Archive for January, 2013
Developing a small business especially in a challenging environment is a tough assignment but it would seem that for SME’s or small to medium size enterprises; trading credibility is built into their responsive `on-line attitude’ to business development and therefore more likely to surface as success stories. Although, if the trading hopes and dreams are not meeting the cash flow promise or the business plan predictions, then perhaps getting out is better than gutsy persistence.
The progressive boss of Expedia commenting on the excellent BBC Television programme “Show me the money” is a good example of `on-line attitude’ in what is an extremely competitive business sector. So why are these people so successful? Simple, they have a keen eye and ear for what’s happening around them, keeping them close to any shift in customer needs or competitor aspirations. Then comes the rapid hard-nosed review for learning in the fast lane, because unlike the top heavy plodders who are now no longer trading they welcome corrective criticism and when not performing to expectation, they cut bait or fine tune their approach in retaining business strength and client base loyalty. In other words, `don’t lets talk decision-making lets do it’ because what was previously right for business conditions, might need tweaking in order to keep ahead of the game which is certainly the way of it for Expedia and people like hoteliers Novotel.
In Lambeth there are some notable key players where staying the distance using the hard facts of trading is within them either instructed through family or simply the experience of learning by doing. In Streatham, we have many entrepreneurs in the business community with one running a dry cleaning operation near Streatham Hill Station. Their prices are just right for their clientele with comfortable language offering deals on duvets or winter coats and a wicked spot cleaning service that’s close to forensic. And further along the High Road, a hands-on wash and dry operation near St Leonard’s Church. They certainly know their customers and what keeps them coming back for more, like when you take in two suits you get a healthy discounted price and for busy clients working late there’s a smart turnaround delivery service that the Mayor used recently in getting a couple of suits returned in good time for an important engagement.
The latest store offering from Waitrose officially arrived in Lambeth on Tuesday morning and received a most encouraging welcome as another grocery retail jewel situated at 5, The Pavement Clapham Common. According to the Manager Simon Curtis for whom opening stores is nothing new the Waitrose store fitting team were presented with a shell site on Thursday and over the next five days worked around the clock to produce a trading environment that Mark Price and his team in Bracknell can be justly proud and being just across the road from the Underground station, the location is town centre perfect for residents and easy access for commuters keen to take advantage of a quality `meal solution’.
The reputation of the John Lewis name is well documented with lookalikes difficult to reproduce because it’s a culture built up over many years and not applied like a coat of paint. It seems so embedded that it doesn’t take long before the feeling of a partner becomes a comfortable fit with your future success determined by delivering those `moments of truth’ in branded customer service; with this established grocery retail expertise encouraged in new partners through learning as a personal perception of a shared goal and the bottom line linked to profit share.
The reports that Waitrose had received over 700 applications for the 55 partner vacancies was quickly confirmed by Emma Gordon a magazine journalist who was with me when I met Rachel one of the successful applicants whose response to being selected was, “I just wanted to thank Waitrose for giving me this chance” and for Joyce, who because of her age thought she stood no chance, increased her beaming smile to a full wattage strength when she explained how elated she felt on taking a telephone call to confirm her place on the team. With the selection process, not one of what you can do but how you express yourself in the image that is Waitrose, Rachel and Joyce have found an instinctive home for their commitment and the springboard to a rewarding future with the John Lewis Partnership.
The professional personalities of London Underground Managing Director Mike Brown and Royal Mail’s CEO Moya Greene were in enthusiastic high profile last week, when they jointly hosted a reception to mark the issue of postage stamps depicting one hundred and fifty years of progress for the tube network since its arrival beneath the streets of our capital in 1863.
The joint airing of their complementary logistical thinking both on and off the platform was exciting to witness and most intriguing to contemplate the outcome, if this happy partnership of enterprise were to continue. Speculation would be well founded as to what the boldness of constructive co-operation could achieve, for two organisations culturally poles apart but progressively joined at the hip in the delivery of public sector services that continue to defy the circling critics of measurable organisational change.
Measurable, because change is very easily expressed but a devilishly hard job to the deliver on the ground when applied to a culturally specific workforce, through which to promote the realities, but with two in the cab and delivery as the common denominator their different approaches to the needs of their respective businesses could be seen as a strength. The encouraging mood of co-operation expressed through the non-verbal communication of senior representatives on Wednesday evening was just enough to initiate a lasting thaw with doubters, in the somewhat chilly atmosphere of the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, once home to a landlocked culture of uncertainly that now faces a far brighter future brimming with potential at Nine Elms and those anticipated job prospects south of the river in Lambeth.
Guests at the London Local Government Dinner on Thursday last were most appreciative of Mansion House hospitality arranged in the splendid surroundings of the Egyptian Room. Although Boris Johnson didn’t disappoint an expectant audience with an articulate mix of both the serious and his usual hair ruffling repartee, he took nothing away from My Lord Mayor of London Alderman Roger Gifford or Jules Pipe, Elected Mayor and Chair of Hackney Council for whom the Olympiad memory and the legacy of local development was much in evidence.
As a banker the Lord Mayor of London knows only too well that for London Local Government the prospects of advancement be it in jobs, quality of life, or the benefits of regenerative development within our communities is in many respects, dependent upon the successes initiated by those within the square mile.
Whilst Alderman Gifford rightly praised the on-going contributions made by the City, Mayor Johnson had before him on his shuffled A4, two major themes with the first designed to put heart into the need for the nation to be consulted as to what we have signed up to as Europeans. Whether or not Boris will be given an `on your bike’ response from the Prime minister will be a wait see experience for us all, but no doubt a clear decision on a referendum will be critical as the 2015 General Election draws ever and more uncomfortably closer.
Secondly, and for my ears there was a welcomed plea from Mayor Johnson to the London boroughs in respect of an enhancement of a working relationships that used to be called joined up thinking. Call it what you will but for those London boroughs who got a prompted mention Lambeth included, the formula for achieving together as complementary neighbours was well worth waiting for especially at this level of endorsement; combining their individual strengths is comprehensively preferable to single minded self enterprise and something that I have long advocated.
During the week before Christmas the Mayoress and I along with the Mayoral Team were very pleased to receive colleagues from right across the authority, invited in recognition of their dedication and commitment to the continued success of the London Borough of Lambeth.
It turned out to be a unique occasion in several ways firstly, since I had just finished a Citizenship Ceremony, I arrived wearing full robes and entered the parlour to a packed audience for whom what happed next was as much a surprise for them as it was for Eddie our chauffeur and mace bearer. Helping me make the change into day suit and chains was like having over thirty people in your dressing room! But then after a couple of rousing choruses of “When the Saints Go Marching In” accompanied on the kazoo the scene was set for a fun time in the Town Hall.
The uniqueness of this reception was that for many of the invitees they were unlikely to meet in the course of their day to day functions and this was an ideal opportunity for them to find out what other people did and to explain their role within the informality of a Christmas gathering.
It was an occasion for sharing their success with others both inside and outside the council and we do hope that this will be repeated next year in being able to acknowledge the contributions made by colleagues who make a real difference in the lives of those who deal with the Council.
For the Mayoress and I we were delighted to be able to host such an enjoyable evening and in doing so learn about the work of the council throughout a range of different directorates and to become acquainted with the job functions of those for whom previously the Mayor’s Parlour was simply a location to be found in the Town Hall.
Lynn Thomas was born in Jamaica in 1938 and has been visiting and supporting older people in their homes for well over twenty seven years. When she left her home in St Katharine and came to England in the early 1960’s the most difficult family separation was that of leaving her grandmother and in a culture of close knit families; this was hardly surprising.
The bond was deep and preciously maintained through daily contact and when this closeness was no longer possible the caring was transferred to others, in the fervent hope that someone back home would continue to care for her grandmother as Lynn had done. These acts of unconditional giving receive no reward that would make her tasks an obligation to others. Lynn Thomas does not ask for payment for what she does through Contact the Elderly, neither does she receive any practical support that would align her work to an organisation and therefore, in recognition of her generous commitment the Mayoress and I were very pleased to welcome Lynn and her ladies to the parlour, some of whom came in their wheel chairs courtesy of help from the accompanying volunteers.
Lynn represents a generation that straddles two cultures that grew up together but on different sides of the Atlantic. The teachings of church and family followed Lynn from her home in Jamaica coming to the United Kingdom with a generation from the Caribbean for whom Great Britain was the mother country and they responded as any child would when faced with adversity. At the beginning of the Second World War, Jamaica was an early contributor to the war effort giving money for aircraft manufacture, collecting from door to door in making it possible for the defence of an island nation so far removed from the shorelines of the West Indies.
Another generation born closer to the home counties, shires and borders, shared the same values as Lynn and started work in our NHS hospitals in the mid 1950’s or early 1960’s with a level of care and compassion that many of the Nightingale Nurses trained at St Thomas’ still guard as their professional reference and ethical bond. Something that Lord Leveson found so difficult to identify throughout his deliberations, since it was a learned behaviour that is now devoid of modelling due to the diminishing profile of those for whom ethics was an expectation of service to others from their very first day as a probationer.
It could be argued that the concept of the big society attempts to put the pieces of an estranged social jigsaw back together again in an uneven competition of provision for those whose expectation is `availability on demand’. Originally each generation made way for the next without counting the costs or evaluating those contributions that we can still thankfully experience through Contact the Elderly, as a legacy from those for whom caring was never something linked to a cost analysis to be set out as government policy. Sadly, that same generation were the regular building society savers, who now find their modest investments reduced by a base rate pegged at half of one percent in furthering their over stretched generosity to even more unprecedented levels of self sacrifice.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas our support groups in Lambeth were at full stretch in doing their level best to care for our own and with this as a benchmark of progress the Mayoress and I accepted an invitation to visit the Crisis at Christmas Centre at the City of London Academy in Bermondsey. This location is just one of their many centres that remain open throughout the nine day Christmas period and we were pleased to endorse the work of this 40 year old charity whose organisers did a splendid job in raising funds at one our built heritage sites just before Christmas.
From the outset it was clear just how deeply the welfare reforms were cutting into the daily lives of those individuals to be found at the sharp end of vulnerability and isolation with the organisers and volunteers prepared for their services to become even more vital as we embrace 2013.
Not only in sustaining those who are `roofless’ but for a far greater number who are offered this brief respite from loneliness and being marginalised, brought about by consistently poor living conditions, leading inevitability to mental health problems and dependency. There are many regular Crisis at Christmas volunteers but for one of them this was his first time and his very first day as a `gap minder’ and so important for him to be there because he’d been through what the guests were experiencing. “Life eventually came good for me”, he explained, “in the end it worked itself out and I’ve got a front door, a warm bed with food in the cupboard and in comparison I’m a king without a crown.”
Although many of the volunteers will be with their guests, throughout Christmas and during those days leading up to the New Year there was no indication that they were having to give anything up, but rather an opportunity to spend more of their time alongside those whom they wanted to offer a type of unconditional caring and when asked about what the organisation offered the guests the plea of “Oh don’t take Crisis away” was an instant reaction. Quickly followed by, “Christmas without Crisis would mean jumping off a bridge. We need to know that this centre will be here and I’ve been coming back each year since 2008 because all I need to keep me going is here. I even get a haircut and have someone take a look at my teeth. I suppose this is my family. I do have a brother but he’s busy at this time of year with his own life but I can email from the crisis centre to keep in touch and of course thank him for the money.”