Friday, 10 July 2009

Send in Sir Gerry Robinson

I wonder if Mr Walsh was watching another Irish businessman, Sir Gerry Robinson, on television recently. In the programme, Gerry’s Big Decision, a “me-too” business programme of the type first brought to prominence by Sir John Harvey Jones many years ago, Sir Gerry, formerly head of Granada TV and many other leading UK companies, considers investing his own money in a number of companies with problems.

In both the recent examples, the problem was with the present “top dog” of the company. In both, Robinson’s analysis featured remarks like “great product, good workforce, but the management aren’t talking to the staff and there’s just no evidence of any sales activity or ability”.

I was struck by the similarity with British Airways. Whenever I fly BA I ask the crew whether they’ve met Mr Walsh. Most have had him on their aircraft but other than the usual brief discourse between crew and passengers there’s no contact. He boards ahead of other passengers, and buries himself in a newspaper rather than actually talk to the “other ranks”.

This is strange for every senior manager I’ve ever known, in every company with which I’ve worked (and that includes a good few blue-chip companies during my time in television) takes such opportunities to talk direct to the crew, to ask questions and get the views of people at the sharp end without the modification and editorialising that happens when the same information is filtered up through the system.

Why not ask Sir Gerry to have a look at British Airways? He might not have enough money himself (though right now the share value of the airline is nowt) but he has the experience. In a previous television programme, he tackled Britain’s NHS so taking on British Airways needn’t be too big a project. The real problem is that the management of BA is too pig-headed, so utterly convinced it and it alone is right, Gerry Robinson wouldn’t even get through the front door.

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