Tag Archives: Sophie Hudson

The dangerous charity chief executive pay debate

There has been a lot in the press recently about how much charity chief executives are paid.

This is nothing particularly new. Pretty much annually the media decides to turn its glare onto the wage packets of senior staff, particularly chief executives, in the voluntary sector.

This time round the Telegraph kicked things off with an article entitled: ’30 charity chiefs paid more than £100,000′. Inevitably, the Daily Mail then couldn’t wait to stick its boot in, with the column ‘Hideous hypocrisy of the charity fat cats’. One little gem from said piece was: “It has emerged that for all their noble talk of helping the needy and emotive campaigns against inequality, senior figures in the poverty industry have been quietly pocketing hefty six-figure salaries.”

This dangerous, flippant sentiment angers and perplexes me, and I will briefly explain why here.

First, to get things into a little perspective, a paragraph from this Spear’s blog starts to demonstrate how things generally are back in the real world:

“The CEO of Oxfam is paid £120,000, and is responsible for a £360 million budget, 700 shops in the UK and 5,000 employees and 20,000 volunteers who work in over 90 countries across the world—some of them very risky places to be. £120,000 doesn’t feel like a lot in the context of that job description. The CEO of Next also runs 700 shops (but no humanitarian aid) and gets nearly £1.5m.”

I run a small business myself. Because I set it up I don’t, and never will have, the same salary expectations as a chief executive who does not own the organisation they are running. But I have already been able to start to appreciate just how difficult it is to run an organisation.

There are staff who are reliant on me for their jobs and their wage packets; suppliers, rent, rates, service charges, plumbers, electricians, and multiple other bills need paying every day – and the buck will always stop with me for that. If a customer is ever unhappy with their experience, if the council decides we are breaking a rule, if we get a terrible review in the press, if an accident occurs at the workplace, if the price of wheat increases, if someone calls in sick, if we have a break in and all our equipment and stock is stolen, if the business is flooded, if our VAT is miscalculated, this will ultimately always be my problem to deal with.

Already, I know that if I wanted to hand over all of these stresses and hours and responsibilities to someone else to manage the business for me I would need to pay them significantly for that.

If I then multiplied all of this by many hundreds or even millions and increased its complexity to include overseas work, lobbying government and negotiating with multiple sources of funding, I can only begin to imagine the pressure upon someone who is running a much larger, charitable, organisation. It is not the kind of pressure and level of responsibility that just any random person would be able to handle.

The kind of person who would be willing to take this on and could perform to a high standard would be able to get a very well-paid executive role in any sector.

In an equivalent private sector role it is likely that this person would be paid in the high hundreds of thousands, potentially a seven figure sum, with share options, a bonus, a plush office, and most importantly the knowledge that this pay packet would be likely to grow and grow.

In the charity sector, the Telegraph seems to have a problem with this person being paid £100,000. As a regular donor to more than one multi-million turnover charity, I would personally be quite worried about the calibre of chief executive in place if they were earning much less than that.

By Sophie Hudson

Philpott is not a reason to reform welfare

I had a thought that made me shudder when reading all the Philpott reaction this week (this was apart from all the obvious shuddering that was already going on due to the horrific nature of what Philpott did).

What if there is some form of an afterlife and those six children, so cruelly killed before their lives had barely begun, could see the country’s reaction to the fact that their own parents had been found guilty of killing them?

The picture in my mind of their confused little faces made me feel even more embarrassed and ashamed that as a nation we have so quickly turned their deaths political, trying to score cheap points from one another, rather than focusing on what really happened here: that their monstrous, misogynistic, vile creature of a father killed them, while their pathetic excuse for a mother stood by, not even doing nothing, but worse, helping him to do so.

But instead of maintaining the focus on how barbaric Mick and Mairaid Philpott really are, the opportunity has been seized by the likes of the Daily Mail, George Osborne and now even David Cameron, to use this horror to try to reform the welfare system.

Not only does this tarnish everyone who claims benefits, ludicrously insinuating that to do so with the present system could mean you may well end up setting your house on fire and killing your own kids one day (because that’s *exactly* the kind of behavior those types of people, with that lifestyle, are capable of, don’t you know). It also exonerates Philpott from some of the responsibility of what he did, in some way blaming the fact that because he was able to claim what he could on welfare, this at least in part resulted in him killing his kids.

Also, for all of those who have been quick to jump on this ‘cut welfare’ bandwagon, what exactly are you saying here? That the very benefits that were helping to feed and clothe these now dead children should be cut? That the little support these children did receive from a system that otherwise entirely let them down should never have been given?

This beyond awful situation has nothing to do with the welfare system. There have been and are plenty of people like Philpott who end up in the news having committed barbaric acts for selfish reasons. Some have jobs, some are millionaires, some are penniless, some are on benefits, the list of variance goes on.

It just so happens that Philpott claimed benefits. And frankly, as an aside, I dread to think what a lazy, work-shy character like his, who seemed to have children to gain some kind of status, would be capable of/ driven to if there was no welfare system in place.

Anyway, welfare or no welfare, this argument should be irrelevant right now. Six children, with endless possibility and hope stretched out before them, have been snatched from this world by their own parents. And all the parents can do is try to find ways of making money out of this tragedy, for their own personal gain. And all the rest of the country, including the Prime Minister for goodness sake, can do is argue about welfare, again trying to use the tragedy for their own personal gain. ‘Messed up’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

By Sophie Hudson

U-turns inspire little confidence in Cameron

I don’t quite understand anyone who praises the latest U-turn by our government, saying it shows that the coalition are listening to voters.

I would much rather have a government that actually knows what it is doing, and has confidence in itself. One that is able to deliver a Budget that is thought-through enough that the things it contains can come into fruition.

Not one that is so hapless and unsure of its own ability that it is willing to drop policies all over the place at the whim of an opinion poll or a few angry journalists. David Cameron’s PR background is showing through more and more, with evidence stacking up that all he really cares about is opinion polls, not what is best for this country in the long-term.

Even those who are natural supporters of the government are beginning to realise just how serious and damaging this behaviour is.

Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, says in his latest Telegraph blog that the sense of mission is draining away in Downing Street. “I gather that even Mr Cameron has started to wonder where his Government is going, and has been asking aides what his legacy will be,” he writes.

He later adds why this is particularly worrying: “Each U-turn may be trivial in itself, but there is a cumulative effect. They serve to devalue the word of the Prime Minister and, worse, the credibility of the Chancellor.”

So I for one am not happy about the latest U-turn, on this occasion delaying the rise on fuel duty. The majority of the public do not have available to them the insight to research and other key data and analysis that the government does. And if the government genuinely believed this policy was for the best for this country then it should have stuck to it, no matter how unpopular that decision may have been.

Of course, the other possibility is that there was not the meticulous planning behind this policy that there should have been before it was announced. And then subsequent research found that it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Clearly, both of these situations are far from ideal, and I would hope for a lot better from a government – the supposed leaders of our country.

By Sophie Hudson

Anders Dahlvig talks Ikea

What better person to learn about running a successful business from than the man who ran Ikea for ten years from 1999-2009, through one of its most sustained periods of growth?

This is what I thought to myself when deciding to attend last night’s LSE-organised lecture by Anders Dahlvig, and I was not left disappointed.

Dahlvig, a man who came across as likeable, modest, but at the same time aware and proud of what he achieved at Ikea, as indeed he should be, talked for an hour and a half, shedding valuable light on how the cogs behind the company really work. He was not necessary the most natural, animated speaker in the world, but the content of what he was saying was so informative it more than made up for it. And he coped admirably with some truly awful, dull questions from the audience after his allotted speech time was up.

Under his leadership (and before becoming chief executive he had already worked his way up through the company for more than 15 years) Ikea achieved some astounding stats like average growth of 11% and profitability well above 10% every year.

There were a few things from Dahlvig’s talk which I think will really stick with me as I soon embark on setting up a business of my own. Some are likely obvious to many, but coming from a man with the success rate of his, these things have surely now been proven beyond all doubt to work.

1. You do not need to, and actually should not, pay top dollar to recruit and retain the best staff.

While running the England side of Ikea for four years, Dahlvig said he did not lose one store manager, despite being well aware that all of these managers were being approached at least weekly by competitors offering them higher salaries. He said it is the values of the company, and also the level of autonomy for managers in partiuclar, that actually keeps these people at Ikea.

And he also made the pointed out that the company does not want to attract people that are only doing the job for the wage packet – the idea being that the minute they get offered a few extra quid, whatever the job, they will be off.

2. Businesses can benefit hugely from an owner with a long term vision.

Sometimes difficult decisions that may not result in short term profit, in fact which may almost certainly result in quite substantial short term losses, should be made for the longer term good of the company. And if you have an owner or shareholders who only really care about the bottom line over the next year, it can be hard for these decisions to ever be made.

To illustrate this point Dahlvig used the example of Ikea going into Russia at a time when almost all other retailers were leaving. Even though this decision was very risky in the short term, today he says Ikea has some of the best retail sites available, and got them at prices that it never could have negotiated a few years later.

3. Values and vision need to be sustained, no matter what.

Dahlvig spoke for a long time about the comany’s vision and vlaues. These may sound like business buzzwords to many but it was clear he was very passionate about what this really meant at Ikea – where he said following these would take precedent over pretty much everything. And following this through can sometimes mean making tough decisions, he said.

For example, on the subject of staff, he said that occaisionally the company would actually let go of someone even if they were making Ikea profits and hitting or exceding their targets, if this person was not representing the values of the company.

4. Retailers tend to get higher margins and have a lot more power when they sell their own products.

He pointed out that in industries like food where there is power among product manufacturers who are not also retailers (using Nestle as an example), the retailers have a lot less power and therefore much smaller margins. Where this is not so so much the case, such as in DIY, margins for retailers tend to be much higher.

The answer? Try to get as many of your own products into your store as possible. Of course, this is a little bit difficult if all your customers are hooked on Cheerios and Shreddies for life. So Dahlvig, for this and other reasons, reckons with food retail it will only ever be possible for the big players’ items to be 50% their own products.

These were just a few of the highlights from a very informative talk. Dahlvig has recently released a book, so if you don’t get the chance to hear him speak, I would guess the book is certainly worth buying, given the content of last night’s lecture.

On a side note, high street coffee shops and sandwich bars, beware: Dahlvig also said last night that he will soon be joining Pret A Manger’s board. Having listened to him talk last night this is an incredibly smart move by the chain.

By Sophie Hudson

The marathon has reminded me of the good in people

I had a mentally emotional and physically very painful day yesterday, attempting and eventually completing the Virgin London Marathon.

I have no inclination to go into the physical nature of the run itself and how it pushes you to your absolute limits etc, etc. Others will understand and therefore be able to much better explain the physicalities of what you do to your body when competing in a marathon, plus I don’t even want to remember how the run itself made me feel right now.

But in order for the main part of this post to make much sense, I must briefly explain how my particular marathon went.

It started well. I had done some fundraising for Asthma UK, and I was excited about the run, having done the training. I knew in the back of my head it should be possible to run the thing. And the first half went well – I completed it in about two hours – a time I was very happy with.

But then a hip joint injury that’s been hanging around, but had not been too debilitating until yesterday, kicked in. And shortly after mile 15 I stopped in agony. I walked a bit, hoping the pain would subside enough that I could continue running again, but unfortunately every time I tried there was a searing pain down my leg, and I knew I was doing myself real physical damage by even trying. It was hard to enough to even walk on it.

Anyway, I completed the thing, hobbling the final 11 miles with an immense feeling of frustration.

But the thing I will take forward from the experience is far more positive than the extreme annoyance I feel with my own performance. Instead, I will always remember the deep kindness and generosity of the human spirit displayed yesterday.

The encouragement I received from spectators and countless other marathon runners, all also in their own forms of pain no doubt, as I made my own slow way towards the finish line, was humbling and moving.

The St John’s Ambulance teams were so helpful, somehow mixing incredible professionalism with friendliness and care.

There were thousands and thousands of spectators lining every stretch of the run, yelling nothing but encouragement, speaking kind words to you as you passed them. Many had come out with sweets, or cut up oranges to hand them out to runners. I couldn’t believe the positive energy displayed by all, many of them even staying to cheer as it poured with rain.

And I lost count of the number of other runners who patted me gently on the back as they went past, telling me to keep going and that I was doing well. Many even stopped to see if I was ok, something that must have been incredibly difficult when you are also in the middle of trying to struggle though 26.2 miles, and the last thing you want is to get out of a rhythm.

Others even offered to give me their drink or power gels – things they would have very much needed themselves.

The experience also reminded me of how much I love my friends and family. The miles where I knew I would be seeing one of them up ahead were definitely the shortest miles of the course, no matter how much pain I was in.

There are so many terrible things going on in the world, and we get bombarded every day in the media with the very worst examples of human behaviour. But taking part in the marathon yesterday has reminded me just how good people are. It was a truly touching thing to experience and something I will never, ever forget.

By Sophie Hudson

We need to start standing up for the charity sector

Charities appear to have inadvertently found themselves in the middle of a media nightmare at the moment, all because of a valiant effort to defend their income and thereby the valuable services they provide for their beneficiaries.

I’m referring to the increasingly messy, and actually quite dangerous, growing debate which has been sparked by George Osborne’s tax relief cap announcement in the budget. In a nutshell, charities are against this cap, saying it will make donating more expensive and could therefore significantly reduce their income.

And I call the current situation a ‘media nightmare’ because somehow the charity sector has found itself on one side of a debate which has seen some of the most outspoken elements of both the left and right united on the opposite side, even if for different reasons.

Some on the left, exemplified this week for example by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee in this piece, have happily seized on the opportunity to lay into the rich and the way they utilise charitable giving to dodge tax (indeed, how very dare Earl what’s-his-face give millions to a charity rather than buy himself a fourth yacht).

And on (what certainly looks like) the right, exemplified this week for example by editor-in-chief for MoneyWeek Merryn Somerset Webb in this quite unbelievable tirade against the voluntary sector, many have used this as an excuse to lay into charities, questioning the usefulness of their work and why on earth they should be subject to any relief at all.

But what few people (apart from the voluntary sector itself with it’s Give it back, George campaign) seem to be bothering to do with any great strength at the moment is shout about the wonderful work the vast, vast majority of the charity sector does, and explain that to do this work it needs money.

What if, God forbid, one of these journalist’s family members got cancer and because Marie Curie had lost out on a load of big private donations over the past few years (the problem with this cap is not just that charities get less per big donation, but that the rich will potentially give a lot less in the first place now), there wasn’t enough to fund a nurse to look after that person?

Or what if one of these journalists lived in an area where their local community organisation had to shut down, and slowly the threads that quietly held the most vulnerable parts of that community together started to unravel?

Oh and to Toynbee and others of a similar disposition on this, I don’t think that the family of the cancer victim needing Marie Curie, or the community benefitting from the invaluable work of the local group really care that the money used to pay for these services came from a rich banker, and that it took a £100 dinner to get her to give £10,000. I think they are just happy that someone decided to give this money away, be that for whatever reason it was, rather than keep it for themselves.

Yes, there are a few charities out there that should not fall under this label at all and the policing of the sector could of course be better. But, as we all know, real life doesn’t actually reflect the pages of the Daily Mail, and truthfully for every organisation that perhaps is a charity and should not be, I bet you could easily find at least 1,000 that are charities and fully deserve this status and the benefits this entails. We should not potentially disable all the good ones just because we’ve found five examples of bad ones.

Also, on the ridiculous argument that all our tax should stay with the government rather than being thwarted off to a load of ‘dangerous charities’, since when did the government spend tax-payers’ money exactly how we would all like it to?

This is the very worst time for the government to be potentially devastating the income of hundreds of organisations without which all of our lives would be unrecognisably worse.

The point is, whether you agree with tax relief for charities or not, (and I for one do – it’s not like the state is going to start doing this invaluable work instead and the vast majority of our population do not give anything like enough to charities but would be more than happy to benefit from their services if the circumstances warranted it) there are thousands of amazing organisations that have become used to this income, and whose donors have become used to this relief, and without it they could be seriously crippled.

Until at the very least a suitable way of offsetting any major funding damage such a measure could do to the sector, it would be utter madness to go ahead with this cap.

And right now, when the country is in a complete mess and it needs charities more than ever, and while charities are facing potentially billions of pounds of other funding cuts, this is not the time to risk going forward with a measure like this and just hoping for the best.

By Sophie Hudson

Samantha Brick – yet more reaction

As reticent as I am to add further to the mind-boggling furore that has surrounded the now-infamous Samantha Brick article that appeared in the Daily Mail this week, I can’t help but react, mainly to the reaction.

For anyone who hasn’t read it, Brick warbles on for hundreds of words about how beautiful she is and complains that other women hate her purely because of this fact.

It’s been really quite amazing to watch the backlash to the article on social media. And most other newspapers this week have carried at least one column about it, trying to disentangle what it says about Samantha herself, human nature, feminism, women, the Daily Mail.

Personally, I can’t bear the idea that it says anything at all about women. I read it – mainly because one of the papers I was given to read every day at the magazine I was freelancing at was the Mail – with raised eyebrows to say the least, quite surprised that someone could manage to write about themselves that way for so many words. But then I turned the page, skimmed through the rest of the paper and got on with my day.

It was only later on that I even thought about it again, when I noticed that both ‘Samantha Brick’ and ‘Daily Mail’ were trending topics on Twitter. Some of the Twitter content was unnecessarily vicious – I mean, apart from everything else, this woman has already made it publicly clear that she has literally no friends – why on earth would you want to make her life any more miserable?

But mostly it was the sheer volume of it that I found shocking. (Clearly, if we don’t take a dislike to someone because they are pretty, this has proven beyond all doubt our deep dislike of someone for displaying arrogance).

And, as for the more serious, lengthier discussion that followed in the next few days, I just can’t believe we are even still giving rubbish like this the time of day in the modern-day debate on feminism. You know, if we could just ignore (the very few) women who continue to only value themselves in terms of how they look then maybe they could start to learn better and this whole ridiculous concept could become weaker until disappearing altogether.

To me, the points and premiss of Brick’s original article were so laughably inaccurate that it really wasn’t worth any further column inches in any other papers, and was barely worth a tweet.

Furthermore, in a similar vein to Caitlin Moran’s brilliant book, How to be a Woman (oh and read this, if you haven’t already), why can’t we just all get along? Allowing someone like Brick to set us all on the nasty road isn’t helping the feminist cause whatsoever.

One final note; the whole incident has summed up everything I dislike so much about the Daily Mail. The way it basks in the glory of hateful comments directed at someone it has commissioned to do work for it; the way it has milked the vitriolic reaction – sneering at Brick, the general public, and even its own readers; the way this article only adds to the thousands of skewed, stereotypical, misogynistic articles about women on its website.

It has led me to the conclusion that I would rather give up being a journalist (which, as it happens, I absolutely love being) all together than ever become a part of that hate-filled publication. As hard as this freelance malarkey is, and as much as the Daily Mail probably don’t care one bit, I have finally decided I will never pitch a feature to it.

By Sophie Hudson