Marcus Agius falls on his sword

July 2, 2012

Marcus Agius is ‘Liborated’ as chairman of Barclays

Barclays faces serious charges over the fixing of the London Inter-Bank lending rate (Libor). Its chairman, Marcus Agius resigns. Will Bob Diamond, the bank’s most valuable player (MVP), also be forced into premature retirement?

Acceptance of disgrace and retention of honour

It as ancient symbolic gesture for a leader to fall on his sword, the ultimate gesture of acceptance of disgrace and retention of honour. The gesture is sometimes made with a little help from others. A modern version is the loaded pistol provided to the exposed traitor. The Telegraph reported the resignation [Monday 2nd July, 2012]:

Barclays was fined a record £290m last week for attempting to manipulate the interbank lending rate, Libor, between 2005 and 2009.

Mr Agius, chairman for the past five years, said on Monday: “Last week’s events – evidencing as they do unacceptable standards of behaviour within the bank – have dealt a devastating blow to Barclays reputation. As Chairman, I am the ultimate guardian of the bank’s reputation. Accordingly, the buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside.”

A metaphoric pistol?

Maybe Mr Agius was handed the metaphorical equivalent of a loaded pistol after being cornered by his enemies. His gesture of self-destruction is something out of the last scene of a spy-thriller. It also appears consistent with his reputation of conducting business in an honourable way. There’s Mr Agius for you. But then there’s his CEO, the finance superstar and controversial Mr Diamond.

Then there’s Diamond Bob..

The impact of the Libor wrongdoings will have further repercussions Mr Aigus and the Bank’s CEO Bob Diamond were expected to receive an invitation to spend a little time with members of Her Majesty’s Select Finance Committee after their next meeting [Tuesday 3rd July 2012].

Now Mr Aigus is gone. But Diamond Bob is a quite different figure. His reputation as a successful financial leader was reflected in his reputation and glittering remuneration year by year. But this is the year of the stakeholder spring. Mr Diamond is no longer described primarily as a generator of wealth and employment, even in the generally admiring pages of the financial press. Despite the recently-imposed fine on Barclays of £291 million, as well as Revenue and Customs tax settlement fine of nearly twice that amount, Mr Diamond may still be seen as a valuable (if somewhat diminished) asset by some of Barclays’ the big stakeholders.

That’s the thing about financial assets. They tend to go up and down in value.

To be continued

The Libor affair is capturing the headlines this week. We examined Mr Diamond’s spectacular knack for making money and generating public enemies in an earlier post.


Message from and to the Financial Times

January 16, 2012

The Financial Times now supplies information about its web articles with the request “Please don’t cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post”. Point noted. The battle for pay to view continues

Rupert Murdoch was among the earliest figures to recognise the importance of developing new business models for successful management of news in the era of electronic information media.

The Financial Times, (FT) is also wrestling with these issues.

The FT is part of the Pearson group, the largest book publisher globally. Pearson, led by Dame Marjorie Scardino, has risen to the challenges of the electronic age. Its recent innovations include the search engine newsift

Creating value

On this issue I suggest that the FT may be misreading the way to create value from its information generating capacity. Increasingly the protectionist route is being eroded (music being the obvious example). News media are increasingly relying on social media inputs for the first signals of breaking news stories.

I remain a personal supporter (and reader) of the FT. However, as things stand at present, LWD will chose alternative sources from which to to extract information, and to critique and cite the source. What LWD does is of little importance to the FT. If a similar decision is reached by millions of web-savvy individuals around the world, it’s a different matter.


Apple faces a Jobless future

August 25, 2011

Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, iconic leader and one of the great creative innovators of his era, leaves the company he founded and built into a global superstar

The departure of Steve Jobs as leader of Apple on medical grounds has been anticipated in and outside Apple for some time. We can anticipate even more news coverage of the iconic figure whose design genius was behind a steam of products since the time of the first Apple personal computer, launched as the Apple 2

Quirky but much loved

This was quirky but much but much loved. Even the earliest versions were revolutionary in appearance and functioning. They suggested a future for personal computing that could not be imagined in the market leading IBM product and its host of imitators trying to be as compatible as a possible at lower cost.

The Apple Mac

Then the Apple Mac came along. This was even more obviously evidence of new species emerging. They are coming from a common ancestor, but retaining a genetic capacity to visualize as well as to digitalise.

IBM and clones under threat

Apple products become a serious threat to the generic sounding PC (i.e. IBM’s products and its clones). Compatibility was more an aspiration than a reality for each set of products, and even today there are enough differences to create famous entry barriers to switching from one of the two IT tribes.

Design excellence

Apple developed a brand image of innovation and design excellence. The company succeeded in grabbing a share of the emerging mobile phone market with its i-phone and then the tablet market with the i-pad. Apple stores became cathedrals for worshippers.

And each of the innovative leaps in the company was utterly associated with the design genius of Steve Jobs. Stock levels were seen to shift according to reports on his deteriorating health.

Symbolic leadership

This is one of the clearest example of symbolic leadership to be found in modern times. Steve Jobs was Apple. The closest parallel I can think of is that of Walt Disney. Incidentally, you can find fascinating comparisons of the two companies in the book Disney Wars.

All is not gloom and doom

There are naturally signs of bereavement at present at Apple. But all is not gloom and doom. Apple has had a strong internal candidate waiting to step up. The evidence is that the company has faced the realities of succession. Tim Cook is already highly regarded internally for his operational and organizational talents. He was appointed in what seemed like one last symbolic act after his strong endorsement by Steve Jobs in his letter of resignation. We will learn much more of Mr Cook in the coming months. Will Apple now enter a post-charismatic era in its public image?


Leadership dreams, visions, and nightmares

October 23, 2007

mbeki-after-world-cup.jpgThe payoff from a vision dashed is a recurring nightmare. We examine recent sporting visions, dreams and nightmares during the Rugby Union world-cup

A glimpse of dashed dreams was transmitted around the world as the beaten English rugby team trudged up to receive their runners-up medals after defeat by South Africa. As if in a nightmare, the players trudged past the line of dignitaries, which included Presidents Sarcozy of France, the host nation, Brown of England (and Scotland and Wales), and Mbiki of South Africa. Weariness seemed to have damped-down despair and elation alike. The players just about managed perfunctory handshakes.

A few minutes later and joy overcame fatigue for the South Africans as they eventually got their hands on the trophy. The defining image was that of President Mbiki hald aloft not quite as securely as man of the match Victor Mayfield in the lineouts which he dominated throughout the game. Sorry, must make that clear: It was Mayfield who dominated the lineouts, Mbiki the political gestures, during the post-match celebrations.

The vision

The build-up to the final from had been a classical example of the way sport can tap into the deepest of group emotions. A popular upsurge in interest was captured and amplified through the obsessive reporting from Paris, where there seemed to be more former international players than members of the current squad.

The broad news story was that England would be a match for the Springboks. Most of the legion of elders suggested that England could win, if they played to their very best. Most reporters translated this as meaning that the match would be very close. Close? The South Africans had beaten England seriously in the earlier stages of the tournament.

The talisman

Yes, but that was before the team began its revival. Before its talisman Jonny Wilkinson returned to fitness. Before those nail-biting victories against Australia and then France.

The pre-match story began to make sense to me. There was something very important going in England culturally. This was one of those episodes which reveal how culture defines itself, and is itself defined. A vision is articulated.

We are the champions of the world in Rugby Union. We will remain champions for the next four years by beating South Africa.

How will it be achieved? Because we have the talisman. He who will not let us down. Jonny Wilkinson. He whose very presence will strike fear into our enemies. And so on.

Specifically there was a genuinely mimetic story to be heard. [Mimetics: The controversial of cultural transmission through ‘conceptual genes’ or memes.] It is consistent with a memetic approach that the story becomes become more consistent in its re-telling.

The replication process was helped by the intense appetite for ‘news’ from any-one. Celebrity Rugby has-beens were in demand. But so was the voice of the true supporter, the camp follower from the front-line. These were the voices from people close to the action. The real heroes were in silent preparation for the mighty battle ahead.

Someone articulated the achievement of the dream in a special way. It became the orthodoxy. It went something like this.

South Africa beat us, but that was when Jonny was injured.

They know Johnny is our match-winner and fear him.

Their fear will weaken their play and their resolve.

If we are only five or six behind with twenty minutes to go, their fear will play into our hands.

Although they will try to prevent it, the result is inevitable. Our mighty forwards will control the ball, battle forward, the ball will come out to Jonny.

Jonny will kick a drop goal.

That will confirm to the opponents that their fate is sealed.

And then we will score again and win.

The story has the power of all primitive atavistic expressions of fear and motivation. It is the verbal equivalent of the Hakas performed earlier in this and every tournament for over a hundred years by the New Zealand all-blacks. I have tried to report it accurately. Note how Wilkinson, undoubtedly the focal image within the story, changes the course of the game. But he doesn’t win it.

That’s one way in which the story has its power. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it has its powerful echoes. If the story just had the team winning by Jonny dropping a goal at the last minute, the story would lose power. ‘That’s just remembering what happened last time?’ someone might object, in the spirit of the lad shouting that the Emperor has no clothes. That was then. Here’s the new story of our destiny.

One moving, one clapping?

In the vision, fate decried only one outcome. But as someone pointed out, you may not be playing a game with one side moving and the other side clapping. Indeed, we might see all such battles as a contest between two stories, each of which has won over other stories in the run-up to battle. Eventually one vision triumphs, the other loses.

But the cultural loss is softened. There is always a way to find consolation. Victory denied, is also denial of defeat. We must have been robbed.

We was robbed

Yes. In those bitter and dark hours for English fans, there was the coda of being unfairly beaten. (How else?). In this case, it was the case of the disallowed try which would have brought the score into Jonney Wilkinson territory. The effort was disallowed by a fourth official. An Australian. Need I say more?

The other vision

There was another story developing. The South African dream went beyond winning a little golden cup. The symbolism was there for all to see. The nation had also had its earlier dream come true, as Nelson Mandela celebrated their earlier win. Then the President wore the gold and green shirt, which was previously a symbol associated with the earlier apartheid regime. This time the President wore a suit. But it was very convenient that the charismatic Mandela was ‘too ill to travel’.

The story, as was the one that England had dreamed of, was rooted in the past, but was also about the future. In South Africa, there is still a long road to travel, as Mandela would put it, to achieve the goals of one nation at peace with itself. The sporting win was recruited in the service of its cultural and political dream.

One clapping, one moving

I just remembered who used to talk about sport as a creative collaboration not a competition. It was Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky, one of the greatest chess trainers of all time. I can’t find the reference, (yet) but he warned players against too much focus on one’s own strategy. Chess is not a game with ‘one player moving, and the other clapping’ he liked to say. That’s another quote in search of a definitive reference, as well as another example of chess as a source of strategic insights.


A Bad Week for Weakened Leaders: But how far is Paris from Agincourt?

October 19, 2007

agincourt.jpg
It’s been a bad week for British leaders. A spate of sackings and resignations has occurred. The battered leaders met their nemesis after humiliating performances in sport, business and politics. But hope persists at the prospects for a great victory in the Rugby World Cup

There are so many stories. Too many for me to cover all of them in detail.

Some were easier to predict than others. Sammy Lee acquired his job at the start of the season, as manager of Bolton Wanderers FC, when the much-admired Sam Allardyce was head-hunted for Newcastle United. He stepped up from Big Sam’s shadow. But from the start he was dubbed little Sam, a painful reminder of his erstwhile stature and status. Bolton has had a dreadful start to the season. In a little league table of Premiership managers facing the sack, I had him placed second (just below Martin Jols of Tottenham). Sorry Martin. Hang in there.

Then there were the casualties from the World Cup of Rugby Football. I didn’t have a list of these. But I certainly would not have placed Graham Henry of the New Zealand All Blacks anywhere near the top. My list of managers most likely to take an early bath would have been headed by England’s Brian Ashton, about whom more later. Henry’s team had been confirming their status as the tournament favourites until the quarter finals. Until then they had outstripped opponents so thoroughly that they had hardly become match tight. They lost a tight game, playing below their potential. Exit New Zealand. Exit Henry.

Wales, Ireland and Scotland failed to make it through the first stage of the tournaments. Out went Gareth Jenkins of Wales, and Eddie O’ Sullivan, of Ireland. Only Scotland’s much-rated Frank Hadden survived.

England’s football coach Steve McClaren also seems to be surviving on borrowed time, after defeat to Russia leaves England’s qualification from the European Cup in doubt. In his case, there is a mathematical probability that England will reach the knockout stage of the European competition. This, as much as somewhat improved performances by the team, is staying the hand of the English Football Association. They had already botched the appointment of McClaren after a hasty effort and failed effort to secure Big Sam (sorry, Big Phil) Scolari during last year’s World Cup.

[Will Big Steve survive in his present coaching job longer than Big Martin Jols of Tottenham?].

In Politics

In Politics the increasingly nasty tussles between Gordon Brown and David Cameron continue in Parliamentary exchanges. Ironically, the more immediate victim of that contest was Ming Campbell of the Liberal Democrats. In a decision that caught the press unawares, Ming has his retirement announced for him by two leading Lib Dem king-makers and king -unmakers. (‘Did you wield the knife’ one reporter shouted audibly during the televised announcement. No, he resigned. Ming spoke the next day, saying he had decided that he would not be able to deflect the media from obsessing about his age, thus hindering all attempts to get across the political messages he wanted to convey.

These petty-paced political moves are arguably no more than the uncomfortable outcroppings of democracy. As I write, I learn of the real carnage within presumably an assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto as she re-entered Pakistan after a decade of exile.

In Business

In the aftermath of the celebrated Northern Rock affair, the bank’s leaders appeared before the commons select committee that had already interviewed the leaders of the Bank of England, The treasury, and The Financial Services Authority.

Under typically robust questioning, Adam Applegarth and Matt Ridley denied that they had ‘done anything wrong’ but indicated that they would accept the judgement of their shareholders, if they were eventually forced to resign.

In the course of the questioning, it was also revealed that all the bank’s senior directors had offered to resign in the immediate aftermath of the run, but had been asked to stay on to sort out its problems.

I think they are safe for the moment, on the same grounds as Big Steve McClaren has a temporary stay of execution. [Stop press, a few hours after I posted this, Dr Ridley accepted the inevitable and resigned].

In a somewhat different story, ITV faces calls for the dismissal of various culprits in their money-making scheme based on rigged phone-in contests. The enormity of this story can be seen when it emerges that Mr Ant and Mr Dec are under threat. That’s like Santa up for shop-lifting in the Christmas Sales.

England Rugby, The World Cup and Brian Ashton

King-makers popped up to endorse Steve McClaren, and to praise and bury Ming Campbell. They even popped up to endorse coach Brian Ashton, after England’s heart-stopping Rugby Union victory over France. It could be seen as one of those endorsements which increasingly indicate that the coach is in big trouble. The denial serves to signal the presence of trouble, not its absence. This was a slightly different kind of announcement, I think. It was made on the wave of national support for the England team.

Here we have an example of the rapid swings for and against a leader. Less than a month ago, Mr Ashton was seen as credible a leader as Sir Menzies Campbell. The performances of his teams had been bitterly criticized. Now, on the eve of the 2007 final, he now stands one game short of receiving the kind of accolades showered on his predecessor Clive Woodward after his team became World Champions, four years ago. Outside of England, the suspicion is that England are serious underdogs to a South African team that beat them comprehensively in the run up to the finals. This is not a time for logic. How far is from Paris to Agincourt?