Bob Empson's family is convinced he is a spy. Formally he is Managing Director and founder of award-winning management consultancy White Maple Consulting Ltd, describing himself as a 'trusted strategy advisor, change and performance coach'. He was previously head of Smith & Williamson's management consulting business, a partner/director at Baker Tilly Management Consultants, President of the Institute of Management Consultancy - and is now also a tutor on Warwick Business School's MBA Programme.
Over a career spanning 30 years to date, Bob has worked for some 200 companies in 35 countries, across six continents. This is where his family, especially his daughters, start to get suspicious. One trip in particular triggered the thought: his travels on this one business assignment took him to Paris, to Shanghai and also to Moscow. (Camera pans away from view of lone man at the top of Shanghai's Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Cuts to aerial aerial shot of Red Square's Saint Basil's Cathedral, a figure in a heavy coat and dark glasses seen crossing the Square clutching a mysterious package.) His daughters' suspicions are not helped of course by the fact that "business consultancy" is a common cover in the world of espionage (in books and films at least). And if you check out his Twitter this week you'll see his profile explains there'll be no more tweets until he's back in the UK as he "has no access to Twitter due to the Great Firewall of China" and access to his files on the cloud is also blocked. Hmm. Also, he is not just a cerebral fellow: on 4 November he will be running the New York Marathon, to raise money for Stroke, a charity of which he is a Trustee - so physically he has form.
We met up over lunch recently to discuss our approaches to our work with professional firms and to explore common ground. I had met Bob through a law firm client we have in common, Russell-Cooke, and I know the esteem in which he is held for the work he has done with them over 20 years. Senior Partner John Gould has publicly credited Bob's contribution to the firm as key to it's sustained and profitable growth over that period, and its elevation into the Top 100.
"When it comes to change management, or even just moving a business forward, you need to work with individuals of course, starting with the leadership team, which is where performance coaching for senior executives comes in." He tells me. "But more importantly, you need to understand the dynamics of the organisation as a whole - how decisions are made, the internal forces and influences that can take ideas forward or, conversely, that can potentially hold them back. So orchestrating the right groups of people to come together to discuss the right issues, being mindful of setting the right agendas to shape conversations and decisions, is all part of the day job. This is what makes the difference with implementation in my view. And a strategy is not worth the paper it's written on if you can't put it into action on the ground."
So Bob not only advises on business strategy for Russell-Cooke but also plays a particularly interesting role staging the firm's annual partner meetings, grouping people and facilitating discussions, also devising the agenda, in a way that makes sure everyone is focussed on the pertinent issues and that time spent on the day is used to best effect to move the business forward. John Gould puts Bob's success with Russell-Cooke down to his detailed and contextual understanding of the firm's business model, its operations and its individuals. He says this has been key in helping the firm, which at the end of the day is part of an industry that is "instinctively conservative", to embrace change.
An interesting approach. I look forward to working with him. But I can't help wondering... Could this management consultancy role be just an elaborate cover...?
You can support Bob's New York Marathon run here.
Apparently the now iconic Aston Martin should never have got the gig. A fascinating film fact I learned reading up in preparation for the new Bond film Skyfall this weekend: producer Cubby Broccoli's first choice of car for the secret agent back in the 1960s was in fact the new E-Type Jag, not an Aston Martin at all. At its unveiling that year at the Geneva Motor Show (1961), this beautiful, sleek new Jaguar sports car had taken the public by storm. The film company asked for three, but Jaguar was struggling to keep up with public demand at that time, so boss Sir William Lyons refused to give up any of the cars as he needed them to fulfil orders. Aston Martin stepped in and the rest is history: brand value and sales went through the roof as the partnership between Aston Martin and Bond became one of the most famous on celluloid.
Could it possibly be that our very own Charon QC is another secret agent travelling incognito? Can we take another look at the picture of that red Jag he's just bought for his UK Legal Tour?
Bringing class to an Essex classic: in a style statement that almost went under the radar, as The Telegraph put it, Judi Dench sported a 007-logo Swarowski crystal tattoo on her neck at this week's Skyfall premier. This woman must be very sure of her brand. A risky strategy, but it worked: our National Treasure is most definitely pulled the image of crystal tattoos upmarket, and not the other way around. Brand Judi Dench is far too strong to be subsumed by this little bit of Essex. A succinct tutorial in brand attachment for you!