It’s not just our products customers buy into, but also who we are, says Jacqueline Gold

It’s not just our products customers buy into, but also who we are, says Jacqueline Gold

How would you describe the culture of your business? Is it masculine and macho or feminine and nurturing?

What are your staff afraid of: making mistakes, telling you bad news or asking for help?

From everything I have read about News International, various other papers and quite a few phone shops, they espouse a ‘work hard, play hard culture’.

Which broadly translates as being a high-pressure, loveless place where everyone drinks a lot. These businesses are driven by fear. “Rupert’s in town” they would whisper and desks would be tidied, meetings cancelled and, to their eternal regret, kids’ school plays missed.

And then last week, at the Commons committee hearing, Toto and Dorothy pulled back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard of Oz was just a frail, humbled old man, who knew little about what was going on at his company.

His kids played with Gordon Brown’s kids. His wife’s love and support for him was both genuine and touching. His handsome son was eloquent, sincere and sorry – any parent would be proud.

Why hadn’t they showed their human side before? Much of the resentment towards their brands stems from them and the culture they have created. How much more would we love their brands if we knew that nice people were running them?

Gone are the days where our customers will judge us by the quality of our products or the promises of our advertising – they also want to know how we treat our colleagues and what we’re like to work for.

One of the reasons everyone holds Sir Richard Branson (and his brands) in such high regard is that he’s publicly failed on a number of occasions, be it in a balloon or in business. People respect his honesty and endeavour, and then celebrate his successes by buying more of his products.

We’ve always believed that the shopfloor is the best place to measure company culture, so last month my sister Vanessa – our new managing director – worked in disguise in three of our stores, for the TV show Undercover Boss.

Most companies that were asked to take part in this TV series refused to do so, for fear of what they might find out about themselves. We took part for the same reasons.

We wanted to discover what we were doing wrong, so we could put it right. We wanted to make sure that our culture, rooted in support and recognition, was evident in-store as much as it is in head office.

We found out that one of our staff thought I had a big nose – charming – but we also learnt some important lessons and rewarded those who taught them to us. We ate some humble pie too, and boy does it taste better than foam pie thrust in your face.