David Parkin on a looming Balloon challenge and the wisdom of Cellino

David Parkin on a looming Balloon challenge and the wisdom of Cellino

IT still ranks as one of the biggest challenges of my working life. Give me an arrogant company chairman or cabinet minister to interview, or even the cashflow demands that come from running a business, and I’ll tell you that either are easier than the Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate. It is more than two years since I was “volunteered” to take part in a ‘balloon debate’ at the Lord’s Taverners eve of test dinner in Leeds. But what is a Balloon Debate? Simples. It involves four individuals speaking to the audience about their sporting hero. The premise is that all four speakers are in a balloon which is thousands of feet in the air but losing height. One of them is voted out after they have all spoken for six minutes, another when the remaining trio have each spoken for another four minutes and then one more when the last pair have spoken for a final two minutes each. Given I was up against popular Look North presenter and sports broadcaster Harry Gration; sports commentator John Helm – who has covered the last three Olympic Games – and comic actor Gordon Kennedy – Little John on TV’s Robin Hood and the star of comedy series Absolutely – then you can imagine my trepidation. I decided at the time that it was all about your subject – forget a sporting hero and pick someone there was plenty of stories about. That’s what led me to Frank Worthington. The colourful former footballer’s autobiography was entitled ‘One Hump or Two?” He might have been credited with scoring one of the best goals...
David Parkin on the Leeds United circus, intellectual curiosity and global ambition

David Parkin on the Leeds United circus, intellectual curiosity and global ambition

MASSIMO Cellino has been in charge of Leeds United for barely 18 months but his latest managerial sacking was greeted with a grim inevitability by long-suffering supporters of the Championship team. Are fans of the club today paying the price for something that happened in a previous life? Or is it payback time for all those vicious tackles during the Revie era? Whether you support Leeds or not, it is a very sad predicament for a club that should be supping at the top table of English football year-in, year-out. Instead, what I think is the biggest one-club city in Europe is reduced to the role of jester in English football. You can almost hear fans of other clubs, whatever their size and situation, saying: “Well, at least we aren’t Leeds.” Fans of the team have a gallows humour sharper than the axe with which the club owner chops his managers. While media headlines and social media commentators trotted out well worn cliches this week such as “panto season comes early at Leeds” or “former giant reduced to football laughing stock” Leeds fans were remarking that they thought Uwe Rosler had a good run as manager – a lengthy 12 games in charge. You see Cellino doesn’t normally give his managers that long. He’s a man whose decision making could at best be described as erratic, and, less charitably, as maniacal. He snorts in the face of those who counsel patience. At least he’s consistent. In Italy, he was nicknamed Il mangia-allenatori, “the manager eater” after dispensing with 36 managers in 22 years at Cagliari. And after the appointment...
David Parkin on The Apprentice, football fame, rugby woe and Blanc expressions

David Parkin on The Apprentice, football fame, rugby woe and Blanc expressions

I THOUGHT I recognised one face among the eager bunch who make up the latest intake on BBC TV show The Apprentice. Ruth Whiteley is the oldest of this year’s candidates at 47 and has a forceful enough personality to either win her tasks and impress Lord Sugar enough for him to invest £250,000 into her business venture, or to annoy him so much that he boots her out early on. The Harrogate-based sales training consultant turned up in the first episode wearing what looked like Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat and even admitted in her audition video that she is “a bit gushing” and his beardy Lordship might find her a trifle “over-zealous”. He has a history of chucking out gobby women. I doubt he was first in the queue at the Hackney Odeon to see the new film Suffragette. I met Ruth when she and two colleagues came into TheBusinessDesk.com a few years ago to give our sales team some training. Sales people are a difficult bunch to manage and so I sat in on the session but quickly became the referee as our sales team decided they didn’t need any advice and the trainers suggested they needed plenty. I couldn’t argue with Ruth’s enthusiasm – she had it in buckets. She came up with the word gushing to describe her approach and listening in to one of her sales cold calls I felt sorry for the person at the other end, soaked in false bonhomie. I’m sure that approach works for certain businesses, but I always knew that the key to successful sales for a media business was...
David Parkin on Arabian days and nights, the PwC connection and salt beef success

David Parkin on Arabian days and nights, the PwC connection and salt beef success

THERE are worse ways to wake up than pulling back your curtains and seeing the shimmering blue sea of the Persian Gulf beyond a golden white beach. I’m on a trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai as a guest of Etihad Airways and Hyatt Hotels as they showcase these twin pillars of success. I’ve visited Dubai a few times before but this is my first visit to Abu Dhabi and I’d assumed that it was following the blueprint of its neighbour as part of its inexorable development plans. To the visitor it often looks like the strategy employed in the United Arab Emirates is to just build something that is bigger and better than the last skyscraper down the road. But it is much more than that. Where Dubai has focused on becoming a leisure and shopping destination, Abu Dhabi is looking at the arts for its future. The Louvre museum is due to open here soon followed by the Guggenheim. As somebody explained to me – museums always have more pieces of art and artefacts than they can actually display, so why not put them somewhere people can enjoy them? It is an approach that some of the UK’s cash-strapped museums should adopt. However you get the impression that the arty types that run them might look down their noses at something that actually might be commercially successful. In the case of the British Museum, I bet most of its treasures can’t be take abroad because the countries we originally pinched them from would try to claim them back. Anyway, back to my job (it’s not a holiday,...
David Parkin on John Lewis, celebrating Asian enterprise and cultural ambassador Ronnie Pickering

David Parkin on John Lewis, celebrating Asian enterprise and cultural ambassador Ronnie Pickering

FRESH from the opening of the new John Lewis store in Birmingham, the store chain’s chief executive was in Leeds this week to take part in a discussion about leadership in the 21st century. Given that John Lewis is a partnership founded by a man born in the Victorian era, you might have expected Andy Street, the current custodian of the organisation, to have outlined how touchy-feely it is. But as soon as he bounded on stage at the Leeds Community Foundation event at Leeds Town Hall, you could see that the wiry, energetic CEO has the qualities to ensure John Lewis is a 21st century business. He’s already looking forward to the opening of their next store in Leeds in just over 12 month’s time. He showed a short film clip of an interview with founder John Spedan Lewis, which must have been filmed towards the end of his life (he died in 1963). His values in founding John Lewis, are still held dear today. But while John Lewis tries to do the right thing by its 90,000 ‘partners’ and the communities in which it operates, Street warned that to be successful and sustainable, an organisation like his always has to “follow the customer”. The event at the Town Hall also featured Estelle Brachlianoff who runs the UK and Ireland water, waste and energy operations of international group Veolia. That prompted Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who chaired the discussion, to quip that if Andy Street of John Lewis has been dubbed the ‘King of Quality’ then Estelle might be known as ‘The Queen of Rubbish’. Baroness Warsi told the...