Blog Archive

Friday, March 1, 2013

My First Blog

I have never kept a diary; in part because I don’t have the motivation to do so,  but mostly because I don’t do enough interesting stuff to make it worthwhile recording it daily.  However, the idea of an occasional, perhaps monthly blog does appeal as there are a few interesting things that happen in my life that are worth recording and perhaps even sharing.

So in Feb 2013, aged 50, I went to the first real football match of my life.  England beat Brazil for the first time in 23 years (so I am told) at Wembley in the year of the FA’s 150th anniversary.  Not bad for a football match.  And I actually had a really good evening.  Went with some cool colleagues, discovered that unlike concerts, motor racing and most other big events, it is actually pretty sociable (you can talk apart from when they approach the goals).   Only downside was trying to get out of the car park……

England v Brazil Feb 6th 2013 at Wembley

At Grass Roots, David Evans announced his retirement after 33 years as Group CEO. David started up the company on 1st April 1980 in my father’s office in Mandeville Place London.  33 years later, we are in 15 countries, we employ over 1,000 people and we have touched the lives of millions of people across the world. This is a monumental achievement, a sad day for the company, but David leaves it in great shape for the future.  Andy Lister steps up as our new COO and I am sure he will do an excellent job.  One of my great bugbears is that so many children in the UK grow up aspiring to be David Beckams or Rhiannas or similar.  They should grow up wanting to be David Evans.  It makes more sense, they would have a better chance of succeeding and the world would be a far better place.  I guess it’s the fault of parents and the media so I’m not sure how to correct that one. Better education is the answer to many of our problems.

David Evans MBE

Being British, my next topic is the weather.  I have decided now after several years of proper snow in Oxford/Tring/London that I hate the stuff.  I don’t even find it pretty any more just vile.  I find the cold even harder to tolerate and while scraping the ice and or snow off my car each day at 6.45 in the morning it’s hard to see the pretty side.  As I write this I have just boarded a train at Zurich station.  The 10 minute walk to the station was torture as it is minus stupid outside.  I thought my ears were going to drop off with frost bite.  So I hate the cold and dislike the snow even more because it stands for cold, ice, disruption and grey slushy nastiness.  I have changed my mind and this quote is no longer one of my favourites: ‘There is no such thing as cold weather; just inappropriate dress’.  Ok so I have done the weather to death.

One of the most interesting news articles this month was Richard the Third.  More than 500 years after his death, his remains were found  buried under a car park in Leicester.  Interesting from a historic point of view and also from a very modern point of view.  Historically, they are putting the record straight as his reputation was mainly based on how Shakespeare portrayed him in Richard III  (my next Shakespeare read). His spine was curved so he probably was a hunchback but he may well have been a better king than the evil tyrant who killed members of his family to become monarch as portrayed in the play.  The modern angle, apart from all the clever archaeological science, is the fact that there is a Richard the Third Society with members all around the world whose mission appears to be to set the record straight about his real character.  When the grant for £10,000 required to start the digging in the car park was turned down, the society members were contacted on the internet and they raised the money in just three days!  This is something that would have been much harder, slower/impossible in the days before web sites and social media.  So King Richard III of England, killed in 1485 at the battle of Bosworth Field, is to be buried at Leicester Cathedral in 2014, 529 years later.  And in cockney rhyming slang a Richard the third is a turd.

Portrait of Richard III of England 1452-85, artist unknown 

I had two foreign business trips in February.  The first was to Milan, the second to Zurich and Geneva.  Whenever I go to Italy I am overwhelmed by the warmth and the hospitality of my hosts, the great food and coffee.  The Italians really do know how to live love and enjoy.  Unfortunately as we know their economy is in pretty lousy shape and this coming weekend they are going to choose a new government again.  It is clear they need a good dose of austerity to get this almost still great country back onto its feet again.  A Monti/Bersani partnership could make good progress but Berlusconi seems to have risen from the dead and is promising cash handouts if he is re-elected.  With petrol prices raised to €1.90 a litre ($10 a gallon) making them the most expensive in Europe, many will be tempted by his media show…. An Italian comedian is standing as an independent and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a lot of votes because so many are fed up with their mainstream politicians.  And that really wouldn’t be a laugh.

Switzerland is always a great pleasure to visit.  Everything is quality, everything runs on time, no surprises.  I am working with our local office to introduce services to multi-nationals who have their headquarters based there.  Led by our Zurich office, we have just won a beautiful programme to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a big insurer.  We are organising celebrations for thousands of their staff and VIPs across Europe and the Americas with some amazing venues and speakers.  Not only is this really exciting stuff but it is a brilliant co-operation of our people and operations in about 6 different countries. It is also a great gift from employer to staff to strengthen engagement.  Unfortunately on this particular visit there was snow and ice – see my earlier comments on the weather!  At least the Swiss are expert at dealing with it but it doesn’t make it feel any warmer.

I really like the idea of a random daily act of kindness.  It could be something small or big, to a stranger or a loved one.  It doesn’t really matter but imagine how much better the world would be if many of us adopted this practice.  So I love the idea, but it is not actually that easy to do.  Most days I forget, when I remember I am not sure how to do it. So this is still work in progress for me.

I decided to visit the Man Ray portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery just off Trafalgar Square.  Man Ray was a surrealist photographer who mixed with and photographed famous artists and surrealists from the 1920’s through to the 1960’s.  His portraits are quite brilliant whether it be Salvador Dali, Catherine Deneuve, or lesser known stars of the time.  Another American, Lee Miller, approached him in Paris, introduced herself and told him ‘I am your new student’. He replied that he did not take students.  She told him that he did now.  I love her chutzpah. They worked together for several years in Paris, pioneered a new photographic technique ‘solarisation’ and both went on to become brilliant photographers in their own right.  Miller worked for Vogue and became the first/only war photographer on the front line.  During the liberation in 1945 she was with the allies as they liberated Dachau and her photos shocked the world.  Both died in the 1970’s and left a large collection of masterpieces which bring the people and the times to life better than most.

Many Ray and Lee Miller

Back at home, I have been elected Chair of the newly formed residents’ association in the street where I live.  We are 15 houses and we normally only get together to clear the snow from our street once a year.  An Italian neighbour invited us all to his house to discuss forming the association.  The idea is that we can group together to buy new windows, plumbing services, new boilers and so on and get better service and better prices by buying together.  All of our houses were built at the same time and are deteriorating at the same rate so this may work.  We assumed our Italian neighbour would be Chair but he refused as he says no one will take an Italian seriously so I agreed to do it as no one else wanted to.

I was fortunate enough to attend an Employee Engagement Forum in London last week.  It is a group of people who are giving their time for free to share best practice with the aim of improving employee engagement across the UK and beyond.  A website has been set-up and resources are being provided to businesses for free to help them and their employees work better together.  One of the speakers was an inspirational young man called Bertolt Daems who has been president of JCI, a non profit organisation for young business people with an impressively large membership.  In this role he has travelled to 120 countries to speak with young people and what he says is truly refreshing; he believes that it is possible to get true employee/employer engagement from every young person in each of those countries - all that may stand in the way is culture and politics.  In my work this resonates well as I have always believed that an individual who does good work wishes to be and should be recognised for it.  It is just cultural differences that may make the delivery of the thank you vary; you don't do it the same way in the USA as you would in Germany or in Japan. People are fundamentally the same everywhere; but history, traditions, cultures and environment must be respected and they influence the way we behave and communicate.

I think I will finish my blog with a quote.  This one is very well known, but still as pertinent today as when it was first written:

For evil to happen, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797)

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