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Is fear an effective driver of performance?

Plus, new car sales hit five-year high, private equity M&A growth, and a new Barbie exhibition launches

England players watching their team play Iceland The England football team have used a psychologist to overcame fear

Polls are officially open in the United Kingdom for the general election. Both Jeremy Hunt and Rachel Reeves have articles in The Times aimed at convincing fence-sitters but, if the final YouGov MRP poll is to be believed, change may be on the horizon.

Change is often associated with fear – and quite rightly so. An injection of uncertainty, loss of control, and self-doubt can all be dredged up when change is rife. Our expert Catherine Baker says that fear can be harnessed in the short term to drive performance, but leaders need to be careful it doesn’t become engrained.

Baker is the author of Staying the Distance: The Lessons from Sport that Business Leaders Have Been Missing. It’s packed with lessons from the sporting world, including insights from the New Zealand rugby union team, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Chris Hoy and Mel Marshall, coach of Olympic gold medallist swimmer Adam Peaty.

In her new piece for Business Leader, Baker acknowledges that fear is as rife in elite sport as it is in the workplace and says that leaders would do well to learn lessons from the pros and apply them to their businesses:

Is fear an effective driver of performance? Many years ago, I tried to find my way to some understanding of this topic. And the more I read about and discussed it with elite coaches and athletes in the search for answers, the clearer the message became. Fear can be useful in the short term to drive performance, but it is not a healthy way to motivate somebody over the long term. 

You can read the full article here.

Change may be on the horizon across the pond as well, with Bloomberg reporting that global markets are on high alert for Joe Biden to exit the race for the White House, despite Democratic state governors saying they were backing him yesterday evening.

The trading action after last week’s debate was most acute in the bond market as investors raced to make contingency plans for Biden stepping aside. Vice-president Kamala Harris’s odds were slashed from 25/1 to 5/1 by bookies in the space of 24 hours. She now has better odds of winning November’s election than Biden, second only to Donald Trump.


Business Question

Who am I?

  • I was born in 1971 and grew up in Yorkshire
  • I left school at 16 to programme computer games
  • I became managing director of a mirror business in my 20s
  • Before the age of 30, I owned and/or managed a number of small businesses turning over £400,000 to £4m
  • I founded an energy company in 2015
  • The group had annual revenues of £13bn last financial year

The answer can be found at the bottom of the page.


Business in Brief

Everything you need to know

1. More than 1 million new cars were registered in the first half of the year for the first time since 2019, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. However, purchases of new cars by private buyers declined in June compared with the same month last year. “With average new car prices rising almost 40 per cent over the past five years, it’s clear cost is the culprit,” says Ian Plummer, commercial director at online vehicle marketplace Auto Trader. You can read more here.

2. The number of British companies acquired by private equity firms increased more than 50 per cent in the first half of the year as the cost of capital stabilised and investors involved in large deals gave the green light for them to proceed. According to figures compiled by the Centre for Private Equity and Management Buyout Research at Nottingham University Business School, 95 buyouts took place with a cumulative value of £13.8bn, more than double the number achieved in Germany, the second most active market in Europe. You can read more here.

3. The UK payments industry has issued an election-day plea for the next government to make tech giants liable for the reimbursement of fraud victims in a bid to alter new rules that would place the burden on the financial sector. Trade body The Payments Association, which has more than 200 members, says in a letter addressed to the incoming Chancellor that it “strongly urges” a “tech levy” on social media firms, the funds of which could be used to compensate scam victims. You can read more here.

4. More than 20,000 Tesco workers are set to split £30m generated from the supermarket’s share schemes. The schemes offer staff at Tesco, which employs more than 300,000 people in the UK, the chance to buy discounted shares in the company. A total of 52,000 Tesco staff take part in the save-as-you-earn scheme, making it one of the largest in the UK. You can read more here.

5. Sir Jim Ratcliffe has shelved plans for his Ineos Automotive business to build an electric vehicle only months after a model was unveiled, citing low consumer demand and a lack of clarity over the government’s policy on net zero. The company says: “We are committed to bringing an electric vehicle to market not just because of legislation but because we want to: it is the right thing to do. But as a new small-volume manufacturer we can only produce vehicles that will sell.” You can read more here.


The 65-year-old icon

The original 1959 Barbie

An exhibition has just opened at the Design Museum in London celebrating 65 years of Mattel’s Barbie doll. It’s the first exhibition to examine Barbie as a design phenomenon, say the organisers. The hit film may have been last year, but this exhibition was 3 years in the making and Business Leader was invited to the opening.

The very first exhibit that greets you at the exhibition, with a (revolving) plinth all to itself, is the first Barbie from 1959, the daring gambit that started the whole phenomenon. She has a steely look in her eyes, which meets your gaze on every rotation.

Ruth Handler, Mattel’s co-founder and president, unveiled it at New York’s Toy Fair 65 years ago and was worried that people wouldn’t get it. Dolls were meant to be babies, for children (mainly girls) to nurture. But this was a doll of a female with a mature, adult figure. Would children want to play with that? Would it fire their imaginations? Would parents accept it?

They may be only 11.5 inches tall, but each doll takes at least 18 months to make, from concept to launch. The exhibition shows off the meticulous process that goes into making this retail phenomenon, which has captivated so many children: 3d modelling, prototyping and even the design of the hair texture.

Barbie has had 260 careers – ironically museum curator isn’t one of them, yet. She’s also a reminder that to capture a new market, you have to re-imagine what it could be.


Business Quotes

Inspiration from leaders

“If you can laugh together, you can work together.”
– Robert Orben


Business Thinker

Ideas on the future of business and leadership

1. 🖥️ Microsoft: A case study in strategy transformation

2. 🧑‍💻 Why London shouldn’t chase Silicon Valley in the global tech race

3. 🚫 UK should penalise start-ups that take state aid but list abroad, says lobby group


And finally…

Liberia map

We are on course for an overdose of election coverage in the next 24 to 48 hours. But here is a little palette-cleanser story about the most fraudulent election in history. This is not a “stop the count” situation, this is a story that with almost 100 years of hindsight is quite unbelievable.

Charles D. B. King of the True Whig Party came out victorious in the Liberian general election in 1927. In his defeat of the People’s Party’s Thomas J. R. Faulkner, King won a third term as the West African country’s head of state.

King received 229,527 votes to Faulkner’s 8,992, giving him a landslide victory. The only hitch: there were fewer than 15,000 registered voters in Liberia.

There’s been a lot of talk about voter apathy in today’s UK election, but with a voter turnout in excess of 1,600 per cent, this election earned Liberia the dubious honour of being listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most fraudulent election in history.


The answer to today’s Business Question is Greg Jackson.

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