Watching Frank Field and his colleagues in their relentless pursuit of Sir Philip Green has kept us all gripped over the last three months.
I might almost have said entertained, if it weren’t for the dreadful consequences for BHS pensioners and 11,000 hapless employees.
For the PR professionals amongst us, the recurring question has been: who advised him to bluster it out and behave like that?
The answer, presumably, is that he took his own advice.
From a retailing point of view, much of the evidence about the declining fortunes of BHS and the management’s approach to addressing its problems has been a story we’ve heard before.
But Green’s performances made new ground – objecting to imagined affronts and real insults, blaming everybody else, ducking answers on the real issues and simultaneously wringing his hands about the outcome.
It also seemed to be beamed to us from a completely different era, like watching black and white television from the 1970s.
There was a total concentration on a narrow range of largely legal and accounting issues – who owned it when, what was taken out, what was invested in trying to keep it solvent.
And yet, in this sea of obfuscating detail, Green seemed completely oblivious as to the huge changes in terms of what is now expected of major corporations and the people who run them.
Theresa May’s steps of Downing Street manifesto rang a warning bell that Britain is now a nation that demands more of its tycoons than financial achievements and rewards to shareholders.
We now expect to see businesses run on principles which also recognise the obligation to contribute to the wider public good, with fair and equal treatment of customers and employees, paying a fair share of taxes and behaving as a good and responsible citizen.
This trend is completely apolitical and has nothing to do with the old battles between capital and labour, or with envy of the successful.
Issues such as gender equality, the way zero-hours contracts are used, the gap between top executives’ rewards and the pay of ordinary workers are now part of mainstream thinking about the duties and responsibilities of major businesses.
Mrs May has pledged to do something to enforce better standards in all these areas. And the behaviour of those like like Green and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley will ensure that the mission will be pursued with even greater determination.
Reputation governance is the new name for an activity that the best run retail companies have always pursued.
Boards and individual directors have to constantly think of their wider obligations to stakeholders, employees, customers and the taxpaying public as a whole.
In truth, in all walks of life, reputation is the outcome of what you do and how you behave.
And when you fail to notice the major secular change in what is required and expected by the society you live in, you can expect to receive the full blast of outrage and opprobrium, which Green is now reaping.
- Tom Wyatt is director at Reputation Inc