Category Archives: The Sunday Times

The high-vis way to get ahead

Becoming a mother did not make Lisa Pantelli any less ambitious. It did, however, mean that she had to work part-time so she could balance the demands of her career with those of looking after her son. Unfortunately, some people at her employer felt, as a result, that she was no longer committed to getting ahead.

“There was an assumption by some that I wouldn’t be as ambitious — which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” she said. “They also struggled with what sort of work to give me.”

This is fairly common. People who work part-time frequently find their potential overlooked by employers, according to Penny de Valk, managing director at the consultancy Penna Talent Management. “Part-time is often seen as being not serious about your career, even though we know from research that part-timers are hugely productive,” she said.

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Crisis? No, it’s an opportunity

Many boards are not equipped to deal with big disruptions to their businesses, and conventional governance is not “fit for purpose” in such situations, according to new research.

Things that can get in the way of effective board performance in a crisis include a powerful and successful chief executive or a weak chairman — either of which can make it difficult for non-executive directors (Neds) to draw attention to problems at an early stage. There may also be market pressure to take the company in a direction that ignores the real problem, write the authors of Boards in Challenging Times: Extraordinary Disruptions, by Henley Business School and Alvarez & Marsal, the professional services firm.

In a crisis, the first step for boards is to be as “clearheaded as possible” about what the issues actually are, said Stephen Hester, chief executive of RSA Insurance and a member of the report’s steering committee: “In many cases of corporate crisis there’s an initial process of denial, in part because the people who have been associated with the weaknesses don’t like confronting the fact that there are weaknesses. Clearly the quicker you get through the denial and the clearer-headed you are about exactly what’s wrong, the easier it is to start fixing things.”

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Years of working dangerously

More than a fifth of corporate risk managers now list terrorism as their main concern — more than double the proportion who did so last year, according to a survey by Clements Worldwide, the insurance provider. Alongside this, more than a quarter of the managers questioned said their organisation had delayed or cancelled investment because of concern over terrorism.

As recent attacks in several cities have made clear, such risks are not confined to known trouble spots. This means that companies in the UK need to ensure their staff know how to respond in a crisis, said Chris Driver-Williams, head of security consulting at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm. Yet only 16% of the managers in the Clements Worldwide survey said they felt fully prepared to address these risks.

The government believes that threats are more likely to come in the form of “lone wolf” attacks than the highly organised terrorism of 9/11. “These attacks are barbaric . . . but cheap and simple — and they get loads of media attention,” said Driver-Williams. “It’s quite a new idea for most employees in London — the idea of having roving gunmen.

Read more in The Sunday Times