Inside Story/By Toady.
When times are hard, and sales and profits are down, where does British business look for inspiration? Not at home it seems. Companies as diverse as Laura Ashley, Saatchi, or Brel, the privatised train-builder, now re-named ABB Transportation, have all sought overseas saviours.
Laura Ashley, which had losses of £25 million in three years, went west. In came American Jim Maxmin. Was he tough? Within two weeks of landing he had fired 100 managers and started a "That's Dumb" campaign, giving £5 to any member of staff sufficiently untraumatised to be able to point out a wasteful practice.
Whether or not this stimulation was fruitful Toady is unaware but the company is now headed towards profit and expansion into speciality foods. Saatchi's, flailing around in the encircling gloom, went for the French connection. The Gallic touch appears to have been successful. Chief executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus has recently unveiled the ad agency's first pre-tax profits since 1990. It has to be said that M Louis-Dreyfus had a special incentive to strive for safer shores: he had invested £1.5 million of his own money into the group - "the worst financial investment in my life". Even so, Saatchi, margins up from 3-5%, is now generally considered to be out of the corporate intensive care ward.
The newly-renamed Brel found itself with a Swede, train-builder Bo Sodersten. Within three weeks, possibly just when they had got their tongues around his name, 900 employees found themselves out of work - and as a result they no doubt very quickly renamed him. The survivors were left clinging to a 12-point recovery plan.
At Courtaulds, another man with a difficult name, Dutch-born Sipko Huismans, leads the company through the valley of recession and has recently reported an 8% rise in profits. Good show, Sipko, and chairman Christopher Hogg murmured optimistically about his prowess in the annual report.
Then there's BTR. With a reputation for growth and squeezing profits, it was under pressure to show its acquisition policy could still work, when Alan Jackson, an accountant from down under, became chief executive. It seems in Britain when it's a case of chauvinism versus corporate recovery, the latter wins every time.