Business lessons from the 1990s

It's 50 years since MT was first published, so we've trawled the archives to bring you some gems from times gone by. The fourth in our series: 1991-95.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 09 Jun 2016

EU matters

The single market was an issue in September 1992 - MT went as far as to survey its readers on what they thought of the Maastricht Treaty, which would turn the European Economic Community into the European Union Nigel Farage knows and loves today. Back then, there was less concern with Brussels red tape as with good old British fair play. 'Governments on the continent, such as the French, Spanish and Italian, have been handing out huge sums of taxpayers' money to ailing industries to enable them to position themselves for the wider marketplace,' MT wrote in March 1993. 'British companies on the other hand, many of them recently privatised, have had to struggle on their own.'

The signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992

Manufacturing misery

The recession of the early 1990s was characterised by a lingering pessimism, rather than dramatic strikes or corporate collapses. MT devoted an entire issue to the declining manufacturing sector in April 1991. Then as now, the steel industry was of particular concern. 'Recession has returned to an industry that has already been through a decade of upheaval,' MT noted. Some people predicted that the service sector would plug the economic gap, but not everyone was convinced. 'A stupid bloody debate,' snorted ex-ICI chairman Sir John Harvey-Jones. 'Plainly you need both. But services are difficult to export. You can't export a haircut. And you can't expand tourism forever. If ICI went bust, you'd need double the number of tourists.' (ICI ceased operations in 2008. Overseas tourist numbers doubled from 17 million visits in 1991 to 34 million in 2014.)

The British steel industry was having problems in the 90s - and still is now

Gung-ho Gates

Even Silicon Valley couldn't escape the malaise of the 90s. 'The high-tech stars of the 80s have faded, leaving an industry lacking in lustre and sunk in depression,' wrote MT editor Philip Beresford in October 1992. Thankfully, Bill Gates provided a little light amid the gloom. 'We've never expected the kind of growth we've seen,' Gates (left) told MT, back when he was in full-on, chair-jumping Microsoft CEO mode. The firm's results weren't just good. They were 'real neat' and 'supercool'.

Going green

'Real men don't eat quiche; and real businessmen leave the environment to greens, do-gooders and pinkos.' That's how Will Hutton summed up prevailing attitudes in January 1995. But things were fast changing. 'The environment matters as never before; and it will intrude more and more into business decision-making - because it has to.'

Favourite lines

'Between puffs on a Marlboro Gold and the incessant ringing of three telephones on his desk, Philip Green, chairman and chief executive of Amber Day Holdings, is trying to describe his mode of management. The clues are already thick. "Time is running out," one breathy caller is overheard. "See to this joker."' - MT meets the future Arcadia owner Philip Green in June 1991.

Philip Green was on our radar in 1991... and he's still making headlines today with the demise of BHS

'When a Safeway loaf costs 71p and Aldi, the German-owned discounter which is starting to spread southward from its initial Midlands base, charges only 19p there is little question (other things being equal) which customers are likely to prefer.' MT predicted the rise of the discounters in December 1993.

'Those of you who are not regular habitues of Soho and its environs may be asking just how the sale of even £50 million worth of crotchless knickers and prosthetic phalluses to men in ill-laundered mackintoshes can hasten the sexual liberation of British womenkind,' wrote MT in December 1993, when we met Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold. She pointed out that its parties had turned its clientele almost exclusively female.

Credits: Alamy, Shutterstock,  Getty Images, Rex Features

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