I had a bit of a surprise this week. No it wasn’t seeing Rob Brydon canter over the zebra crossing with his kid right in front of me this morning. Nor was it the guilty verdict handed down to that dirty old git Max Clifford, a man who made a fortune exposing the perverted little peccadillos of many a sleazy celebrity. Isn’t life ironic eh? It will be sweet justice for his victims I guess to see him banged up for a long stretch knowing the lads who will make Max Mad will be lining up in the shower block. No the real surprise was a telephone call from an old colleague, A, from Cellnet days who I hadn’t heard from in almost 25 years. It was an early morning call and he asked about my health and the family, which was decent, but it quickly became apparent that his main purpose in calling was because he had an issue with what I’d written in this blog posting back in 2007:
A said that he had a slightly different perspective on the day’s events. I subsequently re-checked the details in the posting and as far as I’m concerned it’s a fair and accurate reflection of what happened although let’s face it I was recalling things from years beforehand so hey it may have been an imperfect memory. But it seems that A’s main beef was not that I may have got some detail slightly wrong but that I hadn’t taken the trouble to write something more positive about him and the efforts he’d put in for the company, all those years ago. He asked me to write something ‘nice’ and backed up his call with an e-mail message where his need for personal validation was more clearly made. Blimey.
I don’t do this blog to whitewash history and issue platitudes. I write about my feelings on what’s important and what matters to me and if people have problems with my views it’s too bad. Don’t read them. If I’ve said something that’s inaccurate, I’ll correct the error and apologise of course. I don’t mind people being critical in their comments if they don’t agree with my views (as readers may well remember from the Ray Davies posting). I’ve written some strong things about people who I think deserve to be criticised especially in the public domain but on many occasions I’ve also expressed my profound admiration for family, friends and colleagues, artists and sportspeople and other public figures because I genuinely respect them and felt the need to express my thoughts.
I don’t feel the need to airbrush my memories of A necessarily. We were all paid to do a job and he did his well – managing a purpose-designed hospitality unit and a crew of dedicated staff. We entertained dozens of people in the mobile business every week-end and it was always done with a sense of style and panache. We did this for several years and A and his team always delivered a great performance week in, week out as did everyone in the wider marketing and sales teams around these events. But here’s the thing, as an exercise in channel marketing it was lots of fun, cost a lot of money but it just wasn’t effective. The guests would happily take our hospitality but those who had a choice of network operator would generally deliver the primary share of their mobile business to our primary competitor. We were continuously running second in a two horse race. When I eventually became head of this area I changed the direction of the operations away from hospitality and towards a more direct-sales focus. A was never really comfortable with that; he would have preferred things to stay as they were (and with the same people in control I suspect). I knew we needed to change things and A didn’t. Simple as. We continued to do great events in the future but invitations became a reward for business delivered. No longer would it be party first then try and negotiate after. Things eventually changed for the better in terms of Cellnet’s market position but by this stage A and the team had long since moved elsewhere though I thought the parting was pretty amicable and mutually desirable. It’s clear some feelings still run deep.
So there’s the public reassurance of a job well done A but no matter how many nice letters were written by the guests the reality is they were largely playing us. Sorry to shatter your illusions. It took me several years to learn some of the hard lessons of business life and the toughest was that it doesn’t pay to live in the past. It shouldn’t matter what I think or write about the work we did 25 years ago A but it seems to for you. I won’t sugar-coat my feelings; we both did a great job (often saving the company’s reputation as you say) but after a while the exceptional became the norm. The recovery job we did at Brands Hatch after those storms was an even more remarkable achievement than Silverstone but nobody in the senior management team saw it necessary to acknowledge that afterwards. Not a word. If you look for praise it can be elusive. I have some of the happiest memories of my life from those years and the events we did together and let’s leave it at that eh A.