Taxi for Addison Lee!
Do the words “Gerald Ratner” not mean anything to boss of London taxi boss John Griffin? Jeweller Ratner famously described his own products as “crap”, implying that consumers were fools to buy them and make him rich. Griffin recently made a sub-Clarksonesque joke about it not really mattering if motorists wiped out a few grannies on bicycles. And guess what, surprise, surprise, the cycling lobbing and a whole bunch of other people took offence. #boycottaddisonlee trended on Twitter, Addison Lee’s iphone App suddenly won over 250 negative reviews, high profile individuals have publicly announced they’re cancelling their accounts, and of course it’s all over the media.
What gets me about Griffin’s blunder is not just the ham-fisted offensiveness of what he said, but his lack of awareness of where his company is in the low carbon economy. Taxis are an important part of a flexible public transport system and Griffin is currently locked in an argument over access to cycle and bus lanes which the traditional London black cabs are allowed to use, but from which private taxis are barred. This is a legitimate argument – other cities allow private taxis and vans into “no car lanes” – but London has a tradition of favouring black cabs and their drivers’ famous “knowledge”. Instead of making common ground with other public and low carbon transport users, Griffin simply instructed his drivers to use the lanes illegally, making headlines and causing much embarrassment to the Prime Minister – Griffin is a major Conservative party donor. Talk about making friends and influencing people.
We live in an age of brands and it is interesting to see how brand reputations have risen and fallen over the years. Some which were regarded as evil a few years ago like Nike and Microsoft have largely recovered on the back of the former’s supply chain improvements and Bill Gates’s philanthropy. Google and Apple were once ‘saints’ but have been tainted by censorship in China and working conditions in the supply chain respectively and have since tried to claw back some credibility. Ratner’s as a business never recovered from the boss’s wee joke and we’ll only see in time how badly the Addison Lee brand is damaged by Griffin’s Neanderthal attitude. But the lesson we can take from these examples is how vital CSR is to the brand. Chief Executives are the ultimate guardian of the brand and to do their job properly they need to respect their customers, their suppliers and wider society – and keep the off-colour jokes for the pub.