Miles Templeman, 64, leaves his post as director-general of the Institute of Directors next month after seven years in the job. He began his career as a marketeer working on brands such as Daz, Lucozade and Levi's jeans and then moved into general management, running the off-licence chain Threshers before becoming MD of the Whitbread Beer Company. During his tenure at the IoD he has worked hard to raise its profile, especially amongst politicians and the media, and has begun to establish it as an international centre of excellence for directors around the world
business:life: When you first joined the IoD as director general, what struck you most as you travelled around the country talking to members?
Miles Templeman: I think what surprised me was the high quality of the directors I was meeting. I'd mainly worked in the large corporate world and although I'd had a bit of contact with smaller companies I hadn't had a lot of contact across all the different sectors. What impressed me was that these were very capable guys who were doing all sorts of different things and had a lot to tell me. It was very intriguing to engage with them.
bl: The global financial crisis occurred right in the middle of your tenure. How have the concerns of directors changed since then?
MT: They're different and they're the same. The business issues for companies going into the recession were the same ones they faced during the recession and the same ones they now face coming out of it. A good, well-positioned business with a clear focus on its customers, that knows what it's doing and does it well, can survive a recession and come out of it strongly. Obviously what does change is the financial pressure. If demand is down a bit, can you adjust your cost base sufficiently? So things change to a degree and the focus of leaders has to change a bit, but it's also very important that leaders retain their perspective on what the business is about and don't get forced into too many short-term reactions. Otherwise the business may survive but they'll lose their customers.
bl: Did you see the financial crisis coming?
MT: Not at all. And most people didn't. Everyone was rolling along thinking this was just going to continue forever.
bl: Was anyone to blame?
MT: I don't think so. I think it was the environment we created, and we are part of it, so to blame the financial community is naïve because it denies that we were pressuring them to perform — people loved the kind of returns they were making. You can't blame anyone other than to say we all should have had the good sense to realise things were going too far too fast, not just in the UK but around the world.
bl: Was it all about greed?
MT: I wouldn't want to say that. I don't think it's as simple as that. But clearly if a thing's successful, people want more. So there's always that aspiration. Aspiration's a good thing, but clearly it can go too far.
bl: Should directors give a moral lead?
MT: They should — and in most cases they do. The way the average director is portrayed is very far from the truth and most companies I know have a very keen sense of their responsibilities. There's all this media hype about fat cat directors and people read about the very big earnings that a few make, particularly in the financial world. Most directors are nothing like that. The average director earns £70,000, not £700,000. And indeed most of the companies I visit, and even more the younger companies, are very aware of their social responsibilities. To me, you don't have to talk about corporate responsibility, it's built into good companies. I think businessmen have to be businessmen first and foremost otherwise they go broke, but it's not a simple equation. They know that a longer term business rests on a lot of other stakeholders.
bl: How do you gauge the mood in the boardrooms of the UK at the moment?
MT: It's just about positive but there's a lot of concern, particularly in small and medium companies, where they can see that the very tough economic environment that they're in now is going to continue. So the idea that suddenly we're going to return to something much easier is a myth. Therefore they're really looking at how they run their business, how they can move forward, but they're thinking in terms of five per cent growth, not 20 per cent. Most importantly there's a realisation that we've got to get into new markets. Simply doing more of the same won't be enough. So whether you're talking about getting into India or China or somewhere else, that's the message that all of them have now got. And you've also got to do everything that much better — the customer's more discerning, the polarity between good performance and even mediocre performance has grown dramatically.
bl: Do directors need training?
MT: Very much so. More and more people who become directors are realising that it's very different to, say, running the sales team. You may still be the sales director but now you're part of running the company. You need a broader range of skills. When I go to conferences and talk to people about boardrooms, people rarely say, "We've got a wonderful board that really lifts the company." Boardrooms need to improve their performance.
bl: What's your major message to government?
MT: They've got to realise that unless business succeeds, the country doesn't. Wealth creation is fundamental to all of our social and environmental objectives. If business isn't growing, you can't do any of the other things you want to do.
bl: What do you intend to do next?
MT: I don't know. I've started talking to people about other roles I could do. I want to be busy but not as busy as this role has made me. After seven years it's time to try something else.
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