Martina Navratilova’s Ham & Eggs

Isn’t it time for some committed leadership at Premier Foods?

In 2006 Billie Jean King, who knew a thing or two about tennis, being once the World No. 1 player, said that Martina Navratilova was, ”the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived” Wow! Apart from winning 18 Grand Slam titles, Martina has also produced a notable quote or two; she once said: “the difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs; the chicken is involved and the pig is committed.”

As an ardent observer of business leaders, and having dabbled a little in the leadership game too, I believe that the best ones, the ones who achieve the most, are committed, like the pig. They take on huge and daunting undertakings and they commit themselves to solving the problem, to getting the best outcome, no matter how hard, how long it takes, or how risky it is for them and their careers.  Sometimes they fail too. It is a quality that is often lacking in professional business leaders who  seem to me to be playing a game of corporate Monopoly half the time; picking up cash each time they pass “Go” on their way to the next job and hoping not to land on the “Go To Jail” square along the way.

Can you blame folk though for playing this game if they can pick up a couple of million pounds, over a few years, before leaving, at the right moment, so as not to damage their chances of staying in the game and repeating the trick? That’s just smart right? Well, I guess it is in a way, but I am perhaps idealistic enough to expect a little more from those at the top of the corporate heap, the masters of the business universe, who are supposed to do heroic things, or at least half competent things, in return for all the zeros on their payslips. Surely they are not paid that much money just to “hold the fort” but to lead the business somewhere it wouldn’t have got to on its own?

All this came to mind when I read about the dire situation my neighbours find themselves in. I live a hundred metres away from Premier Foods’ HQ and I had been hopeful that its CEO for the past 18 months or so, Michael Clarke, was committed to sorting out the mess that hides within that very tidy building opposite and that lurks in the hearts and early-morning-wide-awake thoughts of some of the smart professional people I pass daily on my way to work. Sadly though, Michael is off already and he is being replaced by the guy who tidied-up and sold-off the remnants of a past economic jewel in the UK’s colonial crown, Cable & Wireless International.

There is of course much tidying-up still to do at Premier Foods too and a little corporate de-cluttering will be good but I’m hoping, for its employees’ and shareholders’ sake, that the new incumbent will stay around a little longer than Michael did and be more committed to a lasting solution, rather than just making a few rather obvious changes and then moving on once the scale of the challenge becomes clear. If you leave a business problem long enough it simply becomes impossible to resolve without something rather special happening, a miracle of sorts. I think that something along these lines is Premier Foods’ only hope now and that’s what leaders are for at times like this.

According to Premier’s Chairman the new man at the helm of Premier Foods, Gavin Darby, was the “stand out” candidate from his very short list of people willing to give it a go. I just hope that he was looking for the right things and that a business miracle does in fact occur just across the street from me. I hope that is what happens, but I’m not holding my breath.

Martina once said “it’s easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.”  For me ”right” always means commitment and not just involvement, if you are lucky enough to be a business leader.

Mark

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