Wednesday, 12 March 2014
The self-destruction of Euan Sutherland
One of the chapters in Trust Me, PR Is Dead explores the need for businesses to "mutualise the thinking, if not the business model". It would appear that Euan Sutherland was attempting to do just this at the Co-Op, somehow hoping to protect the mutual spirit of the organisation he led, while putting in place more "conventional" operating structures. It was an unhappy and, as it turned out, unworkable combination.
I have not been party to the travails at the Co-Op close-up but have watched its implosion with dismay. The Rochdale Pioneers - a personal inspiration - must be swivelling in their graves. Meanwhile, companies continue to laud the likes of John Lewis. Mondragon and Handelsbanken as "Best Practice" but often seem reluctant themselves to follow the more mutualised model in its entirety. Words, for many, remain louder (and more convenient) than actions.
As the book explores, PR has been an invaluable prop to prevailing capitalist orthodoxy. It has been part of the problem and is not part of the solution. Both need to be challenged by those of us who believe that there has to be a better way. For the vast majority of CEOs and business leaders, this means that the future does not look like the past; that they will have to re-think their own roles and responsibilities in an activist world; to sacrifice a degree of profit for purpose; and even to occasonally press the self-destruct button. A flourishing Business State does not puruse profit and power alone.
Sadly, with shades of John Major, Euan Sutherland seemed to be playing the "back me or sack me" card,. His own self-destruct button backfired badly - probably not just for him personally but potentially for the wider Co-Operative movement and its fundamental principles.