Bottoms up

I had a very interesting response to my observations on the banks and banking. The response came from a well-respected friend of mine, who had a long and distinguished career in another industry. He pointed out that just as bankers no longer run banks, most industries today are more than likely to be run today by business school graduates, rather than someone that has worked his or her way up from the coal face. His conclusion to me was that business schools have a lot to answer for.

I thought back to the start of my career, I was a blue button in the floor of the London stock exchange; it's how everyone who wanted a career in the stock market began. Your tasks were to add the books up (without the aid of a calculator, despite there being one in front of you), send instructions for corporate actions such as the recent Vodafone cash return, and get the fags. In return you stood next to your boss all day and learnt the trade. It meant that when I moved up the ladder, I understood not only how to manage the risk I was running, but I also understood the whole process from execution to settlement - I also knew who was responsible for each task. How can you manage a hotel if you have never worked as a waiter, or an aerospace company if you were not an engineer?

I remember my interview, I did not do psychometric tests or presentations, I spent an hour with a director. I still remember it like it was yesterday, he asked me about school, my ambitions, my love of cricket and what I understood about the stock market. At the end he took a view on me as a person. I always say to those who ask what the difference is between today and when I started, my response is that in those days it was easier to get a job, but far easier to lose it. There were no HR departments or warnings; you were basically told your face did not fit.

It's easy to reminisce about the good old days, but if you don't understand how a business works at the grass roots, how can you run it from the top? I liken it to football; I always wonder how a premier league player can fully accept a manager who has never played the game at the top level. Theory is one thing, knowing what it must be like to pick a pass when, at any moment, someone you can't see is about to clatter you, must be very different.

Business schools have their place, but so does the man with drive, ambition and an understanding of what works in the real world and not just the classroom.

Posted on February 28, 2014 .