THE BLOG

Year of the Human Swiss Army Knife

04/03/2014 11:04 GMT | Updated 03/05/2014 10:59 BST

Followers of my blog will know that I began the year with a series of exhortations; ten in all and they précis the messages in my new book 'Who Dares Wins in Business.' I illustrate these points with case studies from commerce and, as unlikely as it seems, the SAS. My first call to action was:

'I promise to focus on recruiting and nurturing raw talent, rather than hiring second-hand goods from someone else's worn-out organization. I'm going to surround myself with human "Swiss Army Knives" who learn quickly, thrive on challenge and love to push themselves to the limit.' Two months into 2014 and it's time to take stock of how the many protagonists in the book are getting along.

In all honesty, British Special Forces didn't have a great start to the year. The Daily Mail reported on efforts by health and safety wonks to make SAS Selection less dangerous. Last summer three Territorial Army reservists undergoing the aptitude test succumbed to heat exhaustion and what followed has been a gentrification of the program that has made it less obviously life-threatening. The result has been an upsurge in the candidate pass rate. The Mirror, meanwhile, headlined with 'Special Scarce Service' because they worry that no one wants to join the Parachute Regiment any more, a prime recruitment catchment for the SAS. In combination, you have the potential for a weaker cadre of applicants passing through a less testing filter. It's unlikely the Health & Safety brigade thought about how this might translate to incremental combat casualties further down the line.

On the other side of the analogous divide, how has my eclectic caste of civilian WDWiB talent done in the early part of 2014? Not universally well is the answer. Mothercare shareholders spat out their dummies when CEO Simon Calver seemed to be focused on a more technology-based future rather than an increasingly sad High Street. Tesco bosses couldn't have been thrilled by Warren Buffet's decision to dump stock like a shopping trolley full of out-of-date groceries. Even the mighty Branson has come under attack from a new biography that suggests he hides behind not just a beard but a mask. Meanwhile, the Americans have decided they prefer automatic weapons to Piers Morgan and he's lost his prime-time CNN show. It's been a decidedly mixed bag for the WDWiB characters. Happily, they're all the kind of people who subscribe to my tenth and final SAS imperative:

'I promise to learn from my mistakes, to avoid repeating the same ones and to bounce back vigorously when things work out disappointingly'.

However, the 'War for Talent' has enjoyed moments of enlightenment this year. According to Winston Churchill; '"Courage is rightly esteemed the finest of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others". One of the most important decisions Chairmen have to take is around the appointment of CEOs. Will they go for a safe pair of hands from within a particular industry or take a slightly braver decision based on raw talent and versatility? Rupert Soames, grandson of the great man, will soon take the CEO helm at Serco, the troubled private security company, switching from power-provider Aggreko. Serco shareholders signalled their approval with a 10% share hike, Aggreko's shareholders expressed their chagrin with a (4%) decline. This is not the first cross-industry hire to gain shareholder approbation. Another Churchillian hire took the form of Harriet Green's appointment to Thomas Cook. Instead of hiring from the Travel industry, Chairman Frank Meysman listened to a direct approach from Green and decided that he liked the sound of her track-record at electronics group Premier Farnell. Perhaps these appointments have yet to play out but British Land Plc must have been pleased when their "non-property" CEO Chris Grigg collected the National Property Company of the Year Award 2013.

For the Chinese, 2014 is The Year of the Horse. For the rest of us it is, as always, the Year of the Human Swiss Army Knife.