Management lessons learnt from corporate collapse


An audience of Cambridgeshire business leaders gained insight into the role of culture in two of the world's biggest corporate collapses at a seminar at the St John's Innovation Centre.



Hosted by the Helix Consultancy and Mark Robson of Keen Advice on 17 May, the seminar began with the insider’s story on the cause of the spectacular collapse at Enron.  The demise of Andersen and the continuing story of M&S were then put under the spotlight, examining their management style, strategy and culture to see what lessons we can learn today from their mistakes, and for M&S, their recovery.


Mark Robson worked in Enron’s merger and acquisition department until 1999, two years before the collapse.  But he didn’t see it coming and neither did the investment banking analysts, accountants and lawyers.  Mark gave a unique insight into the cause of the collapse – it wasn’t only the creative accounting practices that were responsible, a big part of it was culture: the ruthless drive and ambition, the absolute self belief of those cutting the deals and the management who allowed it to happen. 


The theme of corporate culture or ‘the way we do things around here,’ was picked up by Steve Read of The Helix Consultancy who tracked the changes that occurred at Andersen from the strong values and ‘Think straight, talk straight’ principle of Arthur Andersen in the early days to a culture of intense internal competition where ‘billing your brains out’ had became a way of life.


“What happened at Enron and Andersen and the turnaround that is now apparent in M&S, illustrate perfectly the extent to which management style and culture can make or break a business” said Steve Read.  Some of the key lessons he took from these companies include:

  • Regularly review what your organisation stands for – it’s principles and values

  • Don’t lose sight of the outside world, learn from it

  • Be flexible and adapt

  • Manage behaviour and ensure senior managers are good role models

  • Culture can be managed.

“A superb event, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute” commented Jackie Hayden of Handelsbanken in Cambridge “I would have loved to have heard more.”


Mark now advises his own clients with mergers and acquisitions.  Steve Read of the Helix Consultancy works with organisations developing management and leadership capability through management training and performance coaching.



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