Editorial: Sir Victor's lumbering legacy

Blank and his Big Deal; doing business in Nigeria (and Fela Kuti); and a proper degree of civility.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT editor
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Nobody, least of all Sir Victor Blank, wants to bring their career to an end labelled as a value-destroying loser with poor judgment whose final foray was a colossal balls-up. History may be kinder to Blank than Lloyds shareholders are being at the moment - many of them want him skinned alive and his head paraded around the City on a pikestaff. The irony is that Lloyds, hitherto a virtuous and slightly plodding bank, spent the boom years being kicked from pillar to post for being dull and risk-averse. Last year, when the ordure hit the fan and everyone else was donning protective clothing and diving for cover, Lloyds and Blank found the courage to do the Big Deal, making the worst Goldmans vampire squid look like a fieldmouse on Diazepam.

It could prove a great deal in the long term. Lloyds/HBOS's problem is that when the mist clears and money starts being lent again, the new outfit will look like the whale in the pantry - and this has not gone unnoticed in Brussels. So now the nightmare gets worse, as the possibility arises that the bank will be forced to offload Halifax, which was the bit the Lloyds board really wanted - the Bank of Scotland doesn't amount to a hill of haggis.

Well, at least Sir Victor doesn't have to contemplate doing business in Nigeria. The most populous country in Africa is the world's 8th-largest oil exporter and a place of high potential. But it has been held back by a chaotic blend of corruption, inter-tribal violence and mismanagement. An acquaintance travelled to Lagos on business and arrived unscathed at his hotel to check in. He turned round to pick up his bag, and found it gone. He told the hotel staff, got in the lift and went to his room, sure that he'd never see his Samsonite again. The phone rang and a voice said: 'Sir, your bag - I might be able to help you find it for the right price.'

The author of our feature, Michael Peel, lived there for three years and survived to tell the tale, which is that it's not all bad. The country did, after all, bring us Fela Kuti, the greatest of all Afrobeaters.

Nigerians are known throughout Africa for their directness - some say rudeness. Here at MT we've always believed a proper degree of civility in dealing with customers and staff is worth millions. Rudeness and humiliation, as our piece on good manners suggests, may make for great reality TV but create bad businesses. And being nice is just so much easier.

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