Editorial: Pay-off time for founders

If ever you wanted proof that there's more to business than just the money, have a look at our 'Sell it off - Buy it back' feature this month. It shows just what an emotional marathon running a company can be, especially if you founded it in the first place. We've interviewed a number of entrepreneurs who started a business and built it up - and then sold it off, usually to much larger organisations. These bigger operations subsequently came unstuck with their trophy purchases. And with things going wrong back at the fort, the founders ended up charging out of the sunset, like the cavalry at the Alamo, to buy the company back again.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The price was usually far, far lower than the founder had sold the company for in the first place, so there was the added pleasure of 'I told you so'.

In contrast, Martin Broughton is brand-new at British Airways, having come in during the summer as chairman. But he may well feel like a general in the US cavalry - with wings on his steed and 10 cartons of B&H in his saddlebags - as BA is enduring a tough time at the moment. The autumn looks like another PR disaster as the airline cancels 900 flights over the next three months to allow it to put a bit of slack into a very taut system. You can hear Michael O'Leary of Ryanair chuckling his profanities from this side of the Irish sea.

At MT, we suspect that despite some cold-air turbulence during the autumn, BA is going to be a successful survivor in the long haul - unlike its flag-flying counterpart Alitalia. In contrast to our entrepreneurs, the Italian airline is a good example of emotion holding sway over reason in business. Alitalia, which loses £35,000 every hour of the day, should really have been allowed go bust years ago, as should Olympic of Greece (the Swiss allowed it to happen to their sacred flying cow in 2002). However, the national humiliation that would be felt by the Italians or the Greeks if their state airlines were grounded forever is politically unacceptable, and the Italian taxpayer (a rare and endangered species) goes on supporting a second-rate business where the pilots have been getting away until now with flying only 450 hours per year.

Talking of things antiquated and Italian, I'm glad to say that the numbers of entrants in the Latin quiz are rising again. A magum of champagne has gone to the reader who translated September's teaser as 'The recent graduate MBA/Will make a cock-up every day' - which was not only witty, but even rhymed. This month's Latin phrase is: Quem regit in rebus sua pro ratione voluntas, illum certa, licet tarda, ruina manet. The best translation wins a bottle of champagne. Send your answers to matthew.gwyther@haynet.com.

A word of warning - we're thinking of moving on to Greek soon.

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