LEADERS: CONVERSATIONS WITH IRISH CHIEF EXECUTIVES; By Ivor Kenny; Oaktree Press; pounds 24.95
Getting businessmen to talk about themselves is like recording footballers' opinions on the meaning of life, Brian. They are doers rather than thinkers; and they're unlikely to tell you much of interest unless pressed and, if necessary, beaten over the head with the golf clubs that so often provide their alternative to introspection.
The author of this affable amble through the Irish business community belongs very much to that community - indeed, Ivor Kenny can be said to be one of the founding fathers of Irish management, and for that Ireland has much to be grateful. But he is not a journalist, and each interview that went into the making of these 'profiles' of Irish businessmen took only two or three hours. It was then transcribed, the questions edited out and the answers spliced together into a concocted continuum, which was sent back to the interviewee for his approval.
Now hold on there. Even in the absence of challenging questions about ethics, the law, taxation and relationships with politicians, and in even the blandest Q&A sessions, the interviewee often lets something golden slip out. Then to give him the right to censor any unintended revelations surely defeats one purpose of an interview.
And even though most of the subjects covered are honest individuals who have led inter-esting lives, few are 'leaders'. There is, for example, almost nothing in common between a successful bookie such as Stewart Kenny and a world statesman such as Peter Sutherland. The latter changed the face of the planet during his time as director general of GATT and WTO, and the success of Paddy Power bookmakers that will take a bet on anything doesn't compare.
This lack of proportionality is no reflection on the moral worth of the individuals concerned - indeed, Stewart Kenny is the most reflective of all the subjects here, and is highly eloquent about the utter ephemerality of money and success. But it's clear that he volunteered his opinions on the importance of art and spirituality over mammon, rather than have them drawn out as part of an interviewing technique.
Such a technique might have justifiably asked Richard Burrows of Irish Distillers a few impertinently pertinent questions about what it was like to run a state-created monopoly, how corrupting that can be for a business, and whether one found oneself protecting the monopoly rather than selling goods.
Perhaps it would be too much for Ivor Kenny to have asked the grand prix millionaire Eddie Jordan why he wears a wig and how much it cost - it really is rather good, Eddie - but surely, Denis O'Brien, the telecommunications billionaire, was worth a grilling. He is, after all, at the centre of two separate government enquiries - one into money-to-politicians, the other into the use of the state-owned railway network to run his company's cable network.
Admittedly, O'Brien's white-knuckle account of his career would make a mother superior reach for the gin in terror, but even taken at face value, it's not an account of a leader but a financial Evil Knieval who seems certain to come a terrible cropper one day.
And coming a cropper can happen to us all, as Leaders shows. Between copy deadline and publication time utter horrors can happen, as any publisher can testify, and as they did to Baltimore Technology. The CEO Fran Rooney, whose life is benignly promenaded through in this book, resigned as it went to press, after Baltimore's shares fell from pounds 4.27 on the day of the interview to 19p six months on.
On balance, I have to say all 17 subjects have interesting stories to tell and, though providing no challenging insights, they make good light reading. A useful looside tome, perhaps, in the guest bathroom.