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Blog : BOARD TALK

Trust Is An Essential : Recipes Urgently Required

Posted on November 26, 2012 at 6:50 PM

Values. Friendship. Trust. Not words that usually crop up in conversations around business, particularly not ones like 'friendship'. But they are beginning to more and more, probably because an understanding of how to define them- and to establish whether there is a common understanding of those definitions  - particularly across national borders -  is important.


I think it is critical to establishing what we mean by 'standards' -  which is the next step up in 'de-personalised' terms, ie ones that sound more objective, more clear-cut. In short, more appropriate to the corporate world.


In the UK there is a general assumption that 'friendship', for example is a personal thing - kept away from corporate circles, kept apart from the runnings of our plcs. Well, we all know that isn't strictly true. It just gets hidden in terms like 'networking' and 'mentoring' and institutionalised in places like 'clubs.' The old question is 'is it business or pleasure?' In reality, much of the time it is a bit of both. But it is probably stil more true here than in many other places where the UK increasingly does business.


I was thinking about this when I came upon an interview in the FT with Andrei Skoch, a Russian billionaire investor who it seems is "to indirectly take a 30% ownership in (Alisher) Usmanov's soon-to-be-created holding company, an umbrella group that will hold the oligarch's stakes" in a number of companies including Megafon, his mobile operator which is being prepared for a $2.1bn London flotation.


If you have access to FT.com, the full story is here. 


I was struck by a few things he was quoted as saying. They are inevitably not in context, which is why I refer you to the full FT report - but I don't think it matters for my purpose here.


Speaking of Mr Usmanov, Mr Skoch told the FT: "I trust him, I know he always does what he needs to do."


At the end of the interview Mr Skoch is talking about the relationship between himself and Mr Usmanov. He is quoted as saying: "What is friendship ? What is trust?....The most important thing in friendship is overcoming the fear that the other person can betray you. If you overcome this fear, it means this person is a real friend." (My emphasis).


Hmm. I'm afraid that is so far from my definition of friendship it is surprising that Mr Skoch and I are on the same planet. But it does provide some insight into another way of thinking - not necessarily shared by all Russian businessmen, but still, as they say, 'good to know.' It certainly gives some insight into Mr Skoch.


Information - from facts - and insight - from perception and impression of what people say - all contribute to our view of whether we trust people, and companies. This is a general statement - I'm not talking about Mr Skoch.


And trust on the whole seems to have fled for the winter in the UK. Here's the highly regarded BBC's John Humphrys on the subject.


I'm afraid I'm not really going anywhere with this except to say that it's well worth thinking about, and discussing in the boardrooms of UK plc. 


Other people clearly think the notion of 'trust' ie important as well - PwC have done some very interesting work on the subject which you will find here - and I know that because they approached me along with other journalists for a project they are doing on trust and the organisation. Watch this space.







Categories: Corporate, Behaviour, Stewardship