An Interview with Lord (Peter) Chadlington

Lord Chadlington
Lord Chadlington

8th February 2016

Peter Gummer has been an influential figure in PR for many decades. He started his own firm, Shandwick, in 1974. This quickly became the largest PR company in the UK and was publically listed in 1984. He was made a peer with the title of Lord Chadlington in 1996, and is also President of the Witney Conservative constituency association.

Q: How well do you think PR has adapted to the arrival of the Internet and social media?
A: PR has adapted extremely slowly to it, and in some areas, it’s been significantly to its deficit. The reality is that the vast majority of people under the age of 30 communicate digitally, through social media. They don’t read The Times, yet politicians are obsessed by what happens in analogue media, and they do not understand how to use digital media. They feel they should be able to do it, and they tweet, and they do the stuff they think they should do, but they’re not really engaged with it. There’s one exception to that: President Obama, who understood how to make it work in elections and used it to fundraise effectively. But in general, PR has been slow in using the Internet to its full advantage. There are, increasingly, people who are doing it very well, but we’ve been slow, largely because we have grey haired oldies like me running the agencies, not young men like you, who should be running the agencies, because communication is now done in such a different form. People like me should concentrate on high level strategic work while digital natives like you should be running the agencies.

Q: What’s your opinion on whether the UK should leave the European Union?
A: I think that the UK should stay in the European Union, largely because I believe that the alternative is an even greater unknown. It’s like getting divorced: it’s better to know your wife and realise her shortcomings, and for your wife to know your shortcomings, than to set off down the road, marry somebody else, but then find that the problems are even worse. So I believe that we made a commitment; I would stay with it in this particular marriage, and I would continue to try and make it better, which I think is exactly what the Prime Minister is doing.

Q: Do you think the House of Lords is overcrowded?
A: Yes. The House of Lords is too big. It’s too big in almost every sense. For a long time, until I turned 73 myself, I took the view that the answer was to have an age limit. But I was in the House of Lords the other day, listening to Nigel Lawson, who is older than me, and I thought to myself ‘How can we lose a brain like that in reviewing legislature, based on all of his experience and all of his knowledge; how can we possibly lose that from the government process?’ So I felt that an age limit was wrong, but we do have far too many members of the House of Lords.
I’m rather drawn to Lord Steel’s point of view, which is that if you don’t come to the House of Lords then you shouldn’t stay here. Many of the peers, and I’m one, have full time external jobs, so we can’t come all the time, but I do try and come when there’s a vote and when they want me to vote. I don’t speak, because you have to commit forward, and I travel every week, and I never know if I’ll be here, but I do ask written questions, and I do try to come to the House of Lords whenever I can, so I’m active in that sense, but I’m not active in the other sense. The idea of how you would use it is very interesting, but I think it boils down to how often do you come, how often do you vote, and how often do you participate. Those are the questions that have to be asked, and if you don’t meet certain minimum requirements, I think you should be asked to leave.

Q: Who do you think will replace David Cameron as the leader of the Conservative party?
A: Well, the great thing about the Conservative Party at this moment is that we have an embarrassment of riches over the number of people who could succeed David Cameron. There are all the obvious candidates who are inside the cabinet, but there are also some very bright people coming up. This is not going to happen soon: this is going to happen perhaps in 2019 or 2020, and there’s no reason to suppose that the new leader of the party shouldn’t be somebody who came into Parliament for the first time in 2015. So there’s plenty of time, but I think that there will be a number of very good candidates for the job of being leader of the Conservative Party and therefore Prime Minister, because it’s in that order, and I think that all of them would make fine Prime Ministers.

Q: How much of a problem do you think addiction is in the UK?
A: I think it is singly the biggest problem that we face. By addiction, I include addiction to sugar, I include addiction to tobacco, addiction to drugs, and an addiction from which I suffer, which is addiction to work. You talked few minutes ago about social media. There is also addiction to electronic media, to all sorts tablets, everything like that. We’ve all ended up in a world in which extreme behaviour is regarded as the norm, and as a result, I believe that the quality of our cultural life and our family life has been appallingly, almost irreversibly, damaged.

Q: Which books would you recommend to someone my age?
A: Other than the Bible and Shakespeare? The most interesting book about modern life, in my view, is written by Tom Wolfe, so I would ask you to read Bonfire of the Vanities, because it has within it all the consequences of being too materialistic – which is a huge danger – and the resulting devaluing of human relationships. So I would encourage you to read Bonfire of the Vanities, and if you had the appetite for it, I would encourage you then to read another book by Wolfe called A Man in Full.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt of the course of your distinguished career?
A: I think there are three things, one of which is more important than anything else. I think that you can never underestimate the importance of good manners and courtesy. Second, you must force into your life, and my children would now roar with laughter, some kind of work-life balance. You have to have another world, a hinterland, and that is terribly important. I remember a very senior politician saying to me once, when I asked if he got upset about the terrible things that were written about him: ‘That’s not me, that’s my public persona. I have a carapace which surrounds me, so those things don’t hurt me. My home, my life, my private life, my personal life is what I protect.’ That was very interesting. The third big lesson is the most important one: never give up. The number of times I have seen people who would have succeeded if only they had tried for a little bit longer. The most successful people keep on going and they never ever give up. You don’t have to be clever in life, you have to be determined to keep on going. Never look back, never say if only I did that, learn your lessons, of course learn your lessons, but otherwise, keep on going.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: I think never give up, which is pretty important. In other words, I couldn’t do everything, but what I could do I was going to do as well as possible. Everybody of my generation can remember having a teacher at school who was, for some reason or another, extremely influential in your life. You look back and say ‘If I hadn’t met that teacher, if I hadn’t spent time with that person.’ I had an English teacher, who wasn’t a particularly clever man, but I felt degree of empathy with him; he taught me how to enjoy books, and that was the most important thing of my teenage years.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: Yes, try even harder. I mean, there were things that I wish I had persevered at, for example, music. I could sing quite well, I’ve naturally got a good voice and that’s a gift, but I never went through the exercise of honing it. I regret not doing this. My son is ten years older than you, he’s 26, and we went to the rugby this weekend in Ireland, and we had 36 hours together. We were talking about this, and I suddenly said to him: ‘I look back and I think “Why didn’t I ever pick up a golf club? Why didn’t I ever do this? Why didn’t I ever do that?” ’ I wish I had tried to do more things to see if I liked them.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met, and why?
A: The most interesting person, who recently died, was an author called Phyllis James. She wrote thrillers under the name of P. D. James, and I was captivated by her. I’ve always wanted to be able to write really well and the thing I found most difficult was dialogue. And this was what she said to me on the subject: ‘I almost have a mental picture on the wall above my head of the characters in the book. So I have one person here, and he’s got black hair, and dresses like this, and so on. And over here, I have another person, and he looks like this. And when I come to write the words, I look up at the picture of the person, and I imagine how they would say something. These people take on a life of their own, and that’s why, when I finish writing a book, I’m exhausted, and it takes a while for something to trigger my imagination again.’ And she said the spark that brings someone to life could be very tiny. It could be the way the tie is knotted in somebody’s necktie, or how they pick up their napkin after they’ve had their food, anything. ‘Suddenly, I see something and I see a character developing, and that’s why I can do the dialogue so well.’ That was a little bit of a very long conversation I had with her about writing, and she was very generous in talking to me about it. Her books, particularly the development of a character called Inspector Dalgliesh, are very good. If you haven’t read a P. D. James thriller, they are all remarkable and you should do so, and she was an extraordinary lady. She died aged 94 last year.

An Interview with Dame Alison Carnwath

Dame Alison
Dame Alison

1st February 2016

Alison Carnwath was the first woman to become a FTSE 100 Chairman. She was made Chairman of the Land Securities Group in 2008 and continues to serve in the role today. She was Chairman of the Barclays’ Remuneration Committee until 2012, and today is also a Senior Adviser at Evercore.

Q: How do you see the property markets evolving as interest rates rise?
A: Property markets normally react like any other markets: to supply and demand. At the moment, we are still in a reasonably constrained commercial property market environment and demand is quite high, higher than supply. The supply pipeline looks quite extensive and rich. A lot of that supply pipeline tends never to get built for a variety of reasons, and one of those reasons, traditionally, has been that the developers have not been able to get hold of the finance. However, this time around it’s a little different, because the banks started lending late in the property cycle to developers. Property companies and developers are not really very overleveraged as they were in the last couple of downturns that came, and so the type of interest rate rises that are going to happen, in my comprehension anyway, over the next three or four years, are not really going to have a great effect on what is going on in the property world

Q: Do you think that bonuses at banks should be more closely linked to long term performance?
A: In the days when people were not very mobile in their jobs, perhaps they had two jobs in their life, and they were well trained and well looked after and got promoted within an organisation – and many banks have traditionally been like this – then people would have been very happy and would still be very happy, I think, to take their bonus incentives by way of owning stock in the company. They own this for a long period of time and build up a nest egg, a pension fund, a fund pot, whatever you want to call it, for later on in their lives. These days people want to go into lots of different jobs and learn lots of different things, and so I think, in those circumstances, you can’t really talk about long term incentives for people. People want instant gratification, they want to be paid a proper salary and a proper bonus, and they don’t want to be necessarily linked to their employer. So I’m a bit gloomier than perhaps I might have been five or ten years ago about long term incentives.

A Selfie of Me with Dame Alison
A Selfie of Me with Dame Alison

Q: How has investment banking changed since you entered the industry? What do you see its future being?
A: Its future is obviously to provide customers with the services they want to enable them to run their businesses properly. Many investment banks also have asset management capabilities, which is another way of effectively investing their customers’ cash in things which they believe are going to provide them with good returns. When I joined investment banking, it was all pretty simple: the derivatives markets were underdeveloped, the advisory market was very important, the broking market dealt with the distribution of stocks and shares, and the investors effectively provided the funds, the pension funds and the life companies. So, the actual investment banking side that I joined was the advisory side of an accepting house, Schroder’s. It’s all got rather complicated. They all went into trading, as opposed to distribution of servicing, or advisory, and that has resulted in a very heavy-handed regulation coming down on them in many different ways, trying to change their behaviours in terms of Dodd-Frank, trying to change their capital requirements to ensure that they don’t have to be bailed out by the state or the taxpayer again. They’re going to have to prune, which many of them have started doing, those businesses where there are no longer the high volumes and where they don’t get high returns, where a lot of capital is required. They’re going to have to prune those businesses, and probably simplify themselves quite a lot. The best banks will still have great entrepreneurs in them, who will think up the next service which their client wants, or the next product their client wants.

Q: What are your views about whether the UK should leave the European Union?
A: I’m currently waiting to hear both sides of the argument. Frankly, I think that the Great British Public will probably be completely confused by the choices in front of them. At the moment, I can’t say that I’m struck by either the pros or the antis’ arguments. I think this is actually a very personal choice for individuals. Older people are likely to want to come out, and younger people are likely to want to stay in, for all sorts of emotional reasons and to keep business as usual. So, at the moment, I’m keeping pretty quiet on this subject.

Q: How do you think progress is going on closing gender inequality in boardrooms?

A: I think gender inequality has made some strides, through the heavy hand of some guidance that started off, really, with the Davies report and the 30% Club. I think there’s been some good progress in terms of the supervisory role of boards. It has been less evident in terms of the executive roles in boards, but that was always going to take longer, and I think that’s going to make some progress. So, I think compared to the last 50 years, it’s done reasonably well. I think the bigger question is the broader inclusion of people from ethnic minorities, people who are at a disadvantage in life. How are these boardrooms going to adapt to a wider group of stakeholders that corporates these days have to be more aware of, and in many cases look after.

Q: Which three books would you recommend to someone my age?
A: Well, Greenmantle [a thriller by the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan]. As it is 2016, I suspect you should read something about Shakespeare and his influence on all subsequent writers. I can’t name a book here, but I suspect you should be reading something from contemporary authors who are writing about what’s going on in the Far East. You should read something contemporary about how the rest of the world is thinking about life, as opposed to just sticking to lists that come out of UK and US publishers.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?

A: Number one, always to be decent to people. I’m sure I went through that phase of thinking you could tell people what to do and even be quite harsh with them. I think the honey pot is better than the vinegar bottle, and that comes with treating people fairly and being decent to them. To be determined, because I think if you are ambitious, which I always have been, if you are determined, it is a very good quality to remind yourself that you have.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: In my teenage years, I spent a lot of time in Germany. I did a school exchange when I was 14. I was rather impressed and beguiled by the German standard of living and German ambition. So, that resulted in my becoming quite fond of that country, and certainly the people I met over those years. It led to me reading economics and German at university, and I suppose, ultimately, led to me going on the board of BASF, which is a big German chemical company. But I think it was the experience of being somewhere completely outside my family environment, in what appeared to be a safe house.

Q: Is there anything that you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: No, I can’t think of anything.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met and why?
A: I’ve been fortunate to meet lots of interesting people. I think probably Meryl Streep, because I’d never met an actress before. She struck me as a perfectly normal person and I had quite a long conversation with her. I think why I found that interesting was I obviously had an expectation of her, and she was quite different to what I had in my mind.

An Interview with John Redwood MP

John Redwood
John Redwood

19th January 2016

John Redwood has been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. He has held a number of ministerial positions both in Government and in Opposition, and highlights include being the Secretary of State for Wales and the Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Today, he is prominent on backbenches. He advocates for the UK to leave the EU, and is part of the Eurosceptic Conservatives for Britain group.

Q: In your opinion, what are the main reasons for the UK to leave the European Union?
A: I want us to leave because I think we do not agree with the main purposes of the modern European Union. The modern European Union, as the name describes, wishes now to make rapid progress towards creating the United States of Europe. The central feature of the European Union scheme today is membership of the Euro currency. All countries are either in it, or will join it, with the exceptions of Denmark and the United Kingdom. It will become increasingly difficult to be a Euro out member of the European Union, with no intention of joining.
Another feature of the Union is the free movement of people and the wish to have border controls at the Union level. The United Kingdom has resisted part of this and still has its own border controls. It is quite obvious from our current political debate that there is very little support for the idea of creating a single external border and being part of the general moving of peoples within a larger country. Europe will want to have a strong common foreign policy and defence policy, and again, the United Kingdom is very reluctant to surrender her independent seat on the Security Council to pool all her weapons systems with continental countries and to accept the commonality of action, which will be expected or required in due course. So, I think when you’re in a club and it has a series of aims which are no longer your aims, the honest and decent thing to do is to admit that and to leave. In a way, we joined what we thought was a cricket club, a trading body, and now there’s compulsory rugby, and compulsory soccer, and compulsory swimming, and we don’t want to do any of those things and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify either the club’s subscription or membership.

Q: Do you think the Conservative Party will be split over this issue?
A: Well, most Conservative members agree with me that we need to leave. They, like me, believe that we will be more democratic, better off, freer, if we’re out of the European Union than if we remain in it, so I think most of us will be campaigning to leave.
There will be some Conservative members, and perhaps many more Conservative Members of Parliament, who will be campaigning to stay in on changed terms. I think this can be a civilised debate, where we accept our differences. After all, it would be a dead political party that didn’t have some differences in opinion within it; this is just a rather public and large one, and so, I hope once a referendum has decided the issue, then the party will come back together again quite rapidly, as we agree about more things than we disagree about.

A Selfie of Me with Mr Redwood
A Selfie of Me with Mr Redwood

Q: What effect do you think Jeremy Corbyn will have on the Labour Party? Do you think that they will be able to contest the next General Election?
A: Of course they will contest the next General Election, and they might even contest the next General Election with Mr Corbyn as their leader. Mr Corbyn is clearly very popular with the membership of the Labour Party: I think we need to recall that he won a stunning victory; that he didn’t just beat his opponents, but he beat them by a huge margin in the first round. You would normally expect a contest between four senior people in a party to go to more than one round, but Mr Corbyn won outright on the first vote, with a very strong majority of all party members. So we know he has a very strong mandate, and that I think that gives Mr Corbyn every right to lead his party more in the direction of his choosing.
His problem is that his main opponents are elected Members of Parliament, rather than members of the party, and he has issues with how he manages and leads his Members of Parliament, and he has a big issue with the extent to which he compromises with them. It appears at the moment that he wishes to win the argument with them, or to win the vote with them over opposing the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine force, but not to fight them over Europe. I think Mr Corbyn probably would like rather less European interference in our affairs, and I think he’s decided to do a deal with his party which is broadly sympathetic to the European Union.
How popular or unpopular will Corbyn policies be? It looks like they are only popular with a 30% or so minority of the British public, so that isn’t a terribly good basis for entering a General Election. But I think we need to see how it develops, because there will be further arguments between Mr Corbyn and his Members of Parliament over what their stance should be, and it’s even possible that some elements of the Corbyn package are popular. I think that Conservatives too readily write everything off which Mr Corbyn does, because he is taking Labour down in the polls and he has some rather extreme positions, but if you take, for example, his opposition to fighting wars in the Middle East, that is probably a more popular policy.

Q: As China is growing at its slowest rate for 25 years, do you think the recent spate of deals with the UK are beneficial, or do you think the UK is exposing itself too much to global economies?
A: I think the UK has no choice but to expose itself to global economies. The UK is, by tradition, a big world trading economy with a very large proportion of its activity relative to other countries involved in importing and exporting goods and services to other parts of the world. I don’t wish us to change it and I don’t think you could change it quickly.
The United Kingdom has rightly identified the emergence of China as the world’s second largest economy now. You rightly point out that Chinese growth last year was slow by recent Chinese standards, but the growth rate was still close to 7%, which is still one of the highest growth rates of any country in the world. You need to remember that now we’ve had 25 years of fast growth in China, the base is so much bigger. So, if you carry on compounding Chinese growth even at lower rates, the amount it adds to the world economy is still very significant. China is still a very important generator of total world growth. It is a big proportion of it because it’s relatively fast on a big base. I think the good news in the Chinese figures, contrary to some of the pessimistic pundits, was that there does seem to have been reasonable growth last year in China and I suspect we’ve now seen the worst. I think there was a very noticeable slowdown in China recently. I think now, perhaps, they’re through the worst and Chinese authorities have scope to ease. I don’t want to go into detail on individual transactions that the United Kingdom has entered into with China, but I think taken overall, it is right that the UK needs to trade more with China. We have been relatively backward in getting a decent share of Chinese trade and it has to be two way.

Q: Which parts of the world do you think are likely to grow the fastest?
A: I think the current consensus view is that China and India will be the faster growing of the larger emerging market economies, despite the Chinese difficulties and slowdown. The United States of America will still be growing at around 2%, or a bit more in 2016. The United States of America, of course, has the lead in technology. I think technology is still a very exciting area: we’re living in the digital revolution, where the coming of the internet is transforming business models and people’s ability to undertake activity. The Europeans have been struggling with the very difficult banking crisis superimposed on the currency crisis, inspired by structural difficulties in the Euro. But it looks as if there will be better recovery in the European Union as well.

Q: Do you think that India will be able to compete against China?
A: I think India is now growing a little bit faster than China. I think India will do certain things very well, there’s been good progress in India in building a bigger middle class and in achieving high standards of education and technical expertise in a number of areas, which puts India in a relatively good position. I mean, it’s true that Indian per capita average levels of income are still below those of China, and so there is some catching up to do, but I think that India has a perfectly good future. I think the United Kingdom government was right not only to seek to promote more trade and contact with China, but also with India, and there was a very successful visit by Prime Minister Modi recently from India, which I think helped.

Q: Do you think that people should have different jobs before they enter politics?
A: I think it’s probably a good idea, if you’re thinking of wanting to be a Member of Parliament, with the commitment that entails, to do some other things first. Most people’s lives are quite long and it’s probably a good idea to come into Parliament having done other things, so that you have some experience of how the rest of the world works. There will be others who have taken a different route, who will say that they were so interested in politics, they wanted to start off as a political advisor or secretary and then work their way up, and that works for some people. I don’t wish to decry people who do that, but I think Parliament is stronger and better for having a wide range of people from very different backgrounds, and so, I think it is good if a number of people come in having done other things. I certainly chose the latter route. I’m glad I did, because I found the things I learnt and discovered working in competitive businesses useful in my various roles as a Member of Parliament, offering criticism on the way the public sector is run, or trying to find solutions to problems.

Q: What life lessons have you learned over the course of your distinguished career?
A: Well, I think you learn a lesson most days of the week, if you’re sensible. We can always improve, and the one piece of advice that I’d venture to give is always see what you can learn from a situation. Learning is not confined to school or university, and in some ways when you graduate, your learning begins: going to school and university should equip you with the skills of reading and analysis and criticism, but then you need to fill your mind with real life examples and with problems that you wish to help resolve. So, each day should be about learning, as well as doing and giving. I always found it useful, each day, to think to myself: how can I improve this? How can I do better in that? Why did that go wrong? Why did that work?
I still find it very interesting to meet people who are really successful, because I find it fascinating to learn how they’re so good at something, and what it was that led them to what they do. I find the normal common thread behind all of them, whether they are willing to tell you or not, is hard work. You normally find that people who are really good at things are good at them because they practice a lot.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years that you think influenced your success?
A: I think the thing I learnt in my teenage years, whilst I was still at school and before I went to university was this: what I learnt and how well I did was down to me. It wasn’t the responsibility of my teachers; they were there to help and guide me. I think as soon as you get to the point in life when you realise that how well you do at something is mainly down to what you put into it, how you approach it, whether you’ve got the right mental approach – then you can start to make more progress.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I think the one thing I regret is that, because I was keen to succeed academically, I read a lot of books, and I didn’t play as much cricket as I would have liked as a younger man. But I sought to make up for it subsequently: I’ve now played rather more cricket as an older individual. It’s not quite the same because you can’t inject the same pace into the bowling as you would have done at eighteen, or twenty. But there we are, we all have wasted youths and perhaps I read too many books.

Q: Finally, who is the most interesting person you’ve met, and why?
A: I guess the most interesting person I’ve met, because I knew her very well and worked very closely with her, was Margaret Thatcher. She had a complex personality, caricatured often quite falsely by her critics and enemies. It was a privilege to work with her and to help her through an interesting period of transformation in the United Kingdom, when various things had to change and improve to set us on a road to greater freedom and prosperity.
I also think we are, as they used to say, dwarfs on the shoulders of giants in many ways. You can learn from people in the past, and so, in my youth, I was very conscious that I was trying to learn from the dead; you read the works of quite a lot of dead people. On some occasions, I was just blown away by how good they were: you read Shakespeare and you think ‘My goodness, how do you write so well?’
At other times, I read people and I couldn’t believe they were so influential. I read Marx, and I so disagreed with everything he was saying, with the programme he sent out and what I thought lay behind it. I felt I had to spend part of my early years in politics dealing with the Marxist folly and trying to reverse that. Marx had written the Communist Party Manifesto, which was an extremely popular and well-read book, and I wrote the much less well-known Popular Capitalist Manifesto. But that was the manifesto that lay behind the Thatcher revolution, and how we created greater freedom and more free enterprise into a world movement on the back of what we did here in the United Kingdom. So that was an exciting part of my life, but it arose out of coming across Marx as a student, and being really quite horrified by what I read.