Mazda has taken to sugging with glee. It has put billboards up with an invitation attached: "If you think the Mazda 323 leaves the Renault Megane standing, ring 0345 484815. If you do not, ring 484816.
How could I resist? First, I decided I was indeed a great admirer of the Mazda. A lady invited me to press a number that would allow me to hear just what a sensible chap I was. Apparently, "71 per cent of the nation think the Mazda 323 leaves the Renault speechless. You are in the majority." Hurrah!
I'm a fickle sort, however, and decided to dial the other number. I got the German ice maiden treatment: "So, you're against us, are you? Fine. Why not find out how many people are on your side. 29 per cent. You are in the minority." Oh dear. I pressed three to recant.
I am intrigued by this sort of advertising as it is so palpably disingenuous. Self-selecting market research, with nothing to stop people making multiple calls, is not particularly scientific. But it is the assumption that people want to be in the majority that I find so sinister. Or maybe most people do want to be in the majority. That's plain frightening.
Meanwhile, I suggest we all dial the second number over and over again: let's hear it for the Megane!
SOME cracking management books have come to my attention.
Derek Wolsten-Croft of Suffolk has found Downsizing, redeployment and reallocation for the caring asset stripper, which sounds comforting. Alan Jones of Leicestershire has uncovered some down-to-earth paperbacks: Delegate or castrate - employee involvement; Screw your way to success - the Pozidrive method; and the old favourite, Captain Bob's guide to pension fund management.
Tony Lewis of Gwent is sure he saw this book at an airport: How to improve your charisma (honest, he says). Well, I saw someone reading a book called People-centred counselling, so I'll believe anything.
But this week's fizzy bottle has to go to Paul McGhee of South London, who not only provided last week's Profit without people: beyond downsizing, but also unearthed these unmissable volumes: The fractal balance sheet: new techniques in creative accountancy; Outsourcing ownership: how your business can run better without shareholders; and the much-needed, Beyond advice - Tom Peters takes on the myth of management consultancy.
That's not the end, though - I have some offerings from abroad that I will share with you next week. And please let me know of any other titles that come waltzing into your brains.
Russian to the bank
YOU may remember stories from a few years ago of Russians arriving in the West with bags full of currency. Dodgy types, you probably thought, with dark glasses and strangely heavy balalaika cases.
So did I until I met Valery Tsourikov. He is deeply undodgy and this is his story.
In the mid-1970s, Dr Tsourikov was a computer scientist at the University of Minsk who became gripped by an idea - that it should be possible to create a program that would help inventors invent. For the next 14 years he beavered away through the night, distilling all the basic principles of physics and analysing millions of patents to find repeated patterns. His idea was simple - to save people reinventing the wheel, by pointing out that someone else had already done it.
Because he was using Artificial Intelligence, a fearsomely brainy branch of computing, he managed to get on an exchange visit to Imperial College in London in 1986.
Three years later he launched his first version of the product - and at the same time exploited nice Mr Gorbachev's new law allowing individuals to set up companies. Dr Tsourikov's Invention Machines was one of the first private companies to exist in the Soviet Union for 62 years. This was when the fun started.
"I approached the first private bank in Minsk," he says. "It was a man sitting in a corridor in the State Bank. He said: 'This chair is a bank.' I said: 'I have a program and I need half a million roubles and $50,000 in sterling.'
"The banker was so excited. He wrote a letter to the State Bank saying, please give this gentleman the money. I took it to the cashier and showed her the letter. She said: 'It's a pity we only have five-pound notes.' "
And so it was that Dr Tsourikov found himself in London, asking the managing director of a software company if he could buy a pounds 4,000 licence for a particular program he needed.
"He said as a joke that he could sell me the licence straight away if I had cash," explains Dr Tsourikov. "I opened the bag and showed him the notes - he was so excited he called all the employees in to look."
Two years later the Soviet Union had disappeared and Minsk was now in Belorussia. "Everyone said that if you have a product, you should go to New York because every New Yorker has a blank cheque waiting for you. So I went there but found they didn't want to sign their cheques."
In time, however, he started selling his software and Invention Machines is now booming. Its 120 staff are split between Cambridge (Massachusetts), Minsk and St Petersburg. Dr Tsourikov is planning a flotation, and will in due course become a millionaire. If you had suggested such a thing could happen 10 years ago, you would have been mocked.
Funny thing, history.
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- Automotive Equipment (car Industry)
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- Renault (car)