December 2008 Archives
A number of arguments have been put forward over the last few weeks by those opposed to the government intervening to support Jaguar Land Rover. The Financial Times' Lex column pithily summed up the case against intervention; "it is hard to imagine a less deserving candidate. The luxury carmaker fails the public interest test on two key grounds. First, its products are of questionable social utility... The second reason... Mandelson should refuse to bail out JLR is that Tata Motors, the Indian company that paid $2.3bn for it, is capable of doing so itself, if it wishes".
In an attempt to set the record straight, I'd like to point out a few inadequacies in this line of argument:
A New Year's Resolution which Alistair Darling would be well advised to adopt, if he wants the support of the Country at the next General Election, would be to ensure that politicians are treated for tax purposes, no more favourably than the rest of the country.
We have had 'Expenses Gate' and 'Pensions Gate' and the latest one that has to be added to the list is 'Stamp Duty Land Tax Gate'.
What do I mean by all of this?
As always the New Year brings about the opportunity to re-energise, refresh and re-frame our way of thinking and being. It's something about renewal and closure that though the opportunity is open to us all year round, the start of a new year acts as a catalyst.
So what are your challenges for the 2009? As a leader within your business, what are your thoughts, planing to do more of the same, ramp it up? Whatever your thoughts, the work of Kouzes & Posner will go along way to helping guide your thoughts.
The changes are that many of us will receive Christmas presents in a couple of weeks time that would not be our first choice and no doubt in the New Year some of those gifts will find their way to the charity shops and benefit others.
One 'gift' that might be coming the way of subcontractors, is something that they definitely will not want; removal of their gross payment status.
If they lose this gross payment status, contractors that they work for, will be instructed by HMRC to deduct 20% at source from all payments to them. That sort of cash flow burden can put subcontractors out of business at the best of times, and is highly likely to do so in the current economic climate.
The comedian Jerry Seinfield once quipped: "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."
Perhaps disappointingly, this joke may stem from something of an urban myth - we may be more afraid of dying after all. However, even if that is the case, it's no exaggeration to suggest that speaking in public can cause lots of us considerable angst.
But the recent US election may offer hope to glossophobes everywhere. The candidates' ability at public speaking seemed to be a daily issue of analysis and debate. And, irrespective of your views on the underlying politics, there were some fantastic examples of oratory. Sarah Palin's speech to the Republican Convention was at times electrifying; and supporters of John McCain may well wish that all of his campaign speeches were as graceful and dignified as the one he gave when conceding defeat.
However, it is inevitable that this blog will mention the man who will become the 44th President. Some of Barack Obama's speeches - his speech on race following the furore caused by Rev Wright and the speech in Chicago on election night both spring to mind - were oratory of the very highest order.
And here's the good news for the public-speaking-phobics amongst you - the President Elect apparently wasn't born with the gift of the gab. Perhaps the most interesting revelation (and certainly the most relevant to the message I'm trying to get across) of the
Panorama programme, Obama and the Pitbull: An American Tale , which aired just before the election, was a quotation from Barack Obama's agent from his earliest days in Chicago politics. According to the agent, the first time Obama spoke he sounded (with apologies to legal academics everywhere) "like the dull law professor he was". The next time, "he could have given Martin Luther King oratory lessons". The web abounds with references to the next President's oratorical brilliance, but I think we can all take comfort from the fact that it's a skill that anyone can learn.
Back in Blighty, we have an example of an outstanding orator who had to work incredibly hard to master his art. Winston Churchill was undoubtedly a brilliant speaker, but he honed, edited and rehearsed even his apparently most-off-the-cuff remarks. My favourite bit of Schott's Original Miscellany , one of the best trivia books I have ever read, is the section on Churchill and Rhetoric. In a page and a half, you get the posh phrase to describe the key rhetorical devices which might help your public speaking (antimetabole anyone?), a description of what it means and then an example of Churchill using it.
Does anyone fancy Speakers' Corner?
It seems that a Wagon Auto, major auto supplier which can trace its roots back to the end of the First World War is on the brink of collapse after RBS (the bank rescued by the state from collapse itself with ÃÂ£20 billion of taxpayers' money) and other banks refused to extend further loans to the firm. Fears are growing that the firm will go into administration this week.
Wagon employs some 4,500 people across Europe, with more than 500 people at plants in Walsall (making panels and door parts) and Coventry (shock-absorbers for non-auto clients) and a head office here in Birmingham. It seems British plants will be kept open for the time being under administration.
The firm has struggled given competition from low-cost rivals (especially overseas) but what has really hit it hard have been the sharp cut-backs in production by its client firms which include Honda, Nissan and Land Rover.
Today the Sunday Times reported that the company's fate was effected sealed when the banks, led by Government-backed Royal Bank of Scotland, declined to contribute 12 million euro (ÃÂ£10.4m) to a 50 million euro (ÃÂ£43.3m) funding package.
The Big Three US car makers were back in Washington this week with their begging bowls, asking for another $34 billion in government help. They've already had $25bn to help them re-tool to produce new cleaner and greener cars, and now need more just to keep going, as they burn through cash at an alarming rate. This time round they have to come up with more cunning plans as last month they were refused a bailout request.
Auto sales in the US have indeed been hammered. Ford has reported a fall in sales of 30% year-on-year in November, with GM and Chrysler seeing falls of 41% and 42% respectively. And after some of the worst losses in its 100 year history, GM's share price is now so low that if you'd bought some shares just after the Second World War they are today worth exactly the same - just $3 per share.
Ford's share price has similarly dropped from $35 a share in 1999 to just $1.80 today. With Chrysler worth perhaps $1 billion, the 'Big Three' are together valued at a paltry $7 billion. No one is buying, even at this low price, though, given the alarming rate at which they are burning through cash.
How do YOU decide what is and what isn't news?
A web media company I work with did some analysis recently on why articles had been rejected by Google News. Whereas just about anything can go on to the web search, Google vets sites before it will include them in the 'news' category. It then checks each article against a set of pre-determined criteria to decide if it's a genuine news article - we can't have bloggers masquerading as journalists now can we?
Am I the only one who has been underwhelmed by the apparent lack of genuine celebration for the NHS's 60th birthday this year? I know there have been official announcements, a mate at work tells me there was a "good series on BBC 4" and I definitely remember there being a story on the evening news a while back, but that hardly seems to put the achievement of the NHS into its proper context.
Based on an entirely unscientific straw-poll of three phone calls with friends at the weekend and some in-between-exercise chats with fellow victims at the gym yesterday morning, here's my explanation for this: we may be guilty of taking the NHS for granted.
If I'm honest, until about a month ago, I was probably guilty as charged. Since then, I'm no longer in the taking-things-for-granted-crowd. My much-maligned better half, whose many virtues I may have occasionally misrepresented in these blogs, spent a significant chunk of November being expertly looked after by the brilliant staff both at our local surgery and Birmingham Women's Hospital and, albeit a bit earlier than planned, we are now the proud parents of the very vocal Baby Pemble. The doting dad in me would love to report that the wee one bops along approvingly as Bruce Springsteen croons Born to Run on the stereo, but if I'm honest it's probably just wind.
Anyway, I digress: Her Ladyship spent over a fortnight being examined, scanned, injected and genuinely looked after by a veritable team of midwives, doctors and carers. Pemble Junior had a week or so of the same treatment. I can't help but feel fortunate to benefit from what is still free (at the point of delivery) healthcare.
By way of comparison, I hate to think what similar care would have cost in a country like America where you would have to pay - but a quick search on hospitals in New York State suggests that the fees could easily have exceeded $40,000. And that's a country where over 15% of the population don't carry the insurance most consider necessary to meet their medical costs.
I know that the NHS is far from perfect, but it seems a damn site better than having no care at all or a healthcare system that excludes a significant chunk of its population. The Pemble family of Birmingham certainly have reason to be grateful.