My Biggest Mistake: Adair Turner; They Published, and I Was Damned ; Adair Turner Was Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry from 1995 to 1999. His Career Started with BP and Chase Manhattan Bank before He Became a Director of McKinsey & Co. He Is Now Vice-Chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe and Is a Director of United Business Media and Netscalibur
Woolley, Alice, The Independent (London, England)
IN JANUARY 1996, four months into my job as director-general of the CBI, I spoke at a conference of personnel managers. My speech was boringly technical, but it provoked a storm I will never forget. The Daily Mail front-page headline was the most extreme: "CBI boss - let's pay people more." Other reports were in a similar vein.
Some CBI members were horrified and the director of membership helpfully told me it hadn't felt this way since Terence Beckett's 1981 "bare- knuckle fight speech", which declared open war on the then Tory government and provoked a major wave of membership resignations.
The context this time was a jumpy political environment, a Conservative government on its last legs but hoping to scare people with the spectre of trade union resurgence. New Labour was claiming it was business-friendly, and the CBI was being quoted and misquoted by both sides to prove we either feared or welcomed a change. This was combined with the prevailing belief that any wage claim higher than inflation created more inflation.
As it happens, that is economically illiterate nonsense. But if you're heading a bosses' lobby group, in a sensitive pre-election year, you need to manage carefully how you break that news. The CBI's staff experts had carefully prepared a speech including the perfectly sensible observation that wage rises above inflation can be afforded if productivity is rising, but expressed so opaquely that no journalist would pick it up. …