Tuesday, 20 December 2016

It's Christmas Let's Twist and Sprout

This chilly Monday morning a sea of low grey clouds are sleeping peacefully on their bed, or as we would call it “London”. No sign of movement. No sign of getting up and letting the sun shine warmly down upon us. Just fluffy London clouds, calmly stretching far across the Monday morning landscape, peacefully sleeping, oblivious to the London traffic thundering on below.

That’s a rather poetic view I think, but then again as a former banker you would expect me to have a gentle poetic side to my nature. In fact, please allow me to share with you this heart-warming banking poem:

Your bank account is overdrawn,
You’ve spent the lot, the money’s gone,
With interest added debt enlarges,
And just for fun I’ve slapped on charges!

Can’t you just feel the Christmas spirit flooding out from those lines? However it is not this kind of poetry I am referring to, but the poetry of seeing clouds as sleeping, fluffy entities enjoying their rest. You may be wondering if I have started on the Christmas sherry a little bit too early today, but seriously I haven’t. There is method in my madness as I shall now explain.

I started the ‘lending banker’ segment of my career looking after personal borrowing. Every morning I would go through the accounts and make decisions on accounts that had exceeded their limits. Normally a letter about curbing some retail excesses would suffice to get things back on track, though at times it wasn’t so easy. Genuine hardship can befall anyone; sometimes of our own making and sometimes not.

Christmas was a time when a lot of self-generated debt came about. You might think this was the result of extravagance, or an inability to manage money, and you would be right. Usually though it was because people genuinely wanted to give somebody a happy Christmas. They just wanted things to be nice, and their generosity of spirit clouded their financial judgment. I met many decent, genuine people who had walked themselves in to debt this way, and it can be heart-breaking to see.

I didn’t want to see my daughter get in to debt when she was older so I came up with an idea. It was raining one Saturday afternoon – a pleasant gentle autumn rain – and I took her out in to the garden and asked her to show me what she could see, hear and smell. A garden in the rain can be really beautiful if you look, and I explained to her that beauty and happiness does not have to come in a box, or need batteries or cost lots of money. It is there all around us, and it’s free.

Did my cunning plan work? Well since then many years have passed, and my daughter has had more CDs, DVDs, and computer games than I can remember. However, she has grown up with the awareness of money I had hoped for, and she has never wasted money or got in to debt. Most of all she is content with her lot. There is an old Scots saying that applied: if you can’t get what you want then want what you’ve got. This works for her.

So this Christmas I would urge you to heed these words from an ageing (but still extremely good looking) former lending banker: spend a little, make someone happy and keep someone in a job, but equally spend just a little less and sleep peacefully at night. Season’s greetings everyone!

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


Our MBA students have been studying in London over the weekend. One of the highlights was the participation of guest speakers, themselves busy professionals highly proficient in masterly ability. They know the value of masterliness, and their highly informative contribution was very much valued and appreciated by our students and by ECBM.

These students are already making their way in the world, but they realise that a master’s degree develops the mind in such a way that they will become far more creative and original in their thinking, and subsequently more effective and productive in life through synergistic thinking and strategy. They develop masterliness, that intellectual ability to face any fresh challenge, familiar or unfamiliar, and manage it successfully.

In gaining a master’s you are not looking for comparison to others – in fact that is only a small factor – what you are gaining is an intellectual instrument which improves your own personal performance, which is arguably the most important factor of them all. Practical and intellectual synergistic ability are the building blocks of executive management, and it is not uncommon for our students to tell us how studying for their MBA has changed their lives.

I think our government, and especially Prime Minister Theresa May, could do with some of this practical and intellectual synergy just now, as it finds itself in what is being reported as a farce, just when it should be preparing for Brexit negotiations. What a position for a Prime Minister to find herself in. So I guess you want to know what this ‘farce’ is all about? It’s this: Leather trousers!

Yes leather trousers. Evidently the prime minister allegedly paid nearly £1,000 for a pair of leather trousers and was pictured in them when she gave a recent interview. This has launched a range of comments, principally whether it is right or wrong for Mrs May to spend so much on clothing when so many people are struggling in the UK just to get through the month.

“Theresa May's leather trousers prompt political row” trumpeted the BBC News headline. Comments from other MPs criticising her expensive clothes have started to be reported in what is being dubbed ‘Trousergate’, though what connection this has to the late US president Nixon’s Watergate scandal I do not know. Mrs May clearly needs someone to save the day. Someone to get the government back on track, focussing on the really important problems of the day and sorting them out. Yes… “This is a job for Superman!”

What a shame there are no such people as superheroes. Yet wait a moment, there may not be a Superman or Wonder Woman, but there are mortal versions of these people in the business world and they share that one special ability – masterliness – and it is that kind of person, that calibre of person, who will strategise a way out of the government’s present difficulties.

May I suggest Prime Minister that in future you should shop at Primark.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

It’s a freezing cold Saturday morning at the local football club

On hard, frost-laden grass, two junior clubs are lined up against each other ready for the contest. Breath emanating from wind-blushed cheeks turns to mini clouds of vapour in the freezing air, ascending in the same direction as their hopes and dreams as these aspiring stars shiver with a potent mixture of freezing air and adrenaline. Parents watch from the touchline, scarf-laden and hands in pockets. The whistle blows.

I think at this point I should admit that I don’t really enjoy football and I don’t support any team. I was only ever interested in the business side. Then one day one of my students explained to me that there is much more to football than just the games played, the ticket sales, the revenue streams and the merchandising. There is a human element - a heart and soul - and that is what I had been missing.

He explained that a team is the most human of structures. With its inherent human faults it battles on, then it loses, but it won’t give up, so it battles on again, it loses again, and still it battles on, and next time it wins through, and then yes it wins again! On and on the football ‘dance’ continues with faith and passion! Players, management and supporters together morph in to the collective heart and soul of a team striving to make their hopes and dreams a reality.

A few days ago the hopes and dreams of Brazil's Chapecoense football team, so positive and so buoyant, ended on the side of a mountain in Columbia. Millions of people around the world found themselves emotionally in touch with the Chapecoense heart and soul which clearly continues to live and touch people’s lives, and long may it do so.

As a teacher of ethics I have often looked for answers to life’s tragedies in philosophy, but I don’t ever find them. Are they not there or have I just not come across them yet? Should philosophy be a tool used to uncover life’s mysteries, or an instrument through which known elements of life can be explained?

I have learned from others who have been through profound tragedies that if you have to get wet in the storm then you should be determined to enjoy the smell of the wet grass and the freshness of the air which accompanies the storm. What I like in this approach is that it is positive, personal and self-contained. It does not require any well-meaning but ineffectual kind words from others. It is bespoke and self-determined.

I don’t know how the families, friends and supporters of those who died in the crash will deal with their personal tragedy. However I do hope that they can connect to the positive outpouring of all those who mourn with them, and that this will nourish them in a way which is right for them. I also hope that next Saturday two more teams - those most human of structures - are out on the field in the freezing cold, adrenaline pumping, parents and friends shivering on the touchline, and that the dance will go on and on.

This blog is dedicated to the Chapecoense team.

Graham Harman-Baker