Anthony Hilton: Business people need political skills

Someone I know moved recently from being a Spad - a special political adviser to a senior politician - to taking a job in a PR and marketing consultancy. Nothing special in that but he said something that gave pause for thought.

Anthony Hilton: Business people need political skills
Anthony Hilton: Business people need political skills

His comment was that what had struck him in moving from advising politicians to advising business executives was how similar their two worlds were. Even more to the point, in his view, was that the skills the business chief executive needed to be successful in the modern world, as the leader of a large corporation, were closer than ever to the skills of a politician. Faced with a choice between traditional business executive skills and Whitehall's political skills, the successful executive should always opt for the latter.

Most of the time businesspeople complain about how different politics is to their world and there are very few successful businesspeople who have made the move into politics to find they are equally successful there.

But to think of politics as Westminster is to miss the point. To be successful the modern executive needs to be able to communicate - to strike up a rapport with different constituencies, some at least of whom will be deeply opposed to him - and needs to be a leader.

Businesspeople regularly get eaten alive by select committees. The imminent retirement of post-war baby boomers means there is soon going to be a shortage of senior managers, so they need to have a rapport with talented employees. When social media are looking to become a primary source of information and news, they need to have sufficient personality and confidence to be an effective presence that personifies their company. They need to be as instinctive at all of this as the best politicians are.

The public took little notice when things were going well. Now many see affluence slipping away and they view with hostility those who seem to be getting rewards for no better reason than they know how to work the system.

Businesspeople need public trust to carry on. They need the skills of the politicians to engender that trust.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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