My grandmother’s oranges and Frank Hester’s rants


My grandmother lived through two world wars and difficult times.  She kept her politics, other than a general sense of fairness and distaste for injustice, close to herself.  I remember it came as a surprise to me when she announced that she made her selection of fresh fruit (oranges if I recall) on the basis that they shouldn’t come from a nation with a pretty toxic regime and social system.  Only a few years later, after discovering marketing during my Stanford MBA, I realised that it should not have been a surprise. It is an essential component of the Escondido Framework that our choices are informed by a wide range of considerations and trade-offs, albeit some may swamp others in their importance, and this affects what we buy.

I recently introduced an old friend who is researching impact investing by charity trustees to a former colleague who is chief executive of one of the largest group of family charitable trusts in the UK.  The old friend is interested in the use of charity endowment to make mission-aligned investments rather than purely for financial yield.  The former colleagues recounted how, as custody of the inherited wealth that the family invests in charitable giving passes from generation to generation, not only does the direction of the charitable giving shift, but also the attitude of the family members towards the non-financial impact of their investment decisions changes.  This should be no surprise either, as impact investment strategies are only a short step beyond avoiding investing in industries that conflict with your charitable purposes (for example, as chair of the finance committee of Versus Arthritis, I had no hesitation in making the case that a health charity should avoid investing in industries like tobacco and alcohol whose businesses contributed to ill-health).

TPP's Frank Hester

TPP’s Frank Hester

So what do I feel about the use by my family doctor (in common with all the GPs in west London and a large part of the NHS community services locally) using SystmOne, one of the most widely deployed electronic patient record systems in the UK?  Most of my fellow patients have no idea that TPP (The Phoenix Partnership), which developed and operated SystmOne, was founded and apparently remains owned exclusively by Frank Hester.  It was Frank Hester, the largest single donor to the Conservative Party, who has been alleged recently to have declared a few years ago at a company gathering that looking at Diane Abbott makes you “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.  I don’t often have sympathy with Diane[1] who has very different political views to mine and has said some pretty daft and sometimes unpleasant things in the past.  Comments of this type are unacceptable for many reasons and it reflects very badly on the company and its people that he felt able to make them.

I imagine that I will be holding my nose metaphorically when I next sit down in my GP’s consulting room as he or she updates my patient record with the details of my visit.  If I was still chair at West London NHS Trust, where we were in the process of replacing a legacy electronic patient record system with SystmOne  to provide for better interoperability with that used by our primary care partners, I doubt whether the knowledge that SystmOne was provided by a company headed up by someone with such views and that the profits were adding to his wealth would have changed my view of our IT strategy.  Notwithstanding Mr Hester’s unpleasant views, the system produced by his company is the only one in town, or at least in my bit of London.

Whether things might have been different many years ago when TPP was starting out is moot.  I imagine that Mr Hester was more cautious about what he said, how he said it and in whose hearing he said it, even in as recently as 1997.  Certainly, I don’t recall being any less sensitive to boorish, racist and sexist language then, or my NHS colleagues being any less easily offended. But a generation on, and with the money in the bank and the software widely adopted, the customer (and ultimately their patients) has far less choice.  Reflecting on this episode in Escondido Framework terms, the shape of the market interfaces have changed.  How Frank Hester behaves, which has a bearing on how he does business, has almost certainly changed.  Given the strength of his product with its customers and its established position against its competitors, he can (despite the widespread negative reaction his comments received) say unpleasant things without it affecting his business. For those of us who metaphorically are holding our noses, we have fewer degrees of freedom in our decision taking than we might have had many years ago if presented with a prospective supplier who acted in such a way (rather than exercising the restraint that was probably the case when Frank Hester was starting out with TPP in the late nineties).

[1] ……although I am entertained by the memory of serving with her as a fellow member of the Joint Academic Committee in  the History Faculty at Cambridge University in 1974, when she (it can have been nobody else) described me in a student newspaper as “rather too obviously a Cambridge politician on the make” – wonderfully ironic given that she became the career politician whereas I made my escape from politics in the 1980s.

“If you read only one business book this year, read this”

Patrick Nash, author of Creating Social Enterprise
Patrick Nash, author of Creating Social Enterprise[1]
I knew very little about Patrick Nash when he joined me in 2019 as an angel investor and advisor at Tranquiliti, a start-up providing an innovative mobile phone app mental wellbeing tool for school students and their teachers.  I didn’t know much more when we were bought out in August last year by Tes Investments[2], other than what I gleaned from our monthly video call with George and Aaron, Tranquiliti’s founders, which was essentially that Patrick knows a thing or two about social enterprises.  He proved a source of sound advice to them and had a similar appetite for risk and the level of investment as me.

A couple of weeks ago, he invited me to a book launch in November.  I explained that I would be travelling to New York but promised to buy the book and read it on the plane.  Amazon already had “Creating Social Enterprise” in stock and a train journey created the opportunity to get stuck into it right away.  It proved hard to put down and I quickly concluded that it deserves the “If you read only one business book this year, read this” accolade. Scrutiny of the spine shows the publisher to be Patrick’s own company[3], so I doubt whether it will get the push (although it would from any self-respecting business book publisher) in the direction of the shortlisting for FT Book of the Year 2024 that it deserves .

While I was studying for an MBA at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and serving my apprenticeship at McKinsey, Patrick was doing alternative stuff and getting his first taste of commercial life at Nova[4], a whole food co-operative in Bristol.  He drove the company van, turned the handle on the trail-mix mixer, learnt a range of valuable lessons about people, customers, marketing, margin management, cash-flow, risk, systems implementation – loads that you have still to learn when you graduate from Harvard, Wharton or LBS – and, importantly for his own development, undertook a crash course in double entry book-keeping (something I did learn in the first term at the GSB) from his father when the founder’s ill-health meant he had to step back from the business at short notice.

Scarred by the experience of putting Nova’s stock system onto computer (Patrick’s Learning#8 in the book is “Never Trust  ‘should’” as in “This should work” or “It should be ready by then”) and burnt out by three years without a holiday, he took a spell away from work.   A few months later, he discovered the Findhorn Community.  Most people are drawn to Findhorn in the search for a more spiritual focus to their lives but Patrick was sufficiently intrigued by a conversation with its finance director that he joined it to work in its accounting and finance department.  Rather than finding himself spiritually, he stayed on to lead the project to develop its Ecovillage (the first homes were built from giant whisky barrels), where he “learned much of the complexity of running organisations, raising funds, creating multiple corporate structures and leading teams”.  During his ten years with Findhorn, Patrick learned a lot more about running a successful business, not least about managing external and internal stakeholders.  He describes this time as a “significant phase in my social enterprise journey.  Many of the skills I have deployed as a social entrepreneur were developed there”.  But lessons and consequent skills are not just for the social entrepreneur, most of them translate into any enterprise, public or private, large or small, and independent of industrial sector.

Although Patrick has established twelve social enterprises, charities and values-driven businesses in all, his greatest achievement was establishing Connect Assist, a specialised 24/7, outsourced call centre supporting multiple clients from the public, private and third sectors (including Versus Arthritis where I spent 8 years as a trustee), employing over 450 people in a part of south Wales where employment has still not recovered from the demise of coal mining.  The third part of Creating Social Enterprise tells how Patrick developed a string of businesses that evolved into Connect Assist after first joining the Teachers’ Benevolent Fund, a charity operated for the teaching unions.  In this role he took the lead in some tough decisions, including closing TBF’s legacy residential homes for retired teachers (he is the first to call out the case for closing businesses that are loss making and no longer fulfil their purpose) and pivoting the organisation to become a telephone counselling service, setting him on the path towards establishing Connect Assist.

Patrick has great stories to tell, including how, along the way, he had the Dalai Llama as his boss when, for a few years in between the big projects that are the meat of Creating Social Enterprise, he was CEO of the Tibetan Relief Fund.  He tells tales of scrapes with the law as a twenty-something driving a whole-foods van around the country, when the grass roof of a house in the Ecovillage bursting into flames, and the thrill and relief at securing financing for assorted projects at the eleventh hour.  These come across with a freshness as though they only happened yesterday rather than ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years ago.

He has built the account of his career around no fewer than 44 learnings, drawn out at the end of each chapter and recapped at the end of each of the three major sections of Creating Social Enterprise.  Most, if not all, are relevant to anyone who picks up the book.  As someone who preaches the importance of purpose and values to a business (as part of the Dark Matter that makes organisations more than the sum of their parts) I turned the page corner down at Learning#3: Align values and commercial  interests.  I did the same at Learning#38: Empathy is the new superpower, as I have no doubt that being able “to understand another person’s thoughts and feeling is a situation from their point of view, rather than your own” is essential to effective leadership based on trust.  And his observance of the final sign-off learning, Learning#44: Moving on when it’s time to leave was the one that positioned Patrick for  life after Connect Assist where, from the comfort of home on the Pembrokeshire coast, he could join me in our support to the  young founders of Tranquiliti and find time to write Creating Social Enterprise.



[1] ISBN 978-1-3999-47-6

[2] Tes invests in fast-growing tech to transform pupil wellbeing | Tes

[3] Enterprise Values – Enterprise Values

[4] Still thriving: see Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd | Welcome (





Governance failure at Countess of Chester Hospital and the British Museum

British Museum - stolen antiquities
British Museum – stolen antiquities
Countess of Chester - baby deaths
Countess of Chester – baby deaths

On 16th August, the British Museum issued a statement that it had identified that “items from the collection were found to be missing” (subsequently disclosed to be more than 2,000).  A member of staff (although apparently not the thief) had been dismissed and a criminal investigation was underway.

The director of the museum, Hartwig Fischer, said “This is a highly unusual incident. I know I speak for all colleagues when I say that we take the safeguarding of all the items in our care extremely seriously. The Museum apologises for what has happened, but we have now brought an end to this – and we are determined to put things right. We have already tightened our security arrangements and we are working alongside outside experts to complete a definitive account of what is missing, damaged and stolen. This will allow us to throw our efforts into the recovery of objects.” Fischer resigned on 25th August after it emerged that the museum had first been alerted to the theft in 2021 by a dealer in antiquities who had come across some of the items for sale online, but that Fischer claimed that all the items had been  accounted for.  The impression has emerged of an organisation with shortcomings in governance and lacking assurance about the security of the processes for protecting its collections and a degree of denial at multiple levels – but spectacularly among top executives – about the possibility that anything might be wrong.

On 18th August, the verdict was handed down in the case of Lucy Letby, a neonatal paediatric nurse working at Countess of Chester Hospital, found guilty of the murder of seven babies and the attempted murder of six others, in addition to which the jury were unable to reach a verdict on a six further attempted murder charges.  The incidents took place between June 2015 and July 2016 and the failure of the executive team to respond appropriately at this time has been greeted with justifiable outrage.  In particular, the paediatricians who first raised concerns about the pattern of baby deaths were first asked to apologise to Lucy Letby for bringing allegations against her, and it was only in July 2016 that she was removed from clinical duties.  On 3rd July 2018, Letby was arrested on suspicion of eight counts of murder and six of attempted murder after a twelve month police investigation.

The history of the case has raised major questions about the failure of the Countess of Chester Hospital, its management, and its board to scrutinising spikes in mortality in the neonatal unit, pay attention to concerns raised by clinicians, and take appropriate action.  Given the attention that I recall being given to mortality trends in NHS Trusts[1] at the time of the incidents, I find it remarkable that the board appeared to pay so little attention to the data.  Much has been made of the failure of the board to respond to the concerns raised by the paediatric consultants.  The inquiry due to be commissioned may shed light on this, but I suspect that interprofessional cultural issues may have contributed: between the doctors flagging concerns and executive directors with a nursing  background (chief executive, director of nursing and, I understand but can’t confirm, director of operations); or even between the medical director, who I understand to have been a surgeon, and the paediatricians.  If so, where was the chairman and where were the non-executives?  Not only does it appear with hindsight that they displayed insufficient curiosity to what was going on, but they should have been calling out interprofessional cultural issues if there were any, and assisting in their resolution.  Given that the chair of Countess of Chester was a former chief executive of the NHS Management Executive, lack of experience can’t be the explanation.

I became aware of the case at some point in 2019.  I believe I saw papers relating to Letby’s referral to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (where I chaired Fitness to Practise interim order hearings) and recall saying to a colleague on the panel that her case had similarities with that of Beverley Allitt[2] .  I don’t think that the case was heard by my panel , rather that we were asked to consider it when another panel was struggling to complete its agenda.  Hovever, it turned out that we did not hear it, either because we had insufficient time ourselves or that original panel was able to conisder the case after all.  Given that Letby did not receive an interim suspension order from the NMC until March 2020 when she charged with the murders, I assume that the papers I saw related to a review of an existing conditions of practice order.  This probably restricted her to working only at Countess of Chester Hospital, who should have been fully sighted on the concerns at the time and able to take actions to protect patients while the case was being investigated.  This was our normal approach to an interim order when a nurse remained in employment but their case was still under investigation and charges had not yet be brought by the Crown Prosecution Service.  Given the shortcomings in the management of this case by Countess of Chester Hospital, I am not sure that this was necessarily the right approach by panels such as mine.  But I always took the view, as a serving Trust chair myself, that I and my board would have been adequately sighted and my professional reputation was at stake if I was not assured that my executive colleagues were not managing such a case safely, and consequently the Trust employing a nurse was better placed than the Nursing and Midwifery Council to manage a case safely and proportionately.

Both the British Museum and the Countess of Chester cases raise major concerns about the possibility that senior executives and boards adopt a culture of complacency and denial, that board members lack cultural sensitivity and fail to triangulate what they are told and read in their papers with sufficeint engagement with the front line (which I have described as “kicking the tyres”), and, above all, fail to employ enough curiosity in relation to both data and to “soft intelligence”.

I am grateful to Elizabeth Rantzen, my former deputy and then successor as Chair of West London NHS Trust for her insight into the juxtaposition of these  incidents coming to light in the same week.

[1] I was chair at West Middlesex University Hospital 2010 – 2015, and West London NHS trust 2015 – 2023

[2] a nurse convicted of the  murder of four infants, attempted murder of three, and gross bodily harm to another six in 1991

Hidden in plain sight – what three statues can tell us about disability*

Disabled heroes
I have a disability and a history degree, but you don’t need either of these to know that the most iconic hero in British history was disabled. He stands on his column in Trafalgar Square with the result of two “occupational injuries” – the lack of an arm and blind in one eye – proudly displayed, as they are in all his portraits.

Our history is full of disabled heroes, known for their achievements and not defined by their disability.

Down at the other end of Whitehall is the statue to Winston Churchill, rarely recognised as disabled, but who suffered from a recurrent depressive condition that he described as his “black dog”. Unlike Nelson, Churchill’s disability was invisible and often glossed over, so you can’t blame the sculptor for not capturing it.

Head 150 miles north-west and you find a statue that, remarkably, conveys no hint of another hero’s disability. In Stoke on Trent, outside the Wedgwood Museum, stands a statue of Josiah Wedgwood, possibly one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution: entrepreneur, inventor, innovator, radical and anti-slave trade campaigner. Wedgwood had his lower leg amputated because of smallpox contracted as a child. The fact that contemporary portraits do not show his prosthesis may reflect a desire on his part to conceal his disability. But his disability meant that he couldn’t turn a kick wheel and follow the family trade as a potter himself, so directed his attention and his prodigious talent to reshaping the industry he worked in.

Disabled people don’t want to be defined by their disability. However, we do hope people make “reasonable adjustment” (to use the words enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act) to help us mitigate our disability so we can achieve and contribute to the best of our ability. For some of my colleagues in the Disabled NHS Directors’ Network (DNDN), it is a matter of ensuring that there is decent physical access in the shape of ramps and lifts. For others, it involves thinking carefully about lighting, legibility and document suitability for text to speech solutions. At the DNDN, we adopt the discipline of checking at the start of any meeting if anyone requires any adjustment.

For me, it is relatively easy. My hearing is impaired by tinnitus, taking the form of a high-pitched ringing or screeching that means that I can’t hear sibilants and hard consonants even with my hearing aids. It is genetic rather than the result of having played in a rock band, and I slightly resent that the tinnitus also experienced by my father and brother, both of whom served in the armed forces, generated an adjustment to their service pensions (paid out of my taxes) because it was diagnosed as the result of exposure to gunfire.

It helps if I can see your mouth when you speak (which means colleagues dropping their Covid masks when speaking and allowing me to choose where I sit in a meeting). In the endless round of Teams meetings, it helps if you turn your cameras on and the closed captioning facility is enabled. It also helps if you don’t mind me occasionally asking you to repeat what you have said as it is much safer than me having to guess. And finally, please don’t ask me to engage in a mindfulness session that involves sitting silently: I don’t hear silence and this sort of mindfulness session leaves me tormented by my tinnitus!

Kate Smyth, (non-executive director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust) and I established the Disabled NHS Directors’ Network in 2019 with multiple objectives. Not only did we want to provide mutual support and share experiences among NHS leaders with disabilities, but we wanted to support disabled people throughout the NHS, providing role models from people at board level to junior colleagues, increasing the representation of disabled people on boards, and raising standard of service provided to patients and services users with disabilities.

It has been an exciting time building the network, discovering colleagues with a very wide range of disabilities: sensory like mine, physically disabling, like those of Kate who is a wheelchair user as a result of multiple sclerosis, and her co-chair, Peter Reading (chief executive at North Lincolnshire and Goole Foundation Trust) who had polio as an infant, or relating to long-term mental health or neurodiversity.  It is also exciting that the NHS is at last “getting” disability as it feels that, for too long, it has been the poor relation among the Equality Act protected characteristics.

And, finally, as someone who spent the winter 1976/7 (ancient history for most people reading this) studying the life and career of Josiah Wedgwood, it is also exciting to have the excuse of Disability History month to celebrate one of Britain’s disabled heroes.

What We Owe Each Other, by Minouche Shafik

Minouche Shafik, Director of the London School of Economics
Minouche Shafik, Director of the London School of Economics

There is much to celebrate in Minouche Shafik’s argument that we need a new social contract[1], not least a title that uses the language of obligation and duty rather than employing the language of rights.  This is even if she falls back, in her closing remarks, on answering her question of what it is that we owe to each, that it is “to muster the courage and sense of unity” that the Beveridge Report said was necessary for the “winning” of “freedom and want”.  I was looking for more, and shouldn’t be too critical her effort at a rallying cry to round off the book when she has addressed a variety of policy measures, without being unduly prescriptive about their precise form, that would address “our interdependencies, provide minimum protections to all, share some risks collectively and ask everyone to contribute as much as they can for as long as they can….investing in people and building a new system of risk sharing to increase our overall well-being”.

Shafik’s underlying argument is that we need a new social contract to meet the needs and opportunities facing both individual society and global society in the 21st century, including those of an environment threatened by global warming and the degradation from human activity, of an ageing population, of an inequity between generations, and of the alienation of communities left as others have prospered that as consequence poses a threat the liberal democracy.  She is qualified for this task by her  personal history which includes an affluent childhood in Egypt that exposed her to third world poverty around her before her family emigrated to the USA, a career largely “in the trenches of policymaking” spanning international institutions and in the central government and central banking in the UK, and finally her current appointment as Director of the London School of Economics in 2017 where she launched a programme of research, ‘Beveridge 2.00’, to rethink the welfare state.

Having spent many years in healthcare and the application of health economics, I felt initially that her chapter on health was skated over too much.  But this was before I reflected that the chapters outside my own area of knowledge were throwing me snippets of valuable information and new insights that left me with respect for the ambition within her 189 very readable pages (Thomas Piketty could learn a thing or two from Minouche Shafik!).  Plenty of the examples in this book are familiar, such as the marshmallow test, but others cited, such as the evidence of the value of quite modest investment in early years intervention, such as weekly hour-long visits by Jamaican community health workers for 2 years to encourage mothers to interact and play with their children to develop cognitive and personality skills that 20 years later yielded 42% higher earnings than the control group.

Shafik sensibly avoids too many narrowly defined prescriptions, reflecting on data presented in the book that different countries have successful applied different policy solutions (for example in how they fund and organise healthcare) to achieve broadly similar outcomes (even if the one nation in the case of healthcare that doesn’t do this in a coherent way – the United States – ends up spending far more in aggregate, and in terms of public money, than everywhere else only to realise worse outcomes).  However, the general thrust of her argument in each area of policy is clear.

Shafik poses interesting questions around the intergenerational social contract.  On one hand, younger generations are blessed with material well-being that the old generations could not have dreamt off.  On the other hand, as David Willetts documented in the The Pinch[2]the millennials and generation Z have good reason to be aggrieved as they pay for the higher education and the home ownership enjoyed by their parents appears out of reach.  Shafik recognises, in the emphasis that she places on investment in education in new social contract and various mechanisms for achieving this that she suggests.  There is also the issue of the price that they and future generations will pay in terms of the environmental degradation resulting from the previous generations’ approach to achieving their wellbeing and economic growth.  I am surprised at the complexity that she builds in to potential solutions to this when the solution should lie in regulation, a national income calculus that better reflects the value of the natural world that currently calculated GDP or national income, and environmentally based taxes that capture the externalities of industrial and agricultural activity that damages the environment.

The book also gives rise to a set of interesting questions about what this means for businesses.  Where do they sit within this narrative?  There are important lessons for the people who sit at the heart of businesses, the “controlling minds” in terms what they can do, both in relation to their own workforces, customers and suppliers, in terms of contribution to a new social contract.  For the business to thrive, and sustain itself in the long term, the core lesson is that it should be a player, alongside the individual citizen, in such a new social contract.  Otherwise, its profitability and in due course its survival will be undermined by the very same pressures the Shafik describes threatening both individuals and liberal democracy.

I have a fear about one element in the approach Shafik takes to the need for a new social contract.  This relates to what goes into the “increase in our overall well-being”.   Some of the steam that is driving populism is increasing material inequality and the sense that communities are being “left behind”.  Some of this populism is a function of identity politics, which may be whipped up by the perception that communities with other identities (often, but not exclusively, framed by other ethnicities or immigrant groups) are posing an economic threat or gain an advantage.  But the perception may nothing to do with actual material wellbeing.  Indeed, in the case of some of the 52% of the British population voting for Brexit, or the potential majority in Scotland for independence from the UK, this may be a desire to escape from or avoid the “other” despite the prospect that of material disadvantage.  Some may be seduced by arguments that “getting back control” will leave them better off materially, but many others take the view that independence from Europe or the UK is more important than the economic benefit of remaining part of the whole.  There is, at least at an abstract level, a link between the communitarian spirit in Shafik’s argument for a social contract “that addresses our interdependencies” and the desire to be part of a union, whether of states sharing a continent or Kingdoms sharing a small archipelago at the continent’s north western edge.  Those same people who resist the membership of the country they occupy in a union of countries are also likely to be those most resistant to her arguments for a renewed social contract.

[1] Shafik, Minouche (2021). What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract. ISBN 978-1847926272.

[2] Willetts, David (2010). The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – And Why They Should Give It Back. ISBN 978-1848872318.

Not Useful but True – “the space is never static because the problem keeps changing all the time”

Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan
Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan

During lockdown, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, artistic directors of Cheek by Jowl[1] recorded a weekly podcast “Not True but Useful” about their approach to working in the theatre.  They have now released transcripts of the first series of stimulating conversations.  The following is an extract from the second of these podcasts “Space and Shakespeare”, published in April 2020[2].  I reproduce it here because I find the visualisation of the firm and the organisation as something existing in space, bounded by its interfaces (which are themselves dynamic) with outside world very helpful when thinking about the firm, what it is there for, and how people interacting with the firm or setting its strategy from inside.  Listening to Declan and Nick in conversation with interviewer Lucie Dawkins, I was struck by parallels between what happens to actors on stage and to the managers of the firm.

Lucie   So, today we’re going to focus on the way that you think about space when you stage your plays together, both in terms of what it means for the actors, and how it influences your design. And later in the episode, we’re going to use Measure for Measure as a test case, and I suspect we’ll probably talk a bit about Macbeth as we go along. But let’s start at the very beginning. Why is space so important to you?

Declan   It’s very difficult to explain what we mean by space. I can put it in this form, I can say that what happens when we die? When we die, the space gets taken away from us. So the space is an enormous thing.

Lucie   So what has space got to do with acting?

Declan   Everything. It’s got to do with our whole existence.

Nick  Human beings live in space. They’ve spent their lives dealing with the space, they are formed by the space, everything. The character (Macbeth, for example) lives in a space, a changing space from second to second. Each character has their own special space. And it’s very subjective. You look at a chair, perhaps your mother sat in that chair, that chair means something to you in your bedroom. The character deals with the space. And we as human beings spend our lives dealing with a space.

Declan  Yes, sometimes it’s a criticism, a lot of people say, oh, you know, ‘he’s at the centre of the universe. He thinks he’s the centre of the universe.’ And of course, it’s very annoying if somebody’s self-obsessed like that. But unfortunately, we are at the centre of our own universes. We invent the world that we see. There is a reality, I’m sure, but we have no access to that reality other than through our imaginations. Nick and I are looking at a microphone now but we’ll see different microphones. The microphones we see we have to invent somehow in our heads. One can’t explain these things, but we can get used to these ideas. And we can say things about the space, which is different from defining it.

Lucie  How does the space influence the behaviour of a character, for example?

Declan  Well, there would be no character if there were no space. And the thing is that, in a mysterious way, we are not independent of the space, we only exist as part of this big binary. And that’s the very hard thing to get one’s head around.

Lucie   That’s a striking statement, that there’s no character without the space around them. So, let’s unpack that a bit. How, for example, does the space define Macbeth in the scene we talked about last week, Act 1 Scene 7, when he leaves the dinner party in the next room offstage to talk to the audience about why he wants to kill Duncan.

Declan  I think that first we shouldn’t in any way have the idea that space is something that only afflicts Shakespearean characters. You know, Nick and I are sort of hunched over a microphone and we’re looking at your face, and we’ve the laptop open, and I’m trying to not make noise on the table. And I’m pinned in space.

For Macbeth, there’s a million different ways of doing it, but the space will be central to all of them. There is no world, there’s no life beyond the space. The space is what gets taken away from us when we die, and death is what happens when the space gets taken away. Macbeth gets the feeling that he has to leave that table. Yes, we can interpret the stakes: because he feels suffocated; because there’s no air in the room; because he has to get away from the man he is murdering; he needs space to think – and he comes out, and maybe doesn’t want to speak to anybody, and maybe he sees us, and there are all sorts of stories that one might evolve in order for him to do that. But whatever solutions he comes up with, these will all be absolutely dependent on the space, and on him allowing that space to come before he does. That is the important thing. So it’s not me and I spray a space around me – it’s that is a space and I’m in it. I try to control that space. And so I imagine it to be all sorts of things other than it is. But it’s going to be there before me, during me, and after me, and my perception of it will be continually changing.

If we need to break it down into steps, we can say – it’s a bit leaden – but if we run into difficulty, we can say that one of the shapes of life is that I’m in a space, I have an impulse to cross a threshold to go to another space to find something which turns out to be different from what I had expected. And that last one gives us life, the fact that it’s a continual surprise. When we look at any space, we see it’s just one long transition from one space to another. There is no state of a space, the space itself is transitioning, and we are normally trying to keep up with that space that’s changing much faster than is comfortable for us. It’s like, you know, we think that the world is spinning too slowly. Actually it’s spinning uncomfortably fast. And in all of these plays, events run out of control, and that they’re trying to slow things down. It’s rather sad to say to actors, you know, you must drive the play, because actually the space, the thresholds, the predicament, drives the action. And the characters are struggling to keep running with this thing that’s running wild and out of control.

Lucie   So, one way of looking at what’s driving this character through the space is that there’s a problem in one space, it drives them into another space, but the new space only keeps presenting him with more problems – that the character’s journey through the scene is dealing with the problems that the space is serving up to them.

Declan   That’s exactly right. Yes, the space is never what he wants it to be. The space keeps presenting new challenges. And we all think, oh wait, if only the threshold changing would stop, if only the carousel would stop, then I can deal with it – if only it would stop! But it doesn’t. It just keeps going. And there we are. And that’s what we do. And yes, he’s continually dealing with the new things that he sees.

Lucie   So it sounds like the space is never static because the problem keeps changing all the time. I guess the longer he’s out of dinner, the more he realises that he’s going to be missed, and it looks suspicious, and the bigger his problems keep getting, and every face that he speaks to in the audience presents another source of discomfort, as if he’s trying to persuade each one that the murder is a great idea. So the space is always changing, either serving up new problems or letting the existing ones grow worse.


[1] I have been one of Cheek by Jowl’s patrons for many years, having enjoyed their shows for most of my adult life and almost certainly seen performances involving Declan and Nick in my first year at student at Cambridge University in the 1970s.

[2] Full recordings and transcript available at Not True, But Useful Podcast – Cheek by Jowl

Image manipulation or vanity project?

23/01/21 - Auckland (NZL) 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada PRADA Cup 2021 - Round Robin 3 Ineos Team UK, Jim Ratcliffe
Jim Ratcliffe (centre, without helmet) with Ben Ainsley (front row, third from right) and crew of “Rita” aka Ineos Team UK after winning round robin stage of Prada Cup in Auckland 23 Januaary 2021

Richard Pares, in his account of 18th century British politics, observed “It is a pity that historians should so seldom have recognized the fact that men were in politics not only for party and for profit, but most of all for the due exercise of the talents that God gave them, and for fun.”[1]

This thought came to mind when I read Catherine Bennett’s diatribe in today’s Observer about the £100m donation that Jim Ratcliffe has made to Oxford for the worthy cause of research into antimicrobial resistance.  Particularly when I recalled the sight yesterday of the INEOS boss with the crew of the British entry in the America’s Cup celebrating getting through to the final round to select the challenger for the oldest trophy in international sport.

A sub-editor (or perhaps Bennett herself) has provided the headline “Just what was it exactly that Oxford University saw in the billionaire boss of Ineos?”  What a daft question!  It is clearly his £100m, and what is wrong with that?  This is not a statue to a long dead racist or slave trader

Bennett continues by pointing out that INEOS has challenged union power at its plants, most famously at Grangemouth in 2013 when, having purchased assets that the previous owners had decided did not have long term commercial future, it faced down resistance to the changes required to make the plants profitable and secure local employment and the local economy.  She points to a “lamentable environmental record”, a reasonable criticism of INEOS and proper issue for stakeholders of every sort to address with INEOS (and which if it was not privately owned, two thirds by Ratcliffe himself and one third with his partners, Andy Currie and John Reece, would put it in the cross hairs of ESG conscious institutions).  These are things for governments to address, under pressure from voters and, insofar as we can influence suppliers of the raw materials for the things we ultimately buy, for consumers of goods made by INEOS’s customers.  But does this amount to a  reason for Oxford to turn down its (or rather, Ratcliffe, Currie and Reece’s) money?

Bennett turns her fire on INEOS for its efforts to avoid paying tax.  No-one sets out to pay more tax than they can.  If there is anyone to blame for companies like INEOS, or super-rich individuals, moving assets or their domicile to tax havens, it is the governments for their failure to collaborate in the setting of taxes on those parts of the potential tax base that are amenable to institutions and individuals to shop around in this way.

Looking at the way that INEOS is currently distributing its largesse, it is unlikely that it is motivated by a desire to manipulate the corporate image.  They have very little to do with its corporate purpose but are best understood as vanity projects for the owners.   INEOS may have started selling disinfectant gels during the pandemic, but it is hardly a consumer good company (certainly this is born out by the very industrial style of the branding for the disinfectant gels).  It has also launched a business selling a replacement for the Land Rover Defender, but looks like a sentimental hobbyist’s venture rather than something that will cause any worry to Toyota or the other brands producing rugged off-road vehicles.

INEOS has thrown sums at cycling and sailing that are material in terms of the impact on the sports concerned, but it is hard to believe that these “investments” will earn any greater commercial return for INEOS in terms of shifting the dial on consumer sentiment or invite more sympathetic treatment by government agencies or regulators than the donation to Oxford University.  Rather, Ratcliffe and his two colleagues are throwing a small amount of their very considerable wealth at things that they think either have intrinsic value and do something for the welfare of mankind (antimicrobial resistance), or give them the opportunity to have fun.  If anyone doubts this, they should take a look at the coverage of the Prada Cup (the qualification stage of the America’s Cup currently underway in New Zealand) and see Jim Ratcliffe basking in the company of Ben Ainslie and the INEOS Team UK crew after winning the round robin series races that take them one step closer to challenging for the America’s Cup.

[1] Pares R.,1953, King George III and the Politicians, Oxford, p30

Investors and consumers both need good sustainability reporting

Sustainable fashion? (Financial Times)
Sustainable fashion? (Financial Times)

The FT has been carrying stories for the past two weeks about improving the quality of information provided by companies to their investors on the environmental impact of their activities and the sustainability of their businesses in the face of climate change.  It may just be a coincidence, or it may be a conscious decision of the editorial board, but the Fashion Editor writes in “Life and the Arts” section of the Weekend FT on the same subject under the headline “Sustainable fashion? There’s no such thing”

On 5th November, Erkki Liikanen, Chair of the IFRS Foundation Trustees, delivered the keynote speech at the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting, introducing the Trustees’ Consultation Paper on Sustainability Reporting.

On 9th November, Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered a speech to the House of Commons on financial services.  In the course of setting out his plans for supporting the City at the end of the transition period as the UK leaves the EU and plans to launch a Sovereign Green Bond, he declared:

“We’re announcing the UK’s intention to mandate climate disclosures by large companies and financial institutions across our economy, by 2025.

“Going further than recommended by the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

“And the first G20 country to do so.

“We’re implementing a new ‘green taxonomy’, robustly classifying what we mean by ‘green’ to help firms and investors better understand the impact of their investments on the environment.”

On 10th November, the Financial Reporting Council launched its Statement on Non-Financial Reporting Frameworks, opening with the preamble:

“Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time and, by its nature, material to companies’ long-term success. Boards have a responsibility to consider their impact on the environment and the likely consequences of any business decisions in the long-term. Our 2020 review of climate-related considerations in corporate reporting and auditing found that boards and companies, auditors, professional associations, regulators and standard-setters need to do more.”

before recommending that companies should try to report “against the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ (TCFD) 11 recommended disclosures and, with reference to their sector, using the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) metrics” and setting out its own plans over the medium term to help “companies to achieve reporting under TCFD and SASB that meets the needs of investors”.

Today, 14th November, the FT’s fashion editor writes about the dilemmas facing those of her readers who are concerned about the impact of their purchasing decisions.  She recognises that the best way to live a sustainable life is to buy less, but also that her readers want to find ways, while supplementing and refreshing their wardrobes, to plot their way through the “greenwash” claims of the fashion brands.  Both these consumers and some of the brands themselves want clearer and more reliable accreditation of products that come from supply chains that are, if not truly environmentally friendly, at least less environmental unfriendly.

Following up the themes in this article, I found a great piece written by Whitney Bauck in Fashionista, in April last year:

“If you’re aware that there are ethical issues baked into making clothes but don’t have time to do in-depth supply chain research every time you need a new pair of socks, there’s a good chance you’ve thought at some point: ‘If only someone could just tell me for sure if this brand is ethical or not.’

“You wouldn’t be alone in that desire. In years of writing about both sustainability and ethics, it’s a sentiment I’ve heard from fashion consumers a lot. While many people want to be more conscious with their consumption, they also wish it were easier to tell which brands are truly being kind to people and planet.

“If you fall into that category, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that a one-size-fits-all ethical fashion certification will probably never exist, partly because not everyone agrees on what qualifies as “ethical.” Should that word refer to job creation in impoverished communities or animal welfare? Should it mean making clothes from organic materials or recycled synthetic ones? Not every ethical fashion fan has the same standards or priorities, and that will always make a one-size-fits-all approach to ethical fashion certification difficult.”

I wrote in a blog post four years ago about the benefits that the team I led at WH Smith believed would arise from developing and selling green stationery ranges.  The issues described by Lauren Indvik in the FT are nothing new.  We faced similar challenges both in terms of selecting products and in terms demonstrating to our customers that buying these products would better than buying alternatives.

The challenges facing investors and consumers in taking environmental and other ethical considerations into account in what are otherwise commercial decisions are identical.  Both investors and consumers want the best information, to put into the mix with the other things that influence their decisions – the complex trade-offs of exposure to multiple risks, timing, and return for the investor, or look, feel, comfort, durability, after sales support and cost* for the consumer.

The similarity between these challenges is evidence for the symmetry in all businesses – investors are customers for investment opportunities presented by the company, in the same way that consumers are customers for products and, indeed, that employees are customers for the jobs that companies provide.  In an age when people – in their multiple roles as investors, consumers, and employees – want to invest in, buy from, and work for organisations that behave responsibly in relation to wider society and to the environment, they need reliable information to inform their decisions.

* and a host of other possible features depending on the product or service category

Black Lives Matter: Three Currencies at work

The Black Lives Matter campaign, given the most enormous boost by the killing of George Floyd, provides a powerful example of the “three currencies” at work.

The roots of the movement illustrate the three currencies: in the cash employing commerce of the Triangular Trade of the late seventeenth and  eighteenth centuries and the slavery plantations of the Caribbean and the American South, the brute force employed by tribal chiefs and British slavers in West Africa and subsequently by slave masters, and in the cultural norms that facilitated the establishment of companies by royal charter and act of Parliament and, in the United States until the Civil War, tolerated and legitimated continuing enslavement of uprooted black people for two hundred years.

The current movement illustrates the three currencies too.

Policing, principally but not exclusively in the United States, that relies on physical (in the case of George Floyd deadly) force is an application of power where the application of persuasion and influence have failed.  Many observers argue that the overuse of force (including, in the United States, widespread resort to guns by police) ultimately frustrates the objective of achieving peaceful civil society, but that is generally not the belief of the shooters at the time.  It is impossible to get into the mind of Derek Chauvin, the police office filmed with knee on Floyd’s neck.  However, unless he mounts a defence in court of diminished responsibility as a consequence of a mental health disorder, we can only assume that his defence was that he believed that anything short of the force that he and his colleagues applied was insufficient.

Correspondingly, demonstrators who become rioters and throw missiles or charge a police line (albeit a police line is an application force) are deploying physical force reflecting the belief that the political expression of the demonstration is insufficient to achieve their purpose.  Of course, it is possible to argue that rioting and throwing missiles may frustrate the purpose of the demonstration in the eyes of other demonstrators and the wider audience, but that is not the belief of the rioters themselves.

The toppling of statues, particularly that of Edward Colston, is an interesting case in terms of where the line is drawn between the application of physical force as a currency and the application of influence.  It is indisputably criminal damage and the equally indisputable that the removal of the statue involved physical force.  But the removal of the statue was an exercise of political expression designed to further a shift in a political and cultural norm in pursuit of a wider objective.

The expression of the mass demonstrations, particularly in the context of restrictions on public gathering as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, has clearly been a very powerful application of power to influence an outcome through political means.  There was already disgust felt widely across the world and within the American establishment without the demonstrations, but they have helped keep the story in the deadlines, have elicited positive responses from people in power (even if not from Donald Trump), and have generated accounts across mass media channels that probably both reflect a shift in public mood and reinforce it.

But what about Black Lives Matter as an expression of the third currency, cash?  Just look at the way that corporate America has responded.  What little I know of some of the corporate leaders who have spoken up to express their disgust at the conduct that result in the killing of George Floyd and others before him, satisfies me that most if not all of them instinctively oppose racism.  However, most have spoken as clearly as they have in the knowledge that this will be good for their businesses.  The messages coming out from the board room are not dog whistle statements designed to appeal to a “woke” audience without turning off an audience that is hostile to Black Lives Matter.  Opposing racism is good for their businesses.  Similarly,  as a merchandise director with the UK’s largest retailer of stationery, in the 1980s I justified developing environmentally friendly (or at least environmentally less harmful)  not just because I wanted to do my bit to help the save the planet, but because I was confident that it was going to be good for business – helping grow our sales and market share, enhance the standing of our brand, and attract the best and brightest young people to work for us.  It hasn’t required a threat by the black community to boycott these US corporations, but the knowledge that wide swathes of the American population, black and white, will be influenced positively by the corporation taking a stand.

Employee activism: what does the Escondido Framework say?

Staff at Wayfair, the online furniture and household goods company, have been protesting at their employer selling furniture to a company equipping migrant detention centres in the US.[1]  What does this say about the relationship of companies to their staff, about limits on the ability of shareholders to exercise power over the behaviour of that conventional theory suggests that they own, and about the rights and responsibilities of every one of us in relation to the organisations that we work for?

The relationship of companies to their staff

An organisation should consider ethical and political behaviour as part of the marketing mix when it thinks about its strategy towards its employees.  Charities and other not for profit organisations are generally able to employ staff at a lower cost than organisations without an ethical mission because their staff make trade-offs between the income they receive in cash and feeling that they are achieving something for the wider good.  As I have written elsewhere, when I headed up the buying and merchandising for the UK’s largest retailer of stationery in the 1980s, I argued to my bosses that the halo effect of developing environmentally responsible product ranges would be to enhance our standing among the students graduating from universities where we were recruiting.  By selling to a company equipping detention centres, Wayfair has effectively shifted its positioning on one of the marketing dimensions of its interface with employees.  This decision may blow over, but in the longer term Wayfair needs to consider whether to adopt a clear stance about the larger customers it sells to or it may ultimately have to accept that is will need in some way or other to change.  This might involve paying staff a bit more in order attract staff to replace those who don’t want to be involved doing something they view us unethical.  Or, if we make the assumption that one of the benefits of employing ethically informed staff is they are more trustworthy, it may need to put controls in place to cope with the risk that staff who are not as ethically sensitive to offset a lower level of trustworthiness.  Or, if the values of the staff protesting against the sales for the detention centres reflect cultural norms in the location of the offices or warehouses in which they work, Wayfair may need to go to the expense of moving its operations to locations where the local population is less sensitive to such issues.

Limits on company owners

Ownership is a complex subject.  Ownership of a piece of paper that says you have a share in the common stock of a company gives you a right to residual profits of a company and (assuming it is voting stock) in decisions about the appointment of directors of the company.  And even if you are the owner of the entire voting share capital, it does not give you the ability to dictate everything that the company can do.  Others who interact with the company can exercise their rights too.  The Wayfair employees have made it clear their views and are attempting to limit the ability of the company’s owners to sell to whoever they wish.  It is not a matter a law, or at least not law alone, the practical balance of power between an incumbent workforce, the managers and directors, as well as those of people who have invested in the company all come into play.  In the case of a company with publicly traded shares that offer the opportunity to exercise votes once a year, if at all, and then only as a very blunt instrument, the shareholders can hardly been exercise ownership rights in relation to decisions about whether to sell to the developer of a migrant detention centre.  The managers and directors will have to consider what is best for their own interests: do we concede to the employees’ demands, or do we shift the company’s market positioning in relation to the explicit and implicit interests of the workforce?

Our rights and responsibilities in relation to the companies we work for

The workforce at Wayfair may have put their jobs at risk.  Those who have walked out are likely to have breached their contracts of employment.  But acting in line with your conscience is not a matter of exercising a right as discharging a responsibility.  The staff at Wayfair will be making trade-offs (or need to realise that this is what they are doing) between doing what they believe is right and their immediate financial self interest.  The level of risk they take will reflect their own market power: can their employer find substitute staff with the requisite skills at a price that it can afford, or will it respond to the pressure from the protest, and furthermore, are they supported by the legal framework surrounding their employment or not?

[1] “Activist employees pose new labour relations threat to bosses: Wayfair walkout shows CEOs cannot duck political risks by claiming neutrality” FT 4th July 2010