MT 40: Scrapbook 1990s

As the Iron Curtain rusted away, MT watched New Labour shape up for office. Woman-power was evident in the workplace, and youth had its way as the internet took hold ...

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Last Updated: 01 Mar 2016

JANUARY 90 - Another brick in the Wall?

Just two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, MT was on the trail of Simon Hicks. An opportunistic British entrepreneur, Hicks had watched the collapse of the wall on the TV and set off to East Germany with a sledgehammer and a couple of mates. His mission? To bring back a chunk of the wall and sell it in bits in presentation boxes to fellow Brits.

The souvenir-hunter told MT how he had to dive in and out of bushes to avoid the East German border guards, but his luck held out. Hicks successfully persuaded upmarket London stores to sell his boxed and authenticated rock samples at £40 a pop.

OCTOBER 90 - Labour courts the business classes

Three years after defeat in the 1987 election, Labour was beginning to reassess its relationship with business. But how was it to get close to the 'boss class' when it was in favour of re-nationalising the privatised industries and abandoning the nuclear deterrent? The party was now making 'a very conscious judgement to make our meetings with business and our contacts with industry a matter of the highest priority', explained a moustachioed Peter Mandelson (right), the Labour party's director of communications at the time. Reporting on a rapprochement between the socialists and some left-minded City types, MT found Mo Mowlem to be particularly popular, although there's no mention of a young Tony Blair, just four years away from becoming leader of the party.

OCTOBER 92 - Mr Microsoft

An uncomfortable-looking William Gates (right), sporting grey slacks and a blazer, gave MT a characteristic assessment of his firm's performance.

'Real neat ... supercool,' he said of its stupendous financial results. The tech firm had achieved a 30% sales growth rate, and profits of $462m on sales of $1.8bn. Meanwhile, IBM was posting its first ever loss. John Leftwich, marketing director of Microsoft UK, talked about the imminent arrival of 'personal digital assistants'. The company was 'also looking at the integration of PCs with ordinary telephones'.

MAY 93 - Memo to John Major

With grey man John Major at the governmental helm, MT asked: Is it make or break for the Conservative party? Battered by two recessions and the menace of international competition (in particular, from Japan), Britain's industry was scrabbling around, picking up the pieces. Absorbing the imported theory of Total Quality Management, some of Britain's 'new' manufacturers were working miracles, but, we wrote: 'There simply are not enough of them.' In 1979, the UK manufacturing sector accounted for about 29% of GDP; by the end of 1992, it was more like 20%.

OCTOBER 93 - The mixed-up manager

MT probed the minds of 1,000 UK managers to discover their current hopes and fears (see table). We found that, on average, they were overtired, overworked, having problems at home but blissfully happy to be in a job.

At the time, almost 400,000 of the 'professional, managerial and technical' classes were registered as unemployed, and recruitment ads for the most humdrum assistant general manager posts routinely attracted 300 or more replies.

'In the executive goldfish bowl we (now) have half the number of managers, paid twice as much and expected to be three times as productive', said management guru Charles Handy.

JANUARY 95 - Environmental concerns go critical

Not shy of tackling controversial topics, MT got stuck into ecology issues: 'Interdependence between the environment and the bottom line is growing,' cautioned Will Hutton. 'The "hysterical" predictions of shroud-waving green campaigners of the 1980s that industrial progress would soon be blocked by a crisis of sustainability were easy to dismiss by those fond of more level-headed assessment. But the gist of the message can no longer be ignored. The environmental crisis is upon us here and now - and it is already impingeing on business decision-making across a swathe of industries.'

OCTOBER 95 - Blair's lean and hungry look

Peter Oborne interviewed the prime minister-in-waiting, and found him to be 'leaner and taller than one imagines ... The smile, which appears bogus on the small screen, is disarming and genuine in the flesh.' Yet the New Labour party that Tony Blair had forged hadn't done much to reassure Britain's industry leaders - MT found that in a general election, 63% of them would still vote Tory.

MARCH 96 - Elusive potential of the web

It's funny to think that we used to 'dial up' web pages to get into 'cyberspace', but that's just what we did at the height of the dot.com boom. The new-fangled 'information superhighway' allowed you to do all sorts of snazzy things, like download video clips and check the latest traffic snarl-ups.

But how could it help your business make money? It was a tough question - and, a decade on, the holy grail has been found by just a few. 'We thought that if we put up some pages offering products and an ordering service ... everyone would come and look and we'd get frightfully rich,' said one dot.bitten entrepreneur. 'It's very early days for online trading,' we consoled.

WHAT WORRIES YOU ABOUT THE FUTURE?
Job opportunities for your children 53%
Lack of further career progress 48%
Inability to get a job due to age 47%
Fewer promotion opportunities 44%
Lack of job security 44%
Redundancy 42%

MAY 97 - FTSE-100's first female CEO

Marjorie Scardino (above), the new, straight-talking US-born chief executive of Pearson, overcame one of the last symbolic barriers for women in business.

'Scardino's approach is one-to-one, no hangers-on, nobody to hold up the flow of her message,' approved MT. She was a breath of fresh air for a rather stuffy, unfocused company. Nine years on, she remains in the hot seat, bloodied but unbowed.

JUNE 98 - The search for balance begins

Managers were facing a crisis, and something had to be done about it, urged MT. 'The Great Work/Life Debate', a poll of 5,500 managers, showed that Britain's executive cadre were an unhappy lot. We criticised the lingering 1980s culture of 'presenteeism', which put UK executives at risk of burn-out, asserting: 'Today, in an environment where knowledge and service are king, a company's prime assets are its managers and its staff.' A new way of working was called for, one where the balance between work and life was fair.

MARCH 99 - Britain's most powerful women

'Who is the woman who makes it to the top? Is she a workaholic, a charmer or schemer, a consummate networker?' we asked. Did the old stereotypes still apply? Our list of Britain's 50 most influential women in business suggested otherwise. Top of MT's league was fund manager Carol Galley (left), second was Marjorie Scardino and third Cherie Booth (aka Mrs Blair).

NOVEMBER 99 - E-tastic

A redesigned MT, and the arrival of the first of its e25 indices of e-business start-ups. Britain's pioneering internet tycoons included such young things as Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman, co-founders of the enduring lastminute.com. No such luck for the doomed boo.com. As we prepared for the new millennium (bugs and all), the bubble continued to inflate ...

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