist. After two journeys from Manchester to London, and with one last bound, I am free to travel. The visa page in wonderful Cyrillic characters is pasted into my passport. It now offers a conversation point with border guards on my next visit to the land of Trump.
The journey to Moscow is eventful. A fifty minute transfer at Frankfurt proves as impossible as it always seemed, and I arrive at my hotel at 2am.
Later that morning, I blearily discuss my proposed lectures. More like workshops, really, I explain. We will work together collectively to explore a living case of the creative options open to a leader.

With some trepidation, I choose Brexit and its leadership choices as my main theme for discussion at the workshop. To my pleasure, I find that the students are remarkably well-informed about the topic. Without prompting, they quickly home in on the most intractable problem, that of the Irish border. We examine the possibilities such as a technological fix, and even the impossibilities such as a virtual border and abolishing the border completely . I feel I am more engaged in authentic discussion than after all the ersatz debates I have suffered for over a year on Newsnight (bad), Question Time (worse), Peston, (frenzied) and Daily Politics (unspeakable).

I learn a lot about the way a country can take control of its borders. During my visit, I surrender my passport around a dozen times at various checkpoints. The ritual is almost identical. Each page is carefully scrutinised. I am also carefully scrutinised.

Back home, I am not surprised to see that the Government is still persisting in its public assertions of the vital importance of a granite-hard Brexit. I witness the unedifying sight of Jacob Rees-Mogg reading ‘evidence’ from his smartphone (surely a blow against his carefully-crafted victorian undertaker image). He is facing reasoned arguments from a distinguished Cambridge lawyer. “Experts” he sniffs, “I had to listen to nonsense from an expert just last week”.

The Mail continues its hysterical headlines, adding to its list of traitors. This now includes high court judges, unelected peers trousering their daily expenses for blocking the will of the people, communist agitators led by the evil Corbin and the Svengali figure of McDonnell. All are plotting for the downfall of capitalism. I retain a hope that I might also be elevated to that band of brothers and sisters. Maybe by drawing the Mail’s attention to my role as, at best a useful idiot, and at worse a sleeper preparing for my defection to Moscow. Jeremy Corbin consciously or otherwise clings to the Blairite idea that a creative fudge may be possible.
The slightest of contacts over a week in Moscow suggests to me that the young people in the capital there have much in common with those in London and Manchester. There is an openness to change, and a willingness to see beyond platitudes expressed as universal truths.

I live in hope.


Brexit remains mired in political incompetence

June 6, 2018

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After my recent visit to The State University of Moscow I return to find Brexit still mired in a morass of political incompetence.

Theresa Villiers as Northern Ireland Secretary in the run up to the referendum insisted nothing would change after a Brexit. Nearly two years later, The Government persists in its public assertions of unity over the vital importance of a granite-hard Brexit.

On the Daily Politics programme, I witness the unedifying sight Jacob Rees-Mogg reading ‘evidence’ from his smartphone (surely a blow against his carefully crafted victorian undertaker image) against reasoned arguments from a distinguished Cambridge lawyer. “Experts” he sniffed “I had to listen to nonsense from an expert just last week”.

The Daily Mail continues its hysterical headlines, adding to its list of traitors, which now includes High Court judges, unelected peers trousering their daily expenses for blocking the will of the people, communist agitators led by the evil Corbyn and the Svengali figures of McDonnell.

I retain a hope that I might be elevated to that band of brothers and sisters, maybe by drawing their attention to my role as, at best a useful idiot, and at worse a sleeper preparing for my defection to Moscow.

For what it is worth, I have no valuable insights into ‘the evil empire’ (copyright, America’s last celebrity president Ronald Reagan. Nor have I returned with a message “I have seen the future and it works.” Unless the future I have glimpsed is one in which it becomes widely realised that Brexit as it is being defined is ta fantasy, a Unicorn, an uncreative idea unconnected with any assessment of its feasibility, or if achieved its consequences.


Why chess and snooker require similar skills

May 8, 2018
A heroic snooker battle shows why chess and snooker require similar sets of skills
In May 2018, Two former world champions John Higgins and  Mark Williams meet in the final of the most prestigious snooker tournament of all.  They did not disappoint the crowd packed into the tight little Crucible arena in Sheffield. There is added interest, because each player is a veteran, now rated as well past his best. Both had given serious thought to retiring, and at the start of the tournament admitted they had no serious confidence in winning the world championship again. The unfolding story grabbed my attention.
Evidence of great motor skills and calculation
“He’s thinking six moves ahead for that shot”. The comment from a professional commentator could have been made by a chess analyst. The difference: in some (but not all positions) chess masters would have been expected to deal with the uncertainties. Computers now show how remarkably quickly and deep the mental work usually is. “Thinking about” happens in all positions. In contrast, calculation of lengthy numbers of moves takes place more rarely, usually in so-called ‘forced’ sequences of moves  such as re-captures, or direct king threats.
Chess as a metaphor for other sports
Chess is often used as a metaphor for other sports requiring more motor skills. I noted it  first in an analysis of tennis matches.  Later, in a work of fiction, I suggested chess could also be compared with boxing and snooker.
Pressures to succeed
In Tennis Tensions, I looked at the buildup of pressure at vital moments in tennis, when routines broke down. Higgins and Williams in this match resisted such pressures the vast majority of people are prone to.
Errors
There were errors. Infrequent and unexpected. In chess they are called blunders. moves far weaker players would not have made (unless of course subjected to the same sorts of pressure!). These seemed to be to be from a lack of concentration, a slight increase in speed of play. Is it too much of a stretch to see similarities with the hassled state of mind in chess players under time pressure?
Age shall not weary them?
Ageing commentators agreed that the standard throughout was as high as the great clashes of the past. Much was made of the 43 year Williams and the 42 year old Higgins. There were those infrequent lapses of concentration. At a low level, my own chess experience is that the frequency of my blunders increases with age.
The Drama
The drama unfolded over three days, (first to 18 frames). It’s a mix of slow and fast play. Williams (seeking his third championship) surged ahead. A few uncertainties resolved in his favour. Then Higgins fought back when all seemed lost. Then Williams fought back again, sneaking it at 18/16
Worth reading about it. 
To go more deeply
I turned some of of my ideas about sporting excellence into fiction in Seconds Out, which has snooker, chess, and boxing themes, together with the obligatory super-villain, and a village bat-woman with sci-fi features. Other sporting publications can be found on my website

Creativity in action

May 2, 2018

Winter of discontentThe 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.

 

 

 


The society we deserve

April 6, 2018

 

 

Politician David Lammy gives a new twist to the maxim Leaders We Deserve
This week [April 1-6, 2018] has seen an outbreak of violent deaths through knife crimes in London. It became a national story with social and political dimensions.
Grieving relatives told harrowing stories of children killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sociologists vied with politicians to extract some morsel of digestible sense. Mostly, the views were as old as the problems of violence. No-one mentioned the story of Cain and Able, although it is not difficult to construct an explanation about the uncontrollable and wrathful anger of a spurned child in later life.
I did not expect much from radio-chat shows running out of the need for new experts, and short on fresh ideas. To my surprise, the labour politician David Lammy exceeded my expectations.
David Lammy is MP for Tottenham, a socially deprived  inner London constituency where he was born and grew up. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 he pointed angrily at the four violent deaths this year in his own constituency, and the failure of government and authorities (in his opinion) to act. He is seeking  consensual all-party commitment to action.
His long campaigning have led him to conclusions about the impact of availability of drugs on London’s streets (‘as easy as ordering a pizza’,) gang culture, no social prospects for young people on the Capital’s poorest estates, and leadership which seems to be arable to act. His anger is as much against London’s socialist mayor as against the Conservative and former Conservative/Social Democratic governments.
His abilities helped him win scholarships and eventually places at London University and Harvard. He has supported Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, while preferring to remain a back-bench MP, seeing it giving him more independence in his political campaigns. on behalf of his constituency and his passionate campaigns against social inequality.
In the radio interview, The vivid turn of phrase which caught my attention was that in a democracy ‘we get the society we deserve’. Subscribers to LWD will see the fresh insights this provides to the many posts on Leaders we deserve, over the last decade.