Archive for February, 2014

Fred Goodwin. Making it Happen


Have just finished a very readable and fascinating biography of Fred Goodwin’s ultimately disaster laden tenure at RBS. The book has been quite well publicised and much has been made of the his obsessive and bullying nature. Certainly many of the tails are extraordinary and without doubt the overall impression is of a thorough detail man who somehow found him self in a role that required a much wider vision

The key to the story is that he actually believed he had this “vision” but ironically failed catastrophically because of a complete failure to analyse the actual. detail. Most specifically the ABN Amro deal

But the blame clearly was not Goodwin’s alone. Not by a long way. Having said that it was exacerbated by a culture where “bad news” or a simple difference of opinion was deemed to be dissent. Furthermore he demonstrated genuine insecurity by failing to question any issue he couldn’t immediately understand

In effect it is an object lesson in bad management. 

Another interesting angle was the nationalism behind the expansion of RBS. In fairness Goodwin was a unionist but there was a culture of “outdoing London” (at all costs) which appears to have been goaded along by certain senior figures including the currently high profile Alex Salmond


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Sage advice

Sage have produced a check list for managing credit control within SMEs

Pretty good advice overall and I believe the points regarding credit checking and selecting the right staff are crucial. I would have added that finding good credit controllers is very difficult and outsourcing to a genuine specialist experienced agency (not call centre ) is a very viable option

But there are a couple of points I would disagree with and perhaps betray theory over experience

Charging interest on a routine basis is very tricky. The amounts involved are often nominal and are certainly not worth the obvious aggravation to the client. A client who could quite easily slip away

And the use of debt collectors. Why no mention of the small claim courts as an alternative? Cheaper and definitely more effective. A debt collector will send a few letters and then, use the small claims court at a higher cost.

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Turnover tax. Good or bad?

London Mayoral Election

Mooted by Ken Livingstone and given consideration by Milliband, a tax on business turnover rather than profits was considered by Labour before being quickly ditched by Ed Balls.

And rightly so. Yes many of us do believe that international tax avoidance (or “Planning”) is past the stage of any level of acceptability but this is simply not the right solution

See this stinging piece in the ever excellent Real Business magazine

Many businesses operate on pretty small margins out of necessity. A retail or trading company will have a substantial turnover compared with manufacturing or consultancy. They would be hammered. 

But for me the one aspect that has not been highlighted is the effect on the SME market. I doubt whether Livingstone cares for one minute about enterprise and the suspicion remains that Milliband is not exactly “business friendly”either but the simple fact is that businesses can develop for years before turning a reasonable profit. Hitting them with a tax on turnover when they may be spreading red ink as they attempt to find their feet is absolute lunacy

However there is an issue that needs addressing here and it would be good to be aware of at least some initiatives from the governing party

My first port of call would be the EU and a country very close to home. More later


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Thoughts on the Tube Strike

_72768038_72765343-1Most Londoners have very little time for Bob Crow and his Union. Too many of their past demands have been excessive and frankly tube drivers are now hugely and overly rewarded at the expense of the commuter. Too often he has resorted to “strike first” think later and many strikes have been over issues which are laughably trivial.

But does that mean that he is always in the wrong? Of course not.

The closure of all ticket offices does baffle me frankly. Yes only 3% of sales are through these offices but i use the tube extensively and they are still used by travellers, most especially tourists. Many offices may well be unnecessary but I find it hard to believe that locations such as Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street are surplus to requirements

I also tend to agree with Crow about the security of the quieter stations. Presence of staff does make a difference

I was certainly no fan of Ken Livingstone, most especially for his sinister and divisive views on wider issues but I always felt that he understood the network. His drive to develop the London Overground has been a huge success (will post on this soon).

I am less convinced by Johnson. He has reneged on a promise and has now somewhat high handedly, set himself apart from the dispute. It may be a cheap shot that he was meeting 82 bankers yesterday rather than those involved in the dispute, but its sticks

Boris and Crow are too larger than life but ultimately underwhelming leaders. Crow has a point here but London deserves better

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The best of the Tube


On this day of a painful tube strike, it might be worth reflecting on some of the more positive aspects of the huge and wonderfully varied transport system

Heres a blog post on the ten most beautiful stations

and an alternative view

And the best stations to use are

And my view? 

Of the stations that I use from time to time. Canary Wharf is the best to use and quite spectacular too. Chiswick Park is also a gem architecturally as is the striking Boston Manor.

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McKinsey take the biscuit

_68364855_68364854I have recently just finished Made in Britain by Evan Davis which is a readable and concise survey of the state of british manufacturing. It is optimistic and neatly blows away some myths.

It is also entertaining. Most especially the following quote from the supposed top management consultants, McKinsey

“uk biscuit manufacturers produce 2.6 times as many products as those in the US. This product proliferation reduces line downtime, wastes R&D and marketing resources and leads to lower productivity”

It is hard not to laugh

More seriously, the very fact that the consumers may demand more choice and the market has responded has clearly passed them by. A very basic economic fact. You wonder who paid for this “report” and dread to think how much

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