Monthly Archives: June 2014

Football – troubled or triumphant ?

I love football. The skill, the unpredictability, the atmosphere and the drama all combined to cook up a viewing feast.

The first World Cup I ever watched was Argentina in 1978. I thought Peru were fantastic with their red striped tops and ability to leather it into the top corner at any moment. Then there was Scotland chasing an improbable margin of victory against Holland, being given hope by the glory of Archie Gemmell dancing through the Holland defence, only for Holland to snatch it back with an arrow like strike moments later. However the single most vivid memory was the white streamers and ticker tape pouring from the stands when Argentina played. It was just amazing and I’d never seen anything like it. I’m sure if it happened today it would be acclaimed by a brand of bog roll, but anyway I was hooked.

So roll forward to Brazil and I think we are witnessing the best World Cup ever – well certainly the best since 1978 which is as far back as I can muster. Surely the only conclusion is that football has scored a massive triumph – the games have been great, the stadia made it on time, the predicted riots haven’t materialised, even the USA fans have watched in massive numbers and all in all there’s been a party atmosphere. What could be better?

Well I have a feeling that the beautiful game is in danger of imploding. FIFA, that self-appointed body of unaccountables are constantly viewed with suspicion and their awards to Russia and Qatar have done little to improve that image. I only hope the “independent” investigation will lead to positive changes, although I’m not overly optimistic. But that’s not the cause of my main concern.

It is what’s happening on the pitch that is alarming. A few examples: First game – Neymar swings an elbow at Modric but stays on the field so that he can score the equalizer. Then Brazil are awarded the most ridiculous penalty you have ever seen. A short time later Croatia are denied a perfectly legitimate equalising goal. Next game is Mexico and they are denied not one, but two legitimate goals because they were deemed to be offside. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dubious decisions from the officials. But these decisions are massive because they are changing the results of games. Just the couple mentioned above would have meant Mexico topped the group and who knows whether Brazil would have even qualified?

Add to that the fact that in most games we have to watch players diving or rolling on the floor with a level of play acting that would make an Oscar winner feel proud. The likes of Thomas Muller apparently needing emergency surgery having been shot by Pepe’s finger tips only to make a miraculous recovery the moment Pepe decided to shove his forehead a little too close. And don’t get me started on the holding and pushing on a corner or free kick into the box, with the France vs Ecuador game taking the art of penalty box wrestling to a whole new level. It reminded me of a player I grew up with, who went on to represent England a few years ago, telling me how, at his club, they were taught how to dive and how to pull shirts. Alarming but true.

So putting it in simple, easy to understand language the players are cheating and what’s really sad is they are getting away with it. The results of games no longer provide us with the answer to “Who is the best football team?”. Instead the question now is “Who can get most of the decisions in their favour?”

The most notorious player of the last 2 World Cups will be Luis Suarez. In South Africa in 2010 he handled the ball to prevent a certain goal. A goal that would have put an African team into their ever semi-final. Although he was subsequently sent off, Ghana missed the penalty and eventually went on to lose the match. An act that changed the result of the game. In 2014, as we all know, he decided to satisfy his hunger by taking a nibble on Chiellini before throwing himself to the ground as if fortunate to still retain a head on his shoulders after receiving such a ferocious elbow to the cheek. Italy were down to 10 men and Uruguay scented blood – quite literally in some cases – but the score was 0-0 and that was enough to see Italy progress. At that moment, Suarez should have been sent off, which would have evened up the numbers and probably subdued Uruguay without their talismanic striker, putting Italy on the front foot. But it didn’t happen and shortly afterwards Uruguay scored and Italy went out. Again a decision that probably changed the result of the game.

I’d also like to add that whilst I’m disappointed by his behaviour – clearly he needs some help – I am disgusted by the “support” expressed by some leading figures who are portraying Suarez is the victim. Disrespectful to the game that made them and morally void for every young kid looking for their role models to show them the way.

To be honest I’m fed up of it. I want to see the best football team win in the right way – that doesn’t mean that we don’t get shocks and lesser teams can’t cause an upset – it’s simply a desire to see results based on playing within the rules. Not too much to ask for is it? After all we have a game, we have the rules and it’s just a question of seeing them implemented properly. What makes it worse is the fact that the solution is there – right in front of us every time we turn on the TV.

I don’t blame referees. They can’t possibly see everything on the pitch and get it right first time all the time. I agree they could be better, but expecting a perfect game is like asking for an iced lolly not to melt in the desert. The answer is using a video referee. We all know what’s gone on because we can see it on a TV replay. So why can’t the officials use that to help them?

Ah, in come the old-fashioned “it will slow the game down” brigade. What a load of old tripe. How long do you think it was between the moment Suarez bit Chiellini before the game resumed? How long before did the game stop before the Neymar fired in the penalty? Enough time for a video review? Of course – I’d seen the replay so many times, I was bored stiff by the time play resumed. In many cases it would actually speed up the game. I’m not suggesting it is used for everything, but exactly as they do in rugby, the referee calls for assistance as and when needed and the big calls are always right.

Even more important, if players realised they can’t get away with it, they won’t try it on in the first place. Before we know it, referees will be respected rather than abused and diving, pulling, pushing and biting will be a thing of the past because there is no longer any advantage to be gained.

For football to be triumphant, the authorities must follow the lead of several other major sports – if they don’t I fear football will become increasingly troubled.

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Population and house prices – is there a link Sherlock?

According to The Office for National Statistics estimated there were 64.1 million people in the UK in June 2013, a rise of 0.63% on the previous year. That equates to a population growth of more than 400,000 which apparently is more than any other country in the EU and it’s a rate that will soon take the UK to over 70 million.

So where’s all that increase coming from. Apparently just over half was down to natural change – births minus deaths – while net migration represented 46% of the rise and interestingly more than a quarter of all births came from immigrant mothers. A quarter of the UK population growth was in London.

At the same time we appear to be caught up in another housing boom. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney warned of “deep structural problems” in the British housing market stemming from a shortage of fresh stock. It is most chronic in the South East where Savills estimates a shortage well into the hundred thousands. Co-incidentally last week official figures showed annual house price rising at around 9.9% pa – with London showing a near 19% rise.

And so the conversation concerning the Great House Price Inflation Robbery began:

Holmes begins, “Dr Watson, there is nothing like first hand evidence. We have a growing population, largely driven by immigration or the offspring of immigration. We have a shortage of houses which I deduce must have something to do with the fact that we have more people to house – I would surmise that should the population remain flat then there would be no material increase number of houses.”
Dr Watson steps in, “With you so far Holmes old chap, although perhaps I could add to your last point to acknowledge the role of the single parent family in all this. Apparently nearly 25% of households are now single parent – a number which has trebled over the last 4 decades.”
Back to Holmes, “Good point Watson and it is clear there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. So we would need a small increase in new homes to account for those people who can longer bring themselves to share the same living space with their family.”
Watson “Absolutely old chap. And a damned shame it is too! Then there is also the need to build houses that are replacements for those that are no longer fit for purpose.”
Holmes again, “Another point well made, my dear Dr Watson. However, having gathered these facts and smoked several pipes over them, trying to separate those which were crucial from others which were merely incidental. I concluded them as merely incidental compared to population increase as the leading culprit in this dastardly robbery.”
Holmes went on, “I confess to knowing no earthly reason why the leaders of our great nation do not appear to make the glaringly obvious connection between immigration and the increase in population that so violently contributes to the housing shortage and consequent bubble. Surely any man not blinded by the need of the populist vote could conclude the same and then react accordingly.”
Dr Watson exhales slowly before adding, “All very well old chap. But more people, means more “needs” to be satisfied which ultimately means more jobs and more spending. The connection may well have been made Holmes, but it’s a turkey voting for Christmas like move for any politician to stifle what little growth there may be in the economy. I’ve even heard some comment that the infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and transport, can’t take the added load, only to be informed by those of a certain persuasion, that investment in infrastructure will in itself create more jobs and make the government more appealing to voters.”
Holmes responds swiftly “I think that you know me well enough, Watson, to understand that I am by no means a nervous man. At the same time, it is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger when it is close upon you. This reminds me of the curious incident of the dog in the night-time”
Dr Watson inquires “But the dog did nothing at night-time”
Holmes again “That was the curious incident! Here we have a government with an apparent need to demonstrate growth to the voting public. Growth is a curious beast. Its variances means little on the streets, but as a headline it symbolises prosperity and has become a battle cry to rally the troops. In a country getting close to the edge of all it can consume without losing it’s buttons and popping it’s shirt, the only way to maintain the illusion of growth is to grow the population. I imagine you will find a very different per capita picture from that promoted by our government of the day – something which the common man fails to grasp. In the short-term such rapid population growth will lead to house price inflation and it can also fuel anti-immigration sentiment as shown by the results for that Moriarty like creature and his UKIP party – but they are merely bumps in the road. More serious are the possible long-term effects of such an approach. A national debt of £1.4tn growing at over £5k per second simply cannot stomach the increased public spending required to grow the infrastructure needed to maintain a harmonious community – and that figure does not even include the alarming pension deficit. The night-time is fast approaching, Watson – decisions need to be made quickly to reduce the debt and ensure harmony on our streets is maintained – but if the dog doesn’t raise itself into action, it may be a long time before the light returns”

With that, Watson poured himself a quick tipple and changed the subject to why England seem incapable of winning the World Cup

Are teachers right to feel undervalued ?

Two-thirds of teachers feel undervalued, says OECD study as reported http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27985795.

It’s a fair point. They get up every day ready to be in school between 8 & 9 am, apart from the 13 plus weeks of the year when it’s the school holidays, obviously. They sit through a good few hours of lessons trying to pass on wisdom to an audience that might rather be playing on the X-box. Often with the inclusion of the odd little Jonny, who, despite being English, is more likely to become the US president than sit still without misbehaving for a whole lesson. They endure a tortuous lunch hour when they’ve either got to marshal the tear-aways in the playground or sit huddled together with other similarly worn down dreamers in the staffroom. Then between 3 & 4 pm the dark clouds part and a ray of light enters the room as the little rascals drift away, scruffier than when they arrived, and preparations begin to repeat the exercise all over again tomorrow. In between times there might be the added bonus of an extra curricular activity and a bit of homework to be getting on with.

All that and not a word of thanks from anyone.  The only recognition comes when poor little Jonny’s parents introduce themselves and him as the victims of teacher bullying – the fact that he might have stuck chewing gum in a class mate’s hair and sworn at the teacher trying to break up the ensuing fight is little more than a neglected detail.

Sounds to me like they’ve got a point.  As Aristotle proclaimed, “Learning is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and a provision in old age.”  Surely if there is nothing more important than education, then there is nothing more important than the providers of education!

Hold on – let’s take a step back to provide some balance.   I get up at 06:45 to make it to the office at 07:30 each day – that’s when I’m in the office and not travelling.  I sift through a raft of about 50 emails.  A few trying to sell to me, several we’d refer to as “arse covering” and then maybe 1 or 2 of any actual value.   Then the meetings start from around 09:00 and go right through to the end of the day, with odd gaps here and there.  I grab a sandwich for lunch which I eat during a meeting, much to the annoyance of the presenter, who recognises my attention is more focused on the misery of the slightly damp bread rather than his navel gazing analysis.   Then everything starts to wind down and I head for the exit at around 5:30pm so that I can get back home for 6:00pm.   A quick bite to eat, some time with the children and the it’s onto looking through the actions that I’ve picked up during the day and adding them to the growing list that I should have completed yesterday.   Then before I know it the alarm’s bleeping and we’re off again.

To be fair, every month the cycle is broken by a trip or two and as I’m sure you appreciate, travel is an absolute luxury.  It’s usually by plane, which means waking at 05:00 to get to the airport for 06:00, so that I can wait around in discomfort for a good couple of hours.  Then a squeeze into a seat that was surely modelled by primary school children and off we go.  Mid-way through I’ll be provided with some sort of cold sandwich, which provides little benefit other than passing the time, before the man in front decides I need to study his male pattern baldness in more detail by reclining his seat.  I’ve so far avoided the temptation to provide it with a Benny Hill like slap, but I won’t be able to resist forever.  After a few hours of being bumped around and losing any feeling in my legs, we endure a slightly nerve-wracking landing.  Then it’s off to stand in a clearance queue before the “will it/won’t it turn up” conundrum of the baggage carousel.   I’ll always remember standing at a UK airport, hearing an announcement stating that one of the baggage trucks hadn’t made it to the plane, so half the bags were left on the departure runway.  Shouts of “Come on my bag!” as if watching the Derby, echoed through the hall.

Feeling relieved, bags in hand, it’s off to the taxi rank for a journey of unspeakable horror with a driver of suicidal tendencies – this applies especially in European and South American countries and maybe others I’m yet to visit.  I suppose the clue is in the missing seat belts and cracked windscreen, but his car is next in line and you get what you’re given.   At the hotel, a quick beer to relax before checking out the room service – it’s seldom much fun sitting Billy-no-mates in a restaurant on your own.   Then crank up the PC and attempt to log onto the email server through the hotel’s exorbitantly priced internet service.   As the emails download at pre-broadband speed the TV goes on and you flick through a good 50 channels to find the only 2 that speak your language.  After the second news re-run, you flick through again – surely there is something you missed.  In the end it comes down to your language but boring, some irrelevant sport that you’re not the faintest bit interested in, or music.   The music goes on and you start working through all those emails that you’d have got to at 07:30 had you stayed in the office, only now it’s 8pm in the evening.   Lights off at around 11pm and a quick review of the day shows very little achieved apart from being a long way from home.   All that and not a word of thanks – and I only get a few weeks holiday a year, which I can only take when the Company allows me and the prices are through the roof.

I feel undervalued.   Why is no-one writing about me?

Perhaps the truth is that most employees feel undervalued to some extent.  They feel that they work too hard and make too many sacrifices without so much as a by your leave.    It might not be perfect, but unfortunately, that’s life and the recognition comes in the form of a pay check.

Do I value what teachers do? Yes  Do I think they are undervalued? Yes  Do I think they deserve greater recognition?  No more than the vast majority of those being paid to do a job.

What now for England

The dream is over for at least another few years – consigned to an early flight home post the Italian slump against Costa Rica.

Tom Sheen’s Independent report http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/worldcup/england-out-of-the-2014-world-cup-what-next-for-the-23-men-in-roy-hodgsons-squad-9553856.html  attempts to look at individual players and whether they should stay or go.  To be honest, there’s not a lot to disagree with – getting rid of anyone approaching the end of their careers makes a bit of sense – but getting rid of Danny Welbeck shows a major lack of understanding of what he was asked to do and what he’s capable of.   In the whole article and in particular that very comment about Welbeck, Sheen highlighted what’s wrong with British football and football journalists.

Football is a team game and this World Cup, more than any other I’ve seen, shows what’s possible if you get the right blend.  Look how the likes of Costa Rica, Chile, USA, Algeria & even Australia have performed.  Yet we always focus on the individuals and not the collective.

England have played ok so far – certainly better than 2010 in South Africa when pulling your own toenails out seemed preferable to watching the team’s struggles.   England has the players to make a good impression on any tournament and the constant suggestion otherwise is ridiculous – would Clint Dempsey, Brian Ruiz, Tim Cahill, Medel – all heroes for their countries get into an England squad – not a chance.   It’s the  blend that hasn’t been right and that goes right back to every tournament since 1970.

Here’s an example.   In 1966 England had a great striker by the name of Jimmy Greaves.  Scored for fun.  First name on the team sheet and all that.  But did he play in the Final ? No !  For the good of the overall team he was left out.  A very hard decision for Ramsey to make, but he put the team before the individual and the rest is history.   Scroll forward to 2014 and Daniel Sturridge.  A gifted player who is regarded as the most natural finisher in the England team.  Yet a player known to be “team” challenged as shown with his struggles at Man City and Chelsea – his relative success at Liverpool owes much to the selfless players around him.  All of a sudden he has become a first choice pick, yet England have never scored more than one goal from open play when he has started (the only game we scored more came with 2 central defenders scoring from corners).   Yes he’ll score the odd goal (over the last 12 months pre-tournament he’d scored the same number of England goals as Danny Welbeck) but the team will suffer because of the way he plays.  I’m certain we’d be talking about progression to the next round if Lambert had been playing instead – I’m not saying he’s a better player, but he’d make the team into a better team.

So what next for Roy.    Set out the style that will get the most out of our best players – attacking football, high tempo, loads of energy and closing the opposition down quickly – a bit like the Premiership really. Then pick the best team to make that happen. If that means a few better individuals suffer for the good of the team then so be it.   He’ll need to be brace, but success will soon follow

Competition for children – good or bad ?

An article on BBC website this morning http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27928066 prompted this post. A slightly daft bit report by Ofsted in my view – pupils at private schools to excel at some sports where financial support is needed to make progress – genius. However, there were a couple of interesting points within it. “The majority of state school heads said competitive sport was optional. Only 13% said they expected all students to take part. The report finds that in the most successful schools, both state and private, heads recognise that competitive sport can help build an ethos and boost grades.”

There have been many debates on whether being competitive is good or bad for children. As you can see from some of the comments on the BBC article. The “it’s good” vote say that life is a competitive, children need to be prepared for the real world and it’s wrong to wrap children in cotton wool. The “it’s bad” vote say that not all children want to take part in competitive sport and it can result in a feeling of exclusion if they aren’t good enough.

Is either view right? I suspect as with most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There is no doubt life is competitive. Exams and qualifications, getting into higher education, getting a job, finding a partner, buying a house, getting a good deal, making a complaint, getting fit, sticking to a diet, inventing time travel …… Whether you are competing with yourself or competing with others, life is competitive.

Spurred on by that intro, I hear the “it’s good” voters cry out for more competition. We need to know who’s won, who’s lost, whether we’re moving up or down the league tables. Is that the way forward ?

A quick dart into the history of 100m sprint tells you plenty about competitive sports. Not one of the runners in the 1980 Olympic 100m final would have made the London final in 2012 and most wouldn’t have even made the semi’s. There is no doubt that competition leads to improvement and evolution is fundamentally about pushing the boundaries further. If everyone around you is achieving better results, then your results will be dragged up. It might not be that you ultimately, win, but consciously or sub-consciously you will try harder to be in the game.

So what’s the issue – competitive sports for all. However let’s go back to the “it’s bad” vote and consider the person who isn’t gifted in an event. Let’s use the Olympics again and look at a swimming Sydney 2000 when Eric Moussambani swam 1m 52s for 100m freestyle compared to the World Record of 48 seconds at the time. As he came down the final 20m the commentators were suggesting he might not make it and would need to grab the lane rope. Fortunately, he survived and received a massive ovation when he finally arrived. Now Eric achieved fame and notoriety for his efforts – after all it was the Olympics and isn’t it as much about taking part.

But how would that have gone down at the local High School? If the teacher didn’t make Eric feel bad enough by shouting all sorts of “encouragement” his way, then you’d be fairly sure the other classmates would plug the gap. And I bet Eric’s confidence might suffer post race and he’s unlikely to be the coolest kid in school anymore. So if you’re no good, why bother if the result might be no better than ridicule ?

It’s a fair point but it’s interesting how the Olympic story is one of triumph against adversity and standing ovations. Yet the High School equivalent is utter misery. But clearly it’s not the competitive sport that’s the issue – it’s the same 100m swimming in both – it is the surroundings and how winning and losing is positioned.

What we shouldn’t do is remove the competition. Eric might be weak at swimming, but great at art or maths or writing. Samantha, who is poor at writing is a great sprinter. Why should she be denied her opportunity to shine. Surely by the same token as the “it’s bad” voters use for competitive sport, writing should be removed from the curriculum.

I am a big supporter of competitive sports and indeed competition in general and it should absolutely be part of education – and I don’t think it should just relate to sports. I recently played a new board game called PLYT with my children. It’s about numeracy but it’s very different from other games I’ve played – firstly because I could actually play properly without pretending to have the mental age of a 7 yr old and secondly because it is competitive. If I’d have told them “here’s an educational game about numeracy” there is no way they’d have played, but it was great and the children loved it – they just wanted to compete, to try to win and to see me and their mum having as much difficulty as they were. As with the 100m sprinting, the more they played, the better they were and they kept pushing the boundaries. Brilliant !

What we have to deal with, however is making sure that people know how to win and lose with right attitude. That in itself is education. We want children at the High School to look at Eric and cheer, applaud and make him feel great about making it to the line regardless of his position. Then maybe Eric might be encouraged rather than discouraged and perhaps next time he’ll clock a couple of seconds quicker – that’s progress and he’s now competing with himself as well as the others.

Winning is great and it does inspire people to push themselves harder so they can be successful. However, it’s not only about winning. It’s about wanting to have a go, wanting to join in with the others and most importantly feeling happy when you’ve done it. But it is the society around you that will determine that most important element – how you feel afterwards.

So let’s promote competition but at the same time let’s educate society on how to treat winners and losers rather than pretend they don’t exist.

Dad – are we there yet?

“Dad – are we there yet?” A classic line uttered by millions of bored children on many a car journey. The very nature of the question provides enough evidence to suggest children of that age really do need their parents. Which is why my reply always started with “Has the car stopped yet?” to which the answer was generally “No!”, which warrants the final words on the matter “Well work it out for yourself then”. At which point Mum used to step in to provide the more soothing explanation of our journey and enter the joint wonderment at how many cows, blue cars, pubs or caravans that might still be seen if we all keep our eyes peeled.

As the children grow up (we have 2), the peeled eyes games seem to hold less interest. Many a child gazes obsessively into a tiny screen to see what pointless remark one of their mates has made that’s just too important to be missed. Head down, fingers tapping and not a physical interaction to be heard.

Not in our car. We’ve banned the electronic blighters unless they are used for maps to help us manage the “are we there yet?” question – which with my navigational skills and nothing more than a folded UK map from 2001, means we need one on most journeys. As a result,  we’ve had to invent even more games we can play in the car.   Here’s our Top 3 in-car games:

  1. The conversation game:  This is where one of us opens our mouth to speak, the rest of us listen, we think about it for a short time,  then someone else, in no particular order, steps in and does the same.  It’s a great game and can last for hours.  My only word of warning to parents is to avoid letting the speaking move towards what could be thought of as parental nagging or promoting sibling rivalry.  The car after all is a confined space and has no room for anger.
  2. The singing game:  This is usually where everyone in the car opens their mouth and attempts to sing along in time with the music blaring out through the speakers.  Now this is an absolute lifer, this game and I’ve lived through it on the radio, cassettes, CDs and now iPods.   It can get a little loud at times and you, like us, might realise a musical stage is no place for anyone in your family, but it’s great fun.  Aside from the fact that other motorists might look at you with bemusement (jealousy I prefer to think), the only warning with this game is to ensure the driver doesn’t get too carried away and start head dancing from side to side.
  3. Shout out but with a hint of intelligence games:  The traditional favourites and the ones you’ve all been waiting for:
  • Subject games – you have to start with a letter (e.g. alphabetical, the last letter of the previous word) and name things of that subject beginning with the letter.  Subjects such as names, places, foods are all firm favourites.  If you don’t shout one out, within an amount of time you’re out.  Never a good place to be if you’re starting with an X unless you’re playing in a foreign language that uses a lot of X’s.
  • 20 questions – one person thinks of something and the rest of you have 20 questions to find out what it was.  Be careful of the youngest, in our case our daughter, changing her mind half way through because you’re getting too close to the answer because that tends to spoil it somewhat.
  • The story – everyone says two words and tries to make a sentence and a story.  It can go a bit off piste with the children often taking it down a toilet route whilst the adults try valiantly to bring in a more mature angle.  Can be very amusing though.

Negotiation winners and losers

Negotiation. There’s a battle ahead and I’m going to be the winner. Is that really what it’s about?

A little anecdote to get us going. A few years ago I was involved with a company who claimed to have the best procurement team in the country. Confident, self-assured, almost cocky – they can get the best discounts. So I joined them as they negotiated for a piece of machinery with a large multi-national supplier. Sure enough by the end of the 2 weeks process they had secured an impressive 30% discount with a potential further rebate for a repeat order. Impressive stuff I thought. Fortunately, I knew the supplier reasonably well, as I’d dealt with them before, and a few weeks later I asked him about the negotiation and why they’d agreed to such a discount when they’d never offered me anything like that. “Simple”, he said “Their buyers pride themselves on the size of discount and because we want to deliver that for them, we start off with a much higher price.”

So lesson number 1: The size of discount is immaterial – it’s the end price that matters. So now that’s cleared up, how do I get the best price ?

And now to anecdote number 2. I was working for a company a few years ago with a large spend on food materials. The buying team would conduct a tender process, inviting a few suppliers to submit tenders for a 6-12 month contract. With only a small team, longer term contracts were more efficient than buying spot on a regular basis and it gave more certainty to the budget. Mid-way through one of the contracts the Managing Director received a phone call from an alternative supplier(B) who offered lower prices than were being paid – about 10% lower. The MD asked for a written offer, then stormed into the Procurement Manager’s office, waving the paper offer in the air, accusing him of gross incompetence. He insisted on this new price and forced the Procurement Manager to either re-negotiate with the existing supplier or switch to the new one. With a contract in place, however, there was little room to move and the best he could do was a 2% discount as a gesture of goodwill. A few weeks later the Procurement Manager was relieved of his duties. The new man came in and within a couple of months it was time re-tender time. Supplier B participated but this time his prices were much higher and he failed to win the contract. I asked Supplier B about what had gone on and he said “Our sales struggled to keep pace with production last year and we had a surplus of stock with no buyers. So we offered large discounts to make sure we weren’t left with a write off. It’s not something we’d plan to do, so when it comes to a tender we’d never offer those discounts”. A case of an MD who didn’t really understand the arena and an unlucky Procurement Manager.

So lesson number 2: Prices change for a variety of reasons and a snapshot doesn’t tell the whole story. Prices reflect the supply and demand position of an industry as a whole at that time. However, there can be lower prices available as a result of inefficient management by suppliers. Similarly spot prices can also be much higher if supply is tight because the suppliers know you are desperate. The question is do you want security of supply and price through a contract or are you willing to take the risk with spot prices.

The final anecdote and the one that really makes the difference. Over ten years ago, I was lead negotiator in a services contract and spent a good 2 weeks going back and forth with the potential suppliers. Analysing, discussing and re-analysing. We made good progress but it was all a bit confrontational with my Company looking for the lowest price/best service and the suppliers looking for the highest margin they could make. Eventually we made our selection and called a meeting with the “winner” who happened to be our existing supplier. We arrived at their office and waited in reception. I stood up and started to read the various bits of company news on the notice board when something caught my eye. It was a summary P&L lying on the reception desk. I know it’s not strictly ethical, but here it was in front of me and a quick glance ensued. Within a second I knew I was being ripped off. The supplier had fed me a pack of lies about their cost base. A few minutes later the meeting was called and in we went. I didn’t say anything about what I’d seen but instead decided this was the meeting to inform the supplier they had not been successful. It went down like a lead balloon and not something the supplier’s big boss, who’d made a special trip to attend, was expecting.

A couple of months later I met up with the supplier and asked him why he’d lied. He said “We were making good money on your contract and my job was to slightly improve that margin. We didn’t think there was any risk we’d lose as we knew our competitors were at a disadvantage because we already had the contract and there was a cost to change”. Then he came back with “I assume leaving us cost you more, so how did you manage to justify the additional cost to change to your Company?” Truth was I was in a difficult situation because when I walked out of that meeting I knew I couldn’t go back to my Company with a higher cost – they’d laugh at me. At the same time I couldn’t give the contract to a supplier I didn’t trust. So when I got back to my car I made a call to the Supplier who was in second place and asked to see him. I drove straight round and basically laid out my position to him. I was totally and completely honest about my own personal position – not the Company – but me. His reaction was to do exactly the same – he said exactly what he could and couldn’t do. So I promised him the contract was his if he could do 3 things. Firstly get his prices to the right level. Secondly meet the cost to change. Thirdly provide a commitment that the 2 companies would work openly together on initiatives to reduce costs and improve service so that next time the contract was up for renewal, there would be no alternative that could beat their quote. I received a phone call the next day and the deal was done – that initial contract was worth £10 million and it was still rolling on 15 years later.

Lesson 3: Good negotiation is not a contest. It is about honesty. Both the supplier and the buyer knowing what their companies need and what they personally need. Lay down those needs on the table, starting with the personal then the company and work together to satisfy those needs. Unfortunately, we are ingrained to believe that our adversary is trying to take advantage of us. And guess what ? Sometimes they will, so you have to be aware that they might “play” at being honest. But if you can bring yourself to be honest and open, both parties can start to work at solutions that are right for everyone. This is how true partnership relationships start.