The Blog

Mike Ashley, Rotten Apples, Jenga And The Laws Of Karma

I was playing Jenga with my kids at the weekend. To say it was taxing and frustrating - as well as being damn right difficult - is an understatement. You think you've got it under control, then everything falls apart around you. In some ways for kids, playing Jenga is great preparation for life. It's full of surprises, ups and downs, but through skill, craft and care, you can plot a happy course through it.

As a guy working with lots of businesses and brands (two words that to be honest I've now realised are interchangeable), I could also see lessons from Jenga jumping out at me.

Firstly, you're only as strong as your weakest link, and that weak link can often have way more effect that you first suspect. Apple, a company any brand and tech guy reveres, have been accused this week of bad practices inside the company.

Everyone is talking after dozens of Apple employee emails were leaked, alleging that the company can have a "toxic" and sexist work environment.

It may well be that problem of a "toxic" workplace with endemic sexism and bad attitudes towards mental health is widespread in other companies, if indeed, that it is the case at Apple. The tech giant insists: "Apple is committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect" and there's no evidence that Apple's workplace culture is worse than its competitors.

It could be nothing, it could be something - I'm not here to judge (yet) but it's big news. Big news beyond the business pages and the timing is not going to help the imminent launch of the iPhone 7.

Any business that wants to be successful in the long term and not just chase short term profit needs to think about its values. You can do well by doing the right thing. Worse you can risk damaging the business or brand you've worked so hard to carefully craft/build, by neglecting to have strong values and culture internally.

Values and culture are some of the most important jenga blocks in the tower of business.

You need to ensure sure that you have values that your employees are clear about and processes in place to root out bad apples from your business and live this from the top down.

It also follows last month's decision by the European Commission to recover 13billion Euros - plus interest - for Apple's alleged unpaid taxes in Ireland.

And Apple isn't the only big business under scrutiny at the moment either.

The EU are now looking into the tax affairs of Google, Amazon, McDonald's and Starbucks.

That in turn comes as Sports Direct has agreed to an independent review into the way it treats its workers.

MPs described the company's warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, as "a Victorian workhouse" after a Guardian investigation revealed a 'climate of fear' amongst employees, all mostly on low pay and zero hours contracts.

Mike Ashley, the company's founder and deputy chairman, says he had "taken his eye off the ball" and that the problems were down to a few "rotten apples," but has agreed to an independent review into practices at the business.

Today (Friday 23 Sept), Ashley became CEO after former head Dave Forsey stepped down after a report commission by the company found Forsey had failed to tell the board about some of the issues at Shirebrook.

Secondly, it makes me think of karma. Doing the right thing. Within karmic principles, there is a foundational belief that what goes around comes around.

If you cut corners, rush things, don't recognise that your actions and behaviours are consequential then really bad shit can happen.

As the saying goes 'you only get one chance to lose your integrity'.

Sports Direct sits at the other end of the corporate spectrum to Apple in many ways but their continued plight and maelstrom of negativity commenced when their owner started cutting corners, chancing his arm, exploiting loop holes, and not being generous in spirit.

I already know that my kids could beat Mike Ashley at Jenga as they are learning to appreciate that life is an interconnected experience. You are as strong as your weakest link and that doing the wrong thing , however disconnected from your business, brand or product will always have consequences. It's time to embrace a more humane style of capitalism in big business - if only for karma's sake...