How Sir Philip Green ruined my weekend

Instead of a relaxing journey home flipping through the Evening Standard at the end of the usual manic week, I see an article that really set the brain cogs whirring in overdrive around the morality and values of capitalism.

The article was headed “Sir Philip Green embodies the modern capitalist”. Let’s debate that.

ESI wondered about the journalist author’s age… does he remember Robert Maxwell, the last tycoon whose demise in 1991 was probably pension raiding related when he mysteriously fell off his yacht and drowned.

Not for a heartbeat do we wish such a fate for Sir Philip.  For many people respect the success of his buccaneering style against his competitors and ‘the establishment’.  And many of course don’t.

Here’s the rub.  Oh so often business leaders reaching financial and /or power stratosphere status lose the plot; their values become blurred.  Maxwell did.  Fred Goodwin did.  Where will history rank Green? Does he care?

Could this be the big mistake? You work hard, you fight tough. You win. You win again. That’s good.  But your vision blurs and you make yourself the centre of your universe instead of your customers.

In commerce good leaders put the customer at the heart of the organisation.  Not just the consumer end user.  Customers are suppliers and employees too.  Your customer is the next person in the commercial chain you deal with day to day.

The answer is to heed & respect the ‘platinum rule’ versus the ‘golden rule’ (Tom Peters I think).   That is, treat people how they want to be treated, not how you think they do.

This is why data and customer knowledge is mission critical to commercial success.  Love data not money.

BHS just became a commercial anachronism – poor proposition, poor technology, poor customer connection, poor use of data.

capitalismSo does that exonerate stripping out funds for selfish personal pleasure at the expense of thousands of employees’ livelihoods? Is that fair? Is that a despicable face of capitalism?

Should we believe that if you look after your customers then they will look after you and possibly make you very wealthy?  Is that not a more inspirational face of capitalism?

Do we say “Come on Sir Philip, put the people at the heart of your universe, not you, or your hard earned wealth, or your tax haven status. Enjoy all that, you deserve to. But, be fair. Sometimes circumstances prevail where you have to giveback not just take and keep”?

Do we imagine Branson and Gates being impressed – do we think it more likely they would plug the pension deficit for the thousands of ordinary mortals who collectively enable their wealth accumulation?

The moral is this. If you’re not brilliant at accumulating, interpreting & activating the right data and customer knowledge you are likely to come unstuck.