21 May 1987

Excellence

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I visited a number of British business schools while working for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the nineteen eighties, and found two books in particular turning up in conversation. One was Martin Wiener’s English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980, which argued that aristocratic values had stifled entrepreneurialism in modern Britain. The other was In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies – a US bestseller promoting a creed that would play a decisive role in British life over the decade to come. This article was my first attempt to track the course of ‘Excellence’ as it reached into British public life. Published in the London Review of Books, 21 May 1987.

Bryan Carsberg of Oftel smiles up in soft brown light as he dangles in the mirror on a green office wall. Michael Meyer of Emess Lighting is dissected by the blinds that cut across him and then reassembled from outside – his shirtsleeved figure looming like a target in the formulaic eye of some Hollywood assassin. As for London and Scottish Marine Oil’s Chris Greentree, all that remains of him is a severed head shining above the water as the sun goes down over drilling rigs beached by the receding North Sea tide.

The magazine Management Today has developed a distinctive style of portrait photography in recent years. Here is a constant stream of successful business figures, but here also is a problematic redundancy of appearance: how can one promote the entrepreneurial spirit as a revivifying force by running endless mugshots of the man in a grey flannel suit? So the photographers go to work, decentring the figure, absorbing it into its own reflection, dismembering and scattering it about the place. Unlikely angles proliferate as the background is picked over for relieving features which can be drawn into the newly vacant centre of the image: anything from the fluted pillars and wrought-iron gates of some nearby classical architecture to the futuristic technology of the working environment…
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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 21st, 1987 at 12:00 am and is filed under Articles General, Miscellaneous rigs of the time. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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