How I became one of the best dressed men at Newmarket Races

In the space of just a few minutes yesterday I went from casual ‘punter’ at the Races to being faced by a media scrum (for the first time in my life!). They all wanted to take my photograph. But why?

FullSizeRender 26

The third Friday of July is one of my favourite days of the year. My wife and I travel the short 55 minute train journey from home in Ipswich to Newmarket to attend the July festival of horse racing. We enjoy a leisurely two hour lunch in the excellent Mozart’s in the Premier Enclosure and then head the finish line on the course and watch the 6 races thunder by. A modest wager on each race is necessary, and we traditionally win one or two of those – certainly enough to cover all the wagers of the day!

IMG_9746

Yesterday, upon entering the race course, a young lady asked if I would like to be photographed for the ‘Most Stylish Man of the Day’ award. Amused, and naturally a little flattered, I agreed. This was just before 12 pm. I then forgot all about it. Four hours later I received a text message informing me I had been selected in the top 10 (out of over 300 entrants) and should report to the main marquee!

Here I am, along with mainly very young men, a preponderance of exposed ankles and no socks, beards, unshaved faces, sunglasses (worn indoors), skinny trousers, and poorly fitting jackets. There was even a young man, as bemused as me, who was wearing his Father’s old Savile Row tweed suit which he had tailored to fit him, (and he was wearing socks!

IMG_7904

Interestingly the gentleman on my left in the above photograph (now in his 60s) had also arrived at the races not knowing about this competition and had dressed as individualistically as he always does! After a degree of standing around being assessed and interviewed the final three were announced – I came third. It was hilarious to me to win a range of prizes for being dressed the way I normally do!! My prizes included a bespoke shirt (worth £125), two tickets to Aintree Races, some products, two tickets to a Football Match and a few other items. And then the media scrum – cameras, journalists, questions. It was rather fun!

The 2nd and 1st young men were charming, but at least 30 years younger than me!

IMG_7923

When I met one of the judges later she told me the key piece of my wardrobe which caught the judges’ attention were my trousers – they loved the drape, the cut, the classic look. I felt validated in my love of the classic 1920/30 look – that golden era will never be out of style (my blog article on these trousers is here). Is it too much to hope we are perhaps finally seeing the end of the skinny trouser?

 

 

How to re-create classic summer trousers

I made a conscious commitment to myself last year to acquire less clothes and accessories this year, and focus instead upon building a classic foundation to my wardrobe. I have long admired the style of the 1920, 1930s – the so-called “golden era” of men’s fashion – so I naturally turn to this period for inspiration, using the many photographs and images available online. In particular I have collected a significant number of drawings made by Laurence Fellows – one section of my Pinterest account is principally dedicated to this collection. Looking through this growing array of beautiful images one of the more consistent and prevalent styles of the era is the loose fit, doubled front pleats, with turn ups (cuffs in America) cream (think vintage cricket flannels) or white trousers. The acquisition of these has been the foundation item I have focused on this summer.

Finding such trousers today, especially in the awful world of the “skinny’ or ‘slim’ fit has however proved very challenging. There is no shortage of cotton chino or linen versions in the cream or white tone (but without the turn-ups), but the drape and hang of cotton and linen material lacks the essential elegance I was looking to replicate.

FullSizeRender 3
The great Cary Grant

Eventually I decided my only option would be to commission a pair and have them made. Before you, dear reader, think I have suddenly moved out of the modest financial comfort zone of this blog and into the rarefied world of bespoke clothing, do not worry. I sourced them from a tailor I have used several times, one who is generally accessible to many of you – Raja Fashions from Hong Kong.

This traveling tailoring service became extremely helpful. You make an appointment on-line through their website – the tailor visits most major centres of many countries every few months (ideal often for a second fitting) and takes up residence in a hotel suite. An appointment lasts for up to one hour.

I explained to the tailor I was looking for a classic 1920/30s style, reminiscent of early cricket/ tennis trousers, and that I needed them in a light weight fabric for the summer months. I even showed him some Laurence Fellows images. He searched through his many fabric books and swabs and eventually found a very light weight wool fabric in white and a cream tone. So light was the fabric it was almost transparent but the tailor explained a full lining would be required, and it would also help with the drape. The lining would not create any difficulties for the breathability of the wool fabric. Both colours – the white and the cream – looked exactly the classic and vintage style I was seeking, so much so I could not make up my mind! The price per pair was also very reasonable and, after he offered a special reduced price if I purchased two pairs, I eventually decided to opt for a pair of each! The tailor then also had a book of designs, which included the exact style I needed.

FullSizeRender 25
The style option at Raja Fashions

Measurements were taken and, three weeks later, my two pairs of trousers arrived by FedEx. They are magnificent – if that is not too strong enough word to describe the humble trouser! These classic fit trousers will last many years. I have been occasionally accused of living in the past – but sometimes the past has the perfect answer, in this case a relaxed fit, easy to wear throughout the Summer months, breathable, roomy (allowing air to circulate), so why try reinvent the wheel?

IMG_7898
Wearing the cream trousers at Newmarket Races

My friends at Raja Fashions have enabled a contemporary solution to be found for a vintage re-birth of a great men’s trouser!

At what point in a crisis does a leader have to make the decision to resign?

I can still remember with some vividety the Falklands War of 1982. I was in my very early twenties when it happened. I recall the shock, the chaos, the emerging pride in the armed forces as a task force was assembled with incredible speed, and then the tension of the next few months until the war was over and then a feeling that the United Kingdom had become great again. What I also remember very clearly is the resignation of the Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, which happened within days of the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. I have been reflecting on this swift, very high profile, resignation over the past few days, particularly in light of the Grenfell Tower block fire and tragedy.

images

The Grenfell tragedy has highlighted an interesting leadership situation. We have seen HM The Queen visit the victims and survivors, the Mayor of London attend the scene, the Prime Minister form a task force to manage the post-crisis situation (as well as visit the scene), and local councillors and officials from Kensington and Chelsea Council attempt to manage the crisis on-site. Even the opposition party has become involved by attempting to score political points from the tragedy. To a lay person you could forgive them for feeling confused as to who is ultimately in charge and leading in the post-tragedy environment. In a way this leads to the growing sense of public frustration and is ammunition for the mainstream media and social media commentators to create and maintain a feverish state of angst and calling for those responsible to be held to account before any realistic inquiry findings could be published.

In the past 48 hours the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council has now resigned – the first person in these many layers of involvement to do so. But, this is 11 days after the tragedy. Was he right to resign? Indeed, when is it appropriate for a leader to resign in a crisis?

The true test of a leader is how they handle problems and take action. Unfortunately, despite training and practice, no one in a leadership position really knows how they will perform in a crisis, and it is often a case of ‘baptism by fire’. Inevitably some leaders do not perform when the pressure is on, and it is, in my view, appropriate that they should step aside and accept their own limitations. It can be a very sobering moment of self-reflection.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Harvard Business Review June 2, 2014, ‘When to Resign, and When to Clean Up the Mess’) concluded ‘Cleaning up a mess requires strong will, fast action, new approaches, and a lot of credibility. One resignation doesn’t restore trust, but it opens the door for someone who can’.

A problem/crisis will normally see a leader move through 3 stages of performance and decision:

1) Did they cause, or know in advance about, the problem? One-off problems will always arise, but is this a widespread systemic problem?  Do they therefore believe they are best placed to manage it?

2) Are they able to rely on the confidence and trust of those around them?

3) Once managing it begins are they able to cope? Does their performance (or lack of) become the story?

I would advocate in (1) a leader should resign – it will lead to (2), and you cannot lead without followers. In the case of (3) once your performance (poor) becomes the story you must resign. In the case of the leader of the Council he was found sadly lacking in any of the leadership skills necessary to manage the tragedy (notwithstanding I am sure he was competent as an administrator in his day-to-day role), and those took some time to emerge – the delay in his reaching the decision to resign made him the story, and with no choice but to go.

The opposite of course to all of this are those leaders who rise to the challenge and are superb are managing problems and crisis. They understand it is how the problem/crisis is managed – communications, timing, accountability and above all their displays of compassion. Unfortunately today we too often find a sense of self-first where leaders appear more interested in keeping their jobs than solving the problem. It doesn’t take courage to self-reflect and make a judgment on behalf the greater needs of the mission, it should in fact be second nature in a not-for-profit world where values-based leadership qualities are so important.

Returning to Lord Carrington, he took immediate full responsibility for the complacency and failures in the Foreign And Commonwealth Office, and in his resignation letter to the Prime Minister said “….the right course, and one which deserves the undivided support of Parliament and of the country. But I have concluded with regret that this support will more easily be maintained if the Foreign Office is entrusted to someone else.” Lord Carrington felt that ”it was a matter of honour that he should go.”

And his story is one worth keeping in mind as a leader. His resignation was not the end of his career. He stepped aside for the greater need of the nation and the mission – yet, two years later, he was appointed Secretary General of NATO, and went on to hold a number of distinguished positions. He remains the longest serving member of the House of Lords. The word honour sadly is often looked as anachronistic in today’s society, but the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right is one of the great foundations of life, as those of us fortunate enough to have been instructed as such at School and as military officers know too well. Lord Carrington displayed such honour and courage, and his reputation remained intact. I’m not so sure the leaders of the Grenfell tragedy will emerge in the same manner.

 

The Power of Collective Responsibility – Trustee Decisions

I recently heard of an interesting situation with a Chair of a Board of Trustees not understanding the concept of collective responsibility. Surely, I asked myself, everyone who serves as a Trustee knows this basic principle – I therefore set out to conduct some simple research by asking colleagues and was surprised to find how many thought collective responsibility was an optional element of decision making!
The situation I encountered is an interesting example of this. It arose when the Chair apparently wished to take a certain course of action but the Board executive committee wished a different course. Having failed to reach consensus it was agreed the two opposing views would be presented to the full board for a decision. The Chair believed if his course was not followed there would be many serious repercussions – a form of ‘project fear’ began! Shortly before the board meeting the Chair, when circulating the agenda and the two opposing papers, declared that the minutes of the meeting would list all the Trustees and how they voted on the issue. Some Trustees viewed this as intimidation. When challenged during the meeting to justify the decision to record names the Chair stated it was an opportunity for at a later stage (assuming he lost the vote and all his fears came true of problems) those who lost the vote (himself included) to respond to external criticism by saying it was not their fault because they voted against it.
The Chair was challenged by some Trustees over collective responsibility – he indicated he understood the principle, but claimed it did not apply if one states in the minutes you did not support the relevant decision. Extraordinary.
The power of the concept of collective responsibility should not be, in my view, under estimated. It helps brings a board together, it encourages open and free debate, it ensures decisions made (especially the very difficult ones) are robust and can stand up to scrutiny.
For those of you unfamiliar with the guidelines for collective decisions I have set out the basic principles below:
  • It is a legal requirement that all Trustees have a duty to make decisions ‘collectively’ (jointly). It does not usually mean that the Trustees must all agree, or that a decision can only be made if every Trustee takes part.
  • Once a decision has been made, all Trustees must support, abide by,  and carry out that decision.
  • An absent Trustee will still share responsibility for the decision that the other Trustees made.
  • If a Trustee strongly disagrees with a decision, they can ask for their disagreement to be recorded in the minutes. Even if a Trustee asks for their disagreement with a decision to be recorded, they will still, under the principle of collective responsibility, be held jointly responsible.
  • A Trustee might feel so strongly that a decision is not in the interests of the charity that they have no choice but to resign.
Sources: Charity Commission For England and Wales: Guidance ‘It’s your decision: charity trustees and decision making (CC27)

My first pair of tassel loafers

There are time in our lives when we have take the leap, the plunge into the unknown, to be bold (or as Sir Humphrey Appleby would say in ‘Yes Minister’ to be courageous). This week for me, at the age of 56, I purchased (and wore in public) a pair of shoes with tassels on them. I accept this is perhaps not such a big issue for many readers with a General Election only a few weeks away, but for a middle aged man known for his love of the 1920s and 1930s its as big as it can get!
I cannot even explain, in any rational sense, why tassels have been such a problem for me. I’m sure at some point in my orderly, conservative and structured past (most likely at RAF College Cranwell during officer training – that haven of early adult life sartorial correctness) I had been informed such shoes ‘too casual’, ‘American’ or even flippant for a gentleman.
And why now? Why at this point in middle life have I decided to become ‘courageous’?
 The-Rake-Slip-On-Shoes-Rakish-00018-487x330
There is in fact no science to it at all! It happened by chance as I began planning for a forthcoming trip to Lisbon. I am due to speak at the end of May at the Horasis Global Leaders’ Summit in Cascais Portugal and then spend a few days relaxing and exploring Lisbon. As my packing list (using one of my favourite apps TripList) grew I began to look at my shoe collection and realised as I had not spent anytime in Mediterranean countries in the summer months since the mid 1990s I had no suitable ‘smart’ casual shoes. G. Bruce Boyer once wrote a loafer has “the comfort of the moccasin while adding the fashion and elegance of a dressy shoe” – I therefore began to look for loafers to fill this sartorial gap. It was during my initial search I spotted, on the various online forums I regularly follow, a consistent level of support of tasseled loafers, especially in a mid-tan tone.
Not knowing whether I would ultimate develop a long term fondness for them I decided to make a purchase in what I would describe as the mid-price point (not the Office version for £45 nor the Loake version for £240). I eventually found a pair at Charles Tyrwhitt. They have a Blake welt, where the upper is wrapped around the insole and attached between it and the outsole. A single stitch attaches everything together.
Because it is a simpler construction than a goodyear welt, it is also less expensive. It is a process that allows for resoling once the outsole is worn. Apparently Blake welting is also superior when seeking a close-cut sole and, because there are no exterior stitches, the body of the outsole can be cut very close to the upper. Lastly, because it has fewer layers than a Goodyear welt, a Blake-welted sole is more flexible – ideal for a loafer.

I ordered them online and they were delivered within 5 days. I can honestly state that when I opened the box the sight of them (and the beautiful leather aroma) took my breath away (and that does not often happen!). They are wide enough to be a comfortable fit, yet retain a slim and elongated look. I am delighted with them. They even came with individual soft shoe bags.

 IMG_5234
I treated them with my Mink Oil Renovator (from Justin at the Shoe Snob Blog) and have recently worn them for the first time for a somewhat casual working Friday in London. Rarely is it possible for me to wear new shoes for a day without some form of discomfort, but not with these – they have been superb.
And what about the tassels? They certainly add a sense of rakishness to the shoes and to my overall look – added to the glorious tan colour they are a much welcome addition to my wardrobe, both in my capacity as a CEO and more casually. There is, even in my CEO role, an opportunity here for these shoes to be both smart (perhaps with my blue blazer) and casual (with chinos and a lightweight linen jacket). They certainly will see more UK time and not just be saved for trips to the Mediterranean! I would recommend them to anyone looking for multi-functional smart yet casual shoe.

Thoughts on achieving more by working less

Whilst preparing my annual report to the board of trustees and referring back to my previous year’s report my first reaction is that I seem to have achieved more in 2016 than I managed in 2015. In some respects this would be a logical outcome based on 2016 being my second full year in this CEO role, and a direct result of becoming more familiar with my tasks. However, my diary tends to tell a different story in that the number of hours I seem to be committing to the task of being CEO has significantly declined.

Always looking for an opportunity to research and learn from experiences I noted the following comparisons:

2015:

A typical working week, with no out-of-office appointments:

07:30 am – 8:45 am. Commute on the train, working on papers and emails.

08:50 am – 09:30 am. Commute Underground train, reading working papers.

09:30 am – 4:40 pm. Typical working day, no lunch break

4:35 pm – 5:20 pm. Commute Underground train, reading working papers.

5:30 pm – 6:40 pm. Commute on the train, working on papers and emails.

Five days a week results in 55 hours a week.

2016:

A typical working week, with no out-of-office appointments:

07:30 am – 8:45 am. Commute on the train, planning and thinking

08:50 am – 09:30 am. Commute Underground train, private reading (books, magazines)

09:30 am – 4:20 pm. Typical working day, one hour for lunch at the gym or walking

4:30 pm – 5:10 pm. Commute Underground train, private reading (books, magazines)

5:30 pm – 6:40 pm. Commute on the train, working on papers and emails.

Four days a week results in 34 hours a week. Fridays I now work from home and usually work for 7 hours, allowing time for a swim at lunchtime and two dog walks at the beginning and end of the working day. Total of 41 hours – a saving of 14 hours a week.

Where and how have I saved those 14 hours? It could be improved plans, the new strategy, method, order, technology, spending more time mentoring my staff, indeed there are many ideas I have embraced over the past year. What I do know is I am achieving a lot more in less hours per week. Moreover, I am using those saved hours for reading, writing, exercising, relaxing and volunteer activities – despite spending 4 1/2 hours a day commuting my quality of life has never been better.

Over the coming weeks I will explore in this blog some of the ideas I have embraced which has directly resulted in significant time savings and efficiencies.

Stylish Cable Ties – Holdall Co

I have sometimes been accused of living too much in the past, with my love of the style of the 1920s/1930s. I prefer to think, rather as William Manchester and Paul Reid state in ‘The Last Lion’ that ‘He did not live in the past; the past lived on in him‘! One of my pleasures therefore comes from visiting museums (and often antique stores) looking for inspiration – and marvelling in how in the past much care had been given to crafting beautiful yet functional products to compliment life’s needs. I think for example of cigarette or cigar cases, writing cases, or small travelling cases for all one’s toilet requirements.
I occasionally consider the many craftsmen (and women) who designed and made these artefacts, who would be most likely delighted such items have been passed down through generations and still used today. Unfortunately the cost of such craftsmanship today all to often makes the resultant product a ‘luxury’ item, and therefore beyond the reach of many people. The result is our hideous disposable society, where we unfortunately all to easily accept plastic-style inferior mass produced ‘junk’.
I was therefore delighted to find a relatively new English company aspiring to fill this void by creating relatively affordable hand-crafted leather products with the ability to stand the test of time and become, in time, vintage pieces themselves – the company is Holdall and Co. 
They came to my attention as I grappled with finding a vintage/traditional solution to a modern problem – how to create order in my bag/briefcase with my laptop cables and especially my IPhone headphones. Holdall and Co have cleverly crafted two items (using the same full-grain bridle leather they use for their principle products) for headphone wraps and cable ties. These leather items are cut and burnished by hand.
img_5202
The headphone wrap has two notches to secure any cables and the dog-bone shape for easy winding. The cable ties have a solid stud fastening which allows cables of many diameters to be secured.
In addition, and at no extra cost, both these products can be monogrammed for the ultimate bespoke finish. The result is an individual and unique personal item, one that will age and mature (as only the finest leathers can).
My order arrived this week (just 4 days after I placed the order online). Here are some photographs for the finished product in use (complete with my monogram!).
I am delighted with them, and will be monitoring them over the coming months as they slowly gain their own character and patina. Finally, perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this find is the price – just £15 for three of each item. I consider this an excellent investment in a solution to a modern problem with a traditional vintage approach – and further proof I can still have the ‘past live on in me’!