Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat: TV review

December 23, 2013

Fifty years ago, and the British establishment is rocked by a sleazy political story …

An ITV Documentary [22nd December, 2013] presented the so-called Profumo affair of the 1960s with interviews with remaining personalities. Its thrust was that the society osteopath Stephen Ward had been scapegoated by more significant establishment figures, on largely false immorality charges.

Wards’s suicide as his court case was reaching an end served as a convenient but temporary pause before the story built up to its place as a footnote to contemporary British history.

Fifty years on

Fifty years on, and the two young women at the heart of the case remain culturally potent. Christine Keeler lives in drab obscurity in sheltered accommodation in South London. A remarkably vibrant Mandy Rice-Davies is very much alive and in the public eye, and her recollections dominated the programme. As had her court appearance half a century ago, part a Pygmalion figure, part Becky Sharpe. Her cheerful absence of remorse or guilt was one of the few upbeat aspects of the bizarre tale neatly captured in the title Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat.

Andrew Lloyd Webber

It was fitting that its anchorman was none other than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. His musical about Stephen Ward is running to less than rave reviews in the West End at present. His marginal involvement with some of the main players at the time has turned the affair into a serious cause for him. He has raised the matter of Ward’s innocence in The House of Lords.

A bit of a turkey

The musical seems likely to be deemed a bit of a turkey. The ITV programme may have been an attempt to rescue it. In any event it offered an interesting revisiting of the sex and security scandal of the 1960s.

BBC chief Entwistle quizzed by MPs over the Jimmy Savile scandal

October 27, 2012

The Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle, went before a select committee of MPs at Westminster recently, arising from concerns about what had become known in the UK as ‘The Jimmy Savile’ affair. It was an unedifying event, part showboating, part inept and ill-informed interrogation

Do you know what a chief brewer, a chief engineer, a chief chemist, or a chief journalist does? Outside a specific business sector, the labels are misleading. Each designation refers to a head of a group of professionals within an organisation. These are important leadership roles. The more generic label for the role is that of COO or Chief Operating Officer, which is a director level function. A COO has ultimate responsibility for the professional operations in a company, including line-management responsibility for the effective functioning of more junior professionals.

A conflation of roles

In some organisations, the role of COO gets mixed up with that of the better-known one of CEO or chief executive officer. For example, at the BBC, George Entwistle turns out to be chief journalist, and also its Director General, bringing with it responsibilities roughly approximating to those of the CEO more common in in private sector organisations.

The Jimmy Savile affair

[October 2012].
Jilly Savile, a high profile TV personality over a period of decades, famed for the long-runing children’s programme Jim’ll fix it. Since his death in 2011, stories had begun to leak out over alleged child molestation within the BBC, but also extending far more widely. He had been knighted for services to charitable causes, although his charity work had become seen in hindsight as a cover for more sinister and predatory activities.

A potential cover up

The story had been broken by a TV programme from ITV which told of a possible cover-up at the rival state-owned BBC, which had cancelled a planned investigative piece on Savile being prepared for its Newsnight programme. The decision appeared to have been for influenced by a wider tribute to Savile which was imminent, and which was under preparation as a Christmas special.

The Director General gets embroiled

The newish Director General George Entwistle would always have been embroiled. But Entwistle had also been an editor of Newsnight at the time of another BBC debacle involving the documentation of Weapons of Mass Destruction during the Iraq war. More pertinently, he had also been head of the broader division at the BBC [‘Vision’] when the Newsnight piece on Savile was being prepared.

Another twist

A few days before he was called before the committee, there was another twist to the story. The current Newsnight editor Peter Rippon wrote in the BBC’s ‘Editors blog’ justifying the editorial decision he made to stop the broadcasting of the Savile item.

However, by then, investigations into the Savile affair ordered by Entwistle had begun internal to the BBC. Rippon’s blog was re-corrected’ . and Peter Rippon went on a spell of gardening leave.

At the committee hearing

At the committee hearing, The Director General repeatedly explained that he had been aware of a dilemma of leadership: either to get involved in the operational details [as chief journalist] or remain disinterested as Director General, a backstop ‘above’ those who might eventually have to be evaluated for their operational decisions.
Righteous indignation.

His performance gave the committee members opportunity to work up a head of righteous indignation about Entwistle’s ineffectiveness, The committee seemed to consider his approach” lacking of curiosity. Several of the MPs used the term, which suggested that rather extensive discussions had taken place in advance, and that consensus had been reached.

Not enough like Archie

Archie Norman, former CEO of a retailing organisation, was held up as an example of a hands-on leader, famed for ‘getting on to the shop floor’ . This fitted the prevailing ‘map’ of the MPs better than the more nuanced view being offered them by Entwistle.


The performances seemed to smack of showboating. Perhaps the interrogation of the Director General could have shown some flicker of understanding about the points he reiterated. It was possible that the MPs were genuinely unable to bridge point he was making at the same time as holding on to their pre-prepared lines of attack.

More charisma needed?

Their posture said it all. The MPs were looking for more charisma in a leader. They would not have behaved in such an inept fashion if they had been leader of the BBC. Or maybe they were in search of a scapegoat for the Savile affair. In either case, it was an unedifying performance.

It is mostly a simplistic notion of what a leader should do when faced with a crisis. He (presumably a he) must immediately and personally show who is in control, even if there is a case for holding back and recognising the dangers of impulsive action which, in this case would deny anyone else at the BBC space to take some leadership responsibilities.

Their view of Entwistle’s performance and competence was mostly echoed in the press the following day.

A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse even if it’s a retired hack from the police service

March 3, 2012

A highly-charged symbolic story has emerged around David Cameron’s ride on retired police horse Raisa. Headline writers demonstrate their creativity

The New York Times captured the symbolic dimension to the story neatly:

Prime Minister David Cameron’s ride on a retired police horse in the Oxfordshire countryside appears, for now at least, to lack the elements of a full-blown scandal. But as political symbols go, the horse and its links to the tabloid newspaper scandal roiling the country seems likely to become, at the least, rich fodder for political satirists and cartoonists. In Brussels on Friday [March 2nd 2012], Mr Cameron was peppered with as many questions about Raisa, the horse, as about Britain’s refusal to sign on to a new treaty.

Henry 5th and all that

It set me wondering about the potency of horses in narrative. Where better to start than Shakespeare? The hero king Henry 5th and the villain Richard 3rd are tales retold as great movies with the monarchs and their nags as the stars.


The story seems to have attracted the press after initial press statements had appeared to be unconvincing denials of a matter of fact, namely that the Prime Minister had ridden on a horse pensioned off from the police service and placed in the care of horse trainer Charlie Brooks. Mr Brooks is the husband of Rebekah Brooks, who is involved in the hacking stories at News International. Both are close friends of David Cameron , as is a senior policeman who may have helped in the arrangement to pension off Raisa, the nag at the centre of the story.

Beyond the rational

At a rational level, some kind of plausible explanation can be constructed. On the other hand, you might think that on a rational level there doesn’t seem much point in such an exercise. It will take a lot of effort to find serious wrong-doing. The potential of the story lies in the symbolism of a cosy group of wealthy friends using friendship to get further unpaid privileges.

Symbolism and leadership

It is a case of symbolic leadership, as portrayed, say, by Sir Lawrence Olivier mounted on his horse before the battle of Agincourt. It might also be seen as more a narrative interpretation of leadership. The symbolism is of Mr Cameron enjoying himself with his friends through privileged access to the aging Raisa. Faint echoes of Animal farm also seep into mind.

What the papers said

The whole episode offered creative opportunities for headline writers. The mirror went for losing the reins I did horse around with Sun’s old nag. The Telegraph offered
Horsegate: the PM will forever be saddled with Raisa‎. The Guardian went for the old cliche of closing the stable door

To be continued

Olympus Faces Major Corporate Challenges

November 27, 2011

Recent business headlines present Olympus as a company facing a serious crisis. Their sacked CEO Michael Woodford continues to draw attention to alleged corporate malpractices

The Crisis at Olympus

A good overview of the crisis was captured in a review by Digital Trends which is abstracted below:

To most consumers, Olympus is a Japanese company that makes a selection of well-regarded digital cameras. The company also dabbles in gizmos like digital voice recorders. Olympus started back in 1919 making medical thermometers and microscopes. Today it makes a huge range of medical and industrial products.

Controversy and scandal

For the last few weeks, [October-November 2011] Olympus has been surrounded by controversy and scandal. The company installed then quickly sacked Michael Woodford, its first non-Japanese CEO. It has admitted that it paid out some $687 million to Axes America as an advising fee related to the Olympus’s $2.2 billion takeover of British medical company Gyrus in 2008, roughly a third of the total price paid. Axes America has since shut down, along with the Cayman Islands company that handled the transaction.
Olympus says its relationship with Axes America ended with the stock buyback and that it has no knowledge of the advisor’s current status. Axes America and Axam Investments were operated by Japanese banker Hajime Sagawa.

Michael Woodford

On April 1, 2011, Olympus appointed Michael Woodford as the company’s president and chief executive officer, with Tsuyoshi Kikukawa shifting to chairman of the company’s board. Both were Olympus lifers. Kikukawa had been instrumental in getting Olympus into the digital camera business, although he also pursued an aggressive merger-and-acquisition strategy that sometimes rankled investors. Woodford was viewed as a solid, loyal choice for expanding Olympus’s business outside Japan, keeping the company’s core business intact, and effecting deploying cost-cutting strategies

Woodford’s dismissal

On appointment, Woodford became deeply uneasy about what he discovered about the Gyrus deal. He commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers to assess the Gyrus deal. PWC reported [Oct 11th 2011] that the “cost of the transaction to Olympus is extremely significant and is as a result of a number of actions taken by management which are questionable and which give cause for concern.”

The same day, Woodford wrote to chairman Kikukawa: “It is truly extraordinary and frankly unbelievable that Olympus made a series of payments approaching USD $700 million in fees to a company in the Cayman Islands whose ultimate ownership is still unknown to us, preventing the auditors from verifying that no related parties were involved.”

Two weeks later [Oct 14th 2011], Olympus removed Woodford from his roles as president and CEO roles on a unanimous vote, retaining him as a director on the board. Officially, Olympus claimed Woodford’s approach was disrupting its operations and could no longer be tolerated.

Woodford becomes a John Grisham hero

According to CBS News, Michael Woodfood became a hero from a John Grisham novel:

[Woodford] says he’s been unwittingly cast in a corporate drama of deceit and danger befitting a John Grisham novel. “Mentions of organized crime, boardroom battles, character assassination…it’s just been a surreal few weeks,” he said.

Japanese companies have long been criticized for their cozy, insider corporate culture. The Japanese themselves say that change is difficult without something called “gaiatsu,” which literally translates as “pressure from foreigners”

Shareholders around the world are demanding Woodford is reinstated and a full-scale investigation is held internally. Woodford is to meet [Dec 2011] with investigators at the Justice Department. There are allegations that organized crime in Japan helped engineer the cover-up. At stake is not just the fate Olympus, but the reputation of corporate Japan itself.


A Linked-in message from Fontas Varidakis drew LWD attention to the Olympus story, picking up many of the points and corporate dilemmas covered in this post. The image of Michael Woodford is from the Shropshire Star site.

Coalition crisis in India?

February 17, 2011

India has a coalition government brought about as a reaction to political crisis. The partnership of Sonya Ghandi and Manmohan Singh now faces a political crisis of its own. In this respect there are parallels with the problems of the UK’s coalition government

India and the United Kingdom both have coalition governments facing tough political situations. But the crises they are grappling with also have various differences, making comparisons difficult. A BBC report [abbreviated below] suggests

An unshakeable understanding between Mr Singh and Congress [party] President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ensured political stability in the country. Frequent meetings between the two suggested a neat division of responsibility between party and government.

In the past few months, [in early 2011] the personal equation may have continued, but things have begun going horribly wrong for the Congress-led coalition. Inflation, corruption scandals, a massive and ongoing agitation for a separate state of Telangana in southern India, apparent favours in the allocation of land, the abuse of discretionary powers by state leaders: everything seemed to go wrong at the same time for Mr Singh and his government.

Long considered a man of unimpeachable integrity, Mr Singh coasted to a second term as the prime minister of the world’s second most populous nation [in May 2009]. With the opposition in disarray, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government appeared to be on a roll.

The Phone-licences scandal

The corruption scandal erupted anew in February 2011. Anil Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Communications, has been questioned as part of a probe into a phone-license selling scandal:

An ongoing investigation is looking into whether mobile phone licences were sold at below-market prices in 2008. Claims that the government lost more than $30bn (£18.6bn) in revenue have caused months of political conflict and shaken investor confidence. Reliance Communications shares have declined 30% in value this year, making them among the worst performers on the Bombay Stock Exchange’s main Sensitive Index. As well as hurting the stock market, the scandal has caused political turmoil in India.

Earlier this month, federal officials arrested former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja. They alleged that Mr Raja violated guidelines in the second-generation (2G) phone license sale, and conspired to favour certain telecom companies. India’s chief auditor said in November that the 2G licences were sold for about a tenth of their value. The government has questioned the figure, claiming it is too low.

Above suspicion

Mr Singh seeks to defend his own impressively high reputation as an ethical leader. He claims that the coalition must remain “above suspicion” (the quote referring to Shakespeare’s play and the necessary status of the wife of Julius Caesar). Extreme ethical leadership presents its own dilemmas. Symbolically it places unreasonable demands on most leaders to be seen as beyond reproach, the idealism of a Caesar’s wife. This is a lot to expect of frail human beings in general, and perhaps of politicians in particular. Mr Singh may retain his personal reputation, but the rough-house of politics may make the claims harder to maintain for the coalition in its entirety.

Back in England

Which brings us nicely back to Mr Cameron, Nick Clegg, and their coalition government of conservatives and liberal democrats in the UK. Currently, [Feb 2011] Mr Cameron, while not aspiring to the ethical status of a Caesar’s wife, risks political trouble from his commitment to the Big Society concept. The coalition now risks further unwanted evidence of tensions as Clegg and Cameron lead opposing factions arguing for (Clegg) and against (Cameron) in a referendum for an electoral reform to a transferable vote system.

Julie Bailey, campaigning leader

March 18, 2009

A community protest contributed to exposure of shocking deficiencies of standards in a Staffordshire NHS trust. The protest was led by Julie Bailey, an exemplar of service leadership

Julie Bailey initiated and then led the community-based movement from a local cafe. It turned out that a very different kind of research would draw official attention to potentially serious problems through a sophisticated analysis of medical records. It will be difficult to assess the contributions of the team of medical analysts within the health system, and local activists outside it to the unfolding dramatic events.

I am concentrating on the leadership behaviours shown locally, which came to light as the damning report was published, [March 17th 2009] with the news of replacement of the former leadership of the trust. The report focused on lack of resources, poor management, in over-concern for to meeting various targets which were indicators of good practice while becoming in denial over actual clinical care which the targets were intended to assess.

The BBC reported that

About 400 more people died at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008 than would be expected, the Healthcare Commission said. [T]here were deficiencies at “virtually every stage” of emergency care and managers pursued targets to the detriment of patient care.

Julie Bailey was interviewed for the report. She told her story in clear and calm terms which reinforced its horrific message. It began with the immediate experience she witnessed when her mother was admitted to the trust in a scene of chaotic nature which she was to discover extended to entire wards of suffering patients. Her immediate reaction was to attempt to deal with the local situation and she appears to have stayed with her mother with increasing desperation and awareness that the lack of care extended extensively within the hospital (the eventual report found extreme mis-management within the accident and emergency system, as well as on the wards.

Bailey was to see her mother die with evidential poor care within a few weeks of admission. By then, her concern and anger had led to a strong drive to obtain justice for what had happened not just to one patient but to what she saw as an entire community touched by the practices of the Trust.

Initial attempts to obtain legal advice revealed how difficult it would be for one person of limited means to change a system, Julie Bailey succeeded in mobilizing people to create pressure which eventually made a difference.

A letter to a local paper confirmed that many others confirmed Bailey’s experience was not an isolated incident. A local protest group emerged. Julie Bailey seems to have been the voice on its behalf. Its efforts are still low-key in publicity terms, and I had trouble finding out much through web searches.

Her video reveals someone who took the lead demonstrating a combination of resilience and unwavering commitment to a cause against the odds. This was in face of discouragement from experienced professionals, and apparent disinterest from politicians.

What is special about Julie Bailey?

Students of leadership will benefit from studying the case. Initial reports suggest that much more is to be learned about its context. One immediate impression is how she could stand in great contrast to the received stereotype of a charismatic leader. She has a moving personal style of delivery. But it takes its power from its ordinariness and calmness in communicating a story which is extra-ordinary. I can imagine her drawing strength through being a channel though which voices of many others touched by this episode become heard.

Charismatic leadership? Transformational leadership? Creative leadership? I’m not sure. Servant or service leadership? Maybe, although the concept needs more attention than it has received to date.

Is there a Watergate Scandal Emerging at Volkswagen?

February 25, 2008


Watergate is shorthand for a gradual but remorseless process through which a powerful leader becomes destroyed. Are there parallels in the current scandals at Volkswagen which have resulted in imprisonment for several middle-ranking executives? Will the very top leadership in Germany eventually be brought down?

Earlier this week [February 2008] Klaus Volkert, the former head of Volkswagen’s employee council, was jailed for his role in a corruption scandal.

According to The BBC, Volkert

was found guilty of incitement to breach of trust in the case, which involved employee representatives getting illegal privileges.

We have commented over the last year of the leadership troubles that have been hitting the corporate reputation of Europe’s premier car manufacturer.

I picked up the scent of something of interest, because of a little surge of numbers of visitors to this site searching for news about the VW company. That’s when I came across a Reuters report

Volkswagen supervisory board member Guenter Lenz has resigned his seat, becoming the latest casualty of a scandal involving the use of corporate funds to bribe the carmaker’s senior labour leaders. According to a statement from the Hanover works council, Lenz told employees on Tuesday at a plant staff meeting that he would now resign his board seat and his post as the site’s works council boss after previously ceasing to actively execute his duties. The public prosecutor’s office in Brunswick accuses him of aiding and abetting fraud and partaking in parties with prostitutes paid for out of a VW slush fund. Lenz, who has also resigned from the Lower Saxony state parliament, would accept a court sentence for his wrongdoing, the Hanover works council said.

The scandal has already cost the jobs of VW management board member Peter Hartz, group works council chief Klaus Volkert, as well as a member of the German federal parliament.

An earlier post [updated in October 2007] looked at the history of leadership problems at VW, concluding that
… the financial markets have absorbed the uncertainties regarding VW’s less secure future when and if the Volkswagen protection laws are removed. They are also unshaken by the leadership scandals, and by the risk that VW is falling behind Toyota in the development of its hybrid car range. (Strictly speaking, that is a wider concern for the future success of the German premium automobile marques, VW’s Audi, but even more so, BMW and Mercedes). At least Martin Winterkorn seems to be enjoying a leadership honeymoon.

Martin Winterkorn appears to have been parachuted in as someone untained with earlier scandals.

Back to Watergate

President Nixon’s downfall is now a classic of modern cultural mythology. The great leader is brought low, despite all efforts he made to protect himself.

At first, only the minor players in the drama are attacked. But as each each in turn is weakened, it becomes easier for a more important figure to come under attack. The drama is sustained with the prospect of defeat for the most powerful figure of all.

Forward to Volkswagen

Are we witnessing at Volkswagen a story that is gradually working its way towards the very highest of executives associated with the scandal?

I can only observe that denials are being made. The denials may be a necessary strategy to protect individuals from the hints that are emerging in the press.

Until something more substantial emerges, I shall not be naming names.


Image of Watergate was downloaded from Professor Olsen’s fascinating history site