Rebuilding business and transforming teams.

Posted on 20 February 2011

Archie Norman is a British businessman and politician, who is currently Chairman of ITV plc. In conversation with Greg Dyke, he reveals some of his business secrets.

Archie Norman is currently chairman of the struggling broadcaster ITV. Greg Dyke is an ex-Director-General of the BBC. So this was a fascinating 90 minutes, as Greg asked Archie about his career, his strategies and tactics, and his plans to turn around ITV.

They started by discussing Archie's education, and in particular his time at the Harvard Business School doing an MBA. Archie recalled that on the first day, he was given a pile of case studies to work through. All well and good - until he read the note that said that three of them would be discussed in the first class in the morning!

After a stint as a "consultant" at McKinsey & Co, at age 32 he became group finance director at Kingfisher plc (then Britain's largest retailer). Within ten years, he was chairman. He became Chief Executive at Asda in 1991; the only applicant for a near bankrupt business. He famously turned the company around, transforming it into the second largest supermarket chain in the UK, before its sale to Wal-Mart in June 1999.

Greg asked him about his tactics at Asda. Archie said that the most important thing in a failing business is to be honest with the staff - they know something's wrong, and giving out fake positive messages is (in his opinion) the worst thing to do. You also have to be honest with shareholders and suppliers. Archie liked to visit stores at the weekends, unannounced, and use the store PA system to ask shoppers to tell him what they thought of Asda. He always made a point of thanking and praising the store workers too; and he introduced a share scheme so the workers had a stake in the company.

Archie talked amusingly about being an MP for 8 years. His perception was that having expertise in anything other than politics is little valued in parliament. He remembered a debate on business when, as ex-chairman of a FTSE 100 company, he expected to be called to speak - and he was, after 14 other MPs...

After leaving Parliament in 2007 Archie set up Aurigo Management, which seeks to acquire underperforming or distressed businesses which could be rescued by intensive management. In January 2010, Archie was appointed Chairman of ITV - possibly his biggest challenge so far.

Greg questioned him at length about his strategy for the company, particularly the difficulties of over-regulation in terrestrial TV, and the falling advertising market. Archie had no easy answers, but intends to ensure that the company owns its content in future, for use in a multi-platform environment. He wants ITV to be a creative hub, fizzing with talent, so the brightest and best producers are attracted to work there.