Sunday 03 March 1996
Personally, I believe the Government has missed an obvious trick in its rather bizarre bid to introduce competition on to our railways. Having paid some remarkable prices for some remarkably bad food on trains, it seems obvious that every long-distance train should have two buffets, each run by a different company. If they were next to each other there would be healthy competition, which might even lead to edible sandwiches and reasonable prices. There would of course be a danger of collusion, so the Government would have to set up a regulator on the lines of Ofgas. I suggest it be called Offeggsandwich.
MY ATTEMPT last week to smoke out half-a-dozen Welsh entrepreneurs was not terribly successful. One letter accused me of racial stereotyping; another listed 10 famous Belgians. Thank you.
Fortunately, a reader who wants to protect his identity has produced a couple of contenders. Only one counts, in the sense that he is alive. Oddly, he comes from a town I keep on mentioning, Pembroke Dock. His name is Govan Davies, and he made a heroic attempt to revive the old dockyard town and turn it into a major port. He failed, mainly because of the recession, but I gather Mr Davies is not the sort of man to stay down for long - most important, he's a real entrepreneur.
The other is Sir Josiah Guest. He proves that even if the Welsh are a bit too keen on politics and journalism now, there was a time when they could create wealth with the best of them. He lived from 1785 to 1852 and was the grandson of John Guest, whose company later joined up with Messrs Keen and Nettlefold to form GKN. According to the Dictionary of Eminent Welshmen (pub 1908), he was a steelmaster who "by extraordinary skill and enterprise greatly increased productivity" at the Dowlais Iron Works he had inherited. As my informant points out, English manufacturers would have been stuffed without his like. He was also "notably benevolent". What a nice chap.
Before we leave the Welsh, I have to tell you about an organisation promoting itself on the Internet under the name "The Taffia". The idea is that business people should use their Welsh connections ruthlessly to get on in the world, and the promoters have drawn up a list of countries in which they hope to find suitable Welsh contacts. These include Greenland, Romania and Pakistan. I wish them luck.
They do like Monday
I HAVEN'T seen too many examples of progressive management recently, so I was delighted to learn about the way that Maplin's, an electronic components company near Barnsley, starts the week. The first thing the workers do on a Monday morning is to play bingo.
Honest. They gather in the staff canteen, are handed their (bingo) cards, and the buying director Geoff Clark starts off with the "88: two fat ladies" routine. The winner can get up to pounds 50; afterwards they sit around and talk about how the last week went and generally communicate in a thoroughly modern manner. "It's just a fun way to start the week and helps to get rid of Monday morning blues," Mr Clark says.
But it really is very clever because the prize pot depends on how many orders Maplin's won the previous week. So as well as getting the workers in a reasonable mood before they start packing capacitors and diodes, it gives them a direct link with the fortunes of the company. As one employee says, "it gives us something to look forward to and a feeling of camaraderie."
A CHUM was in Stockholm recently looking at the Finnish teletext news service (don't ask why, but he's very fulfilled really). It was, he tells me, in Latin. This is good. The Finns know full well that their language is so impenetrable that it is pointless broadcasting it outside their home territory. But they refuse to switch to English, which is the obvious cop-out, and stick instead to that much underused business resource, Latin. Hurrah for them, I say.
DID YOU know, by the way, that the longest single-word palindrome in any language is in Finnish? That Finnish, indeed, is the language of palindromes? Try this: saippuakauppias, which means soap dealer. Impressed? Well, wait for this ... probably the longest palindromic word anywhere is solutomaattimittaamotulos - "the result from a measurement laboratory for tomatoes".
And what would my chum have said to the man from Finnish telly in Stockholm? "Ni talarbra latin," of course, which means "You speak good Latin" in Swedish, and is a palindrome.
What has this to do with business? Good question. BUT, it is a way of introducing a Bunhill competition: the best business-linked palindrome. As starter I offer "A Toyota" (even better in capital letters because it also works in a mirror) and "A Toyota's a Toyota". Bottles of fizz for the best ones. NB: ICI is unlikely to win ...
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