Wheatly plays Jazz City riff, with Aberdeen sponsorship

October 12, 2010

Once an adman, always an adman. Richard Wheatly has moved on a bit since his days as chairman of Leo Burnett – to become, by the look of it, Britain’s foremost jazz entrepreneur. But he’s still a dab-hand at targeting an audience.

Wheatly, who recently reacquired digital radio station Jazz FM in a management buyout, plans to launch his company on the stock exchange. And what better way to warm up his investment audience than another series of Jazz in the City – a one-hour programme broadcast from 6-7pm every Monday evening? To underline the point, he’s managed to persuade Piers Currie, Aberdeen Asset Management’s marketing chief, to sponsor the programme and Stevie Spring, chief executive of Future, Sir Stuart Rose, formerly executive chairman of M&S, Charles Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse and TalkTalk, Caroline Daniel, FT Weekend Editor and Peter Cruddas, ceo CMC Markets, to appear in it.

Wheatly – himself an accomplished jazz pianist – has already made one fortune from resurrecting Jazz in the mid nineties, floating it, then selling it on to Guardian Media Group for £44.5m six years ago. Clearly he has another one in view.

The greening of chief executives

June 1, 2009

Sir Terry LeahyIt was to have been Sir Tel’s big week. Ahead of a ground-breaking speech at the London School of Economics advertising Tesco’s wholehearted commitment to green innovation, its chief executive had lined up a couple of showcase initiatives.

First up is the trial of electric-car charging facilities, and shortly afterwards Tesco will announce that it is building ‘the world’s first zero-carbon store’ in Cambridgeshire.

Then along comes Greenpeace and pours acid rain on Leahy’s parade with a report insinuating that Tesco, and numerous other famous brands, have been encouraging illegal destruction of the Amazon rainforest by sourcing their meat from unscrupulous ranchers who have systematically climate-raped the region.

Leahy’s predicament is typical of that facing many chief executives of major brands. How do you reconcile the provision of value for money with the broader communitarian needs of your customers – and not find yourself in the dock accused of hypocrisy?

The answer, if you are a progressive business leader, is that sometimes you cannot. But many judge the risk well worth taking; indeed they believe they have no real alternative but to embrace sustainability as an integral part of their corporate social responsibility programme. Despite the fact that it may consume a considerable part of their management time; and sometimes turn them, reluctantly, into figures of controversy.

That’s why a number of leading UK businessmen – among them James Murdoch, Justin King of Sainsbury, Ian Cheshire of Kingfisher, and Carphone Warehouse’s Charles Dunstone – recently wrote a letter to The Times openly proclaiming their opposition to Government plans for a third runway at Heathrow. Even though the project might, in the short term, create new jobs; even though their opposition also brought them into conflict with their natural constituencies at the Confederation of British Industry and the British Chambers of Commerce.

Mostly, however, espousing the cause of sustainability is a lot less controversial. Last week, for example, Cheshire helped to launch Eat Seasonably, an initiative aimed at persuading people to eat fruit and vegetables at their “seasonal best”. It’s the first leg of a two-year programme masterminded by himself and National Trust director-general Dame Fiona Reynolds which, with the backing of both Government and non-governmental organisations, will focus not simply on the food we eat, but the way we run our homes, what we throw away, what we buy and how we use transport.

I asked Cheshire why he was prepared to make such a commitment to the cause. And how he found the time to do it, on top of running a FTSE 100 company.

More in the column this week.

A tale of two retailers

May 8, 2009


A Dickens of a dilemma

A Dickens of a dilemma

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.

“The old adage is: make your move in a downturn and profit in an upturn,” says Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. Street and his boss Charlie Mayfield are putting their money where his mouth is by launching up to 50 “pocket” stores in the midst of the recession. We don’t know what they’ll be called yet, but we do know that they will contain electrical goods, furniture and kitchenware, aimed at taking share from the likes of Ikea, DFS and Currys.

Now compare and contrast Best Buy, the giant US electrical retailer that owns half of Charles Dunstone’s Carphone’s retail outfit. Best Buy’s aggressive European expansion strategy seems to be shrivelling before very eyes. The plan was, you’ll recall, to open 100 mega consumer stores in the UK by 2013, starting this year. First we’ve had the plan postponed to next spring, now we’re told it is to be scaled back to 80 stores. Robert Willett, chief executive of Best Buy International, is still talking the talk, but this looks like a serious tactical withdrawal to me.

Either Willett is right to be cautious, or Street is right to be bold. OK, they appeal to slightly different markets, but there is overlap. One of them must be wrong, but which?

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