Corporate Culture Interview

Jozef Opdeweegh – Corporate Culture Interview

Video Transcription


Jos, we wanted to talk today about driving transformation through corporate culture it’s a phrase we hear a lot about corporate culture. What does it actually mean to you?

What is Corporate Culture?

Corporate culture, in my mind, is the what is corporate culture combination of a set of core behaviors and values that unify a group. Unifies if you want a group of people, whether it’s a corporation, whether it’s an association of people or what have you, and so on.

Corporate Context

Corporate culture is the set of core behaviors and core values that unify, in our particular case, the citizens if you want to connect a group, it’s hard to encourage in a bigger environment.


The company but there are a lot of factors in the environment that also determines, obviously, how hard it is to implement cultural change, and the legacy of the business is one of them. You may have a small company that has a certain legacy that stems from a much larger PLC background or may have had a much larger market gap. It is complex for instance, Connect Group is a good example, I would say there are other elements, such as the average tenure of

the workforce if you have a younger workforce, it’s easier to implement cultural change, and if you have all the work for us if you work in a very competitive environment where you have

to show agility because of the competitive framework. Where you have to be creative and you have to come up with new ideas or new products that are an easier environment because it’s much less change of first than other environments. So, there are a lot of sort of dynamic aspects that surround if you want an organization that determines how quickly you can implement change, but as a rule, it’s easier, obviously, in smaller organizations than our large organizations.


Experience in evolving corporate cultures what would your tips be house should we go about I think it’s about repeat repeat repeat I think it’s about starting every meeting after you do your

safety message with the core behaviors that typify the citizen of connect group and not

just in the sense of ‘hey, these are our six or behaviors or core values,’ no utilize specific examples of how adhering to those core behaviors has helped the organization or the individual and in terms of achieving certain personal goals or certain professional goals. That’s the way to start I think every meeting in addition to that we.


have to carry the message the leadership team has to carry the message when we do

our town halls; we have to talk about culture time and time again I always say if you don’t get tired of hearing yourself talking about the core behavior, you should haven’t spoken about

them enough, it’s almost a politician’s life if you want in terms of talking about that specific topic. But it’s extremely important, and one of the things that I would say are the larger the task is the transformational task that’s in front of you, the larger the importance becomes of the corporate culture and the larger the importance of having everybody aligns in terms of behaviors become right so, I would.


Say corporate culture is also a very important tool and in accelerating large transformational tasks, and we shouldn’t of course, engage in an exercise of self-deception cultural change takes

time but most certainly you accelerate the process by talking about it and by giving specific examples and by making it a living conversation rather than you know some words on a poster somewhere it’s written on the wall, yes thank you very much for sharing

your views, thank you.

The Coins in Our Pockets 

Originally Published in Fair Value

The coins we carry in our pockets are in many ways remarkable. Their heritage, as tokens of nominal value, stretches back to the very origins of trade. From the first crudely minted discs to today’s complex designs, coins have enabled more than mere exchange: they facilitate our movement, support complex transactions, and are founded on communal trust. In a sense, they are a physical embodiment of millennia of human industry and invention—the ultimate everyday symbol of our collective achievements.

And yet, how often do we stop to examine them? Unless you’re a numismatist like me, I suspect you seldom give them much thought. This is a pity, for their designs alone can remind us of what we owe to others and the past. On every US coin, for example, is minted the motto, e pluribus unum (Out of Many, One), which refers to the union of states and the idea that we are more than the sum of our parts.

In writing the essays in this book, I’ve come to reflect on my personal journey, not only as a leader in business but, more broadly, as a father, statistician, and sports fan. No matter how we define ourselves or measure our success, I’m more conscious than ever that unless we live like Robinson Crusoe, we must all give thanks and pay tribute to others. Those of us who’ve risen to senior positions have an even greater obligation to do so.

Working and Collaborating with Others Matters

Malcolm Gladwell, in his debut book, The Tipping Point, wrote of the importance of Mavens-those persons whose knowledge and wisdom plays a vital role in the adoption of popular trends. Often, in organizations and social movements, we can trace seminal decisions back to their influence. At a personal level, too, most of us can name individuals to whom-either directly or by way of a connected thread— we can link the progress and direction of our lives.

Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to work at a financial organization for a leader who combined the expectations of hard work and analysis with a softer side that took time to encourage a young man to make the most of his talents. It was through him that I first learned the value of communicating with care and the power of modesty as a means to motivate. He showed me, too-and with great patience on his part-that mistakes are part of our progress.

Firmness of Mind Matters, but so does Action 

Later, on my first appointment as a CEO, I was blessed with a chairman who taught me much about the need for the firmness of mind. Leadership—and indeed many of the big decisions in our lives can be beset by doubtful voices, which, if we allow them to become too loud, result only in mixed messages and vacillation. It was through him that I learned to marry an openness to new ideas with a necessary clarity of purpose and direction. As we’ve seen, Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness, talked of something similar: when faced with conflicting options, he said we must act on the best available information and then hold to our decision unless or until there is clear evidence to the contrary.

The reference to Russell illustrates that great minds have never been more available to us. Bookshops and libraries are a wellspring of wisdom-so to the internet if we use it with care. In this respect, some of my mentors are people I’ve never met-and, yet through their works, I’m constantly learning, continually challenged, and forever curious. It has long struck me as a sadness that so many college graduates give up their studies to begin their careers. That’s not to say we should all be academics in our spare time, but maintaining that essential curiosity feeds and pays tribute to the wonderful gift that is our collective understanding.

Mentorship and Positive Role Models Matter

I learned this from my father, a quintessential polymath and my greatest mentor and friend in life; the debt I owe to him and his gentle influence cannot be overstated. Of course, when I say debt, I really mean gratitude, for, like all the best mentors, he would not wish for payment. This reminds me of a former colleague who had an unrelenting belief in our duty to make better decisions, always seeking to test and improve for the benefit of all. He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met and yet, far from displaying the hubris of certainty, he tenaciously challenged the status quo, blending a scientific mindset with a kindness and warmth that spoke to and quietly enhanced—my personal values.

And isn’t this what great mentors do?

Epiphanies Happen but Not All the Time 

Very few of us experience a “Road to Damascus” moment that changes our outlook overnight. Indeed, my core beliefs in liberalism, meritocracy, and a duty of care to those less fortunate have not radically changed since my college days. But by learning from the perspectives and wisdom of others around me, those convictions have been enriched and refined. I hope this never ceases; I hope, too-as, they would remind me—that I remain open to the evangelism of a sort, for there is merit in radical thinking if we are to make step changes. Liberté, égalité, fraternité the motto of the French Revolution (and on the reverse of its Euro coins)-is a useful reminder that the values we hold most dear were once heretical thoughts.

But whether our knowledge is founded on education or epiphany makes little difference to our dues. Science and mathematics are a ten-thousand-year endeavor; democracy-and much of our philosophy-comes from ancient Greece; the very languages we use to communicate are founded on social constructs. Similarly, today, our industries, our health services, our transportation careers, and the opportunities which come with them are built on the efforts of our forebears and contemporaries.

In writing these essays, I’m clearer than ever that the idea of the self-made person is contradictory to an interdependent, multicultural, increasingly global world. We are, all of us, carried on the shoulders of giants. Even a genius like Leonardo da Vinci served as an apprentice; those of us less gifted are-in a sense-bound to a lifetime of learning from others. We should see that as joy-not a trial, as a credit, not a debit—in the balance sheet of life. Or perhaps, as two sides of the same coin-the many and the one, each dependent on the other.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Just occasionally, we come across something – a person, a performance, a project – that metaphorically hits us in the solar plexus. An encounter so stunning that it takes time to process; for all that, we intuit its significance, even if we don’t quite know why. The experience can be unsettling, and yet it’s compelling, too, reminding us that there’s more to life than the familiar paths and patterns we so easily follow.

By their very nature, we can’t know when these encounters will occur. This is why it’s so important to be open to new – and even challenging – possibilities. The idea that we’ll find fresh insight and invention every day is a sort of contradiction in terms. And while that might be comfortable for some, it’s not the route to growth – be it in business, in life, or simply in ourselves.   

In my case, the latest instance happened at the movies.

Banshees of Inisherin and Life’s Purpose

A few weeks ago, I went to see the magnificent (indeed, I’d go so far as to call it a masterpiece) Banshees of Inisherin. Directed by Martin McDonagh, the film has won a plethora of awards and is about as far from a Spielberg blockbuster as you could imagine. Yet, so impactful did I find it that I’ve replayed it in my mind ever since: its beauty, its layering, the dark comedy that compliments an unfolding as brutal as it is mesmeric. 

But the purpose of my writing here is not to critique the movie. You can find that elsewhere, and many of you may already have seen it. For those who haven’t, the narrative centers on the unraveling of a friendship in the background of the Irish Civil War. It explores themes of life’s purpose, despair, honesty, and humanity – and in truth, that’s a shortened list, for I could just as easily have chosen retribution, fate, or even mythology. And if all that sounds complex, then I guess it is.

Quality Comes at a Price 

But then, that’s the way with quality; it’s never fake or superficial, which means it invariably comes at a price. The cost isn’t necessarily financial; it might be cerebral or emotional, requiring tough choices or letting go of that which we yearn to hold onto. As I write, I’m aware these too are themes of the film…. But aren’t they also themes of life and love and (dare I say it) even leadership, in its broadest sense? 

Quality is Linked to Care

Robert Pirsig, who wrote Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, argued that quality was inextricable from care; that almost anything we do is better experienced – or managed – if we have a deeply felt concern for the issue at hand. And while I can’t prove that theory, I can sense its intuitive wisdom. Perhaps the genius of the Banshees of Inisherin is that as I watched — at times open-mouthed — I felt the agony of the characters and was so desperately sad at the inevitability of their fates – even that of the poor wee donkey!

There’s No Going Back

The ending, like this piece, is open to interpretation. But one message is clear: we can’t undo the past, just as I can’t un-watch the film. The truth is, some choices are so significant — and some events so seminal —that there’s no going back. That’s not a reason not to make them, though, because, unsettling though they are, they are also the ones that make life worth the candle. 

Match of The Day and the Whistle of Free Speech

This weekend, the BBC’s flagship soccer or football program, Match of the Day, aired without any of its celebrity presenters. For almost sixty years, MOTD has been the most popular football show in the UK and, indeed, worldwide. Its long-time host, Gary Lineker is a national hero and former winner of the Golden Boot, the equivalent of the Most Valuable Player in the League – he’s also a vocal user of social media, with a following that matches his public profile. And it is this that has brought him into conflict with his employer. 

What happened with Match of the Day and Lineker

Last week, Lineker posted a personal tweet expressing heartfelt outrage at the UK Government’s proposals to deport thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda or their country of origin. He believes the policy to be ‘immeasurably cruel’ and said as much; the BBC, in its turn, suspended him from the air, and his co-host refused to act as stand-in.

The Match of the Day Fall-Out 

In events reminiscent of a satirical farce, the situation has been so mismanaged that other presenters and journalist withdrew their services, resulting in the cancellation of several more flagship programs. The BBC hierarchy has been widely criticized for heavy-handed tactics, selective application of its policies, and a blind spot to the optics of its own inconsistencies —not the least of which is its Chairman’s role in arranging an £800,000 loan to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

All these issues have been extensively reported in the UK press, and as I write the situation may yet take a different turn. What’s more, I recognize that any summary of this sort risks omitting or emphasizing certain subtleties, for which I would ask your understanding. I’m merely trying to précis the background so that we can proceed to more material discussion.

And what is certainly agreed by all sides is that concern over immigration and how best to manage the number of arrivals is one of the most contentious in UK politics, cutting through party lines and dividing opinion across the entire social spectrum.  It’s therefore not surprising that Lineker, as with millions of others, has a strongly held opinion on the Government’s proposals.  

The difficulty, according to the BBC, is not his right to have a view but its statutory duty to be politically impartial. The Corporation claims that because of Lineker’s unique public profile, he must remain silent on politically sensitive issues, even when speaking as a private individual, on channels that have no connection to the public service and regardless that he is a freelance contractor and a sporting personality, not a directly employed current affairs commentator. 

Lineker is Right

For the record, I agree with the thrust of Lineker’s comments. The Government’s policy strikes me as ill-considered and lacking in the compassion I’d expect from one of the world’s richest nations. I make this declaration for reasons that I will come back to later but it should be clear that arguing for one side or the other on this policy divide is not the purpose or central thread of this article. If in the meantime, you get hung up on my particular view, you will be missing the point!

The Big Issue with the Lineker Debacle

For the heart of the matter that concerns me – and the bigger issue that I believe the Lineker debacle raises —is whether it’s a good or bad thing that our public figures (including those with profiles on the BBC) feel able to speak freely on political matters.  This is a separate issue to whether Lineker is right or wrong in their assessment of the Government’s policies. 

Rather, it is a question of whether, by limiting the freedom of its contracted presenters to express opinions offline and off the air, the BBC is undermining our wider responsibility to promote the robust and respectful debate that is critical to the proper functioning of a democracy.

In Defense of Free Speech

The late Christopher Hitchens was a Neo-Marxists whose views on many matters I disagree with strongly. But he was spot on in his passionate and very public defense of freedom of expression. Opinions that offend or appear plainly ridiculous ought never to be shut down, he said. Rather they should, in a sense, be encouraged and then countered with the robust argument that shows them to be false, illogical, prejudiced… or, in rarer cases, to acknowledge they may have some grain of truth from which we might learn. 

Hitchens, who died in 2011, was fully aware of the potentially divisive and, at times, the disproportionate impact of platforms like Twitter, and yet he never once averred from his view that free speech was worth whatever discomfort and difficulties it caused – even to the BBC!

Social Media Trolls Stifle Debate 

We live today in a world that has more channels and platforms for opinion and debate than ever before.  And yet, many of our most knowledgeable individuals, who could add so much to intelligent debate —and especially those with a public or corporate profile—are deeply reluctant to engage, fearing the backlash of social media trolls, cancel culture, and the Lord of the Flies mentality that’s typical of pressure groups that show no respect for the underlying freedoms that allows them to pursue their own particular agendas.  The hounding of those who dare to express polarizing opinions is well known, but it’s clear the reluctance to speak out now goes much wider than just these issues.

Everyone Should be Concerned about the Public Discourse  

This should concern us all far more than the BBC’s supposed pursuit of impartiality.

To put it plainly, we are now so impoverished in our public debate of sensitive issues that we need to encourage and not dissuade our public figures and influencers from speaking out. To do so, we need institutions like the BBC to be leaders in showing that it’s possible for public figures to express an opinion without vilification, threats of losing their job, or suggestions that they ‘get back in their box’. Indeed, unless there are overwhelming public interest considerations, I’d suggest that promoting free speech and supporting (even celebrating) those with the courage to speak their mind should trump supposed impartiality every time.

I support Lineker’s Comments 

Which is why I declared my hand earlier in support of Lineker’s comments. Not because my views matter in the scheme of things, but because we have to start somewhere – and if I’m writing this piece, then I need to live by that value too. Indeed, let me go further: I believe the immigration policies of the UK to be deplorable, the influence of politics on the BBC unacceptable, and Gary Lineker is absolutely correct in what he states. His 1930s comparisons may be hyperbolic, but he is absolutely on the right side of this argument, which is shameful in a constitutional democracy. 

That is strongly put and deliberately so.  The central point I’m making is that if you disagree with me, let’s not cancel the discussion—let’s exchange views, enrich the debate, agree to disagree…  That’s what healthy and respectful democracy is about, and we are all of us better off for its flourishing, which is why I say more power to Lineker and his like.  Living with a little tension in the corridors of the BBC is a small price to pay for a public discourse that isn’t cowed by cancel culture or sanitized by the powers that be. 

In fact, to my mind, that’s what true public service broadcasting is meant to achieve. 

The Diversity Dividend

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with many executives who take pride in having an ‘open door’ policy. Their approach is founded on the idea that every employee should feel able – and indeed, be encouraged – to make suggestions on the policy and performance of the organization. It’s an excellent ethic and an important signal from those notionally at the top that the best insights often come from colleagues who are closest to the action. I try to keep my door open every day! 

Staffing for the Diversity Dividend isn’t Easy

But the idea that by living this policy, we are open to truly different perspectives can be misleading.  At its most basic, the diversity of opinions we receive rather depends on who comes through the door. If our organization is overwhelming peopled by white middle-class graduates, then it’s likely that the views expressed will converge around that particular cultural outlook. Similarly, as was typically the case early in my career, if the gender bias is predominantly male, then the feedback will have its equivalent limitations.  

The need to embrace difference is rightly higher than ever in our consciousness and increasingly enshrined in legislation and corporate governance.  A growing culture of meritocracy is helping too, driving social mobility not only in companies but in schools, universities, and recruitment processes.  The examples I mentioned above include race, social class, and gender, but diversity definitions also extend to age, sexual orientation, faith, disability, and even cognitive mindset.

Many Organizations Still Have Homogenous Thinking

This latter point is especially interesting because, from a pure performance perspective, it’s arguable that the key benefit of diversity is to challenge our most comfortable notions with constructive alternatives. A Board made up entirely of extrovert thinkers – regardless of their race, gender, or social class – is less rounded and adaptive than one that includes a compensating balance of more reflective mindsets. We have long understood that the most successful teams are built on a mix of mutually supportive skills, and yet too many organizations are still characterized by homogenous reasoning, even if roles and responsibilities are well-defined.

It seems to me that opening the ‘doors of our mind’ to thinking differently is perhaps the greatest diversity challenge.  Only entrenched bigots would today deny the moral force of, say, ethnic and gender equality; most of us go further and acknowledge the wider definitions and categories I referred to above.  But it is something slightly different – and indeed, especially difficult – to diversify our internal rationality and logic. If you doubt this, think for a moment about your attitude to personal risk and ask what it would take to change your mindset.

Diversity Dividend – There Are Legitimately Different Methods of Reasoning

Risk is not necessarily the best example, but it serves to illustrate that there are legitimately different methods of reasoning and that true wisdom comes only after listening and considering the full range of relevant perspectives. This is what I call the ultimate diversity dividend. Embracing difference in both its external and internal manifestations will reward us at every level and every day, not only because it is right ‘in and of itself’, but because a flexible mindset – in tandem with a diverse organization – will deliver better and more sustainable decisions. 

Before concluding, eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I referred above to ‘relevant’ perspectives. It’s a small but often overlooked aspect of diversity that’s worth a moment’s reflection, too. 

If I have a health issue, I would be well advised to consult with a range of medical practitioners, but I’m unlikely to solicit the views of the local mountaineering club. On the other hand, if I were in need of an environmental risk assessment, they might be an interesting group to call upon. The point is that both tangible and cognitive diversity needs to be appropriate to the task; as my children remind me, asking folk over fifty for their views on the latest popular music is not the best focus group.

But even then, there may be exceptions.  So, while the door of my office is not open for anyone on the street, the doors of my mind are never firmly locked. And you know what – and here’s a thought to finish on – there being so is one of the greatest joys in my life. From people to politics, faith to agnosticism, age to youth, ethnicity to orientation… it is surely our variety and difference that makes our lives so worthwhile. That’s a dividend more valuable than gold, and the really beautiful thing is that it’s freely available to us all.

An Alternative World Cup

For the last month, the eyes of the sporting world have been fixed on a Middle Eastern Emirate, one-tenth of the size of New York State. In what has been the most political FIFA World Cup to date, the litany of controversies has, at times, threatened to overshadow the spectacle. Like most fans I’m thankful that sport has ultimately shone through; but like many others, I’m left uneasy at the wider context and particularly our willingness to wash over issues that we would not tolerate at home.

From media coverage in the run-up to the finals, I was surprised to learn that Qatar is effectively a modern creation, gaining independence as recently as 1971. It’s a ruling system, however, is nearer to medieval. The Emir (Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani) holds all power, appoints his own government, controls the courts… and no doubt sanctioned the bribes that allegedly secured the World Cup finals in the first place. In a country with a population of 2.5 million, fewer than 320,000 are citizens, enjoying a per capita income that’s the fourth highest in the world.

Qatar is Not Free

The quid pro quo for these native Qataris is the sacrifice of their freedom. They are caught in the classic position of a ‘complicit elite’, knowing their country is out of step with modern values but fearful that change would harm their privileged position. And so they — and to some extent, we too — live with the absurdity of hosting the showpiece of a sport that promotes diversity, inclusion, and opportunity in a tin-pot nation-state that does precisely the opposite.

Of course, not every nation in the World Cup finals has a liberal system of government. Of the 32 countries, less than a quarter are classified (albeit extremely toughly) as ‘full democracies’ by the longstanding Economist Intelligence Unit survey. More positively, the Freedom House Index would rate around three-quarters of free societies in the broadest sense. Notwithstanding the variance, there are a number of participants from what are clearly authoritarian regimes, including the hosts, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

FIFA Gives the Games on Human Rights & Democracy

Thinking about all this, I began daydreaming of an alternative format in which the games were decided on values rather than goals. In my imaginary world, FIFA stood for the International Federation of Freedom and Association — with contests that matched the countries on their human rights and democracy records, playing extra time with political engagement, empowerment of women, or lack of corruption. How might the teams do then I wondered, and who would reach the round of eight, semis, and ultimate play-off?

Looking at the various indices for democracy and freedom you could be forgiven for feeling depressed. Whole swathes of the world’s population live under repressive regimes or what is euphemistically described as ‘hybrid’ systems. The Middle East — except for Israel — is wall-to-wall autocracy; Africa has a few beacons of hope but is otherwise pretty bleak. And let’s not be complacent about those closer to home — to my mind, one of the greatest sadness of this century has been the retreat of democracy in countries such as Hungary, Turkey, and the majority of the Balkan States. 

But if this paints a gloomy picture, there is brighter news from my fantasy alternative…

For in fact, the results would not be that different to those which played out. In the real world England thrashed Iran and drew with the USA (seems about right?), Argentina beat Mexico, The Netherlands trounced Qatar, and Saudi Arabia failed to make it through the group stages. I’m cherry-picking here of course, but with a few exceptions (Canada and Switzerland really ought to have done better) and recognizing that there has to be victors, it’s been a strong World Cup for values.  Morocco has been the surprise and perhaps outlying team (they rate at best mid-range on most indices) — let’s hope their success on the field acts as a fillip for their country’s freedoms too. 

More Freedom Often Means More Talent

In many ways, these results should be no surprise. For there’s long been a proven correlation between liberal democracy and the unleashing of talent. Some — me included —would argue it is more causal in its nature. The very act of freeing people from restraints turbocharges the abilities and creativity we all possess in some measure. And from these richer pools of opportunity emerges, ultimately, the flair and genius that we see in Messi and Mbappé. Does anyone seriously think they would have been as likely to flourish in Russia?

This capacity transcends wealth too. Qatar and the Middle Eastern emirates are a-typical outliers in that other long-standing correlation — the one between freedom and prosperity. They may have the cash to build stadiums but until they change their systems, they’ll never have the capital to compete. In contrast, consider the progress of Croatia, a far from perfect or affluent nation, but it seems to me, one determined to look forward not back. In six World Cups, they’ve been runner-up twice and bronze medalist once. Don’t tell me that’s nothing to do with their history and struggle for independence.

And so to the final. For all that I am European by descent, I was neutral in the values stakes. On the one hand, we had France – arguably the cradle of modern democracy; on the other Argentina, a nation that, despite many issues, has transformed itself from the days of dictatorship and military juntas. It ranks second only to Uruguay in the Southern American democracy index. I was indifferent too on sporting grounds; may the best team win, I thought as the game kicked off. 

World Cup 2022 Final

How appropriate then, that what followed was perhaps the greatest ever final — the old and new guards of footballing genius slugging it out over ninety minutes, the extra time, and eventually penalties. So good was the game, that in the end, for neutrals at least, the result was almost incidental. Because what had really won, was not just a team —and certainly not Qatar as a host — but the sport as a whole, and most importantly, the values it stands for. 

That is something for us all to celebrate.

Reflections On a Lesser Known Wimbledon, by Jozef Opdeweegh

The London district of Wimbledon is synonymous with its namesake tournament and those two weeks in July when the world’s media and tennis fans turn their attention to this otherwise quiet suburb for the Wimbledon Open. Beyond the courts, the town is awash with boutiques and coffee bars; its young professionals, are no doubt attracted by its heritage as the home of my favorite

But wander just a mile or so from its high street, you’ll find a new and very different stadium that has an equally fascinating — and important —story to tell. It’s the home of AFC Wimbledon, a not-so-famous football team, that in a mere twenty years has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of a firestorm of dispute that destroyed a club and disenfranchised its followers.

The story of the original Wimbledon FC is the stuff of a comic book legend. After decades in the minor divisions, the team rose in consecutive seasons to the top tier, winning the FA Cup in 1998. Around the turn of the millennium, their fortunes declined, and lacking a permanent ground the owners summarily uprooted the club, moving it 60 miles north to Milton Keynes, a town with no previous connection. A new identity of Milton Keynes Dons was created, and today, they are solidly placed in League One of the English pyramid.

From my perspective, the interesting part of this story is not so much the fortunes of the football teams. Rather, it’s the decision of the owners to relocate a club with a hundred-year heritage to a town that wasn’t even built when it was first founded. At the time of the proposal, the Football Association approved the move, arguing that the owners could do as they wished — after all, it was their asset to manage or market as they saw fit.

The fans, however, saw things differently.

There’s a famous quote about soccer by Bill Shankly, a former manager of Liverpool FC. ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’ The point he was making is one that the owners of Wimbledon were tone-deaf to: that football is about more than a balance sheet; that the fans are as vital as the players; and that the values and heritage of a club can’t simply be traded like a commodity on the stock exchange.

In the case of Wimbledon FC, the fans turned their rage into a more constructive rebuilding,
founding a new club and eventually, crowdfunding a remarkable stadium. It’s a monument to passion and a belief in the interests of those who care most – the new club is controlled by a supporter’s trust, is embedded in its community, and its team has risen through the ranks to compete (ironically, alongside Milton Keynes) in leagues one and two of the English professional system.

The story though has wider relevance. It raises questions about the interests of stakeholders and the potential conflicts with owners and custodians. Consider the controversy over Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and the uproar from some quarters at his changes to policy and approach to free speech. The exodus of many users to the open-source alternative Mastodon has perhaps echoes of the response of those disenfranchised Wimbledon fans.

I’m not going to comment on the pros and cons of Musk’s takeover, not least because it’s
entangled with left and ring-wing politics, making any assessment too sensitive and subjective. But what’s clear, is that the millions of Twitter users can’t simply be ignored. Nor, as one of the leading social media platforms, should the wider implications of the company’s policy on freedom of expression, accountability under the law, or the ability to protest.

Listening to stakeholders in business doesn’t mean that change will always be watered down. It’s true that in many large organizations there can be institutional resistance to reform. But conversely, there are times when those employees closest to the coalface know that organizational transformation is necessary for long-term value. Nor does it mean that unpopular measures should be shirked — it’s worth acknowledging that in relation to my opening story, the town of Milton Keynes now has a thriving and well-supported football team.

What I’m really getting at here is being attentive to the importance of purpose and mission in those companies and organizations that play a significant role in our lives. We all know that businesses must make a profit, but that can’t today be the sole meaning of their existence. Equally, non-profit and public service ventures — in the arts, sport, and education — must balance their social objectives with a reality check on affordability and remember that the bigger goal is not so much their particular passion, as a healthy, diverse, and flourishing society.

I’m convinced that the key to navigating this maze is having a compass that’s sensitive to values that are commonly held by all involved — be those owners, employees, and customers, or governments, peoples, and their allies. For it is our shared beliefs, applied with some pragmatic flexibility, that bind us together in difficult times. Values can also — quite legitimately — be a way of establishing lines that others may choose not to cross. And that’s fine, so long as we are not mismatched in our understanding.

In seeking such constructive and cooperative outcomes, I believe it’s vital that no one version of the truth be allowed to ‘out-shout’ or cancel another. It’s an irony that those most vocal in calling for freedom of expression, or safe spaces for their views, are often deeply intolerant to alternative perspectives. More than that, it’s inefficiency and a fast track to failure, for in the long term there are no more static companies or countries than those who brook no dissent.

Every leader, no matter how sure of their strategy, should remember Lyndon Johnson’s epithet, ‘if you’re not listening, you’re not learning.’ And in doing so, train their ears to hear the notes that matter, filtering out the background noise to better recognize when their plans are out of key with others who care too. Thirty years into my career I’m more attentive than ever to those metaphorical sounds. Experience is a privilege and a powerful asset, but it’s nothing if applied without due regard for the values and purposes which underpin the more tangible measures of success.

This year, AFC Wimbledon met Milton Keynes Dons in the early rounds of the FA Cup. Despite some stirring of rivalry by the press, the match went off without rancor. In the twenty years since the upheaval, the Football Association has changed its rules and an owner can’t just uproot a club today; meanwhile, the respective fans have found a new focus and moved on from the past.

Wimbledon’s new stadium is called Plough Lane, the same name as the original club’s ground. It’s a fitting blend of the old and new, of learning from mistakes and looking to the future. And perhaps most of all, of holding true to the values that show how clubs, businesses, and communities of any sort, are more than the sum of their parts.

The Ethical Value Behind Numbers

As a general rule, I steer clear of politics in anything I write. Not only is it potentially divisive, but sadly, we’ve reached the point in our public discourse where the veracity of almost all political statements is open to question. But today, I’m going to make an exception, or at least take my queue from a comment made by the UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. Speaking a few days before his Autumn Budget he said, — and I paraphrase here — that balancing the books isn’t just about numbers, it’s also about the values we aspire to.

And in this regard, he’s absolutely right.

Whatever you may think of politicians and governments, it’s undeniable that the budgetary decisions they take, reflect not only their view on economics but also the priorities and policies they wish to promote. In choosing between tax and spending or investment and services, they are — as every administration must – making decisions about the kind of society they wish to see in the future. Furthermore, in the choices they make, even the most fiscally focused are drawing on beliefs and assumptions that reflect values such as compassion, responsibility, fairness, and even courage or learning.   

It’s the same in business. 

Almost all companies will undertake a formal budgeting process, typically annually with reviews and revisions as the year progresses. And while the principle aim of this exercise will be to forecast ‘the numbers’, the reality is that the conclusions reached will reflect on an organization’s values as much as its financial goals. Indeed, I’d argue that transparency of a company’s budgeting process (if such a thing were possible) would be the best way to judge whether their pronouncements on mission and purpose were merely vacuous statements or true commitments to something more than the pursuit of profit.

None of this is to suggest that there are not times when some fiscal detachment is necessary. Nor is every decision values-driven: paying our taxes is a legal requirement; so too is abiding by labor laws and safety regulations. At the other extreme, some choices may be more a question of preference than of virtue: the charities we chose to support, the choice of IT platforms; the color of the office walls…

But in between what we might call the two rocks of compliance and preference, lies the whirlpool of value judgments, where effective decision-making is shaped by our perceptions of quality and beliefs on the best way forward. Value judgments are not random choices, but neither are they fixed in the way of scientific formulae. Think of the way we would judge, say, a history essay; there’s a need for some objective criteria in terms of content, grammar and structure —but there’s also room for more subjective factors such as choice of examples, quality of insight, and even sheer rhetorical style. 

When you think about it in these terms, moral value judgments are all around us. Every day at work or home we make choices that balance the objective and subjective, driven as much by our desires as by any determination of absolute truth. Value judgments are actually how we navigate through the nihilistic notion of relativism, which in its purest form argues that there are no true foundations to any values and beliefs, only relative standpoints. Russia’s Putin would appear to take this view in his pursuit of aggression, but few of us are prepared to apply the same logic to the way we live our lives – or the companies we work for.

I’m conscious here of getting mired in technicalities — or worse, dragged again into politics — when the key point I want to make is simply that values are all around us. When we talk of ethical-based decision-making in the workplace, that’s not some behavioral mode that we need to switch into; rather, it’s simply allowing ourselves to be guided by the beliefs we hold, our care for others and our innate desire to flourish – ideally, in a way that allows others to do the same. At root, it’s about trusting our better instincts and not surrendering to a putative objectivity that claims decisions on ‘the numbers’ should come before other concerns.  

They cannot… as any politician will tell you.

This brings me back to the UK Chancellor, albeit briefly. Jeremy Hunt has now delivered his budget, combining tax rises with spending cuts, providing reassurance to some and sending tougher messages to others… Its detail is not what concerns me, nor are the rows and repercussions that will follow thereafter. What’s relevant, is that in setting out his stall he has amply demonstrated how, even in times of budgeting crisis – indeed, now I come to think of it, ESPECIALLY in times of budgeting crisis — values and numbers are as entangled and indivisible as the quantum particles that make up our universe.  

And whatever our politics, I for one, think that’s a lesson we should all remember.

The power of proximity

A couple of weeks ago, I had coffee in a charming café in the old town center of Vilnius. It’s a medieval wonder and often overlooked as one of Europe’s most picturesque capital cities. I’d never been there before, which is perhaps not so strange, for what percentage of those who read this piece will have traveled to Lithuania? How many even knew before they read that last sentence, exactly where Vilnius was?  I can’t say, I’d have placed it on a map?

But you really should go, and not just for the sights or the coffee.

The truly striking thing about Vilnius is not something you can see, although I’d argue you can taste it in the air. You can hear too, in the hum of the chatter that’s the base note of its cafés and bars. And though it can’t be touched, it will undoubtedly press on your mind. Because, in the flying of its flag, the posturing of the young, and the lined faces of the worldly-wise… is the ever-present thought, that the Belarusian border, is a mere 20 miles (32.19 km) to the east. 

The leadership of Belarus —if you can call it that—is a staunch ally of Vladimir Putin and supporter of his atrocious attack on Ukraine. More to the point, its border is a potential launch point for any Russian encroachment on the Baltic. For Lithuanians, like those I met in the cafés, this is an everyday existential threat.  

I’ve spent most of the last two decades in the US, Canada and the UK. They are fabulous countries, and it’s not my intent to disrespect their contribution to the world’s progress and prosperity. But as someone who grew up in mainland Europe and served in the military during the Cold War era, I believe it to be true that their physical geography (by which I mean, the separation that distance and oceans confer) creates a barrier to a full understanding of the situations of others. It’s why we must travel if we can. Only by getting up close and personal can we acquire the intimate if intangible sense of what it’s like to live every day under the threat of losing the liberties we take for granted.

That is the power of proximity.

And it applies not just to geopolitics. In living our lives, or indeed pursuing our careers, there’s no substitute for spending time with others in a different situation, of a different faith, from a different social outlook… The point and purpose of this proximity— and I say this as a trained statistician — is that data and its models and abstract theories can only tell us so much. Objectivity may nourish our reasoning, but taken without accompaniment it is cold and unfulfilling fare. It’s also somewhat of a myth. The deeper truth is that virtually all our beliefs — and certainly those which speak to our values — are founded on a blend of facts and feelings. 

It astounds me to think that it’s only a little over thirty years since the Berlin Wall came down. Oh, to have been there that day! As a young man at the time, I remember vividly the sense of hope that followed, and the West’s collective exhaling of breath as the chill of the cold war momentarily thawed. How sad, a friend from home, said to me recently, that events have turned out as they have. 

Although actually, that too is a narrow, and place-bound, perspective. 

Russia may well have returned to being a wretched State and the situation in Ukraine is beyond mere sorrow. We should not forget too, the horrors of the conflict in former Yugoslavia (a short train ride from Austria), the quasi-democracies of many Soviet republics, the annexation of Crimea or the grotesque puppetry of so-called Transnistria (look it up!). To read all this one might think there is no hope.

But I’d remind you that former East Germany is now part of a united whole; Berlin is its capital once again. Travel also to Croatia or even Bosnia and Serbia and you’d see progress (albeit slow) underway. Then there’s Poland, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Slovenia …and I’ve not even mentioned the Baltic States. It is one of the joys of my life that these places are freely available for us to visit and for their people to meet us too. We have much to share and even more to learn from each other. 

And that’s because there’s a multiplier effect when we come closer together. Physics may tell us that gravity is a constant, but in the world of understanding, I can tell you that proximity is a powerful force! Ask any surgeon from a war zone or carer who sat with a loved one as they died… Usually, in writing these reflections, I make a segue back to business and organizational values, but in this case, I won’t. More to the point I ought not to need to. Because the parallels will be obvious and if you don’t get them then we’re not on the same planet never mind page.

Instead, I simply say go, if you can, to Vilnius or for that matter Budapest or Bratislava. And if travel is not your thing, then take a trip maybe closer to home, but further from your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised by what you find —and feel — and how it changes your sense of the truth. The café I sat in a couple of weeks ago was as persuasive as they are poignant. I’ll be back for sure, but in the meantime, as I sit in my office, almost half a world away, I can still smell the coffee.

Why we shouldn’t fear failure

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better”Samuel Beckett

Last week, defending champion Emma Raducanu, bowed out of the US Open after a first-round defeat to an opponent ranked 40th in the world. Making more than 30 unforced errors her performance was a far cry from last year’s “Fairy Tale in New York” that had seen her rise from qualifier to grand slam winner in one magical fortnight. 

Somewhat predictably, the pundits have had a field day, offering little perspective and even less practical advice to a player not yet 20 years old. She has been distracted by fame they say, had too many coaches, been poorly managed and trained the wrong way… all of which may well have some truth.  

But I was struck by Raducanu’s more sanguine assessment of her situation. The defeat was an opportunity to reset, she claimed — a chance to climb back up the rankings, but without the weight of expectations on her back. Implied in her response was the maturity to recognize that it wasn’t realistic to maintain the trajectory of last year’s success.  

I sensed also that, despite her (and our) obvious disappointments, she’d come to understand that failure has much to teach us. Ask any creative artist, and they’ll tell you that they learn more from their mistakes than they do their exhibition pieces. The same principle applies to politicians, economists, entrepreneurs… and for us all in our roles as parents, friends, volunteers —or, in my case, attempts to be the best club tennis player I can be!

This reminds me that in our careers as well as our everyday lives, success, and its counterpart failure, is usually more relative than the flawless expectations we project on our sporting heroes. There’s a world of difference between missing a challenging target and destroying millions of dollars of shareholder value; just as there is between falling short of straight A grades and flunking all your exams. The first response to perceived failure should be to put it into perspective and consider what’s been achieved along the way.

This is why we should remember that despite her recent dip in form, Raducanu remains one of only four teenagers in the World’s top 100, in addition to having beaten tennis hero Serena Williams only weeks before her US Open exit. Her story has inspired thousands of young girls to pick up a racket and unlike many sporting prodigies, she has remained mentally strong under pressures that would buckle most of us. How many of us would give our eye teeth for one-tenth of her talent and prospects?   

It’s folly to chase straight-line success in any field of endeavor.  And it’s equally unwise to remove the possibility of setbacks. If, as an investor, you want maximum certainty then buy government bonds, but in doing so, understand that your returns will be smaller and the projections somewhat unexciting. Alternatively, you could spread your capital across a balanced portfolio, accepting that there’ll be peaks and troughs in the pursuit of growth over time. So too with our careers (and particularly those aspiring to be leaders) where the smart money is not on following a risk-free path. 

In choosing this route, we can also be more of ourselves, making the most of our skills while building our experience. And in line with Raducanu’s comments, we should try to do so without the weight of unrealistic expectations on our backs. Working and living with passion and commitment demands that we face some jeopardy. How diminished our careers would be if they were shaped by timidity, and how sad a life that’s constantly looking over its shoulders. Much better to make decisions we believe in, having faith in our abilities while recognizing that not every choice will work out as we wish.

The helpful reality is that leadership errors seldom expose our flaws as publically as a show court at Flushing Meadows. This doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t matter, or that we shouldn’t care about their consequences. Indeed, it’s the concern to get it right next time that drives us to come back stronger —meaning that failure is far from fatal to our future. In responding, there’s also no shortage of advice on how to build back from our blunders, of working the problem, analyzing our tactics, or the strengths of our team. Frankly, there are whole industries of professionals to help us make better choices.

But I’d suggest all this is peripheral and comes only after the fact. The number one lesson we should take from failure is far from being something to fear, it’s part of a healthy and fulfilling life. And in so being, is essential to our becoming better people, better leaders, or indeed better tennis players.