The Bullog – July 2019

Greetings Bullogers!

We live in a world where a small, elite and unrepresentative group of (mostly) white, wealthy men are making decisions that have huge social, environmental and economic impacts on the rest of us who do not have a say.

No, I’m not talking about the recent Conservative Party leadership process to elect the new UK Prime Minister – because The Bullog is of course A-political.  Well, kind of.  Instead, I’m referring to the way decision-making is done in some of the largest institutions on the planet – our publically owned multinational corporations. 

Regular readers will know that I’m like a stuck record when it comes to bemoaning the enormous growth of multinationals over the past few decades and the extent of the socio-economic power they yield.  My issue is less with their enormous size per se – it’s more how their size and power could be used for a far greater public good, than to benefit the vested interests of a relatively small minority. 

Whether we like it or not, the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple are now de-facto G20 players – like quasi “super-states” transcending geographic boundaries, yet have none of the checks and balances of democratic nation states.  They dance to the tune of the shareholders and the market and that’s more or less it.  Even if they wanted to do more, CEOs claim that their hands are tied by the system.  I bet they cry all the way to the bank about that!

Despite being a self-confessed idealist, you’ll be surprised to hear that I have no panacea solutions.  I’m convinced that the concept of liberal democracy that we claim to cherish, is in need of a radical overall to keep up with the challenges of social media, disinformation, manipulation through personal data and rampant populism of the 21st century (watch The Great Hack on Netflix if you need convinced).  Yet the dramatic shifts in the balance of power between government and business, means that it’s imperative that we address the democratic deficit that currently exists within the multinational corporations.  That’s a job for employees, customers, shareholders and the wider public i.e. the rest of us – to demand a greater say in how these businesses are run and in whose interests.  We’ve got a little over a decade to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and probably far less to address the climate crisis that’s becoming virtually impossible to ignore in the melting capitals of Europe.  

As global politics shifts ever more towards the populist extremes of right and left, I know where I’ll be focusing my efforts in terms of “democratic” reform. Based on the recent FT article  “Corporate activists: the professionals swapping banners for briefcases” I’m not the only one.

The right kind of diversity issue

Moving swiftly on, the challenges around business purpose and governance were exactly the kind of themes I covered when moderating an all-woman panel (hoorah!) at the Business Fights Poverty annual conference in Oxford. This event is becoming a favourite fixture on the calendar and brings together a community of about 350 people to have a full day of learning and networking.  Thanks to Business Fights Poverty and Mickey Shah, The Coco Studio for this photo.

I also ran a breakout ‘Intrapreneur Clinic’ where I talked about some of the key themes and lessons learned (the hard way) from my good old book, The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a corporate insurgent.   By the way, the news on that is that my publisher has agreed to an audiobook and I’ll be locking myself away in a recording studio for about a week later in the summer with a view to it being available from late September.  So for all those out there who are podcast people or prefer to listen over reading, you’ll have the opportunity of having my dulcet Scottish tones in your ears.  As ever, please keep the reviews coming in on Amazon as it does make a big difference to the sales. 

In at the deep end

If there’s been a recurring theme of the past few Bullogs, it’s one of deliberately ‘getting out of the comfort zone’ and embracing vulnerability.  I talked about my newfound passion for improv comedy and its lessons in collaboration, creativity and risk taking that can be brought into business.  Then back in May there was painting in Paros, Greece. This past month’s vulnerability challenge was singing – in a gospel choir no less!  

Maestro Nehemia H Brown visits Geneva several times each year and runs a weekend workshop that culminates in a public performance at 6pm on the Sunday evening. Given they required no prior experience, I signed up and joined the first session with about 40 other strangers in a local church on the Friday night. I explained that I’d never sung outside of the shower in my life and on the basis of a single sentence, was quickly despatched to the bass section.  We quickly launched into the first song and soon thereafter the music came to an abrupt halt.  The Maestro had detected that someone was out of tune! “Tenors and basses only please,” he said, tilting his head to listen more carefully.  Then after another 20 seconds, the piano once again came to an abrupt halt. “Stop!” theMaestro shouted. “OK, basses only please.” There were only three of us so it didn’t take long before he diagnosed the problem and duly identified the culprit – moi.   Being asked to sing solo and clearly out of tune in front of 40 strangers put me well outside my comfort zone.   That said, I managed to hang on in to the final concert and enjoyed every minute of the whole weekend. 

To BE or not to BE…..on Bute in November?

The common thread and rationale for exploring all these activities is that they’re going to form part of the curriculum of the Craigberoch Business Decelerator.  Momentum is growing nicely and we got a big boost to the awareness campaign through a comment piece in The Scotsman, “Scotland’s rural landscape is an ace up its sleeve”, courtesy of my friend Nick Freer who allowed me to guest write his regular column.   During a trip back to the Isle of Bute I was able to meet with a variety of stakeholders including the new CEO of the Mountstuart Trust, Colin Boag who was very encouraging on our vision and is keen to collaborate which is great news. 

We’re starting to get a lot of interest in the Launch Lab pilot event on 18-22nd November, so please do get in touch if you think your company might be interested at a corporate level. There’s a strong business case and if you’re keen to come personally, but need to convince your employer, then pls get in touch and we can help you make the case.  

A Great Honour
The business school book tour continued and this month I spoke to INSEAD’s Executive MBA group in beautiful Fontainebleau, just outside Paris.  I was being hosted by the new Hoffman Global Institute for Business in Society, which has become known as GIBS.   Of course the coincidence was not lost on me and I started my talk by thanking my hosts and telling them how flattered I was to have such a prestigious institution named in my honour!  I think the generous and forward thinking André Hoffman might have something to say about that.  But it was a great evening and I was really inspired by the students I spoke to and the subsequent dinner I had with the Director Katell Le Goulven and Professor Jasjit Singh who lectures on Intrapreneurship in their Singapore campus.  

….and on the personal front

Yes it’s been a busy month but not all work and no play.  July has to be my favourite month of the year.  I managed to see Martina Navratilova play on Centre court at Wimbledon, saw Rag ‘n Bone Man at the Montreux Jazz Festival, went to the Paleo Festival in Nyon on the banks of Lake Geneva (which is akin to Switzerland’s Glastonbury) and saw The Cure. The years have taken their toll physically on this iconic band of my youth but even Maestro Brown would have to admit that lead singer Robert Smith’s voice has remained as distinctive and tuneful as ever.  

At the beginning of July I enjoyed a visit from my mum (‘wee Marj’ for those who read my book) and did a lot of hiking in the mountains outside of Geneva.

I’m even trying to improve my French with lunchtime conversation classes. 

But it’s not all been fun and laughter – there have been tears as well and I’m afraid I’m going to end this month’s epistle on a very sad note. Fiona Magennis, the sister of my dear friend Chris (who featured for his Archie Gemmill ‘Moments of Joy’ dinner in June, passed away quite suddenly while on a visit to London, only a few months before her 60th birthday. Despite being physically disabled since birth, something she never, ever complained about, Fiona was a woman of huge spirit, character and humour – an inspiration to everyone she met and a reminder to us all of what’s important in life. My heart goes out to Chris and his family at this difficult time.   Sadly life’s not always a bed of roses on The Bullog, while trying to put a positive spin on things, will reflect that reality.   

That’s more than enough for now folks. If you enjoy this monthly ramble then do feel free to suggest others sign up via my website.  Meanwhile, I wish you all a great summer.  Until next month,


* The Bullog  = Bulloch + BlogMake sense?  Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.