Listening to the Today Programme yesterday morning, I was depressed to hear the story in Business News about the merger of George Wimpey and Taylor Woodrow. The reason was not so much the merger itself, but the bland and faceless media-trained voice of Peter Redfern, chief executive of Wimpey. It was deeply upsetting to hear him, at 7.20am, droning on in an emotionless voice about land banks and lack of housing and how the merged companies would be very compatible.
In the drive to create an environment where there are no Ratner moments, where the message slips down as smoothly as ice cream on a hot day (and offers equally little nutrition), all the personality has been lost from the public face of corporations. With someone like Richard Branson, whilst what he says always has a measure of control, you know you’re getting the real deal – a genuine businessman who says what he means and doesn’t bury everything under a lather of deeply ingrained, corporately trained soft soap.
With more and more well-versed media trainees being taken on to act as mouthpieces for major corporations, there’s just no real personality to big business any more. The representatives are drilled to be automatons and it must be incredibly tough for journalists to catch a good story. Information, in the hands of these Midwich Cuckoo-like mouthpieces, becomes as slick as a fish and is impossible to get an interesting angle on. Which is surely what the businesses want, but in terms of the populace at large gaining understanding of what’s going on, it’s a disaster.
Simply, the bigger the institution, the further we get away from the real story. Will these houses last? What, in the end, will be the legacy of all the huge corporate concerns whose slick operators slip off the hook with ever more ease? Will the houses they are promising to build last? What will the legacy of these bloated corporate concerns be, in a world where everything seems to be disposable? These are the sort of curve ball questions people like Peter Redfern are trained to deflect with corporate techno-babble. But people are beginning to see through the lather, it’s become so obviously slick.
Given that, there are people prepared to stand up to the blank face of the corporations and they are achieving some small victories, such as the residents of Bournville preventing Tesco from selling alcohol in its new Birmingham store. They may have won the right to keep the suburb alcohol free, but that hasn’t stopped Tesco from saying that they will probably re-apply in the future.
It is becoming impossible to slay Goliath these days, no matter how many Davids you have lining up with slings.