David Parkin on changing Times and the full Monty

CALL me old fashioned but when I attended an event organised by The Times and The Sunday Times yesterday I expected to see a newspaper.

But try as I might I could not find one copy of a paper at the Growth Summit in Leeds that the publishers organised with accountancy giant KPMG.

What the event lacked in newspapers it gained in accountants – there was a plentiful array of talent on parade from KPMG.

And why not?

I’ve always said you can never have too many accountants.

If you are a business holding an event then you should both want and need to showcase your product.

And in KPMG’s case, its business is people.

The Times is a newspaper publisher and to hold an event and not have any of your products available seems utterly bizarre.

Perhaps it assumed that the gathered entrepreneurs and high level public and private decision makers already read its products.

Given the declining readership of national and local newspapers these days, that is a dangerous assumption to make.

Attendees weren’t even encouraged to take out a digital subscription.

The Times has run a UK Growth Summit in London for a decade but the series of regional events leading up to it are a new initiative.

There is always a danger that London-based organisations venturing into the regions to hold events can come across as a little patronising in tone if they are not careful.

However the business editor of The Times Richard Fletcher was quick to tell the audience he was delighted to return to Leeds where he studied economics at Leeds Polytechnic.

“I was interested to see that the school of economics is now a Wetherspoons pub,” he reflected.

You can’t stand in the way of progress.

The only patronising hint I got was later on in the morning, after the coffee break when the organiser of the event from The Times pinched my seat.

Hers had been reserved for Alex Mahon, the chief executive of Channel 4 who was on stage later to be interviewed by Richard Fletcher.

The event, held at the University of Leeds’ impressive new Nexus building, also featured several panel discussions on subjects such as collaboration, fast growth technology and healthcare companies and trading overseas.

There was a discussion about how to encourage more women to get involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and one panellist said her firm had held an event to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day.

I don’t really know much about Ada Lovelace.

I’m more familiar with the work of her sister Linda.

The panel discussions led into roundtable discussions around the room in which those on each table were encouraged to debate key issues and challenges to business.

Given our table had two of the panellists, Alison Jaap, customer services director of first direct bank and Adam Hildreth of Leeds-based online safety business Crisp Thinking, the discussion was focused and thoughtful.

My contribution was to have an argument with a bloke from York University who wanted to know why more businesses weren’t engaging with academics from universities.

When I helpfully explained that perhaps it was because businesses don’t have the time to do that, plus those in academia speak a different language to the rest of us, he looked at me quizzically.

He then went on to tell us that it is not a university’s job to go out and find businesses to work with.

I sat next to an academic with a similar attitude at a Leeds Beckett University dinner earlier this year so sadly this approach is prevalent within our universities and gives me little hope that the divisions between business and academia will be bridged any time soon.

Fortunately Phil Murden, a partner in KPMG’s management consulting business, who was chairing the discussion on our table steered it into more positive territory.

I was reassured from a conversation during the coffee break with Dr Martin Stow, chairman of Nexus, the project that the University of Leeds has invested 40-odd million quid in to connect business with world-leading research.

Martin has a background working for both global and start-up businesses and agrees that it is for our universities to go out and create collaborative relationships with businesses.

A number of surveys during the event asked the audience their view on key business issues, including challenges to growth.

Not surprisingly transport was highlighted as one of the biggest.

Leeds has a transport system – both roads and rail – that is not so much creaking as broken and an airport that is difficult to access and has limited connections to international hubs, so it is easy to see why it ranks so high on the list of business concerns.

What worries me is that Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan urged businesses to get involved in the debate about future transport developments in the city region such as the growth of the airport so their voices can be heard alongside those campaigning for a carbon-free approach.

I understand that we must be looking to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.

But if Extinction Rebellion’s voice is the loudest in the room then that isn’t right.

I accept their right to protest, I just don’t like the way they do it.

Blocking roads and clambering on top of trains might make headlines but it also prevents people getting to work or back home to their families.

The employers and wealth creators must be listened to as well.

Because from where I’m standing, they are contributing so much more than the motley weepy crew from Extinction Rebellion.


LAST week’s piece about death threats on social media brought this response from Sir Rodney Walker:

“Your thoughtful piece this morning on the subject of social media death threats reminded me of a time, long before the advent of social media, when I was due to visit Belfast in my capacity as chair of UK Sport.

“On the eve of my departure I was advised anonymously that ‘people with guns’ would be waiting for me on my arrival. I spoke with the then Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police who said in his experience those who issue threats rarely (but not always) did not carry out them out, it was the ones you didn’t know about which were more of a concern.

“I am living proof I survived the visit without incident.

“Maybe because I’m now much older and that society, at this time, is much more divided, I am less confident that public threats can be so readily disregarded.”


AND on a lighter note, last week’s other piece about business people sticking on their out-of-office on the email and heading off to support England in the Rugby World Cup final brought a response – from Japan.

David Forbes, the former Rothschild dealmaker who has become a successful non-executive director including roles with stock market companies such as Boohoo.com and chairman of Renew Holdings, got in touch.

“Greetings from Japan. Been here since 19 September. No fair weather rugby fan here.”

Given he supports Scotland, I think we can agree on that one.

And if Andy Finneran had time I’m sure he would have responded to my comments.

But from his social media posts he is far too busy on an extended “cultural tour” of Japan.

But that is probably to be expected given that the former finance chief of food giant R&R Ice Cream stepped down from his role after 25 years a couple of years ago and changed his job description on Linkedin to “Retired 2theSunbed”.

Actually Andy’s not always on holiday.

He has to go and watch his racehorse sometimes.


BACK at The Times event yesterday I was intrigued to see one of the panellists was from The Meatless Farm.

That is a Leeds-based business which produces plant-based alternatives to meat.

According to Brady Collins, chief operating officer of The Meatless Farm, the main ingredients in its products are “légumes”.

It brought to mind a couple of my favourite quotes from the cult film Withnail and I when the large, louche and camp character of Uncle Monty, played by the inimitable Richard Griffiths, is supervising the cooking of a meal.

“I think it’s time to release you from the légumes and transfer your talents to the meat.”

“I can never touch raw meat until it’s cooked. As a youth, I used to weep in butchers’ shops.”

And if you are in the mood to learn more about Monty’s thoughts on légumes, watch this clip.


Have a great weekend.

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