Like many of you no doubt, I recently watched Matt Giggs heartfelt video lament to origins of Countrywide PLC’s present difficulties. Matt (like myself) is an ex- employee of Countrywide who mused with great insight and sincerity about the considerable problems that the company now faces, as well as the trigger points that he believed had led to its fall from grace.
I found it extremely hard to disagree with much of what Matt had to say, and judging from the number of viewers, comments and likes from readers/viewers, it would appear that Matt was simply articulating the thoughts of many ex-employees who were trained and readied for a future career by Countrywide firms in UK estate agency.
Countrywide has gone through many changes of management in recent years, so it would not be fair to blame one single individual or circumstance in isolation. But there can be little dispute that a collective lack of direction , combined with a “too big to fail” mentality and failure to anticipate market behaviour have accelerated the meteoric decline of the UK’s largest estate agency group.
Of course, all of this is history as they say, but with shares now trading at as little as 3p (down from a high of over £6 five years ago), and City analysts remaining distinctly unimpressed by Executive Chairman, Peter Long’s lack of a “cunning plan”, I am left to question how bad do things really have to get before a change in strategy is sought?
One wonders whether the decision to import Alison Platt from BUPA with disastrous consequences has blunted Mr Long’s appetite for root and branch change, and led him to pursue a more conservative approach? However, I would argue that his “keep calm and carry on” approach suggests a failure to grasp the structural and cultural changes needed in order for the business to survive. After all, can it be right that when “Plan A” isn’t working, that more of “Plan A” is the answer?
Of course, the great temptation to write pages and pages on this subject is not lost on me, as Countrywide PLC are the gift that keeps on giving in terms of being a business “case study” on how to manage a large (once successful) corporate entity into ultimate decline. But instead (you may be relieved to know) I have put together the acronym using the brand name itself, as shorthand for the main changes that I feel are required to save Countrywide from ultimate collapse.
Countrywide – The brand itself is now tarnished, so should be removed from “centre stage” but remain as the “umbrella” company for the High Street brands it owns. Simultaneously, the High street brands should in turn be de-merged and reconstituted back into individual Ltd companies.
Oversight – Time for more top experienced estate agency managers to sit on the main board with direct input into strategic decision making.
Understanding – Estate Agency from the point of view of the property buying/selling/renting public is essentially a local/regional business, so Board members need to understand that the core of Countrywide’s value lies within its local High Street brands, and NOT its London HQ.
Navigation – Countrywide needs to ditch its “one size fits all” centralised management style for good, with day to day management decentralised back to the MD’s of each of its local/regional brands.
The City – With Countrywide’s shares trading at just 3 pence, City analysts need to be convinced that there is hope for the future – as it is beyond dispute that an alternative credible rescue plan is sought in order to attract future investment.
Reconstruction – It’s a big job, but Countrywide’s scores of brands need to be reviewed and reconfigured across the country. It is not simply a question of branch closures, but whether they have the right brand in the right town/city across the country in order to maximise local market opportunity.
Yesterday – They say that a week is a long time in politics! Well no business can afford to live on past glories. So, time to go back and shape a culture of staff engagement that engenders loyalty and respect where communication and feedback actually mean something.
Willingness To Change – All successful companies hit problems from time to time, but good pro-active local/regional management is much closer to the market and can quickly adapt to changes in local conditions or circumstance. Quite simply, if you are too far away from the action – you will not see potential danger that lies ahead.
Investment – Offices, management and staff need investing in – hide from this fact and your business deserves to perish.
Debt – Borrowing more money to keep your business afloat, without addressing the problems and challenges that have brought your business into decline, is at best short sighted, and at worst quite simply reckless.
Empowerment – Have faith in the brands that you have acquired, and trust regional management teams with both the responsibility and authority to deliver good results – after all, that is why you bought them in the first place!