Darwin in 2011: Survival of the…..Average Jo(anne)?

Be the best you can be. Once upon a time, we were all encouraged to work hard, to excel, to maximise our natural talent (nature or nurture), race to win, go the extra mile.  The brightest students in school were put in the top class/set so they could maximise their potential.  Meritocracy was part of life, part of our schools and part of the workplace.  The best did the best and were encouraged to do better.

Then we became frightfully British and were told, that it was the taking part that mattered.

We then ‘evolved’ further (some would say became ‘European’) and winning somehow was frowned on. The best should help those who were not as good – now branded the less fortunate.  Equality was the new meritocracy.  And someone else told us what was important….What was best.  All for our own good, of course.

The same thing happened in the workplace.  And more importantly in people’s careers.  10, 20, 30+ years ago there were super employers.  Blue-Chip businesses that didn’t wait for the University Milk Round, they pulled strings and got the best students, from the best Universities, well before the Milk-Rounds (back when Universities were still allowed to take just the best students that they wanted).  They took these best-of-the-best, paid them to do better, groomed them through placements, and then put them on the Elite Graduate Training schemes turning them into the Super-Execs of the future.  Go and count the number of FTSE-100 Main Board Directors that have been through that route and the merits of such an approach are well demonstrated.

These Fast-Track schemes, Executive advancement schemes, dozens of other similar schemes polished the future stars, working the hard working, harder. Making the bright, brighter.

This meant employers and head-hunters instantly knew, anyone from ‘X’ was going to be a top candidate. In the 70s/80s (in the North-West) it was ICI, Unilever etc. In the 90s it was Airtours, Zeneca etc.  But once we got into the ‘noughties’, there was no longer that automatic star training ground.

Our ‘It’s the taking part that matters’ has weakened the flow of people through education, and now weakened it into the workplace.

John Caudwell recognised this, and very famously sought to recruit the top graduates from the top Universities. Being John, he did so through TV coverage and offering 21yr olds £60,000 salaries and £six-figure packages. This was done at the same time as offering already blossoming stars from competing businesses, great careers, in a business exploding with growth….and earnings potential well beyond their current levels.  One look at where some of his protégés now sit. Business leaders, PLC board directors, Entrepreneurs….dozens and dozens of Millionaires. Created not BY Caudwell, but by giving the naturally talented the unlimited power, resource and motivation to excel. To be the best they can be.

But who has picked up that mantle?  What one business today has got such a plethora of talent, and such a proven development scheme that they are the breeding grounds for the stars of 2021?

Lord Sugar is having to turn ‘Media ‘ to find his future stars in The Apprentice.  Even Richard Branson ran his own version, “The Rebel Billionaire” to find his future President(s).

We are not even allowed to decide what is best for our business, or ourselves. Who are the best people, what the best structure is or how we can design a leadership function for our businesses.  With untold laws, guidelines and suggestions forcing businesses/organisations/schools to recruit X% from specific areas….all in the name of Equality, but placing Equality above Darwinism – the natural selection of The Best.  Even Lord Davies of Abersoch – former Trade Minister, Former Banker, has waded in suggesting that all FTSE-100 companies should have 25% Female Board of Directors.  Not ensuring Shareholders choice of the best candidate, just the blanket stipulation that it should be and arbitrary level of 25%.  Not 50%, not 20%, not 24%…..25%.  So what about the 4th Director recruitment process – IF the strongest candidate happens to be male, but gets rejected on the grounds of gender?

Back to our graduates. The Macro-Economic Environment has hurt businesses in many ways, directly and indirectly.  One hidden area is the cessation, or at least slowing down of Fast-Track Graduate Management Training Programmes. The best no longer have the vehicle to push them.

There is still the appetite for personal development..  1000s of self-help books, motivational seminars etc sold each day demonstrate that.  So where can the Brightest Future Stars Shine?

This is why I work with the brightest future stars, offering a free career and guidance service for the brightest young professionals. Typically clients’ family/friends, or nominated by their peers and/or their employers, assisting them in the management of their career. Helping them understand the path to their futures, helping them design that future in the first place. Giving them access to those who they aspire to follow, to learn from them.


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