from the guardian
Students at Harvard Business School probably know little of Millwall Football Club. Nevertheless the corporate titans of the future might do well to learn from the luckless London team, now sunk at the bottom of the English game’s second tier and set to be relegated to its third.
Which is not to say that the financial masters of the universe are not already expert in one aspect of Millwall lore. Paying themselves squillions and ignoring the protest and revulsion that come with it, they made Millwall’s chant – “No one likes us, we don’t care” – their own years ago. But the Millwall lesson I have in mind is more recent.
On Tuesday the club sacked its manager, Ian Holloway. After a run of defeats, Holloway lost the fans and was gone. It followed a brutal, basic logic: the boss gets the credit when the team do well, so he gets the blame when they do badly. That’s why he gets the big money. Here’s what Holloway did not say when challenged over Millwall’s terrible loss of form. “Ah, but that was nothing to do with me. As the senior management figure, I cannot be held responsible for every little transaction, every pass and tackle, on the pitch. I have to rely on those who report to me. If the team has been performing badly, prime responsibility lies with those on the ground, namely the players.”
If Holloway had tried that, he’d have been run out of town. No manager would dare utter the words. Bear that in mind as you recall the evidence given by HSBC’s top brass when they appeared before the public accounts committee of the House of Commons this week.
The star witness was Rona Fairhead, now chair of the BBC Trust, but crucially chair of HSBC’s audit committee until 2010 – in place during the period when, as the Guardian recently revealed, the bank’s Swiss arm was engaged in assisting clients with the most egregious tax evasion.
Asked why she hadn’t spotted this misconduct, Fairhead promptly passed the buck to the outside experts who were meant to keep her informed. “If you can’t rely on experts, then what can you do?” she asked plaintively, in a variation of that age-old complaint of the privileged, “You just can’t get the staff”. The notion that – for the £500,000-plus she was paid for doing between 75 and 100 days work a year for HSBC – she ought to have done her own digging to get to the truth seemed beyond her. Nor did it apparently cross her mind that if the information supply to her audit committee was wayward, that too might be her responsibility.