Archive for the ‘Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking’ Category

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking

Friday, February 17th, 2017
  • In all the nonsense about fake news, are we really saying the audience is permanently stuck second-guessing themselves or the decisions that they are making are not our preferred ones? (Brexit, Trump etc.)
  • Is there anything more unappealing than awards events, where people who have been successful in a singular profession and insulate themselves from the real world are suddenly “experts” on geopolitics, leadership, social issues and so on?
  • No one knows what the Trump presidency will have in store for us but the sun will rise and set each day, businesses around the world will trade with each other and culturally diverse communities will continue to interact. Perspective is more important than ever.
  • Watching the first 10 minutes of Bridget Jones’s Baby is a reminder that gratuitous use of swear words, displays a startling lack of intellect and a sign in neon lights to “move on”. The shame is the movie ending is worth watching but I wonder how many people stuck around.
  • Why do celebrities post naked or near-naked pictures of themselves on their social media accounts? If their objective is to protect their privacy, aren’t they throwing fuel on a fire that they have limited prospect of controlling?
  • Why are we “shocked” when a politician (Andy Puzder), a celebrity (David Beckham) or a business executive’s (Vice-Chair of Samsung) leaked private messages doesn’t caste them in a flattering light? They are normal human beings with the very same weaknesses and insecurities, prone to making dumb decisions.
  • The word “great” in business, science, sport, culture and so forth is so abused when describing individual performance that moments like Tom Brady’s Superbowl climax quickly become yesterday’s news.
  • If Americans needed reminding of why infrastructure spending is a priority take a walk through JFK, LAX or Miami airport and compare the experience with that in London Heathrow, Schipol, Dubai, Hong Kong or Shanghai.
  • Do CEO’s shop their own business on a sufficiently regular basis? Here in the UK, the major banks’ knee-jerk response to internet banking has been to slash the number of branches and make it exponentially more time-consuming for their customers to perform routine tasks (cashing a cheque). It is hard to see how that is in the customers best interest?
  • There is another high street presence, which is on a “life support machine” as societal mores change and the internet disrupts the sector. Thousands of bookies or sports betting shops solely exist on high-stakes fixed odds betting terminals preying on the most vulnerable members of society. In a town of 40,000 people there might be 3 or 4, thirty years ago, today in a deprived square mile of an inner city, there is probably 25 shops.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Uncommon Perspective

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

In just over a week we have experienced dramatic political and financial gyrations here in the United Kingdom.

  1. No one has died, sharp words have been exchanged amongst politicians, bankers, business and families.
  2. Many well meaning and educated “remain” supporters have taken their ire to the peaceful streets.
  3. The markets have plunged 8% and in the case of the FTSE 100 largely recovered while the pound remains subdued by a state of “post traumatic stress”, as the Bank of England’s Governor described the current situation.
  4. Political leaders have seen dramatic twists in their career trajectories, yet calm largely pervades in London and elsewhere.
  5. Annual rituals at Wimbledon and Henley precede with full attendances, save for outbreaks of rain.
  6. We stopped to reflect on real tragedy, the start of the Battle of the Somme, 100 years ago and the unthinkable bravery and despair of so many young people and their families.
  7. Businesses continued investing, hiring new teams and buying/selling others this week. Life is largely continuing as it did 9 days ago.
  8. For sure, there is heightened awareness of tough choices to come over the next 24 months but people are still keeping their holiday plans, discretionary spending and going about their daily business.
  9. Yet many in the media, dumbfounded that their agenda has been hijacked by an unusual consensus project a life of disarray and gloom. Resisting change and throwing barbs at the democratic majority in this country. Deal with it. You are the problem now. Don’t expect others to start handing out the hankies.
  10. Look for the new opportunities that might capture the hearts and minds of Britons and others who choose to invest their time, money and energy here.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.


It Is Not About You

Friday, May 20th, 2016

How many times do you attend a business conference or event, where the moderator or interviewer insists on hijacking the microphone? I am sorry it is not about YOU. We are here to listen to the guest speakers, panellists and interviewees. You are there to ask interesting and provocative questions and keep the conversation moving forward. You are not the star. If you insist on being so and if you are incapable of parking your ego, please don’t expect your audience to stay in their seats. If the event host blindly ignores your approach for their own commercial reasons or an unwillingness to confront your lousy behaviour, remember attendees have the ultimate sanction, they won’t show up next time.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Serendipity Leicester’s Friend

Friday, April 29th, 2016

The great thing with success that seemingly arrives from nowhere, is how it has this affect of forcing you to dive deep into your memory to try to make sense out of a sequence of visual images and serendipity. Yet you are none the wiser when you stop thinking about it. On the eve of Leicester City, let me say it once more, Leicester City, being crowned Premier League champions, as someone who was born in Leicester, it is just nonsensical. 5000/1 was probably mean, bookies are not in the business of being generous.

Yes the older locals would talk to an 8 year old kid about the sides of the sixties and the near misses. The 70s team had their moments. Watching Leicester’s own “George Best”, moustachioed striker Frank Worthington, clad in black leather jacket, loud shirt, and a host of gold rings and necklaces take his seat with the routine blonde in hot pants at the local circus. More Dirk Diggler. Keith Weller, a talented midfielder, who did more to promote Leicester’s hosiery industry, wearing a fetching pair of white tights on an icy day in January 1979. The 90s under genial manager, Martin O’Neill, securing a League Cup but in truth, every response before and since to where do you think the City will finish this season has been tinged with pessimism. Indeed, even the most ardent fan this year has sensed a potential collapse is around the corner, until now.

With bookmakers offering no higher than 1/20, it is going to happen. There is no logic too it but why worry, when serendipity strikes we just have to make the most of the moment. Unless of course, it happens again next year…..

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking IX

Friday, April 8th, 2016









  • Most businesses don’t lack great ideas today, they lack people with the skills and volition to apply and monetise great ideas
  • The problem is not the regulatory changes forced on banks, insurers, pharma etc, it is the ability of management and employees to respond effectively and efficiently (skills, behaviour and expertise)
  • The media and politicians express “shock” and “revulsion” at those using offshore tax havens to mitigate their tax liabilities but barely a whimper about at the cyber security criminals, who initiated the breach.
  • Man’s ingenuity is such that we can send a rocket into space and return it to the exact same position it departed, yet our “precision” capabilities when it is applied to tracking terrorist threats, cyber, people smuggling, are largely scrambled and ineffective.
  • Global markets have largely recovered the losses incurred at the outset of this year, yet the business media continues to run “recession scare” stories.
  • Every company is becoming a digital company, the consequences differ based on the quality of the management and employees, the amount of uncertainty within the business and the competitive threats
  • Microsoft and Google beat the best human at image recognition in 2015 but there is little evidence that humans will be replaced by computers in assessing and underwriting risk, which largely depends on art and science.
  • Value chains in almost every sector are being compressed and traditional functions increasingly being made redundant, as technology facilitates the faster dissemination of information and the application of knowledge to critical decision-making (capital deployment, human resources, innovation, strategy implementation). There is no going back.
  • Contrary to popular myth what new entrants into the workforce want today (interesting work, a gratifying job, career progression and equitable rewards) hasn’t changed in decades, what has changed is the ability of businesses to deliver it. Understanding why and doing something about it, is where the valuable debate lies.
  • In all the chest-beating about diversity and progressive organisations, by far the most disadvantaged and impactful on society are not single issue “victims” (sex, race, nationality, age etc) but those individuals with diverse pasts (educational backgrounds and life experiences), who are routinely rejected by businesses driven to hire and promote “people like us”.
  • The fanfare about “Self-Management”, as practised by organisations such as Zappos, speaks louder about the concept than the results the business has achieved in the real world. Separate the fad from reality.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

10 Non Surprises

Friday, December 18th, 2015
  1. The only surprise about Donald Trump is that the general public, politicians and media are shocked by his comments. Ignore him. Starved of the oxygen of publicity, his campaign and ego will plummet in the polls.
  2. Further revelations this week about FIFA and Mr Blatter, put everyone in a shocking light.
  3. Brazil’s economic contraction reveals incompetence and graft amongst business and political figures, whose success has largely been sustained by others turning a blind eye.
  4. A wealthy UK Conservative Party donor would splash £240,000 for Mrs Thatcher’s red despatch box. (I was in the Christie’s London saleroom on Tuesday, which resembled a Croatian border crossing. Hands in the air, voices screaming feverishly at the auctioneer, who stroked his chin and decided, which sugar plum fairy to pluck the next bid from.)
  5. A high profile hedge fund manager (BlueCrest), whose external suite of funds dramatically under performs their internal funds, closes its’ doors to external investors, claiming its’ difficult to turn a profit in the current fee environment.
  6. The combustible pairing of Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich ends in a second divorce and tears.
  7. EU leaders, who have moved in centimetres not kilometres to resolve the euro crisis, re-buff David Cameron’s opening demands to re-define the EU’s relationship with the UK.
  8. AIG’s embattled CEO, Peter Hancock,  fires 23% of senior management in a bid to placate activist shareholders and gets served up even more opprobrium.
  9. Kirill Shamalov, the man who married Putin’s daughter, we now learn made a fortune with the help of a loan from a well-connected bank.
  10. The meteoric rise of Fosun’s founder Guo Guangchang attracts the attention of the Chinese police.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.


Please Shut Up

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Why won’t moderators or interviewers park their ego and shut up?

When I see great moderators or interviewers in business or television (Charlie Rose, Larry King, John Defterios and so on), I see people, who are smart enough to realise that the audience wants to engage with the guest(s) first and the interviewer or moderator last.

Indeed, there is a cycle of value. The more compelling the guest interaction with the audience, the more the audience is engaged with what the guest is involved in. The more engaged the audience, the more people are attracted to the event or interview. The larger the audience, the easier it is to attract higher quality guests. The higher the quality of the guests, the easier it is to devote more time, money and resources.


The most obvious example of this is the Charlie Rose Show  now syndicated globally on Bloomberg’s television channel, which started from very humble beginnings in the mid 90s on PBS, a local New York City channel. So humble that the show’s host and interviewer famously bought the wooden table himself!

In reverse, the more the moderator or interviewer seeks to be the star of the show, often a result of their own insecurities, just as in sports with the referee, the faster the audience becomes disengaged and turns off.

Of course, there are interviewers and moderators that make a living and fame by projecting themselves from the stage or through our television screens (Piers Morgan, Matt Lauer and Chris Cuomo) into our minds. Rarely, do they leave an impressive impression. Indeed I know one of these “celebrities” to have interviewed a friend of mine, knowingly “faked” what the viewers were seeing and what he experienced for effect. No more, no less.

Let’s hit the mute button.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking VIII

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015
  • The propensity of successful fiftysomething and sixtysomething executives and celebrities to suddenly grow a full beard for the first time as if they are “reinventing” themselves hides a million truths.
  • The driverless car is novel (Apple, Google) but the combustion engine is not going anywhere anytime soon.
  • The visceral connection between political unions (EU Membership) and trade agreements (TPP) and the impact on people’s daily lives is rarely well made (how they are better off or personally better supported).
  • Businesses fawn over the power of data and analytics (“big data”) to transform their future, yet routinely overlook that the fact that their future is informed by the six inches that lies between the ears of their customers, managers, employees and shareholders. Data alone is largely useless in adapting human behaviour.
  • When you leave your iPhone or Blackberry on in a meeting or social occasion, what you are really saying is “At any point in the next 30 minutes you will not be my priority. Be warned.”
  • “Conceptual” collaborations are rarely mutually rewarding. Luxury Hotels that exhibit artists, auction houses co-hosting social events with media publications and UHNW wealth managers sponsoring polo events. Sorry, “exposure” is way over-rated, sales pay the bills.
  • We have spent kizillions enabling technology to mimic the human mind (artificial intelligence) but pennies enabling the human mind to mimic technology (critical thinking skills). Such that we are “outraged” when a referee at a major sporting occasion fails to interpret visual evidence correctly in real time and apply it to the laws of the game.
  • Debretts, the social arbiter of style, runs etiquette courses for new money that aspires to act with the “grace” of old money. Yet old money has rarely acted with great judgement (forced sales of estates and other inter-generational issues). When will they run a course for old money that aspires to have the wisdom of new money?
  • People readily confuse activity with results (Corporate incubation labs). Nowhere more so than in reinventing business models in response to convergent forces (high tech, alternative capital, new methods of distribution etc.)
  • We are in a period of politics with no visible end in sight, where “brand”, career progression and fundraising  are so powerful and inter-connected that unremarkable “insiders” (Trudeau, Bush, Trump, Clinton) can trump impressive “outsiders”.
  • The concept of “celebrity” driving a brand has become so contrived (Instagram selfies, staged photos in glossy mags, charitable appearances in the Philippines) that Howard Hughes would be seen as leading a normal life today.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking VII

Friday, August 21st, 2015
  • We have a media that lionises CEO’s such as Michael Eisner at Disney and Ivan Glasenberg at Glencore when they are the benefactors of good fortune (largely from events out of their control) and canes them when the opposite occurs
  • Reading a news publication today you wouldn’t expect to know that a bet on the Shenzen or Shanghai stock market in 2012 would have you still sitting on a very impressive profit.
  • We have oil trading at $44 per barrel and experts predicting perhaps $30 by year-end. Airlines are sitting on record profits and their CEO’s about to collect huge cheques out of all proportion to the organic growth of those businesses.
  • We read headlines about probable interest rate rises in the US, UK and other developed nations and would be forgiven for thinking everyone will feel the impact akin to an “ice bucket challenge” on their finances.
  • We have way too many so called “role models”, Kelly Clarkson being the latest, who cannot construct a proper sentence. I am sorry being “totally pregnant” is nonsense!
  • The Crowdfunding ecosystem is finding it very hard to make money long-term with so many businesses living on the breadline and entrepreneurs unwilling to pay for proper advice.
  • We put undue “trust” in politicians whose track record is highly dubious to do the right thing (Iran, Russia, Greece), yet all too often we have insufficient “trust” in our own abilities to invest properly in developing our own skills
  • We are “surprised”in Europe by the lengths to which migrants from unstable political regimes will go to find work and security. Yet as far back as 2008 any holidaymaker in Greece could weekly see rows of migrants lined up on the harbourside of Greek islands awaiting on board travel to Athens to collect their papers.
  • When AirB&B is worth more than Marriott, we are living (a) in an era of unwarranted valuations, (b) technology has finally trumped bricks and mortar real estate assets, and (c) slick sales and marketing tools are more important than service in hospitality today.
  • When General Partners in Private Equity bemoan the shortage of reasonably priced deals in Europe, and the aggressiveness of corporate buyers, it says more about the fears that underlie the European investment managers (value-add vs. fees).
  • When everyone is led to believe the future is all about mobile, they forget that the “dull” desktop has benefits that no laptop, tablet or mobile can come close to for the desk bound worker, who is increasingly being asked to work longer hours.
  •  A New York law firm is described as “daring” for suggesting quoted companies forego quarterly earnings reports in favour of more long-term management metrics and reporting. Am I remiss in thinking these suggestions were bouncing around in the mid 1970s? Perhaps it shows that it is never too late to dust off that Donna Summer disco number and proclaim it as “cool” again.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking VI

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015
  • When foreign politicians and others express “surprise” at the course of negotiations with Greek politicians, I cannot take them seriously. Greeks have haggled for millennia.
  • We are far too often “taken in” by symbolic (a new title) rather than meaningful gestures (opportunity to learn a new skill) that helps us thrive in our  lives
  • We want our kids to better their lives (broaden their horizons) but begrudge or put up defences preventing others (intelligent migrants) doing the same in Europe
  • We seek to rationalise the irrational too often. There are people with diametrically opposed values (IS) where our only option is to confront them for better or worse.
  • The “golden age” if it ever existed in many industries (pubs, betting shops, casinos, insurance salesmen) is over squeezed by convergent forces (technology, globalisation, demographic changes, social values). It isn’t making a comeback.
  • New digital music streaming services (Apple, Tidal) will succeed or fail on their ability to sustain their brand power. I’d be much more confident about the former and much more circumspect about Jay Z’s future.
  • There is more charities and not-for-profits persisting with events, hosts and dispassionate audiences than at any point this side of the millennium. Time for a change!
  • The gulf between what is a “cool”, innovative or trailblazing experience in capital and provincial cities has never been wider.
  • If cars and lorries in major urban cities are required to have roll bars, why are cyclists not required to where helmets?
  • Does the rise of festivals (Glastonbury, Coachella) and mass participation events (exotic marathons, Iron Man) say more about our desire of being “part of something” (one of a kind experiences) or “getting in” (oneupmanship)?

Copyright James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.