Archive | Business RSS feed for this section

Nuclear or environmental?

21 Feb

So, AEA Technology plc has been fined for a potentially fatal radioactive leak in 2002. At least it shows that health and safety regulators have teeth, even if the wheels of justice move slowly.

But here’s the mystery. The business was privatised as long ago as 1996 (when its prospectus declared it to have ‘no significant nuclear liabilities’ so as not to frighten investors); in 2000 it announced its strategy to exit the nuclear industry. Yet the newspaper cutting above still describes it as ‘an atomic energy company’. There are many more examples.

There’s been no news posted in 2006 on the corporate news page, so the company has nothing to say on this confusion. Yet it now wants to be seen as an environmental and rail technology business. In this case, silence is not so golden (though Rob Thomas was a very good advocate for the business on the TV yesterday). Declaration: I worked in corporate communications for AEA Technology for a period in the late 1990s.

Say no to NTL

12 Dec

I chose not to post my thoughts on the proposed acquisition of Virgin Mobile by NTL last week on the grounds that my experience was purely personal. But Emily Bell airs her opposition in Media Guardian today. So here goes.

I was a pioneering NTL broadband customer in 2001. It wasn’t an easy relationship as their technical support is notoriously poor. Yet I was a good customer paying about £50 a month for cable TV and broadband until I moved house in late 2003. The company subsequently chased me for what it felt was overdue payment for the final weeks before I moved house. (I felt I had given them sufficent notice in writing.)

The letters came for over a year (sent to my old address of course). Eventually a debt collection agency was called in who traced me and bombarded me with increasingly threatening letters to my new address. I allowed this to continue because I was amazed a public company could justify this expense for a trivial sum (about £30) – and the risk of alienating a customer for life. I’m now a SKY subscriber (wonderful customer service) and have a wireless community broadband setup. I will never be an NTL customer again if I have the choice, and I’ll end my Virgin Mobile account the moment the takeover goes ahead. There: that feels better.


7 Oct

Charles Handy is the writer on business I most admire: he has a heart. Read (or listen to) his four stories as delivered to the Dubrovnik Leadership Forum. "Success is not just something about money." (Via LeverWealth).

A smart colleague of mine yesterday sought my motivation for working in education. It’s not fame, or wealth (obviously). It’s that I have a need to be right (but, I hope, the humility to know that I’m often wrong). I feel vindicated when my students achieve surprising things and when my lessons provide them with guidance for the future.

Startups and PR

27 May

Articles like this (Does your business need PR?) tend to raise some important issues. For example, is there more to PR than press releases?

Yet the discussion of the role of public relations in growth businesses neglects one thing: every individual and every organisation is doing public relations whether they know it or not. The question should be how you manage your public relations, and what it aims to achieve.

I’m still surprised that the successful experience of two iconic growth businesses – Microsoft and Google – is not more widely discussed in articles such as these. Public relations first, advertising last (if at all) is one lesson they teach us.

Are they or aren’t they?

8 Apr

You would expect a company to know if it has called in the administrators (the BBC’s Jeff Randall says you would certainly know if your legs had been chopped off). Yet the DTI’s statement last night differed on this matter from MG Rover’s.

In a difficult week, clear communication between the different parties seems to have broken down. Jeff Randall was more frank about this on the radio this morning than in this written account.

Chavs and chav nots

5 Feb

Everything I’ve seen recently about British fashion house Burberry has ridiculed or criticised it for going downmarket. Here‘s one example. The counterblast comes from a ‘business of fashion’ magazine (not online) in yesterday’s Financial Times.

When Rose Marie Bravo took over at Burberry in 1997 nobody gave her a prayer. Here was a woman from the Bronx … who said she was going to turn around a fine old British institution which for as long as anyone could remember had been selling tweedy suits to the mothers of middle England and trench coats to Japanese tourists. She had no chance.

Since her arrival the company’s valuation has increased from £200m to £2bn. Some turnaround. Could the mockery of Burberry come from old-fashioned British snobbishness?

PR and profit

1 Feb

Jim Horton’s latest white paper (pdf file) discusses the disconnect between the ‘hard’ business objective of making a profit and the ‘soft’ public relations goals of relationship and reputation building.

He’s right, though not in suggesting that public relations and communications courses are not mainstream in business schools. Nor in suggesting that ethics doesn’t fit the syllabus – there’s a massive post-Enron emphasis on ethics in my experience (horses? stable doors?).

Continue reading

Beer and fags

25 Jan

The decision by pub chain JD Wetherspoon to introduce a ban on smoking from next year has gathered a massive amount of (positive) press publicity. Yet the share price initially fell.

It will surely bounce back once investors reflect on the market expanding possibility of attracting the majority instead of relying on diminishing returns from a declining minority.

Some are born great

4 Jan

Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.

A leadership survey by human resources firm DDI is reported today on BBC news. It suggests a link between early achievements at school and later success in business.

I wonder if today’s leaders are being fully honest here and have full recall of the facts of their younger selves. Because an alternative view is that today’s high achievers were so often the underachievers in education, whether because of dyslexia, or because they did not conform (eg Winston Churchill, Richard Branson). Of course, this alternative view is an uncomfortable one for those of us working in higher education…


23 Nov

‘Interminable Bloody Meetings’ was one of the more publishable explanations I’ve heard of the initials IBM. Today, there are two tirades against meetings and against ‘death by PowerPoint’.

One by the blogging Vice-Chancellor of this university; the other in a leading article in The Times newspaper.

PowerPoint is even more of an occupational hazard now that I’m a university lecturer than when I was a public relations consultant. (Yesterday I handled a three hour class without being able to use my prepared presentation. It reminded me that years ago I ran a successful press conference for a computer manufacturer through a power cut. In the event, it was a better experience for the absence of prepared presentations since there was more time for discussion.)