On watching some of the exciting Cowes week action, one couldn’t help observe that it is a sport that is well supported by the financial services industry. Barclays has long been a sponsor of sailing and for a number of years the Global Challenge round the world yacht race.
Now, I’m no round the world racer however I do sail and know for sure that the captain of a ship will do absolutely anything within his or her power to save their vessel and the lives of the crew and passengers within (for the moment we shall park the captain of the ill-fated Concordia, he was a rarity for sure).
The banking industry being such a key sponsor and supporter of all things ocean, the abandoning ship tactic of Bob Diamond when the proverbial storm hit, loomed in large and stark contrast to the typical characteristics and values of a captain, be it of a 20ft vessel or larger. Admittedly many people have been baying for the resignation and there were multi-faceted reasons for and against. However, it is a pitiful current day trait that when trouble appears, and it invariably does at one point or another in even the most robust of organisations, the current standard practice of those at the top; politicians, chief execs… is to abandon ship.
Now, it may be me but that doesn’t show a great deal of resilience, commitment or grit. If I may indulge the sailing analogy a little further, if a storm hits, you split your mainsail, take on water, lose your rudder, crash your vessel into a pontoon or whichever, the chances of the captain jumping overboard are exceedingly unlikely. Not to mention if aforementioned captain does abandon ship in challenging seas, the likelihood of him or her spending the rest of their days with the mermaids is quite possible.
Being captain of a vessel, cruising yacht through to enormous ocean going cargo ship requires immense skill, expertise and talent, notwithstanding the ability to deal effectively in a crisis. A captain will do utterly all that is necessary to save vessel and all lives on board. Salvaging law another debate entirely. Being at sea in a storm in challenging circumstances is not for the faint-hearted and if I may use a hackneyed expression it does separate the men from the boys (women from the girls). A challenging situation, risk, potential loss, collateral and/ or physical damage requires analytical skills, short term risk assessment, decision making skills, confidence, communication and strategic planning, to mention just a few. On a vessel in a storm this will all happen in minutes, they’ll be a process and a plan of action to get out of said troubled water. Now, these skills are hardly a rarity in business, they’re constantly trained for, studied for and gained through experience and endeavour. Bob Diamond, for one, would have all (and still does) of these skills in abundance.
Surely, if we’re really going to change our banking culture, Bob Diamond with his undoubted capabilities would have been the best man for the job. Whilst he may not have been directly responsible, the buck most certainly stopped with him. As the master of a ship, captains are in that position not for the high days and watching the dolphins but actually when a crisis hits; manmade, natural or otherwise, it is their responsibility to get it sorted using all the aforementioned skills. If we are nationally to develop those phenomenal skills of dealing effectively in a crisis, and demonstrate resilience, grit and commitment to the next generation then perhaps the first step is to shift this characteristic of quitting at the top when it gets tough (really tough).
After all, as a nation, we used to be globally renowned for it.