Management creates finance, not the other way around

Jan 29 2010 by Philip Whiteley Print This Article

I was going to write about something other than Kraft-Cadbury, but such has been the interest in the subject here in the UK, I thought I would continue the theme.

Once upon a time, newspapers such as the Financial Times possessed both the expertise and the inclination to see through the spin produced by corporate PR departments. Not any more.

British journalists are famed for their irreverence and bluntness, but utter the words 'merger' and 'takeover' and they become blubbering sycophants. Why do they allow executives like Irene Rosenfeld to get away with promises of 'savings' that we know are optimistic projections based on one-dimensional analysis of the accounts?

Every merger since the Roman takeover of Ancient Briton has featured integration costs that are impossible to predict, and that usually outweigh any supposed benefits. They fail 70 per cent of the time – and journalists would know why they failed if they bothered to read any of the hundreds of reports on the matter, such as KPMG's Unlocking Shareholder Value, yet they get swept up in the spin and exhilaration of the deal-making and fail to ask the tough questions.

The honourable exceptions, journalists such as Simon Caulkin and Richard Donkin, have bizarrely lost space for their analysis in recent months.

In the Financial Times' view of the world, finance is king and management is a sideshow. The tail, they assert, wags the dog. But in the world I live in, money is nothing more than a by-product of what people do.

Management determines whether or not there are any organizations to invest in. Its influence is huge. I've seen it destroy the British car industry, and (almost) the banking industry, and bring down governments.

On Crimewatch this week there was the poignant tale of how the murder inquiry into the death of a girl in Nottinghamshire in 1984 went cold in part because police were diverted to handle the miner's strike – another example of industrial disaster caused by poor management.

The misanthropic inversion, placing money as somehow above the people who create it, needs challenging. Pretending that the most important aspect of a merger is the sale price – as the papers have in recent weeks – is like assuming that the most important point of a football transfer is the agent's fee. The performance on the pitch is, in the strange world that business correspondents inhabit, a matter of supreme indifference.

More optimistically, I've discovered dozens of bloggers and other commentators who are up for the challenge. My plan is to gather the comments together; produce a regular 'blog of blogs' and start to challenge the supine business press. Watch this space.

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