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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Why Sir Fred Goodwin should be allowed to keep his pension

Vilifying Sir Fred Goodwin seems to have become a national sport this week. Every TV and radio programme, newspaper, populist politician, and pub commentator is lining up to take their shot. He should be ashamed; he should volunteer to give back his pension; etc, etc, etc.

Rubbish. The man made a mistake. A mistake of monstrous proportions admittedly, but do we really want to set a precedent of publicly punishing businesspeople for being wrong?

For a start, he didn’t make his mistake in isolation. He did it alongside, and with the support and approval of an army of subordinates, advisers, and board members. Locking on to Sir Fred Goodwin as the only one responsible, and hence the only one to pay, is ridiculous.

But even if we do decide to take just one person responsible for the failure of an empire, is it really appropriate to punish someone for an honest mistake? There’s been lots of talk of greed, but in reality Sir Fred was just trying to do the job for which he had been employed: to grow the success of the business. He failed to be sufficiently prudent in chasing growth, but that is an error not a crime. Sir Fred Goodwin didn’t set out to take down a bank and nor did anyone else in the company.

At fifty years old, Sir Fred had been contributing to his pension pot for probably almost thirty years. The headline figure of £16m may seem enormous to most of us but that’s the nature of the business he was in and the length of time he had been in it. He didn’t make the rules, he just succeeded at playing the game — right up until a few months ago.

The relevance to the future? In this country we are not good at encouraging, supporting, or rewarding entrepreneurship. It is very, very hard to start and run a successful business while dealing with the bewildering level of bureaucracy. Taxes don’t necessarily need to be lower but they do need to be simpler. The huge range of ‘supporting’ organisations need to be streamlined so that it’s easier to find what you need. It’s depressing to compare the headline figures announced at government level for support and investment in small businesses with the reality of what trickles down.

On top of all this, it now seems that in public we want to snipe at the enterprising and successful, particularly when they fail. In the same way that celebrities have been built up and knocked down by the media for years, the same fate looks set to befall the business community.

This is very bad. Failure is a part of business and a bigger part of entrepreneurship. The Americans say that you’re not an entrepreneur until you have failed three times. If we publicly vilify people for their every failure, we are not encouraging that entrepreneurship that is vital to creating new jobs and overcoming this recession.

If you’re reading this Sir Fred, I have a suggestion for you that will enable you to keep all your money — in fact make more — and go on a PR offensive. Invest some of your pension directly in small businesses. This will obviously be welcomed by the businesses themselves, and with the right investments, should allow you to increase your wealth. But it would also be a good way to highlight the glacially slow trickle of cash from the public purse down to small businesses.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Austerity Congress: Mobile World Congress 2009

As usual, the last few days spent in Barcelona have flown by. At the world’s largest gathering of mobile phone manufacturers, service operators, network vendors and all the ancillary companies and media, time for quiet contemplation is a rare thing. So it’s only now, sat in a cafe at the airport, consuming the obligatory cerveza and Iberico ham sandwich that I’ve really had time to collect my thoughts about the event.

The first thing to note is that the mobile industry is not immune to the economic downturn. Even if their revenues haven’t yet seen the impact of reduced consumer spending and restricted access to credit, companies at the show were universally conservative in their approach. Most companies brought around 20% fewer staff, and there was none of the extravagant gestures seen in previous years. No all-expenses-paid parties for hundreds of hangers on, no sponsored Smart cars blaring out music around the airport, few monstrous billboards wrapped around whole buildings.

That’s not to say that the event was dull. Two of the eight halls still featured towering stands promoting the latest, flashiest technologies to hit the market. On the consumer side, new handsets featured solar panels, miniature projectors and 3D interfaces. Great accessories from companies like the quirky, French Parrot showed how the mobile phone will increasingly be the hub for our digital lives, allowing the transfer of photos from phone to frame with a wave of your hand, and providing audiophile-quality speakers for your iPhone. On the network side, vendors promoted high-bandwidth all-IP networks designed for super-fast mobile broadband. With the next iteration of the current 3G mobile phone standard still three years out (depending on who you talk to), there was a real resurgence in interest in WiMAX, an alternative technology available today.

But the overriding message was one of optimisation: making the most of what you’ve got. Increasingly vendor marketing is about how products will make the most of the networks’ current investments. While innovation in the consumer device continues apace, it seems the next few years might be a period of retrenchment for the operator networks. They need to get their current networks up to scratch in order to cope with the rapid growth in popularity of today’s technologies.

Mobile broadband take-up — both on devices and laptop dongles — has been spectacular in the UK and other developed markets, to the point where the demand is testing the capabilities of networks in busy areas. That trend is set to continue with Microsoft and Nokia announcing their own equivalents of Apple and Google’s App Stores, to enable users to easily find additional applications for their mobile phones. These applications often require connectivity, increasing the volume of traffic flowing over the networks.

I’ll be interested to see how these new marketplaces stack up against the booming Google Android and Apple iPhone equivalents. And how the networks cope with the continuing boom in network traffic.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Twitter’s Critical Mass Attracts a New Convert

As you will see from the left had side of the page, I have joined the Twittering masses. Rather belatedly, I admit.

I have known about Twitter for a long time, probably since it won an award at SXSW in 2007. However I never saw the value in it for me. Whether or not anyone likes reading them, I like writing my long-form blogs. I wasn’t in the habit of sharing updates about my location, or photos with the world at large. And back in 2007, few of my friends were using Twitter.

Things have changed. Constant updates to my Facebook status and a brief but enjoyable trial of Brightkite on my iPhone have shown me the fun and value of sharing brief, sometimes image-driven updates. Tweets won’t replace my longer entries, but they will supplement them. More and more friends are questioning my non-presence on Twitter. There now seems to be critical mass of users in my community, making it valuable to participate — and possibly costly to remain outside the group.

It is this final factor that has tipped me over the edge. The all-consuming gravity of a networking phenomenon has again pulled me in. Let’s see how long this one lasts. I guarantee it will mean I spend even less time on Facebook.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

You’re a pipe. Now stop being dumb and get on with it. Mobile World Congress ’09

You might not think that the mobile industry could be accused of lethargy. It has been one of the fastest moving sectors for the last twenty years. Yet it has taken the arrival of a range of challengers from the internet for the industry to begin to fulfil its potential.

When I say “the mobile industry”, what I’m really referring to is the old guard. The companies that make up the standards bodies; the ones who’s names are synonymous with mobile; the ones who have been coming to this conference since it was a few dressed tables in a Berlin hotel conference suite. Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Alcatel/Lucent, Nortel et al. And the operators they supply: Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange/France Telecom in Europe, Sprint and Verizon in the US, and all the many others responsible for establishing the major markets around the world.

What these companies have failed to do is understand their own value in the internet era. All have spent the last few years trying to fight the inevitable advance of the internet into mobile devices. They may argue that they have pushed services through as fast as technology and regulation would allow. But in reality they wanted to control the internet, something that has been proven impossible in the fixed line world.

Users want unrestricted access to the world wide web and all of its associated standards and applications. They will pay good money for this access. What they don’t want is walled gardens, restricted by punitive bandwidth charges and the operators’ poor attempts at delivering content.

If the operators had recognised this fact earlier — whether on their own or because they had been convinced of it by the vendors to whom they have historically been so closely tied — then there would have been little room for Google and the Apple to come in and have such a radical impact. The whole nature of the mobile industry is changing. Improving for users, worsening for the operators.

The models of both Google (with its Android software platform for mobile devices, available in the UK on the T-Mobile G1) and Apple (via iTunes and the iPhone) relegate the operator to the position of dumb pipe. A supplier of bandwidth and nothing more. Not only that, they force the operator to handle all the expensive, unpleasant parts of service delivery — billing, sales, customer care — and cream off the most attractive profits — content and services.

It didn’t have to be this way. There is a huge amount of intelligence in mobile networks, and a huge amount of data about users. The mobile operators know your name and address and your billing details. They can find your current location and, given permission, look at all the places you have travelled recently. They know who you call and what content you buy.

Sound scary? Think about how much information most of us happily supply to Facebook, with whom we have no financial relationship. We seem quite happy for Facebook to access this information and act upon it.

Imagine if the mobile operators had understood the value of this data, and the vendors who supplied them had built services and solutions based upon it. Nokia and the other handset manufacturers wouldn’t be fighting for their lives against GPhones and iPhones that overnight made their entire ranges look clunky and dated. And operators would be selling access to data to a variety of applications rather than wasting time trying to be funky content companies.

This is obviously a vastly oversimplified argument. The reality is a lot more complex than this black and white blog can convey. But the point remains: there is money to be made from being a pipe. As long as you’re not dumb about it.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Social Media Genealogy Experiment

I’m increasingly intrigued by my family history. It’s something my dad and his dad before him have been researching for years. Now I hope to contribute by finding out how all the other young people around the world who share our unusual name are related.

I plan to use an approach from my working life. At The Lever we created a process that we call ICDM: Intelligent, Content-Driven Marketing. You can read more about the theory in our white paper (email me for a copy), but for the purposes of this article I’m more interested in the practice.

The first step of an ICDM campaign is to create a hub -usually a website — around which your prospect community can coalesce. Next you select a database of prospects to attract to your hub. Then you target those prospects with a variety of content in order to attract their interest. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the basics.

I plan to apply this process to finding and connecting all of the other young Cheesewrights around the world. My database will be Facebook members named Cheesewright. My hub will be a page based on the free FamilyTree application. The content will be the existing research that my dad has assembled. I’ll attract them with invitations to view and contribute to the tree.

It’s an experiment, and I don’t know what sort of response it will get. But if it works it will be an interesting little case study.

Tom Cheesewright