Magazine article Management Today

The Human Factor

Magazine article Management Today

The Human Factor

Article excerpt

Now that the election is over, the Government can reflect on the little list of business leaders who voiced their support -- and those who sided with the Opposition. Both parties scurried round drumming up business signatures for supportive letters to the press. In theory, it is individuals rather than companies who declare their colours in this way, but when they are high-profile people synonymous with their businesses, the effect can be to link a company with a political party.

But is this wise? Cynics would say that businesses lose nothing, and stand to gain much, by being seen to be on the side of Government. But, if that is the case, then does supporting the Opposition carry risks?

Sir Stanley Kalms clearly thinks not. The feisty Dixons chairman not only signed a letter urging support for the Conservatives but handed over a personal cheque for [pounds]250,000, declaring it was 'vital for Britain that William Hague becomes our prime minister'. Yet only one other FTSE-100 CEO signed up alongside Kalms -- excluding his chief executive, John Clare, who wisely signed on the dotted line -- and that was Sir Clive Thompson, the Rentokil boss. Labour was able to claim a significantly higher FTSE count of seven chiefs.

Among the rest, there are plenty who in private confess to Conservative sympathies but who chose not to make a public declaration. Given the odds offered in favour of the Labour Party's victory, it is not difficult to see why. What, for instance, would have been the upside for Chris Gent, the Vodafone chief executive, in allying himself with the Tories? He may feel aggrieved at the high price of the 3G licences but now he needs co-operation from the Government, not antagonism.

He would also like more deals like the one under which Vodafone will supply up to 50,000 mobile phones to the Government, having been named as preferred supplier. That status was conferred by Peter Gershon at the Office of Government Procurement. I am confident that Gershon and his colleagues would not pay the slightest attention to the voting preferences of Gent or other company leaders in reaching their decisions. Nonetheless, any business people contemplating a public 'coming out' might decide that there is little to be gained by siding with the underdog, even if they harbour doubts about Labour.

Tony Blair was at pains to quell those doubts with his glossy business manifesto and the collection of well-known names beaming out from its pages. …

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