Sunday, 30 January 2011

Good news story

In tough times, it’s a blessing to find an instance of triumph over misfortune from which we can all draw encouragement.

For months, we’ve been wondering whether Britain was going to experience a ‘double-dip recession’ – back into recession a few months after climbing painfully out of the last one – as the opponents of the present government claim, or avoid that fate, as its supporters hope.

The jury’s still out, but the early signs are ominous. Provisional figures for the last quarter of 2010 show that the economy contracted 0.5%, which is massive as these things go. The definitive numbers may not confirm that gloomy picture, but if they do, and if there’s no upturn this quarter, we’ll be back into the textbook definition of a recession: two successive quarters of contraction.

This would be bad news for a lot of people. Jobs will go, those on the edge will be precipitated into poverty, a lot of hopes and ambitions will die.

So let’s take comfort from the uplifting tale of Tony Hayward. Last summer, he was Chief Executive of BP. You may recall that he was involved in some unpleasantness involving oil in the Gulf of Mexico, when the locals became restive and a number expressed views that can only be called intemperate.

Tony Hayward: poster boy for overcoming adversity

In the end, although he’d faced a crisis which manifestly required steady nerves, his particular brand of quiet calm, cruelly interpreted as indifference, led to his being forced out of his position. To console him for his loss, he left with little more than a few millions, and not many of them at that.

Well, it was announced last week that Glencore, the world’s largest commodities trading group, has approached him about the possibility of joining its board. It seems that Tony hasn’t even decided to take the offer if it’s formally made: he’s building a ‘portfolio’ of top jobs from which he’ll choose the one or ones that best suit him.

It’s a tremendous relief, isn’t it? I mean, it’s awful for these people who’ve grown used to living on eight-figure salaries to have to cope without them, and it looks as though Tony won’t be in that position for much longer.

It’s all very well saying that senior executives are highly paid because they have to take responsibility when things go wrong. It’s a good principle, but do we really want to see it ruthlessly applied in practice even to people this likeable? It was, after all, just unfortunate that during that spot of bother in the Gulf he was perceived as the most hated man in America. There comes a time when we have to move on and put all that behind us.

Perhaps Tony could demonstrate his commitment to our government’s bright new idea of an all-inclusive ‘Big Society’ by going on a speaking tour of the unemployment black spots of this country. His theme could be ‘Bouncing back from Adversity: how I showed that losing a job can be the beginning, not the end, of something worthwhile.’

I’m sure his unemployed audiences would derive great comfort from sharing his experience of dealing with difficulties so similar to their own, and overcoming them.

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