Is Peter Mandelson really a strategy consultant?

As a journalist I have followed one simple rule: anything Peter Mandelson wants to conceal is something that the British people need to know.

The rule was established over twenty years ago when as an MP he took a whacking great loan from a fellow MP, Geoffrey Robinson, and decided to conceal this from his constituents, from the House of Commons, from his party leader, and from the general public. He maintained the concealment when he and Robinson both became ministers. Its eventual revelation caused his first resignation from government. He made a comeback but had to resign a second time, as the result of excessive “spin” in his response to charges of improper conduct as minister in charge of the Millennium Dome. He disappeared to the EU for some years as Trade Commissioner, but was brought back to government by a desperate Gordon Brown. He gave him a peerage, which allowed him to exercise a great deal of power without being elected.

Throughout his career, Mandelson has faced regular questions about his relationships with special interests or rich and influential people and about the sources of his wealth, which is far greater than can be accounted for from his public career.

In 2010 after the voters ejected him from government, Lord Mandelson launched a consultancy called Global Counsel of which he is still Chairman. Its prime asset then and now is his experience of politics and government, where he has enduring contacts, in the UK and overseas. However, when he fulfilled his obligation as a peer to declare this role in the public Register of Lords’ Interests he called the firm a “strategic advice consultancy”, and he has continued to do so to this day.

The Lords authorities have accepted this for over six years, although all the publicly available evidence suggests that the firm is really a public affairs consultancy. They may have done this for practical reasons. The poor old Registrar now has over 800 peers to police because party leaders have packed the House with cronies and donors, and he does not have the resources to look behind any individual peer’s declaration. But the House is rather an unworldly place and its members and staff may not know what a recognized, professional strategy consultant is expected to do.

I have taken advice from professional associations and other authorities who tell me that strategic management is a six-step process:

  1. Identifying a client’s current mission, goals and strategies
  2. Analysing the external environment (opportunities and threats)
  3. Analysing the internal environment (strengths and weaknesses)
  4. Formulating strategies
  5. Implementing strategies
  6. Evaluating results

A genuine strategy consultant will provide advice to clients on at least the first four steps of this process. However, on the evidence of its website Global Counsel is equipped only to help clients with steps 2) and 3) and these only in relation to the narrow scope of public policy issues and relationships with governments, lawmakers, regulators, the media and public opinion.

Global Counsel is not a member of any of the professional bodies which represent strategic consultants or the management consulting industry as a whole. In company with Lord Mandelson himself, the experience of its team is overwhelmingly concentrated in government, politics or the media. None have worked as a “strategy consultant” anywhere else. The firm asks for public affairs experience in the people it recruits. The firm publishes commentaries on public affairs, presumably to show off its abilities in this area to potential clients.

The firm is very secretive about its clients, but three published media reports on its activities all indicate assignments in the sphere of public affairs. It helped the much-criticized company Asia Pulp and Paper respond to a new EU directive designed to combat illegal logging. It tried to obtain a contract to improve the public reputation of the Maldive Islands government based on existing work for unnamed investors in the islands. It also helped the British Bankers’ Association prepare its response to Brexit.

Very recently the firm acquired as Deputy Chairman another peer of great experience in business and public life and with a high reputation for probity: Lord (Paul) Myners. He listed Global Counsel on the Register of Lords’ Interests as a “public policy and regulatory advice organisation”. This is in line with the firm’s part-owner, the giant communications conglomerate WPP plc. It lists Global Counsel in its family of companies under the heading of “policy and regulation.”

Lord Myners and WPP thus identify Global Counsel as a public affairs consultancy. They are surely right, and Lord Mandelson is surely wrong to suggest otherwise. There is nothing wrong with public affairs consultancy. It is an honourable calling and Global Counsel is probably very good at it. However, the firm should not be shy about citing its clients and its achievements for them (it is the best way of getting new business): Lord Mandelson, as its Chairman, should help them in this. Keeping his clients secret simply encourages people to think that some of them might be embarrassing or even unethical.

Does it matter if Peter Mandelson has made a false claim about his firm in the Lords Register?

From a market point of view, probably not. No client ever chose a strategy consultant or public affairs consultant on the basis of the Lords Register.

However, for the general public any false claim matters a great deal. Peers have a duty to give correct information on the Register and they should not use it to give themselves a status they have not earned, whether as strategy consultants or rocket scientists or plumbers.

Moreover, Lord Mandelson has resisted attempts to make him reveal the clients of his consultancy Global Counsel for over five years, and has withheld them from the Register of Lords Interests, even though their disclosure appears to be required. This is partly because of a general obligation to declare anything which might influence his conduct in Parliament (para 11 of the Code of Conduct for peers) and partly because peers are specifically required to disclose any clients for whom they supply “public affairs advice or services” (para 61 of the Guide).

The Guide has always given peers two potential escapes from disclosure. One is to say that they and their consultancies are not in the public affairs business. Unfortunately, the Guide has never defined the term “public affairs,” so an unscrupulous peer gets a little room to argue that it should not apply to him and his consultancy. That, I am sure, is why Lord Mandelson describes Global Counsel as a “strategic advice consultancy”. I believe he has never had any right to claim this, and that in any case it is a distinction without a difference, since strategy consultants have to make judgements on public affairs issues as part of their service to clients.

It is important to remember that the House of Lords has never required more disclosure than the bare name of a peer’s client. If Lord Mandelson were a doctor or a therapist, or if he and the firm had some highly specialized focus it might damage a client to be publicly identified. But neither of these things is true. It reveals nothing about a client or its business to be identified as a buyer of public affairs advice or services from Lord Mandelson and his firm, no more than revealing that it buys its stationery from Staples. I see no motive for a client to withhold its bare name from the Register. Several have been identified in the media (one by Lord Mandelson himself!) without any complaint from the clients concerned. So, one has to assume that it is Lord Mandelson who holds the motive for withholding their names. This naturally prompts the assumption that some of the clients are embarassing to him, perhaps even unethical.

If you would like to see Lord Mandelson’s entry for Global Counsel corrected, particularly if you are a recognized strategy consultant, you should write to the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff CBE, at the House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW. You should mention paragraph 13 of the Code of Conduct for peers (“Members are responsible for ensuring that their registered interests are accurate and up-to-date.”) You should not on any account mention my name because she thinks I am a vexatious complainer and she may be right.

Richard Heller is an author and journalist. He exposed the Great Surfball Scandal in 1998, when Peter Mandelson, as Minister in charge, falsely claimed that the Millennium Dome would contain an attraction called “Surfball: the sport of the 21st century.” His latest book (with Peter Oborne) is White On Green celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, published by Simon & Schuster.

2010s or 1920s – In the World of Work, the Only Constant is Change

How are you dealing with the 21st century? Those who’ve been in the work market for a couple of decades or more have witnessed a hastening evolution of how things are done and what you need to do just to get by – let alone to excel.

Even millennials can find themselves somewhat adrift when new skills become outdated and employers experiment with workplace environments that are wildly different to what you were prepared for in school.

However, we’re lucky enough to live in an age of apparently infinite resources for self-improvement, career development and entrepreneurship. The online world is full of advice, training courses (many for free), and forums filled with like-minded individuals and more experienced professionals who are eager to share their knowledge.

Look back ninety years or more and the picture is quite different. The forerunner of that same communication network, the phone system, was made to function not by codes and algorithms but by real live “Hello Girls” whose job was to connect caller to call-taker by plugging and unplugging jacks and cables at the telephone exchange. Imagine if the same process happened every time you typed a different URL into your browser!

Even getting up to go to work in the morning was a more difficult process. Today, aside from the few lucky people who can reliably depend on their ‘internal clock’ to wake them in the morning, even the most ambitious among us need our iPhone or old school alarm clock to stir us from slumber. In those days, you might make more money as one of the few professional ‘knocker uppers’ – human alarm clocks – than the factory workers who relied on them. Which would you have been: the knocker upper, banging on windows before the sun rose, or the factory worker with a job for life but no real sense of self-determination?

But professionals in the 1920s had to deal with changing times and technological progress just like the rest of us. For example, in 1927, movies started to be released with synchronised sound, which meant that many of the legendary stars who’d been admired in the silents were now heard speaking for the first time. If an actor’s voice was not as luscious as his or her looks, or they just couldn’t act to the standards now required, they would soon become yesterday’s news – and end up joining the rest of us in the queue to become a salesman, a laborer or a telephone operator. Those knocker-uppers were replaced by radio alarms and smart phones, and robots are still in the process of taking over the factories.

To see where you might have ended up in the 1920s, and what your financial prospects might have been, have a look at this new infographic from OnStride Financial. It might make your feel a little more empowered over your 21st century career!

John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

(Image Source: OnStride Financial)

Wearable Technology: Implications for Entrepreneurs and Organizations

Imagine a world where one can rate the popularity of any individual from 1 to 5 using a mobile device. And in this imaginary world, these ratings are important for determining one’s employability, social status, and where one can live. Furthermore, each person’s name and rating is visible to everyone else through the use of a wearable contact lens. This world already exists in the Black Mirror episode, Nosedive, but is slowly becoming a reality in our world. It is not uncommon to run across people who are staring at their Apple Watch or Fitbit as you walk through the city. In fact, wearable technology is becoming an increasingly popular trend with 50 million wearable devices shipped in 2015 and an expected shipment of 125 million devices in 2019. These statistics suggest that many people are already incorporating wearable technology into their daily lives. So, in this article, we will investigate the implications of wearable technology on businesses and entrepreneurs.

Every business is looking for ways to continually improve the productivity of its employees. One research study found that the productivity of workers using wearable technology increased by 8.5%. This is a striking statistic. How are wearables doing this? Well, for example, companies like Boeing and Tesco use wearables to gather data about the time it takes to complete certain tasks. They can then perform analytics on these data in order to train their workers to be more efficient and productive in the workplace. Ultimately, wearables allow businesses to gather information on employee activities that have not been easily accessible in the past.

Productivity of employees is also connected to their health. This is particularly relevant in America, where improved employee health can allow businesses to cut costs associated with healthcare premiums. Many consumers of wearables use their devices with the intent of improving their health. In fact, 56% of consumers believe [pdf] that their wearable device will improve their fitness. However, even though wearable devices claim that they can improve health, there is no empirical evidence that demonstrates that they can. Studies show that almost a third of users will stop using their device after 6 months [pdf]. Until more studies come out proving that wearables improve consumer health or further improvements are made in wearable technologies, businesses should be wary of using these devices as a way to improve the overall health of their organizations. In essence, an investment into current wearables to improve employee overall health may not pay off.

Another challenge for wearable technologies is privacy. Even though wearables will allow organizations to gather data that was not easily obtained before, employees may object to having their data used for analytics by their organization. It will be important for organizations to prepare themselves to navigate these privacy hurdles before implementing wearable applications to gather data analytics. For example, organizations should be open and honest with their employees about which datasets they are gathering from their wearable devices. This will prevent employee dissatisfaction and potentially costly lawsuits.

Entrepreneurs should not only think about using analytics collected by wearables to improve their startups, but also be on the lookout for opportunities in the wearable technology market. Because of the potential for businesses to use wearables as a way to improve employee productivity and health, wearable technology is an emerging market that is rapidly growing to meet the needs of organizations. As of now, the wearables market is predicted to grow by 35% by 2019. These statistics suggest that there is a lot of potential in the wearables market for startups to develop new devices and applications. Ultimately, entrepreneurs that are looking for a growing market should consider investing in wearable technology and applications.

Thomas Beck is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University and co-founder of a digital mental health startup, and runner-up in the 2016 TechVenture Challenge for a novel therapeutic. Dr. beck serves as the president of the Vanderbilt University Advanced Degree Consulting Club.

How to get a head start as a first-year student

Every now and then, I meet students in their final year at university who are worried about applying for graduate jobs in consulting. “It seems like a great job – but I just don’t think my CV is good enough” is something I have heard many times.

True, graduate schemes at top firms are very competitive, and while some people are able to succeed without any previous relevant experience, it is useful to get a head start as early as possible. Likewise, if you are in the lucky position to know you want to go into consulting during your first year at university (or even your final year at school), it may seem difficult to get a grip on what exactly you can do now to stand out later.

The following list of options should serve as a rough guide, but keep in mind that there is no ‘right way’ and you may find that other activities are a much better fit for you. The options are mainly targeted at undergraduate students in the United Kingdom, but could also serve as inspiration for students from all over the world.

Consulting Insight Programmes

Some firms, such as McKinsey, BCG, and Oliver Wyman (among others), offer short insight programmes to give you some idea what consulting is all about. These programmes are probably the best way to find out whether you are interested in applying for summer internships after your penultimate year or graduate roles, while also providing you with a serious career advantage.

Not only is having a big brand name on your CV a valuable gain, you will also meet people from all over the organization who can give you advice and help you get a summer internship the year after. Insight programmes usually take place in the spring, with deadlines in December or January.

Investment Banking Spring Weeks

Even if you don’t want to go into investment banking, doing a spring week will help you gain some relevant experience and might give you an edge over your competitors when it comes to consulting internships or jobs. The good news is that almost every investment bank offers a spring week or insight programme, which means that there are more spaces available than for the consulting insight days. Nevertheless, these programmes are still highly sought after and require a basic understanding of finance.

In addition to upgrading your CV with a major brand name, doing a spring week can highlight your interest in business-related topics. As the name suggests, most spring weeks take place in the spring of your first year (although some banks also offer summer insight programmes) and require an early application, given that the majority investment banks recruit on a rolling basis. Applications usually open in August or September and close in December or January.

Extracurricular Commitment

Another way to stand out is through extracurricular activities. For example, you could join a student society, take on a part-time job (such as a campus ambassador role for a large company), or enter a business-related competition.

While you should obviously enjoy what you are doing, it is also important that your commitment allows you to showcase transferable skills like teamwork, leadership, analytical thinking, and communication. In the end, anything that requires you to develop or improve those skills will increase your value as a potential employee and can serve as a great topic of conversation.

Networking events

Alright, if you are in your first year at university, you definitely won’t need to spend every evening at a different networking event. However, it may be useful to go to one or two on-campus events to find out what they are like. That way, when it comes to the point at which you will be applying for internships or graduate roles, you will be much more confident and better at holding interesting conversations and connecting with representatives of your dream firm.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways into consulting. None of the paths listed in this article can guarantee you a job, and simultaneously, you might succeed without any of them if you have a great skill set and an interesting story to tell. But if you are keen to get started to build your profile as early as possible, hopefully this list is of help.

Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.

(Image Source: Pexels)

What Is Cryptocurrency?

While “Bitcoin” has become a household word over the past several years, the concept of what cryptocurrency actually is goes far beyond traditional concepts of “money”.

First invented by the individual or group of people known as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009, the original concept was to create a decentralized automated cash machine (in very simplified form) that would allow anyone to send assets of value to any other person whereby those assets would not need to pass through or be controlled by any financial intermediary. In other words, it was an attempt to build another kind of currency uncontrolled by any central bank or government. Further, such transactions would be recorded by the computers connected to the network so that they could be verified by anyone who had access to it.

When seen as “money” cryptocurrencies pose a very real challenge to the role of central banks in that they essentially establish a new way for value to be created and transferred – globally.

How many cryptocurrencies are there?

At this point, there are too many to count.

Cryptocurrency is given value both by its creation (or mining) and by the other tools that are used to store, access, transfer, trade and transact with it. For example, Bitcoin, which is the oldest form of digital currency, is now traded on exchanges. Its reflected value is usually calculated either against the dollar or the yuan (which most people use to “buy” Bitcoins).

However, it is also not quite that simple. The inherent monetary value of Bitcoin as expressed in traditional currency terms is also impacted by how many people want to hold Bitcoins at a certain point in time (for whatever reason) and further by how many people are using Bitcoin for some other purpose (for example, transferring Bitcoin to another place or using it to buy another asset).

That said, the way that institutional entities (such as the IRS in the United States or the European Union) recognize Bitcoin as a form of “asset” is very much reflected in their understanding of cryptocurrencies as a form of “cash” or monetary asset, valued by reference to local currency. In other words, the inherent value of Bitcoin as understood from the perspective of agencies and governments who recognize and use fiat currency is to treat Bitcoin’s value as an asset understood in terms of local fiat currency – as if Bitcoin’s entire “value” was like dollars, gold or oil.

The two most widely recognized forms of cryptocurrency that are commoditized currently are Bitcoin, which is the oldest and most recognized form of cryptocurrency, and Ether – the “gas” as it were that makes the Ethereum network tick.

What is the inherent “asset value” of Cryptocurrency?

The short answer is that there isn’t one. It can be the value assigned to the currency by what is paid to acquire it, what kind of other asset worth it can be used to buy, how much it costs to create or “mine” such currency, or the perception of its worth based on its scarcity or expected future value.

Ether, as much as it is beginning to be traded, was not envisioned as a “currency” but rather a way to pay for computer processing power to effect another transaction along the Ethereum network. “Digital tokens”, of which Ether is an example, can be priced by the amount of electricity and computing time necessary to either create them or to perform a specific function along the network (such as recording a transaction). In other words, “cryptocurrency” is the juice which allows connected devices to do what they were programmed to do.

It remains to be seen how cryptocurrencies will affect national economies – in fact, the concept of what a traditional economy is could easily be upended (which is the fear of the central banks). Regulation of cryptocurrencies is still beyond the reach, if not ability, of traditional economic controls. This is part of the allure of cryptocurrency. What its ultimate asset value will be, however, is still very much an unknown and incalculable concept.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.