Former chief executive of Sainsbury's, Justin King. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After Justin King, Satya Nadella and Tim Cook, business needs leaders who will embrace risk, and welcome change

Whether through regulation, market consolidation or new technology, businesses are being forced into rapid change, in order to keep or grow their market position.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had news of a lot of changes within the leadership of some major brands. At the end of January, it was announced that Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s will be stepping down in July, after 10 years as head of the company. This month Microsoft announced Satya Nadella, a veteran insider and previous head of the company's cloud computing division and enterprise business, will take over from CEO Steve Ballmer. It isn’t unexpected that in a time when companies have to contend with a very real and immediate sense of market disruption, that these management changes receive intense scrutiny as businesses look to safeguard their future.

Even the leadership of the mighty Apple continues to be under the microscope. Tim Cook, despite presiding over some spectacularly successful sales since he took the reins from Steve Jobs, continues to be subject to criticism as the market expects more from the business and looks to the leadership to facilitate further innovation. So much so that Forbes published a column last month, asking if he would be the next "Steve Ballmer."

Whether through regulation, market consolidation and/or new technology, businesses are being forced to undergo substantial change in order to keep or grow their market position and often new leaders are pushed to the helm to help overcome these disruptions and deliver profitability and growth.

Leaders have a key role in enabling and informing the strategy of innovation. Unless a business can innovate then it risks becoming obsolete. Just look at BlackBerry’s swift decline, which was reportedly down to infighting at its executive level that ultimately prevented it from being competitive.

Microsoft has placed a bet on the cloud and mobile markets, explaining that conquering them remains critical to its future success. The company will now need to try and find its identity and manage wholesale change as the markets it dominated historically, such as the personal computing market, decline or vanish. Microsoft is only just beginning to tackle this challenge in its consumer business, with limited reports of its success.

Similarly, when his time comes, Mike Coupe, who is set to take over from Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King in July, has a tough market to battle in. In his 10 years, King has delivered unprecedented growth through a period of intensifying and aggressive competition in the retail sector. As one of the most vocal proponents of big data and analytics, King credits the Nectar programme with delivering much of Sainsbury’s competitive edge and in delivering sustained margins in an industry famous for discounting.

Although well placed to do so, Coupe will need to build on this in the years ahead as he takes the top job. As I outlined in my joint paper with Joe Peppard of the Cranfield School of Management, all CEOs need to harness the potential of data to drive their decision-making and spearhead a path for growth. And, in equal measure, Sainsbury’s will need to continue to invest in its customer experience online and in-store, drawing on the wealth of insight available to it via the Nectar programme and beyond.

Facing change in established markets can take significant courage: as technologies like smartphones start to redefine human behaviour around everyday things, from shopping to routefinding, businesses may find themselves needing to completely redefine their operating model. As part of a report I authored recently, called EMC Leader 2020, I commissioned research to explore the attitudes of UK business leaders to change, risk, technology and innovation. It found that some two thirds of CxOs at large companies in the UK say they are experiencing disruption in their markets right now. 85 per cent are ready to embrace change but, somewhat worryingly, over half of them find change difficult to handle. In the UK, we’ll need to get better at this if we are to maintain our global competitiveness.

So how can we discover these next great innovations? And how do you capitalise on it? Well, my first prescription would be decisiveness. Almost all of CxOs surveyed for my report said their teams were sometimes unable to take decisions due to information overload and a focus on consensus. Cutting through this syndrome, often referred to as analysis paralysis, is a crucial first step to delivering innovation.

Secondly, I believe the CEOs role should be that of a sponsor and champion of innovation, rather than necessarily being the innovator-in-chief. That means fostering an adaptive culture that is open to change, and persuading all staff that experimentation should be part of their role, then exercising good judgement when picking which ideas to develop. It’s an approach that requires driving, nurturing and encouraging innovation across all levels of the business.

In the UK, it’s crucial that we do everything we can to achieve this. PwC’s recent Breakthrough Innovation and Growth paper showed that British companies think innovation is much less important than most countries in the world, in particular China and Germany. The same paper showed that the most innovative 20 per cent of companies grow an average of 50 per cent faster that the least innovative – which does a lot to illustrate the impact that an innovative culture can have on the bottom line.

James Petter is vice president and managing director of  internet services company EMC UK&I.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.