Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sailing into the Port with Synergy

As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse (George Orwell, Politics and the English Language)

Doug Bannister's talk on the opportunities and challenges facing Jersey harbours was interesting, but I did find it something of a lost opportunity.

1) there were a high proportion of buzz words in each sentence - energy, exciting, growth, synergy, challenge, opportunity, etc which didn't really explain what the opportunities or challenges were. Chop those from his talk, and about 50% of it would probably be missing. There was a singular lack of precision. Either he had a meaning, or could not express it well, or he was almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not, as long as they sounded good. It was too vague, although it was delivered in a very energetic fashion.

2) "I have one or two examples.." Here I thought we were going to hear something really interesting - some real life case studies of perhaps how Jersey harbours and airports were going to respond to challenges, or perhaps how other ports elsewhere had done so.

Instead we had an anecdote about the Model T Ford, and a tale about how circuses developed, declined and were "re-energised".

The moral of these two tales was pretty simple:

(a) for the Model T ford, mass produce and reduce costs to get custom, and from there increased profits, but no direct link was made with high airport and harbour taxes, which itself seemed like a lost opportunity, and a place where the fiscal stimulus fund could make a substantial difference.

(b) the circus anecdote showed that the traditional market is declining, seek out new markets and different ways of doing things (as Cirque du Soleil had done), and we had some mention of the Jersey boat show (introduced by his predecessor), cruise ships, and the leisure market, but without any substantial financial detail on how well these would fill the gap in the market, and how well they were doing or the market they would target - they are, as Doug pointed out, already established.

Mr Bannister concluded with a joke which got a polite laugh. It's a joke I first heard in 1989, and I suspect it was old even back then:

Two men were on a jungle safari in Africa. Suddenly, they came across a tiger that started roaring. Both men were frightened and one of them started wearing his shoes. The other one said: "How is this going to help? We can't outrun the tiger." The first man replied: "I don't have to outrun the tiger, I only have to outrun you."

Quite how this applies to Jersey's ports was rather lost on me. I think the moral Mr Bannister drew from it was that we needed "pace and energy" to succeed, and we can't stand still, and we need change, presumably or we will be gobbled up by the tiger. Who played the part of the competitor in this allegorical reworking was not made clear, which given the general vagueness of the talk, was not perhaps surprising.

Mr Bannister is certainly possessed of energetic delivery, but it would be nice to see something more concrete than this. Apparently a business plan is going to be presented to the States next year, and this will have detailed suggestions of how Jersey ports are to be operated and become more competitive in future.

In fairness, perhaps Mr Bannister did not want to pre-empt this, and instead came out with generalities. He offered to return when the plan was out, and really he should have been invited when there was something definable on the table to discuss.

When I spoke to a colleague, he was enthusiastic about Mr Bannister's enthusiasm, and said we should have more of that, rather than negative attitudes, about not being able to do things. I would agree, but we need both enthusiasm and the ability to turn that enthusiasm into something solid. Perhaps I overlooked the odd nugget, or perhaps my antenna are rather more acutely tuned to language that merely sounds good. On that, I'll reserve judgement until there is something solid to discuss.

And why, incidentally, do the local news stories mention that Mr Bannister is a " former Managing Director of Maersk Line UK" or "previously, he was the managing director of Maersk Line UK" or "a former MD of the world's biggest container shipping company " - but not mention that he resigned from that position in December 2009 possibly, as one news story mentions because of "differences between the MD and other senior managers on how to move the business forward"?

He then became director of liner shipping analyst Box Trade Intelligence until appointed to Jersey ports. This "gap year and a half" is missing from his Linkin profile, even though that is up to date with Group Chief Executive Officer at Ports of Jersey, as is a mention that in the "Cool Logistics 2011 Conference Update", dated 22 September 2011, he is down as a speaker - and moreover listed as as "Doug Bannister, Director, Box Trade Intelligence". Why is this so invisible in his CV, especially as Box Trade Intelligence actually does produce some pretty solid statistical measurements? And does his employment by the States of Jersey have clauses which enable him to disappear off, wearing a different hat, to conferences?


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