Gambling is a central theme in this month's issue. But rather than looking at casinos and gaming houses, we cast our gaze upon more formal places where habits and systems are known under the grander names of tactics and strategy. Luck is not given much credit in the serious world of business. Yet the tripling in value of the stock market over the past eight years has made a mint for a generation of managers who have found themselves in the right place at the right time. There has rarely been a better period to run a quoted company or an asset management house, or to undertake a management buy-out.
Now that Britain is moving towards the end of one of the greatest bull markets in financial history it seems a good moment to assess the role luck has played in the careers of some of our most esteemed executives. It has made them rich certainly, but has it also made many of them seem far shrewder and more intelligent than they really are? Will they still look like winners in the leaner, meaner times that almost certainly lay ahead?
On page 34, Matthew Lynn pulls back the veil on Britain's luckiest managers - and he is not just talking about the handful of British Rail executives who scooped the jackpot. He focuses on some of the managers regarded as among the wisest and most skilful in the country.
Two of the most interesting figures he assesses are Jan Leschly, who takes much of the credit for the impressive share price rise at SmithKline Beecham, and Carol Galley, perhaps Britain's best-known fund manager. Lynn suggests that each owes more to the feverish stock-market highs than many realise. He finds that their accomplishments look less impressive when placed in context.
There is nothing wrong with making money during a boom, just as there is nothing wrong with turning in a healthy profit at the roulette table or scratching away at a National Lottery Instant and finding three matching symbols. But when the market turns down and businesses have to belt up for a rough spell, it will take more than luck to produce the results. Many of those who have been living in financial heaven for the past few years will find themselves tumbling into financial hell.
Sky's the limit for some risk-takers
Some managers have clambered to the top by taking some gambles along the way. Others have chosen a more careful route (The path to power, p46).
But there are not many who bet careers once they have reached the summit.
Mark Booth has little choice (Winner takes all, p40). Thrust into the hot seat at BSkyB, he is gambling with more than his career.
He is gambling with the future of Rupert Murdoch's company. And he needs all the luck he can get.