The Notebook: Royal Mail, Succession and a fabulous rugby charity
The Notebook is a home for musings and jottings on the Square Mile and beyond. Today, it’s Andy Silvester’s turn.
ANOTHER day, another indication that Royal Mail’s future has got lost in the post. Only a fortnight after being referred to the regulator for “systemic letter delivery failures” – a task you’d probably describe as a core competence for a letter delivery company – it was forced to admit to another load of postal delays across the home counties this week.
Add to that the chuntering from union boss Dave Ward at the CWU and probable further strike action and it’s hard to see quite where the embattled firm goes from here.
Simon Thompson, Chief Postie, is facing as uncertain a future as his company. The boss was singled out by a Commons report earlier this month for “either an unacceptable level of incompetence or an unacceptable level of cluelessness”, neither of which will look too good on the CV, as well as suffering the ignominy of having to come back to parliament for a second time after appearing to mislead MPs over performance tracking software. If that’s embarrassing, then parent company International Distributions Services’ near-60 per cent share price tumble over the past five years is downright depressing.
Yet despite all that there are some reasons to be cheerful – and to Thompson’s credit, he seems to have clocked it. The firm’s international parcel delivery firm GLS is profitable, clinging on to the coattails of the online commerce boom.
There have been rumblings from Thompson and his chairman, Keith Williams, that a split is on the table – with the parcel business spun out of the loss-making, antiquated Royal Mail bit of the business.
Whether Thompson is the right man to lead such a split is open to question. His relationship with the union has completely broken down, with an accord realistically the only way to turn Royal Mail around. Investors may soon have as little sympathy as MPs.
UBS boss navigating a crisis well
The ongoing shenanigans in the banking industry have left many predicting that we’re on the brink of another 2008. It’s hard to agree; the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse were more about the companies themselves than anything more systemic. But if we’re not in a global banking crisis, then the Swiss are certainly having an existential one. UBS is lucky to have a man like Colm Kelleher at the top, whilst the Swiss regulators and politicians pontificate in public.
Easy on the drama at John Lewis
The open letter written by ‘high street guru’ Mary Portas to John Lewis’ leadership may have caused a stir, but it felt more than a little overwrought. Yes, John Lewis is part of the fabric of British life – but so are lots of things, and having a couple of Christmas ads go viral doesn’t mean a business has any God-given right to exist. The brand is in a right state, and boss Dame Sharon White needs to demonstrate some signs of progress – but if it doesn’t work, it’s just a struggling business, not the end of an era.
Succeeding once more
The return of Succession to our TV screens will delight many in the City, who fresh from a day of office politics at work will turn on the telly to watch more of it on the small screen. The real joy of the show for those of us in the Square Mile though is not necessarily the dialogue or the masterful acting, but the vision of a corporate world almost entirely devoid of modern HR practices, for better and worse.
They say never meet your heroes, but I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with a scrum of rugby legends last week at the annual lunch for Lawrence Dallaglio’s RugbyWorks charity. The organisation works with children who’ve been expelled or excluded from education to give them values of teamwork, respect and discipline, using the game as a way to instill the life skills needed for whatever may come next in education or employment.
Rugby is in need of good PR at the minute – on everything from governance to rule changes it’s got itself into a right pickle. RugbyWorks is a reminder that the sport still has something unique, and very special, about it. As for the lunch, I think it’s safe to say Boisdale in Canary Wharf will need to restock its Guinness supplies.