INNOVATION was the theme for BSkyB chief executive Jeremy Darroch at the Institute of Directors’ convention yesterday, where fellow speakers included McDonald’s chief executive Jill McDonald, chancellor George Osborne and shadow chancellor Ed Balls.
“The most successful businesses are those that constantly seek to adapt and renew themselves,” said Darroch, as he charted the broadcaster’s journey from its birth in 1989, when airtime on the UK’s four TV channels was so limited only half an England international game could be shown to make space for Neighbours.
“We need to make our products obsolete before someone else does,” he added. “Believe me, one phone-call to cancel a subscription is a hell of a motivator.”
However, the most interesting part of Darroch’s speech was what he didn’t say. As the full takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp moves into the end game, there was absolutely no mention of the multibillion-pound deal, possibly the largest-ever elephant to sit in the corner of the O2 Arena.
Instead, Darroch settled for lavishing praise on BSkyB’s biggest shareholder, which has stuck with the broadcaster even though at one point it was losing £14m per week, almost “taking News Corp to the wall in the process”, recalled Darroch.
“News Corp bet the farm on BSkyB; it believed in it and provided an incredibly powerful continuity for the business,” he gushed. “There was no greater supporter of our move into HD, because they could see the long-term benefit of the strategy.”
FIRST PAST THE POST
MEANWHILE, Lord MacLaurin, the former chairman of Tesco, Vodafone and the England and Wales Cricket Board, also declared himself “pro-Murdoch” – despite initial misgivings when BSkyB paid £300m to take live England home Test matches off terrestrial television.
“He is an innovator,” echoed MacLaurin. “And this world needs innovators, whether you are selling baked beans or broadcasting.”
So what is the secret of successful retailing? “Listening to customers,” said MacLaurin. That, and avoiding “Gerald Ratner-like” comments such as the remark made by Lord Sainsbury that the Club Card was just an “electronic version of Green Shield stamps” before launching his own, unsuccessful, version.
“I am forever grateful to Sainsbury,” said MacLaurin. “He launched his first loyalty card 18 months later than Tesco and then had to close it.”
MacLaurin also hit back at the claim made in yesterday’s Capitalist column by Robin Brown, chief accountant at Morrisons, that: “We don’t sense that our competitors are making money from their online businesses.”
“I don’t know where [Brown] got his facts from,” responded MacLaurin, pointing out that Tesco was the first into the online market with Tesco Direct, which did in fact start to make money from the late 1990s. When he was in charge, naturally.
FIT FOR PURPOSE
HOWEVER, MacLaurin is showing no sign of slowing down as he works through his eighth decade. “I am feeling quite fit and well thank you,” he told the IoD’s chief operating officer Andrew Main-Wilson, who remarked how “active” he is.
In fact, the retirement age of 65 is officially “over”, said the 73-year-old. “If you are fit and well you can go on for another ten years. Get on the phone to a headhunter and find something that suits you.”
In MacLaurin’s case, that means fitting in two non-executive directorships, lecturing the MBA students at Bath University and chairing his former school Malvern College between appearances in the House of Lords.
Taking on the turnaround challenge of one more struggling public company – having taken Vodafone from a £3bn to a £30bn turnover business within two years – is out, though. “My wife Paula would have something to say about that,” he said.
WHOEVER chose the music at the convention had a sense of humour – the TUC general secretary Brendan Barber (left) came on stage to Children of the Revolution, while MacLaurin entered to the sound of the Test Match theme tune.
And for Jeremy Darroch, as News Corp’s newspaper business is investigated following allegations of phone hacking at its tabloids?
Paparazzi by Lady Gaga.