Magazine article Management Today

Home Truths

Magazine article Management Today

Home Truths

Article excerpt

It's boring - no excitement, no glamour. That was the blunt reply to a leading car company's recruitment officer, who'd asked a group of students on last year's university milk round why none of them wanted to work in motor manufacturing.

The image of mainstream business in Britain continues to suffer from the widely held view that it's deadly dull. By comparison, media, law and investment banking are all thought to be 'sexy'. For every graduate who thinks about joining Ford or Nissan, a thousand dream of appearing on television, starring at the Old Bailey or landing jackpot bonuses with Goldman Sachs.

This is not true in America, where business' big hitters are lionised. Jack Welch, for example, General Electric's veteran boss, has a bigger fan club than many Hollywood superstars. Welch ranks alongside Warren Buffett as a business icon, someone who has delivered riches to an army of adoring small investors.

The fact that Welch's salary and options package could wipe out the sovereign debt of a medium-sized banana republic matters not a jot to most Americans. They don't resent him; they want to emulate him.

In Britain, however, there is a pervasive culture of envy that warps our appreciation of business' contribution to national wellbeing. Pop idols and footballers can amass multi-million-pound fortunes without attracting widespread opprobrium. Vidal Sassoon can make a mint from wash-and-blow-dries and become a cult hero. But woe betide any grubby industrialist who has the good fortune to earn a few quid.

At its basest level, the vilification of well-paid business people is nothing less than begrudging discontent at the achievement of others. The press hounding of British Gas' hapless former chief executive Cedric Brown in 1994 was a disgraceful example of this.

Brown had worked his way up from the shop floor to the boardroom, only for British Gas, in a moment of public relations lunacy, to announce his bumper salary increase at the same time as jacking up gas bills. The blunder caused an unprecedented feeding frenzy among the media.

Brown was eviscerated in the tabloids for alleged avarice, fat-cattery, callousness and a thousand other crimes he never committed. The scale of contrived indignation was matched only by the level of press prejudice, as commentators vied to inflict the deepest wounds.

That dark episode told us a lot about Britain as a society - much of it depressing. But it also made clear just how little most people understand what's going on in business, how it works and why international companies have to pay international salaries if they want to avoid running the risk of management by monkeys. …

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