I don't mind the intellectual indigestion, it's the large portions I can't take!
27 February 2020 by David Bott
I came up with a really good way to avoid the “start the week” meeting this time – the need to be early in London to impersonate Fearless Leader at an event with the political glitterati meant I had to go down to London the evening before!! The event was billed as the Global Investment Conference 2010. It was definitely one for the great and the good. Even before it had opened, I met David Kester, who swore that he was investigating who had caused the press release which ignored us and would find the culprits and cut out their hearts with a spoon to show who’s boss – or something like that anyway. Once we got over this awkward bit, we had a good chat about how we ought to make more of a fuss about combining design and technological innovation. I didn’t feel like pointing out that Sebastian had been on this road for some time and had even added innovative business models – DK has apparently promised FL that we will co-operate on a think-piece. So it won't be difficult.
First up on the stage was Ozymandelson, but he was only there to introduce the PM. I particularly liked Doug Richards tweet that the PM made the best speech a conservative PM could. I guess we know Doug’s politics! In truth, he said all the right things, but then the febrile atmosphere in the government means that they are trying to do too much and confusing just about everyone – possibly including themselves. Andrew Witty got to respond and re-announce the new plant he announced before Christmas. Then it was on to Michael Porter. I had forgotten how much the relatively high pitched American voice and the hand-waving reminded me of Kermit, but he stuck to his usual script and said that we were doing the right things, but should focus and stay the course rather than falling prey to the old weakness of starting too many new initiatives. Next up was a flash video by Burberry about their use of social media. If UKTI had recognised this 2 or 3 years ago when Burberry started, it would have shown some insight into the evolving new business practices but catching them at the tail end of everyone else’s analyses just made us look a bit sad. That said, the power coupling of a CEO who was creative at business with a CCO who was creative with the product does seem be to be the leadership model du jour. The panel session that followed, with Drayson demoted from chair to panel member, Susan Searle plugging the ageing Imperial Innovations model and guys from Mercedes (nee Honda via Brawn), GE and Statkraft was a curiously flat affair. Interestingly, Drayson walked past a couple of opportunities to name check us as the perpetrators of good ideas but instead chose to say they were his governments!! Some disappoint from Nick Buckland, who was sitting next to me by now. Most people avoided the Seb Coe lunchtime talk and so the other lunchroom was therefore a bit crowded. After lunch the Chancellor turned up to say almost nothing (claiming that he couldn't this close to a Budget), and then DK interviewed Jonny Ive by satellite. Jonny was more articulate (and smarter) than usual and made the standard points about designing and making products that will surprise and delight the consumers. Yet another power CEO-CCO partnership!! This was followed by another flat panel, this time chaired by Doug Richard with DK, the woman who started mywardrobe.com and a professor of Business Administration from Harvard. Most of the session was the Prof giving “short” answers to every question based on his MBA 101 and 102 courses. Even DK was silenced. Close to the end, Doug looked up the definition of chairman and tried to bring Sarah into the mix, but it felt like a wasted opportunity. By contract, the final panel was a corker. Chaired by Lionel Barber of the FT, it had David Bonderman from TPG Capital, Canning Fok from Hutchison Whampoa, the CFO of Shell, a Russian banker and Richard Lambert. There followed one of the most informed and informing discussion on where money comes from in business that I have ever had the privilege to listen to. Made up for the rest of the day – almost. The meeting was closed by the PM and Merv but they didn't add anything. The UKTI people I talked to didn't know why they had run the meeting other than as a photo-op for the senior Government guys to look like they hang out with business. Nick and I chilled in a Sloane Square coffee shop until it was time to go to St James Palace for the reception. The high point of that was a conversation between Mick Laverty and a senior guy from Arup about the LCV Demonstrator – where I had to tell them that Arup had project managed AWM’s bid. I made my excuses and left for Peterborough!!
It wasn’t a merely capricious move – I was due to meet up with Andrew Everett and Robin Wilson and a group from Caterpillar for a dinner ahead of our factory visit the next day. The dinner was good, and we got a lot of the unofficial stuff out of the way. The actual visit was great. I wrote up my last quick visit on the blog and they seemed to be trying to impress me more. It is a great factory, both in terms of process, obvious investment in equipment, commitment to safety and quality and to improve everything and anything. We also went through the project they have with us and they made very nice noises about our continuous improvement in processes and customer interaction. I shall keep this from Cyrus in case he gets above himself!!
The next day was in Aston, where I was scheduled to impersonate Julia King as the chair of the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platforms Steering Group. It was an interesting meeting – being the first attended by a certain important automotive person. He is used to being the most important person (it was once said that if he went to a funeral, he would want to be the corpse) so he tried to “take over” but we have other strong-willed people and I had seen enough of bad chairing on Monday to remember I had to control the meeting. We got a lot done and some good ideas to pursue. Once again, I gave the truncated “metrics and measures” talk and got endorsement from all the business people. I then moved quickly down to London in case Breakfast Television chose to take our Retrofit for the Future story. As it was, Neil and I went over the story and thought of new ways to exploit out position because we learned we were to be bumped by the sexualisation of teenagers!!
Instead, on Thursday morning, we made our way out to a suburb of London most people haven't heard of for the official launch. The press were thin on the ground, and even our article in the Guardian had been bumped by the Bloom Energy launch in the US (which did have a Richard Miller quote being a technosceptic), so Drayson seemed a bit quiet about the coverage when he arrived. Luckily, I had briefed the architect, contractor, social landlord and monitoring guys about how he worked and they set out to engage him. I think the architect may get the gig of doing Pauls house such was their bonding. The overall team was impressive and I suspect that one reason we got the low press turn out was that it took an hour each way to get there – but it was definitely worth it. It is worth considering that there are another 86 such houses and teams up and down the UK – because of us!!
I made it back to Tracy Island to rendezvous with Guy to go through the first drafts of the seminar presentations – and realised how much more work we have to do!! The final commitment on Thursday was a dinner organised by the ABPI around the visit of a senior guy from Medco to pump up the volume on stratified medicine again. Held at Chandos House and presided over by Richard Barker, it was a target rich environment for regulatory agencies and other key people – I had been briefed by Angela on whose cards to get. The story of what Medco had achieved in the US and how they were coming to Europe both to revolutionise the pharmacy business – with a side issue of “home care” – started the evening but then Richard made sure that everyone knew that a business focused initiative with us was the main reason to discuss and influence. John Stageman led and I played hard to get. It was nice to see Liam back in circulation in his new role as CEO of Arthritis Research Campaign – the UK’s 4th largest medical charity – even if he did hand me the worst hospital pass of the evening!! I spent time with all the right people and got their cards, so the team will be happy.
The next day, I was scheduled to take part in the UK Future Internet Initiative Steering Group meeting – because Maurizio told me I had to!! The first part of the meeting was a series of long, boring and confusing PowerPoint presentations about what Europe were going to do, and then I got a chance to talk about what we are already doing, then there was a presentation by Jon Crowcroft, a nicely presented weird academic computer scientist and part-time social revolutionary – worth catching his talk sometime – before the obligatory workshop session and a final panel. The European approach really is depressing, with a very top down imposition of goals rather than the flexible, user focused approach we have adopted. We might even be doing some leading edge stuff, but we certainly are more in tune with both the providers and the users of the internet that will evolve!!