Crisis? What crisis?

Competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, mid-ocean Rowing 3,000 miles late last year across an ocean is the toughest thing I have done so far. With just over four months left to the start of this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, I know how fortunate we were not to have had our training disrupted by a global pandemic. Yet the crews I know taking part this time have adapted well to cope, spending more time on their ergometers, pumping iron in their home-made gyms and honing the navigation, nutrition, and boat maintenance skills that will keep them alive when circumstances change. 

The nineteenth century military strategist Helmuth von Moltke maintained that no plan survives wholly intact after contact with the enemy. It’s a lesson we kept in mind during our row as key pieces of equipment broke, our power failed, and promised breaks in the weather failed to materialise.

It’s also a lesson I’ve applied in my day job as a communications director. Crisis communications strategies have to be flexible enough to cope with the unexpected, adaptable even in the heat of an apparent disaster, and honed through rehearsal. Persuading senior executives to take time out to prepare, to role play, stress test, and to learn with you, is vital.

Company directors and ocean rowers alike will do well to consider that crisis management isn’t just a manual to pick up and dust off when things go awry, it’s an approach and a mindset that will determine whether you succeed or fail. 

The Uxbridge connection

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The last time I met the sitting MP for Uxbridge was in 1988 while a politics student at nearby Brunel University. Michael Shersby, the then Parliamentary representative for our local constituency, generously hosted Brunel’s annual Government Society dinner at the House of Commons, and arranged an array of guest speakers.

One year, we were fortunate to have the Speaker, the then Bernard (later Lord) Weatherill, who came to talk about democracy and the importance of being actively involved.

On another occasion, sharing the evening with the local Conservative Association, we were slightly less impressed by Minister of Education Angela Rumbold. Possibly labouring under the misapprehension that we were the University’s Conservative Students Group, she decided to lecture us about how the Tories were ‘good for education’. Continue reading

Offshore, out of sight, out of order

My fifth call of the month from an offshore financial adviser. These are the people who lurk outside the highly regulated ambit of UK financial services industry legislation, in just about every place where Britons work abroad – Hong Kong, Dubai, Guernsey, Malta, most major European capitals.

What’s wrong with them? Well, how long have you got? They’re usually unqualified, mostly paid by commission so hugely incentivised to sell unsuitable, cost-loaded products. Oh, and they’re also unregulated. Or at least not registered to give financial advice – with no onshore financial regulator bothered enough about checking up on what they do. In some countries it’s worse – they’re often self-regulated. All of which amounts to much the same thing: there’s no protection available for consumers when it all goes wrong. And it does go wrong, frequently. Continue reading

Brits abroad are prey for poor advice


It must be the warm weather that brings them out. It’s February and 15 degrees in Switzerland, bright sunshine and not a cloud in sight. And the phone’s ringing.

It’s yet another cold call, the fifth this week, from one of the earnest young Britons hired in droves by the usually greedy, often desperate financial services organisations that reside in lightly-regulated financial markets around the world.

Wherever you find Britons working abroad, you’re sure to find a cluster of these financial outfits, mostly managed by oleaginous shysters who couldn’t hack it in London, and staffed by ingenues with barely a grasp of finance know-how beyond the obligatory in-house crash-course in hard-selling. Continue reading

Why online estate agents aren’t worth it

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Imagine you’re buying a house, you see an ideal place on a leading property portal and then make an appointment to view with the estate agent.

If you’re dealing with one of the 10,500 or so members of the National Association of Estate Agents then the chances are you’ll speak to a real person in a real office who’s knows the vendor and has a personal stake in getting the property seen by as many people as possible. If you don’t, well, you’ll take your chances… Continue reading