I was going to start this blog with the words “like every parent”. But that’s ridiculous. Like every normal person, I was appalled when I read the allegations about the News of the World phone hacking in the Milly Dowler case. So when I found out that the NOTW was being closed down I won’t say that I cheered: I did feel a sort of grim satisfaction.
So why is this blog called ‘A business lesson from Rupert Murdoch?’ What – in the week when he apparently lost $6 billion – can you possibly learn from the owner of the late and not-much-lamented NOTW?
I have friend who’s a writer. We were chatting over a glass of red wine last week. We started off on phone hacking, and ended up on the qualities a good writer needs. “You have to be ruthless,” she said. “You write something that you think is wonderful – possibly the finest words ever written in the English language. Then a day later you realise it doesn’t fit in the book/article/blog you’re writing. And however good those words are, they have to go. Successful writers use the delete key more than any other.”
And that’s precisely what Rupert Murdoch has done with the NOTW – deleted a business which was presumably (until recent events) contributing healthily to the profits of News International. Would that have continued to be the case? Clearly not. With Ford and all the other major advertisers abandoning the paper it would have very quickly started to make a loss. But people have short memories. The temptation must have been to tough it out. Maybe go down ‘the sinner repenteth’ route and relaunch the NOTW as the responsible, ethical face of tabloid journalism.
But Murdoch decided to close the paper. And whatever my personal feelings about the paper, I find myself grudgingly admiring the business decision. I admire the fact that it was ruthless (and there are a lot of innocent people who find themselves without a job this morning) and I admire the fact that it was quick. And this, I think, is where we can learn.
So having quoted Elvis as a business guru last week, let me turn to another well respected financial commentator – Macbeth. (No, no – you don’t need to go that far. I don’t want everyone sitting round the Board table muttering “is this a dagger I see before me…”)
But what did Macbeth say? If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
it were done quickly.
Everyone goes through a period when some part of their business is struggling. If that’s the case for you, do something quickly. That’s especially true today, with technology moving ever more quickly. Technology does not march backwards. The world is not full of candlestick makers saying, “Thank goodness I hung in there. I knew the electric light was just a passing craze.” And however many horses they terrified, once the first cars appeared on the road there was never going to be any turning back.
Making the decision to close part of your business – or to scrap a project you’ve invested time and money in – is difficult and painful. But waiting doesn’t make it easier. Waiting simply means losing more money while you’re putting off the inevitable.
So if you have a difficult decision to make, take the advice of Messrs Murdoch and Macbeth. ‘Twere well it were done quickly. Candlesticks or horse-drawn buggies may have been good to you in the past, but their day is gone. It’s time to move on.