Speaking Out

Allan Leighton, Chairman, Royal Mail Group. Why does Allan Leighton have a string of chairmanships and non-exec directorships?

by Khalid Aziz
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Why does Allan Leighton have a string of chairmanships and non-exec directorships? Because he has a refreshing approach to business success that casts aside conventional management thinking. Not that you'd know at first – I thought I was in the presence of some low-calibre warm-up man at the Economist Marketing Directors' European Summit. Who was this guy with the tacky PowerPoint slides, crumpled M&S suit, shiny grey tie and flat Black Country vowels?

But he really knew his stuff. He sideswiped the consultants who came up with the Royal Mail mission statement: 'We wish to become the most complete distribution company in the world' (or similar). When Leighton told postmen and their managers, no-one knew what it meant (apparently, it was the first time they'd ever been visited by a board member). Leighton's refreshingly simple version, 'To collect and deliver the mail', was well received. Not for him the niceties of boardroom politesse, either. Explaining the need to change the entire board, there was none of this 'individual's moved on to pursue other interests'. Rather, 'I got rid of the lot of them'. Leighton had the audience nodding in agreement with 'Never mind about headcount. What you need is brain count. Look around at your next meeting and count the brains.'

There are still cock-ups, such as the purchase of 30,000 pairs of size-seven shoes surplus to requirements, but you feel Leighton is getting a grip on the business. A tour de force.

Key moment: Leighton deals personally with 70 e-mails a day from postmen and line managers.

Key lesson: If you tell it how it is, audiences will love you.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth?...

Silver Tongue

Khalid Aziz, a visiting professor of business communications at Southampton University, chairs the Aziz Corporation – khalid@azizcorp.com

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