Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lancaster University Leading

More eagerly awaited than Blackwell’s Best Dressed List, The Times and Sunday Times UK Good University Guide league table is out. Lancaster University has shown an irresistible rise, increasing its standing from ninth equal to sixth position and being named “University of the Year.” “In the 19 years of our awards, there has rarely been a more clear-cut winner,” says Alastair McCall, editor of the Guide.

“Rising to its highest ever ranking in our league table this year, Lancaster is at the top of its game. It knows the university it wants to be and as a result makes a distinctive offer to students. Students love Lancaster. The modern interpretation of a collegiate structure, coupled with flexible degree programmes and academics committed to teaching as well as research has been recognised in consistently good outcomes in the annual National Student Survey. Dynamic course content and structure, plus the opportunities many students get to work abroad, is reflected in outstanding graduate prospects once they leave.”

I’m pretty chuffed about all of this. Expelled from school in Lancaster in the 1960s, it has been gratifying to return as not only a Governor of the Lancaster Royal Grammar School but as Honorary Professor of Creative Leadership at the Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) where I have been teaching for several years, following a decade of teaching at Cambridge University (ranked #1 again in this year’s league. LUMS has been ranked #1 school in the world by the Financial Times for the teaching of corporate strategy.

The Times concludes by saying that “Lancaster University, unlike other leading institutions, has not opted for huge expansion but is firmly committed to cementing its place among the elite universities by becoming a truly “global player” in both teaching and research.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Winning Performance, Sort Of

Congratulations Prime Minister Bill English and the National Party on winning the popular vote on Saturday’s New Zealand general election. National are a middle-ground conservative/progressive party which has commandeered the center of New Zealand’s remarkably stable political system for the last nine years. The prospect of a fourth term in government for the National Party would match a record not repeated since 1969. Bill English proved himself as a winning and popular candidate despite a vibrant challenge from new Labour leader Jacinda Arden. Both English and Arden are from heartland New Zealand roots and both have the interests of New Zealand people in their hearts.

The election result is, however, far from clear. New Zealand has a proportional representation system that has produced coalition governments since the MMP system was introduced. The center of attention right at the moment is not 46% vote winner English, but New Zealand First leader Winston Peters on 7.5% of the vote, who for the third time holds the balance of power. Once with the National Party, Peters formed his own party with a largely retired following of people wanting a fair go in return for their lifetime of hard work. In many ways Winston Peters is an old-fashioned socialist, in the best possible meaning of the term. A look at his speeches shows him battling for people who are disadvantaged by the economic system including middle income New Zealanders. He has served several roles in government, and by many accounts was an outstanding Foreign Affairs minister, pressing for an expansion of the ministry’s outreach to the world. He also has a reputation for turning things toxic, enjoying the battle for the sake of it. A divider not an inspirer. The balance of power comes with immense responsibility – and 7.5% of the popular vote gets a substantive seat at the table, not a mandate to dictate.

Peters has held the country in suspense – to ransom some would say – in previous government formations. There are a number of arithmetical routes to be negotiated in the days ahead. One political analyst said Peters has more in common with Labour – nine policies – than National – with three policies in common. My own belief is that the first sitdown needs to be with National as the winner of the popular vote. There is no rule in MMP that says this should be so, but the weight of the popular vote must compel him to respect this and forge a workable path with National. MMP is the ultimate consensus tool, and it is disappointing in my mind that no political leader since MMP was introduced has had the political vision and willpower to stoke the imagination of voters and win an absolute majority of votes. It’s difficult to achieve anywhere except for Russia and your name is Putin. John Key (now Sir John) did a masterful job – in any worldwide analysis you can do – of actually increasing the vote of his party in two elections subsequent to first taking the Treasury benches. New Zealand Prime Ministers however have tended to be political managers, deliverers and incrementalists, rushing at all costs to avoid “the vision thing.” More is the pity.

New Zealand is a remarkable country in so many respects, with gaping wounds. We love to be #1 in the world, and we are indeed in a whole bunch of top 10s. Last week an international survey placed us #32 for child health, with the incidence of criminal child abuse weighing heavily. Our young people kill themselves more than anywhere in the world (well done NZ Herald for the recent Break the Silence series on examining and seeking solutions to this scourge). Our prison system represents the same institutional race profile seen in US states like Louisiana and Alabama. One business commentator evidenced that New Zealand is in a productivity recession – an economy fueled by immigration and tourism without adequate infrastructure, and not enough global scale of industry (though its coming). To frame the issue, one commentator asked “Why is our GDP per capita so low?” citing our GDP is about US $37,000 per person. Australia's is $48,000, the United States is $57,000, and Ireland's is $69,000.

There are things to sort out, things in the New Zealand psyche and operation that need repair and reframing, and it will take real political leadership – not entitlement – to overcome our deficiencies. Godspeed to all political leaders that they work out a deal that moves New Zealand forward and makes things happen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Marketing Wisdom from the 18th Century


The accelerating trend to consumer control won’t be a big surprise to most of you now. Sisomo (sight, sound, motion) and technology are radically changing the balance between producers and consumers, so the surprising thing is that we were ever surprised by it at all.

I’ve always loved to sell, and I’m constantly reminding Saatchi & Saatchi people that advertising is about selling stuff. Once you understand that simple fact a whole lot else falls into place. Anyone who has ever sold anything successfully over a period of years has got to know in their gut from day one that the consumer is boss. You can’t make it work any other way. Try to flog shabby products or half-hearted brands and you get nowhere. Treat the people you are selling to with no respect and you get punished. Act as though you have more important things on your mind and they’ll walk. David Ogilvy once famously said, “The consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife”. Today we’d add your colleague, your boss, your friend, your analyst, your judge, your governor, etc. The idea is important. Never, ever believe that you know better. I was reminded recently that this is not an idea born in the 20th century. It’s been with us for a long time. The reminder came in Tim Blanning’s great history of Europe, The Pursuit of Glory, and this statement:

“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interests of the producer ought to be attended to, only in so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”

We only matter as producers in so far as we promote the interests of consumers. When was that consumer-is-boss-like statement made? 1776, in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations

Smart people have always believed the consumer-is-boss. Our challenge is to act on it, and transform belief into action.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Winston Churchill: Crazy Times

John Lithgow's Emmy acceptance speech tonight: “First and foremost, I want to thank Winston Churchill. In these crazy times, his life reminds us what courage and leadership in government looks like.”

"A Netflix original drama, The Crown chronicled the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) from the 1940s to modern times. Churchill was a British statesman who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955."


All Blacks 57, South Africa 0. Oi. Ugh. A few months ago I posted "World Domination: Why are the All Blacks so Good?" On Saturday night at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland, they really showed why. Eight tries to zip. The highlights reel demands repeated viewing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Life Lessons Radio Podcast

Rick Tocquigny and I were are P&G at the same time in the late 70s and early 80s though on different continents, and we've crossed paths many times in the past few years at the P&G Alumni Network. Based in Colorado, one of Rick's many hats is host and producer of Life Lessons Radio (2,185 broadcasts in 8 years!). Yesterday we had a 20 minute conversation in which I managed to do something no one has ever done before, which was to place the novels of Ernest Hemingway and Procter & Gamble's famous one-page memo in the same sentence (crisp get-to-the-point writing style). Check out the podcast here, we talked about the fast crazy world in which we live, mentoring, your ABCs (ambition, belief and courage), being digital, and what three authors I would love to have to dinner (Hemingway being one, listen to the podcast for the other two).