Where the City’s movers and shakers get a few things off their chest. Today, it’s our editor Andy Silvester with the pen
Whoever replaces White would do well to take a shift on the tills
Driving alongside Lake Bala, on the edges of Snowdonia, this intrepid Londoner got a shock at the weekend: an entrance sign to what is effectively a John Lewis staff hotel.
It is one of a few dotted around the country in various spots of natural beauty, with ‘partners’ able to take advantage of thoroughly wholesome activities whilst on site. Rather more well-appointed than the campsite I was staying on, it was an advert for a company on the up.
Appearances, of course, can be deceiving. Under Dame Sharon White’s reign, the company has lurched from public embarrassment to financial reverse. Her appointment looked unwise at the time, and it looks all the more unwise five years on.
In a challenging time for established retail there is clearly a case for somebody with new ideas; it is blindingly apparent that somebody without any retail experience, however, was a bold appointment too far.
One is reminded of Sir Clive Woodward’s appointment as a director at Southampton FC just a little while after winning the Rugby World Cup with England: square pegs, round holes. In retail more than any other game, it appears, a knowledge of the shopfloor pays dividends.
The Croydon-born Steve Rowe, who worked at M&S from the age of 15, engineered that firm’s remarkable turnaround before handing over to Steve Machin, another whose first job was shelf-stacking, this time at Sainsbury’s.
Simon Wolfson at Next was unlikely to not be summoned to high office in what amounted to his family business, but he did his time in the firm’s Kensington store, too. Hospitality probably counts, too – the well-liked Patrick Dardis, the former Young’s boss, worked as a barman in the company he would one day lead as a young man.
Experience isn’t everything but in customer-focused brands it helps. Understanding what a brand stands for to its customers and to its frontline staff is vital. White failed on that: failing to deliver the bonus, floating the idea of outside equity and going into housing all alienated long-time staff. Whoever takes her job could do worse than spending their first few months on the frontline.
Drama on the pitch a sure sell
Much gnashing of teeth over the weekend about poor officiating in the Premier League after a poor-ish decision in the Spurs-Liverpool game. Some particularly excitable critics, including Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp, said the dodgy offside call was throwing into doubt the integrity of the competition. Give over – it’s a lovely idea but to those who haven’t noticed, football’s a content game these days more than a sport. The more people talk, the happier the game’s authorities are.
Surge pricing is in
Surge pricing is well on its way to becoming mainstream across a whole raft of industries. That’ll probably end up being good news for consumers on balance. But pricing in the industry that first adopted the concept can still give rise to a sharp eyebrow.
A London to Marseille flight today will set you back less than £30. But flying back the day after England’s Rugby World Cup quarter final in a couple of weeks? North of £500. Ouch.
A case of misconceived British exceptionalism
The ongoing debacle of HS2 has given rise to all sorts of British exceptionalism: commentators wondering why it’s only this country that makes such a horlicks of major infrastructure projects.
Ask Berliners about the Brandenburg Airport debacle or the Spanish finance ministry about their high speed rail projects, however, and you’ll find we’re in surprisingly good company.
A book to add to your Christmas list
At whatever point I land on my death bed – which I hope is rather a while away – one thing I will look back on fondly is writing a chapter on Gerald Ford for Iain Dale’s book on US presidents. Imaginatively titled The Presidents, the LBC presenter asked political and journalistic luminaries, and me, to pen chapters about the holders of the Oval Office.
It’s a cracking read and one that captures the personal as well as the political. Iain had already edited one on the Prime Ministers, and just in time for Christmas, he has another: on the Kings and Queens of our fine island nation. A perfect present, I’m sure.