Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Macro Level Trends – UK plc – The Royal Reflection in a Marriage of Culture and Commerce.

Sometimes a close juxtaposition of events can be telling sign of the times.

The London announcement of the engagement between HRH Prince William and Katherine Middleton is followed a day later by the New York/Toronto listing of General Motors.

Of course, on the surface, the worlds of Royalty and Commerce are polar opposites, in days gone by the aristocracy – let alone royalty - wouldn't allow their family names to be 'sullied' by the notion of being directly linked to 'trade'. Instead, in the historical tradition of leadership a military career was followed, balanced by cultural learning and pursuits to help provide a rounded character.

Yet the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries all saw fundamental change in the very foundations of the western social structure were, a re-setting exemplified by the decline of European aristocracy, the rise of American, European and latterly Asian industrial families, with an inter-linking of 'blue-blood' with 'new money'. A minute step-by-step change social ways. That integration of changed social attitudes perhaps best reflected by the abdication of the throne by Edward VIII for Mrs Simpson, and the end of the Debutant's London Ball in the 1950s . That decade also witnessed an emergence for strong post WW2 US-Euro political ties, and was thus bolstered by the coupling of the Prince of Monaco and (Hollywood's) Grace Kelly; almost as scripted to buoy public perception.

This level of convergence between different worlds is of course not quite the case for William and Katherine given their mutual roots from St Andrews University. This somewhat to the chagrin of the popular press who hope to portray the marriage as an archetypical modern-day princess fairytale. Thus, akin to the stories told about the Prince of Denmark and Princess of Sweden marrying non-titled partners.

Instead, the real story seems to be a meeting of personal minds and outlook, yet also representing the proto-social context which recognised the need for social evolution of the monarchy. An evolution which demands (to be candid) 'solid stock breeding' with the right attributes as well as national popularism to re-spark the very meaning of monarchy as the new generation matures. In short, a story of adaption to the increasingly speedily evolving modern world, one in which at this time of austerity, core British values are seen to overtake the traditional halo of 'pomp and circumstance'. Hence, the beginning of the 21st century sees a dwindling of overtly brandished heraldry and 'distance' – though necessarily maintained for formal occasions.

Instead, recognising that the very nature of militarily derived pageantry and formality has been 'counter-foiled' to a great degree by the 'cut and thrust' domination of global commerce in an ever expanding 'globalised' world.

Thus, a long and ongoing re-orientation from the obvious yesteryear 'show of might' to recognising the importance of soft-power within commerce is of course common to all royal families. This greatly assisted by a past knowledge of shared interests and values that underpin trustworthy working relationships amongst European and international royals and their representatives.

This is well illustrated by the most recent commercial deal between the Crown Estate and the Norwegian SWF via a 25% leased sale of its Regent Street property base.

Most monarchies were built upon land interests given the greater importance of that resource in the past. That accrued wealth still very much evident today, yet the modern commercial world is a far cry from from a feudal agrarian world, or that of new-land exploration, or indeed that of industrialised manufacture. Today specific agricultural and specific manufacture activity occupy only a small portion of any advanced, globally traded, capital market:whether that be the FTSE500, S&P500, TSX index, the CAC30, HKSE's Hang Seng index or similar elsewhere.

This is part and parcel of the modern commercial world, one build over the last century and one in which investment banks increasingly took charge of the commercial reigns from those royal and aristocratic families who historically had reigned the local and international econonomies.

However, relative to the modern-day royal remit, the significance of a willful yet fair character is still key - this assisted by formal military training via Sandhurst or elsewhere – and so must not be relegated or dismissed. Such character-forming generating in the past an ability to obtain land, build empire and rule over it. Yet it and more is still core today; a timeless capability stemming from a convergence of both self-discipline and ambitious attitude. Character formation, and in particular the slant of educational learning in an ever expanding and complex world, remains key.

And it is here, regards the traditional nature of royal education, that an argument could be set forward that purports greater acclimatisation - indeed submersion - within the commercial arenas by which a country and the world turns.

Short active military careers followed by symbolic leadership obviously remain necessary, as does the need to cultivate a sensibility to the arts/humanities, yet more important that ever is the need to nurture an understanding of the commercial world that lies between these 2 realms, a world in which competition and creativity are central tenants to national (and sovereign) success.

Industry, commerce and trade are typically built upon a merging of the sciences and arts, brought together by a plethora of strategic, operational and managerial methods.

Any aspirational prime minister or chancellor will have undoubtedly formally and/or informally studied PPE (Politics, Philosophy & Economics) yet whilst historically also the domain of a well-educated royal, the set learning path may be inadvertently restricted to 'the norm' of military and the arts, whilst giving less regard to the central elements of the modern industrial and commercial machine.

This may or may not be the case, but if so begs attention.

In a metaphorical sense, just as perhaps Prince Charles will know by heart the key historic schools/themes of architecture and their intrinsic elements & methods (most obviously Palladian) so the architecture of the industrial and service based commercial world – in both its vertical depth and horizontal stretch – should be an engrossing subject of study for all young royals; thus able to provide tangibility to the normal absorption of PPE.

This has been the case for the aristocracy who since the late Victorian age – and especially post WW1 – became greater participants in 'the City', mimicking the sons (and latterly daughters) of the American 'nouveau -riche' industrialists. The path into stock and bond brokerage and latterly all-important corporate financial analysis became a well trodden one for many, firstly in the 'new world' then in the 'old-world' and now amongst the increasingly powerful of the 'emergent-world'.

Prince William is an RAF flight-officer within a 'Search and Rescue Force', which itself is a prescient commercial case-study of the cost-benefit analysis under which all of the UK's Armed Forces are being scrutinised.

As non-core to national defence, the 'SARF' division/wing is in future to be run with a far more analytical bearing to ensure economy and efficiency whilst also providing a more than adequate rescue cover for the coastline, seaboard and inland areas.

This transition of the activity from being state run to privately run is perhaps a prime learning opportunity for Prince William, and his fellow officers who themselves will act as industry facing representatives. After all, the very nature of the UK's military forces are changing, and so affecting their scope, shape and function, to both better fit inherent demands and the new-era economic climate.

[ NB. The contract has been awarded to Soteria, a consortium of Thales, CHC helicopter operator and the Royal Bank of Scotland – to use the Sikorsky S92 model]

investment-auto-motives suspects this is very well the case already, indeed the rational for his placement in SARF; which by its changed name denotes its changed standing. Yet perhaps beyond any purely 'conceptual' exposure to this 'real-time' subject, a deep and possibly expanded 'business studies' investigation could be undertaken by HRH and others, to fully appreciate the commercial challenges, ramifications and opportunities, such a service re-alignment makes for the companies involved and the nation itself. A kind of case-study where the likes of 'Sandhurst meets the LSE meets MIT meets Harvard/INSEAD'. Where SARF can be evaluated in-the-round from national interest, economic, technical and strategic viewpoints.

[Obviously investment-auto-motives views the re-birth of GM as a parallel exercise given the involvement of Canadian 'bail-out' monies which appear to have required agreement from The Queen and/or her council. This would also provide appreciation of the expansiveness and international reach of the global auto-industry ].

Such a task (or tasks) could be onerous depending upon its scale, especially for a full-time serving officer, but if it is not already the case that young royals are exposed to such multi-dimensional perspectives, this could be a golden opportunity. For both themselves as educational insight, and to possibly co-create a learning template that could be ascribed to latter-day officers who, in a new era, cannot afford to be unexposed to the realities and impact of commercial issues on the armed forces.

It seems that historically, it has been the case that those individuals ranked Major or above have been the ones tasked to be industry facing as part of their own expanded responsibilities. This late exposure to the commercial imperative may in the past have been seen to be problematic as the cultural chasm between the 2 worlds has caused communication, expectation and over-run/over-cost problems. (The fault equally shared between 2 distinctly different worlds). So the second decade of the 21st century could mark a turning-point where-by lower-ranked and typically younger officers are given a much better commercial grounding and exposure.

Again, this may well be all in hand, and if so 'all to the good'. Yet as this transition moves forward so the royal family itself could be seen to be active in bringing together these 2 worlds. And equally so, perhaps use that learning – and broadened exposure - to perhaps become a greater force in helping to steer the inherent interests of the royal family, across the spectrum, from the 'invisible' operations of the Crown Estate all the way through to the 'highly visible' aspects such as Palace & Castle tours and souvenir goods, through to the expanding business-lines and broadened retail channels of 'Duchy Originals'. Plus perhaps yet more.

Today's commercial world is under-going a massive period of re-formation, one in which professionalism, courtesy and trust are needed as never before to regenerate the economic machine. Yet also at this time TV series such as 'The Apprentice' have done a true dis-service to the business world by seemingly condoning and promoting a self-serving, Machiavellian mindset; something noted time and time again by commentators in the financial press.

Thus, about time that a better face to business be painted, to both inspire and encourage tomorrow's entrepreneurs, board-members and middle-managers. This impetus could feasibly be symbolically led by the younger members of the royal lineage, who are set to build upon the efforts of their forebears, and can espouse a much needed 'honourable face' and 'intelligent mindset' for UK's 20 & 30-somethings aswell as within the realms of national and international commerce.