Why business is like ... Skiing a mogul run

Elegant solutions to business problems have innate appeal, but that doesn't make them right, as mogul run skiers know.

by Jennifer Harris
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Mogul runs are studded with spherical mounds of compacted snow which competent skiers elegantly weave their way around. But Olympic skiers take a different approach. Instead of going around the moguls they take them head-on, steering an almost vertical path over them and bumping their way down the course. It's not pretty or elegant but it's a lot faster.

One company with a history of appointing leaders who would make excellent mogul racers is British Airways. Thirty years ago the late Lord King, who transformed British Airways' fortunes, became renowned for his 'sheer aggression and drive to make things happen'. He had blazing rows with the Civil Aviation Authority, he removed nine of his board members within 18 months and he was responsible for 23,000 job losses, equivalent to 40% of the workforce.

Far from being a smooth operator, he was brutal - but effective. Thirty years on, BA's current chief exec, Willie Walsh, has assumed a similarly brave and bombastic approach. Taking the unions on directly, he is not afraid of a rough ride if it's how to get where he wants to go.

Business moguls and mogul racers alike have figured out that sometimes the inelegant solutions can prove the most effective.

- Jennifer Harris is director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk

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