Is Gordon Brown the brilliant founder/terrible CEO type?
It’s been steadily mounting, gaining momentum and is probably not over. Brown Bashing is now a favourite pastime in English media. At the same time as France gets overtaken by the Blue Wave, Great Britain is enjoying the savaging of his prime minister in waiting.
Nicolas Sarkozy has developed the image of a startup CEO of sorts. He is always on the move when photographed, wants an Elysee buzzing with advisors and dealmakers and will drive his team very hard.
On my way back from Paris I was enjoying a dip into the wonderfully impartial Daily Telegraph (of course Lord Black is innocent !) and I thought I might share with you some of the highlights of a fantastic article (page 12, June 12) about "Grumpy Gordon":
- "He won’t enjoy being PM, says a permanent secretary. "It’s everything he detests, from being blamed when things go wrong to meeting people he doesn’t know".
- "He will shout and scream, but after a few days he calms down" says a close friend. His emails are written in angry capital letters and are full of spelling mistakes as he bashes the keyboard with two nail-bitten fingers.
- For years he has spent cabinet meetings with his head buried in a pile of papers. He glowers through international summits, where polite small talk, rather than agressive negotiation, is the order of the day.
- "I don’t know anyone who thinks that Gordon is easy. The world is divided between people who will put up with is behaviour because they think that he’s agreat man and those who won’t."
- A senior civil servant says: "Gordon believes that denial of information is power"
- The banker David Freud, who had done a review [on welfare reform] was hauled into the Treasury to present his findings. "He said hello, got a 45 minute rant from Gordon then said Goodbye" says a Whitehall source.
- "The idea that he’s a team player is utterly ludicrous" says a former permanent secretary. "He has a small number of civil servants whom he sees a ‘one of his’ and bypasses others".
- Another official says: "It’s hard to know what Gordon wants. He leaves it to his advisor to explain his handwaving. He surrounds himself with second-rate yes-men, he doesn’t want anyone who threatens his chain of command".
Anyway it goes on like this for a while, a great Brownite Bonfire. Besides the character assasination it’s interesting that this set of comments could also describe a classic character in venture novels: the technically brilliant founder who turns out to be a terrible CEO.
I have come across a few of those in my career and they tend to share the same characteristics: inability to listen, tendency to be temperemental, relying on loyalty rather than talent, information control and general control freakery and so on. Perhaps the greatest sin in this is not recognising your own limitations and hence wasting the opportunity.
In the same that I would not want a temperemental and emotionally immature founder to run a business, I do not think I want Gordon Brown, however smart he is, running the country. Mr Sarkozy, who had terrible results at his Baccalaureat (A-Levels) and is also sometimes temperemental, feels comparatively much healthier to me !
The final nail in the coffin: "I actually think he’ll go mad, he’ll be the first prime minister to be carried out of No10 by the men in the white coats" says a "Downing Street advisor". Of course I don’t know if any of these purported civil servants really exist, but it makes for a good read anyway :-)