Magazine article Management Today

Blackhurst's Diary

Magazine article Management Today

Blackhurst's Diary

Article excerpt

In which our diarist joins the Vodafone boss' cheerleaders, toasts (in beer) the Carphoneking, and compiles hard data on Britain's egghead entrepreneurs


Every generation of businessmen has its heroes. A good bloke like them, someone who has built his business, who isn't too showy, too fond of publicity, but gets on with the job. This year's top man, the one spoken of in hushed tones in bars in conference hotels up and down the land, is Chris Gent of Vodafone AirTouch. In two years since taking over at Vodafone, he has created Britain's biggest company and the world's largest mobile phone group. These days Vodafone is a household name, a universally recognised brand. But it was not always so. When the company was deciding what to call itself, someone came up with the name Vodafone. Management were not overwhelmingly impressed -- 'Sounded like an east European gramophone supplier,' says Gent -- so decided to ask management consultants what they thought. 'No company beginning with the letter V has ever been successful,' was their considered expert opinion. Fortunately, wiser heads pointed to Volkswagen and Volvo as puffing paid to that theory. A nice story, whic h illustrates one of the reasons why Gent is so popular among his peers: he does not stand for any nonsense from management consultants.


During lunch with Richard Branson at his house in Holland Park, Joan, his wife, pops her head round the door and taps her watch. Branson declares he has to go, sheepishly explaining that they are due to go and look at a new house -- this one is too big so they want something smaller. On the way back I found myself imagining the shock of a houseseller opening the door to find Branson on the doorstep...


Charles Dunstone, head of the soon-to-be-floated Carphone Warehouse, is one of the new wave of British retailers who value their staff and know how to engender loyalty. He sends every employee a birthday cake and for head-office staff has installed a huge walk-in fridge to store food deliveries when they have no time to shop. The last Friday in the month is free beer night -- 'the beer bust' when, for 90 minutes, he stands the tab for all employees to slake their thirst. A fanatical sailor with one and a hail yachts, he is renowned for looking after his crews well in a race. 'While we may not be in the top 10 at the Fastnet, our crew will be the only people doing the race with a wide-screen TV, two cooks and proper hot sit-down dinners. …

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