BusinessPeople In BusinessOn the money

On the money

Earlier this month William Hague was talking at a conference in Paris devoted to the arcane science of buy side technology

Within minutes he had the audience eating out of his hand.

Naturally enough he knew nothing about the subject but that did not matter
because he did not pretend to.

He had a deep well of humorous, if inconsequential, observations and
anecdotes, which he told in such a way that they seemed almost relevant. It was
a dramatic example of the professional communicators’ adage that it’s not what
you say, it’s the way that you say it.

This, of course, is anathema to accountants who when speaking seem to believe
that content is all that matters and, if the audience has to struggle to absorb
the message, then it merely demonstrates how important that message is. The two
professions, accountants and politicians, clearly approach the issue from
opposite ends of the spectrum and rightly so.

There would be no point in having an accountant if neither of you had any
idea whether his figures were accurate or not, no matter how entertainingly they
are presented. With politicians the message is usually bland so one wants to be
entertained.

Nevertheless, each could learn a bit from the other. When Archie Norman ran
Asda he used to employ McKinsey and was noted for giving its junior consultants
– among them William Hague and Lord ( Adair) Turner – a hard time by setting
notably demanding tasks.

The story is, however, that while the others toiled over their spreadsheets
and tried to make the numbers work, Hague would adjourn to the nearest pub or
coffee shop with a few middle managers – and in the course of an of hour talking
to them learn far more about what really made the business tick than he would
have learned in a week of studying the accounts.

Anthony Hilton is finance editor of the Evening Standard

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