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Raising the tone

Here’s a top tip for any women thinking about going into politics. According to a female MP I interviewed recently, sexism hasn’t yet been fully eradicated from the corridors of power. The problem, I’m told, is particularly prevalent when it comes to addressing fellow MPs in the House. Frequently, opening comments from a lady MP will be met with a noisy discord designed to force her to raise her voice. “Unless she has quite a deep voice to start off with, this can make a woman sound shrill and slightly out of control,” my interviewee explains. However, if the victim waits for the Speaker to call for order, she is perceived as a wimp. The solution? “Pinpoint one of the overhead microphones and make damn sure you get a seat directly underneath it,” my MP advises.

Great Ritalin?

What does it take to get to the top in business? Judging from some of recent interviews I’ve done, the answer is simple: all you need is a huge amount of talent, a thick skin - and boundless energy. The interviews were part of some research I did for a feature looking into why there are so still so few women on the on the boards of the FTSE100/250. But both my male and female interviewees made it clear that these were the essential qualities needed to be an uber-exec. The first two qualities are fairly self-evident but the more business leaders I interview, the more I realise that they’re not just blessed with an unusual amount of corporate vim, they’re plain hyperactive. They call it ‘drive’ but actually they just can’t sit still. They say they need to keep ‘looking for new challenges’ but actually they’re looking for next adrenalin fix. They say they need to ‘keep their minds busy’ but actually they’re unable to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. How different are these characteristics from the children now being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? All I can say is thank goodness that the ADHD suppressant Ritalin wasn’t around when our current business leaders were children or UK plc might have been denied some of its best performers.

PS. To find out why there are still only three female FDs in the FTSE100 and nine in the FTSE250 read the April issue of Financial Management magazine.

Dreaming Spires

One of the benefits of living in south-east London is having Greenwich Park on your doorstep. On sunny days the view of the long sweep from the top of the park, down over the Thames and across to the burgeoning new city in the Docklands is quite impressive. I say quite impressive with reason. Because once you’ve got over the shock of how much the Isle of Dogs has mushroomed in recent years, the after-effect is the same as opening a present and finding nothing inside.

When Canary Wharf Tower went up, it was a huge, solitary beacon of capitalism rising up amongst the dereliction – Thatcher’s Dick, I think they used to call it. And whether you were a capitalist or not, you had to admit that the pyramid at the top looked pretty funky – especially when it appeared to be manufacturing its own perpendicular cloud from the apex. Ten years on, six or seven other skyscrapers have now appeared around the tower. However these new constructions are not beacons but monuments to mediocrity; dull, grey rectangles boasting wealth without a hint of individuality or charm.

I know the administration of finance is a pretty dull, grey business but haven’t the honchos at Barclays, HSBC, Citibank and the like missed a trick here? I presume much of their collective success has come from being slightly less dull and grey than their competitors. So why on earth didn’t they see the construction of a bloody great big concrete erection in the middle of the new City as a superb marketing opportunity?

Londoners liked Swiss Re’s curvaceous new building in the old City so much they gave it a nickname – and quite a few of them can tell you who funded it as well. But there is nothing distinguishing these new Dockland erections other than the company’s logo at the top – and these days a brand on its own is just not enough. (In the name of CSR, at least give us Londoners something interesting to look at.) After Thatcher’s Dick, all we have to show for the new era of financial enlightenment is a sad collection of, what could you call them? ‘Blair’s Wieners’?

Some examples of more inspired city development can be found at:
Big buildings

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