Glencore and invisible leadership

April 26, 2011

The Swiss Commodity traders Glencore has avoided much of the hype centred on successful businesses and their leaders. So when they announced an initial public offering (IPO) of shares for next month in London and Hong Kong [May 2011] a very interesting story began to emerge

At first the news was mostly on the scale and timing of the IPO. The company offering of $11 billion shares set a corporate value of around $60 billion. The risks of commodities trading as well as its rewards are more well-known, although as one commentator put it

“They have been a private-run company and made a truck-load of money and you’d have to think that these guys would have more market intelligence than most”

The IPO documentation alerted journalists to remuneration paid to its cadre of top traders. I couldn’t help thinking of the advertisement to be seen as you arrive at Geneva airport “Money talks but wealth whispers.” The Swiss have developed a well-justified reputation for financial discretion.


Glencore [global energy commodity resources] changed its name from Marc Rich & Co. after a management buy-out in 1994. Mr Rich has been described as a former fugitive U.S. financier. [He was indicted in the United States on federal charges of illegally making oil deals with Iran during the Iran hostage crisis. He was in Switzerland at the time of the indictment. He subsequently received a presidential pardon from U.S. President Bill Clinton on his last day of office. One report described The Rich Boys: “an ultra-secretive network rules independent oil trading. Its mentor: Marc Rich”. The network includes former ‘Rich Boys’ who spun off and founded Trafigura, the company at the heart of a superinjuction story in 2009].

More stories developed

More stories developed. Some were about the company’s avoidance of public scrutiny. More was made public of interesting remuneration statistics.

According to financial data from Glencore Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Glencore UK, its 32 traders earned a total of $US41.5m. In addition, traders are understood to be paid substantial performance-related share awards. The remuneration packages of Glencore’s traders dwarfs the average payout by banks to their star employees. For example, Glencore’s London-based oil traders earn almost four times the average paid to Barclays Capital’s investment bankers.

Simon Murray

Another story produced unfavourable comments on the uninhibited views expressed by its new chairman Simon Murray
Ruth Sutherland of The Mail online noted

Say what you like about Simon Murray, the veteran Hong Kong entrepreneur appointed to chair Glencore, but he cannot be accused of dullness. The choice of a 71-year-old polar adventurer and former French Foreign Legionnaire as chairman of Glencore always promised to be entertaining and so it has proved. Murray created a furore with his views on women in the boardroom, making it clear he wouldn’t be rushing to recruit any.

In contrast, someone who was appointed a director was Tony Hayward, the man at the centre of the BP oil-spill disaster. However, the BBC’s top business commentator Robert Peston was forced to retract a story that Lord Browne, Haywood’s mentor and former boss at BP, was to become chairman of the new floated company and at the same time revealed the appointment of Simon Murray. According to Peston, Lord Browne was rather too keen on conforming to corporate governance guidelines.

Leadership lessons

I hesitate to offer more than a few tentative questions at this stage of the unfolding story. Glencore has rarely been held up as an example of effective corporate leadership, preferring to avoid publicity. Its current chairman is quickly labelled as an old-fashioned charismatic frontiersman impatient with conventions of political correctness. Lord Browne, himself once seen as someone prepared to take risks in the interests of corporate growth, is cast as the prudent upholder of corporate governance principles. Is the polar explorer a perfect match for the once discrete corporation? Will its wealth now not so much be whispered about, but shouted in business headlines? Will Goldman Sachs, who was not invited to the IPO party, be shown right in its reservations about the whole business?

Gray, Keys, and a note on ‘innocent’ bantering

January 27, 2011

The behaviours of Andy Gray and Richard Keys have been described as “innocent bantering” . I suggest that the term is an oxymoron. It implies a power relationship which deserves more critical reflection that it usually receives.

My proposition is that bantering is a term which signals a hidden power relationship. The power may be de haut en bas (what royals do because they have been brought up that way to express superiority in a condescending way). Or what less powerful groups do to express inarticulate uncertainties about “the other” (women, football opponents or people of different ethnicity).

Far from innocent

Whatever banter is, the adjective “innocent” is not as appropriate as its use implies. The term innocent bantering has a kind of defensiveness about it. Perhaps it is used to excuse inappropriate behaviour. We can find quite a few examples from actions of members of the royal family.

The Princes Harry and Philip

Stephen Bates in the Guardian, [January 12th 2009] examined the controversy following a video film of his fellow solders made by Prince Harry. The video included terms such as “pakis” and “ragheads” . These expressions were subsequently defended as innocent banter. I couldn’t help remembering a long line of public remarks by his grandfather Prince Philip which also made headlines briefly, but were widely dismissed as reflections of his upbringing, rather than insensitivities to the world in which he moved.

Expressions of affection

Those who take the “innocent banter” line argue that any offending remarks are made as an expression of affection. The implication in the case of the royals is that a certain kind of upbringing makes it difficult for them to show more authentic displays of emotion.

But it’s not just the royals who engage in innocent bantering. I remember hearing a similar argument used by a prison officer some years ago. He explained to a (management training) class that he had no problem dealing with back prisoners because they liked the way he bantered with them. “I’d say ‘come on you silly black b*****d’ They know I’m saying I’m not out to get them.”

I could select various similar “good-natured” attempts at humour from comedians including Russell Brand, and (in the sporting sphere) almost any remarks by Geoffrey Boycott trying to be funny in public.

And so we turn to the sad business of Andy Gray and Richard Keys “bantering” about female officials. The career-ending episode caught on tape was that of Andy Gray and an approach to a female colleague.

Some dare call it power

The pattern of behaviour in all these examples demonstrates that the banter is far from innocent. It involves a power relationship which is difficult to express directly. It takes an academic like Cynthia Hardy to nail it for what it is. She wrote (in an article which you can Google) that “some dare call it power”.

When I dug a little deeper into this subject, I was surprised to discover that the term banter is of obscure origins. Its formal use can be traced to Shakespearean scholars who often cite the play Henry IV. [I am searching for an article from a researcher at Manchester metropolitan University which made the point] As might be expected, Shakespearean banter is subtle and revealing of hidden aspects of personality


See Jane Martinson’s piece for a critique of the issue. Advanced study: why do some people refer to the Guardian’s position on such issues “banteringly” as Guardian feminist claptrap?

The offside rule and discrimination in football explained (sort of).

January 25, 2011

Stop Press: Andy Gray sacked by Sky. The subject of football’s institutionalized culture of discrimination was brought under the spotlight when off-air remarks were recorded and made public. The conversation between Sky TV’s Andy Gray and Richard Keys, took place prior to a game on which they were about to commentate. It was to cost Gray his lucrative appointment.


Andy Gray and Richard Keys have been among the most respected journalists in Sky TV’s football broadcasting. They have helped build the franchise to a position of some market leadership in the UK. They had been preparing for broadcasting a match [January 2011] when they engaged in discussion about a young ‘assistant referee’ Sian Massey, a rising star in female sports administration. She had refereed the FA Women’s Premier League Cup final, FA Women’s Cup, women’s international fixtures including the Women’s World Cup and European Championship and many Football League matches [Image above].

The conversation was also scathing about Karren Brady a leading football entrepreneur and TV personality. Brady had written in her newspaper column that morning about the level of sexist abuse she had received recently.

The remarks by Gray and Keys were leaked and the story widely publicised and debated in the United Kingdom. The commentators were subsequently suspended from duty.

“Women don’t know the offside rule”

The Mail’s account of the incident was as follows

Andy Gray and Richard Keys were forced to apologise after sexist off-air comments about assistant referee Sian Massey were made public. Speaking to each other in the studio before the game, believing their microphones were off, Keys had said: ‘Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.’

Former Scotland striker Gray replied: ‘Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.’ To which Keys said: ‘Course they don’t. I can guarantee you there will be a big one today. Kenny (Liverpool manager Dalglish) will go potty. This isn’t the first time, is it? Didn’t we have one before? The game’s gone mad. Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.’

Appalling and medieval

The comments were labelled ‘appalling’ and ‘medieval’ by Football Against Racism in Europe, a group who work with UEFA to wipe out all discrimination in football. Executive director Piara Powar, [was quoted as saying] ‘Their comments reveal the appalling and damaging sexist attitudes that exist across football’

Two earlier off-air incidents

The incident was compared with two notorious remarks made off air, but recorded and publicised. The earlier one involved BBC football commentator Ron Atkinson who was fired as a result of his use of racist language. The more recent one occurred when Prime Minister Gordon Brown was campaigning in May 2010, when he raged against a woman whose views he described as racist.

The evidence for male discrimination

Conservative MP Dominic Raab contributed to the debate by saying that discrimination worked two ways, and that men were also subject to flagrant discrimination, accusing feminists of “obnoxious bigotry” Hie cited Labour politician Harriet Harman who had said that the banking crisis had been caused by men, and probably wouldn’t have happened if women had been in charge.

Offside too hard for tiny brains?

Former England women’s cricket captain Rachel Heyhoe-Flint was supportive of Keys and Gray, describing their exchange as “banter”.

The sexism debate even cropped up in Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish’s news conference after the match At the start, Dalglish jokingly asked Sky’s male reporter whether he minded that there was a woman present. The Scot’s daughter Kelly, a former presenter on Sky Sports News, joked on her Twitter account: “Phew, am exhausted. Just read about something called ‘the offside rule’. Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes.”

Leadership and discrimination

The debate has moved from a few ill-judged remarks by two football commentators to sweeping generalisations of the type:

“women can’t understand the offside rule”

“men are the cause of the world’s economic woes”

“feminists are obnoxious bigots”

“men are subject to unnoticed and flagrant discrimination”

Andy Gray fired by Sky

The debate continues with little evidence of critical reflection. But stop press: Andy Gray was fired by Sky after further incidents were brought to light [4.30 pm, Tuesday January 25th 2011]