Friday, September 17, 2010

On inspirational leaders

I've been honoured to spend time this week with some towering figures in British life, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Terry Leahy.

The Tesco boss was speaking at a finance conference in Liverpool this morning, which I chaired. Fergie was the guest at the office opening of Morson's new headquarters in Salford, organised by my good friend Paul Horrocks. There were only business press invited and we kept a respectful distance. I did see the FT man Andy Bounds hovering around him, but that was to get him to sign his son's birthday card. Anyway, the story is here.

I did sit next to Leahy though and introduce his speech. I can't claim that he's my new best mate or anything, in fact I suspect he thought I was a chippy pain in the arse. I asked him, in front of 350 people, about the Everton stadium, which he seemed a bit bored by. He also wasn't that enamoured by one of the other people on the panel talking too much and made a swift exit at the end of the session.

So, one learns from such experiences. One also cannot fail to be impressed by Leahy's observations. Irrespective of his dry delivery, he's inspirational. Despite his position as boss of an all conquering retail brand, he seems empathetic to the issues facing fast growing companies of much smaller size. It might seem obvious, but he says if you want to succeed in business, then you set out to be the best, and if you do, then you get big. That brings its own challenges.

Both men have been successful in their own walk of life. People hang on their every word, what they say matters. What they feel matters too. The good news from Leahy is the recovery seems real. He'd know.

Neither try too hard to play it for laughs either. They don't need to. A mild anecdote brings the house down. Leahy's was that his speech would be like the Everton game v Man United - all the best bits will be at the end.

My biggest laugh of the day came after I introduced the very nice man from the Bank of England, John Young. Insider named him the 100th most powerful man in the North West, which I mentioned. He said he ought to point out that the person at 99 is in fact dead. He is, it's him.

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