The recession is kind to good businesses – and cruel to the poor ones. What can you do in a recession to be great?

13 June 2010 By Northern Lights

The recession is kind to good businesses – and cruel to the poor ones.  What can you do in a recession to be great? image

René Carayol was the inspiration at this year’s Yorkshire International Business Convention (YIBC).

The headlines were all about Brian Blessed – and you have to admire the fact that this famous actor climbed Mounts Everest and Ararat in his 60s and 70s.  But I felt like the little boy with the Emperor’s clothes – was I the only one not really getting the celebrity name dropping and fairly crude boys’ stories?

Judging by the comments at lunchtime – the answer was yes!  The rest of our table was in raptures about the actor.  But eventually they moved onto René – and clearly a lot were reflecting on points for their own businesses.

Carayol had started with a clip from a TV programme he’d made on BP about four years ago.  Then he had criticised Lord Browne and the company’s obsession with cost-cutting and shareholder value rather than focusing on culture and customers.  Health and safety was suffering in the process.

The programme could have been made today – the company has merely changed its leader, not its culture.  All this reminded me of a blog I wrote a while ago about the lack of emotional leadership at the top of Shell – what is it with these oil companies?

The biggest point for me was René’s belief that we now measure too much ‘stuff’.  He doesn’t think you can measure the good stuff – which is what will make the difference to your company.

He then went on to show that the successful ones are those with personality – created by inspirational leadership.

  1. Why is the recession kind to good companies?

Well this is all fairly obvious, but in tough times, it’s good to remind ourselves of this.  The weak companies have not survived, those still in business have got something worth having and there is now less competition.

René looked at what businesses need to be doing in these tough times.  His advice is

Manage less, Lead more

Heritage, not Legacy

Culture is more important than Strategy

While some of this feels old hat, the thing that struck me here was the extent to which he was saying that classic management principles are less important.  Most businesses know the importance of leadership, but he really brought this home by looking at the differences in culture

Management                                        Leadership

Strategy                                                      Vision

Plans                                                         Culture

Tasks                                                        Teams

Process                                                    People

2. Caring for your people

Cadbury logoRené looked at three Victorian companies who broke the mould of their time : Marks and Spencer; Cadbury; and Co-op.

These three companies started looking after their people – primarily feeding them and in the case of Cadbury, building the Bournville village.  And look how they flourished.

3. Who gets 1m unsolicited job applications a year?

Google logoThe two global companies getting more than 1m unsolicited job applications every year are P&G and Google.

René’s point was to make sure your company is one of those that people want to work for.

4. Culture of a successful company

Businesses often lose their winning culture as they grow and develop.  René defines a leadership culture as




Mistakes – learn from them

Celebrate success


5. Businesses with personality

Asda logoThis was interesting.  René put up a slide with pairs of similar businesses and asked the audience to say which was a corporate organisation and which the one with personality and fleet of foot.  Instinctively everyone knew which category to put them into.  I’ve put them into categories here but would have agreed with these?


Organisation            vs                     Personality

Tesco                                                  Asda

British Airways                                    Virgin

Microsoft                                            Google

 6. What are you brilliant at?

I’ve now heard this last point twice in the last two weeks.  We’ve been working with Bradford University School of Management and their Innovation Club.  Foundation helps ex-offenders and their culture is about focusing on the 90% that is successful, not the 10% that is not working.

René talked about joining Pepsi and how they made people feel really good about themselves.  In appraisals, they talked about what they were brilliant at and how to develop that – not what they were doing badly.   He said:  “I’ve been in companies where you have a 40 point action plan to improve all the things you are not good at.  It doesn’t make sense, why all that effort on the things you can’t do well.  Why not look at how you can do more of what you are great at?

This is the point that I’m taking away from the day.   Did you get anything from this?

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Written by Northern Lights

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