Anthony Hilton: We may have led the MCC a merry dance with this festive gathering


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The Independent Online

I have watched a fair amount of cricket at Lord’s over the years but, until Monday night, only once been in the pavilion and never even set foot in the Long Room, still less eaten there. The occasion was the Christmas celebration of the 30 Club, which is an invitation-only dining club whose core members are drawn from the top people in the media advertising and marketing.

Hence the presence of my host for the evening, Amanda Mackenzie, the marketing director of Aviva, and the attendance of a remarkable string of past and present media industry legends – the one-time Emap chief executive Sir David Arculus, creative genius Robin Wight and Saatchi’s Bill Muirhead, as well as more contemporary newsmakers, like the Canadian head of Royal Mail Moya Greene.

If there were any diehard MCC members who were underwhelmed that their hallowed long room should be let out for a festive gathering – let alone one to an industry where a significant number of the leading executives are female – they would have been even less impressed by the entertainment.

Comedian Rory Bremner did a short turn then switched to an onstage interview with Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton du Beke – the one who partnered Ann Widdecombe three years back.

The original idea was also to have Louis Walsh of the X Factor, in homage to the two most successful mass entertainment shows on television, but in the end Mr Walsh could not make it.

However, if any of those present really want to know about the X Factor in business perhaps they should attend the dinner next month back in the usual haunt of Claridge’s.

That is because the January speaker will be Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and a man who really does know what success looks like.

RBS is hammered for tech failure but NATS flies clear

It has been a bad month for computers. Having filled up with petrol on Monday evening a couple of weeks back only to find I could not use my RBS bankcard to pay, this week’s joy was to be stuck at the airport for many hours longer than intended because of systems problems at air traffic control.

But the interesting thing was the public and media reaction. Royal Bank of Scotland was again put through the wringer and although its new chief executive personally went to great lengths to explain what had gone wrong and why, the sniping carried on all week.

National Air Traffic Services in contrast issued the most perfunctory of explanations. Its website said it had a “technical problem…related to the internal telephone system used by our air traffic controllers” which would be fixed “in about six hours”. In fact the knock-on effects of the disruption lasted several days.

Outsiders who know the business say this sounds like NATS attempted an overnight software upgrade which went wrong when it rebooted the system, though NATS had made no comment to this effect.

But the really interesting thing is what it says about attitudes to business. You could argue that the NATS failure was the more serious in terms of economic disruption and the degree of inconvenience caused but you would never guess that from the media coverage.

How exploitation can pay off for workers in the long run

The current Gresham College professor Doug McWilliams is not only a very good economist but he also has a mischievous sense of humour. This prompted him to deliver the latest in his public series of Gresham lectures on Wednesday evening  to the title “Was Karl Marx always wrong?”

Wrong so far, but possibly not for much longer, seemed to be the answer. But his more serious point was that our conventional attitudes to low pay and exploitation should be more nuanced. He argued that the level of corporate profitability needed to get much more attention than it generally does and we really need business to become much more profitable. 

Controversially, he argued that workers in countries who are initially exploited in that they receive very low wages  while their employer makes very large profits, might in fact do better over time than workers in other countries who were initially paid more. This is because those fat profits would allow the business to invest and expand and this would stimulate a faster rate of economic development from which all would benefit.

Stagnant profits  in contrast lead  to stagnant  economies where everyone suffers.