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CorporateVoodoo

CorporateVoodoo

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Published by: lucky1515 on Apr 09, 2011
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Davies has tasted relative failure in his time. Whilst I worked for IPC Magazines, Peter Davies
was, as I say, the Chairman of Reed International, IPC’s parent company. He was charismatic
and had bags of vision, but he was ousted in one of the many Anglo-Dutch political battles that
Reed Elsevier (the merger of Reed International and Elsevier) became infamous for. This
disappointing experience has not blunted Peter Davies at all.

Now he has commenced turning around the image and performance of Sainsbury’s.

This is a superhuman task. He is clearly the man for the job. He has already sold off Sainsbury’s
Homebase. He has started bringing in senior talent, and the old guard is disappearing as we
speak. One of his most radical thoughts has been to consider moving the head office from
Blackfriars to a new building which will not have the association with the old culture and method
of working. This is both brave and instructive. Corporate cultures can be so strong as to appear
impenetrable, pervasive through all the fabric of the organisation. Change the HQ, he suggests,
and you might just give licence to other radical thinking amongst the building’s inhabitants.

He has also presided over not just a logo facelift. Not toyed with the brand values, but buffed
and polished the rather dowdy brown logo, which really did look a legacy from the 1950s.

But what will be the hardest thing for him to change? The culture. The people.

I worked next door to the Sainsbury’s head office for over five years. It was sad to see a once
great business nose-dive to its precarious current level. However, let’s look on the bright side:
they were the easiest organisation to poach quality staff from.

chapter 5/b 2/5/01 3:20 pm Page 112

VOODOO IS NOT AFRAID / 113

As with all businesses in turmoil, the staff they needed to help turn the ship around are the ones
with the courage and foresight to take ownership of their careers and break out.

I took a couple of members of staff from Sainsbury’s into IPC Magazines. They embodied the
Sainsbury’s culture. How they behaved in those early days with me showed me the state of play
in that once mighty supermarket – and how it had got into its predicament.

The new joiners to my team were massively disciplined and process driven. They dressed in a
similar ‘suited and booted’ manner, were long-winded, produced carefully managed
communication (both written and spoken), which never upset anyone, and always managed to
dilute the core message to such a level that it was not worth communicating in the first place.
They would spend days drafting and re-drafting simple notes to their team members, when this
could easily have been conveyed with a two-minute conversation to the people in the same
office. Everything was a set piece, rehearsed to the point of blandness.

As their Director, I was treated with a reverence that was astonishing. They would book
meetings days in advance to provide me with sycophantic feedback for a new initiative or a talk
I had given. They had bags of integrity, and were diligent hard workers. They struggled with
autonomy, and much preferred management roles as opposed to leadership responsibilities.

They were the necessary Roundheads in my world of dashing Cavaliers. In time one of them
has become a dream ticket – a rare mix of enterprise and discipline. The other one needs
constant reassurance and will always be a first-class manager. Enough said.

Voodoo
blocks out
noise and
helps focus

chapter 5/b 2/5/01 3:20 pm Page 113

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