Questionnaire leaves leaders perplexed

It is occasionally a tricky assignment getting answers to the questionnaire which accompanies the Monday Interview in The Journal.

It is occasionally a tricky assignment getting answers to the questionnaire which accompanies the Monday Interview in The Journal. Business leaders who think nothing of debating their global expansion strategy are suddenly flummoxed when asked what an imaginary talking parrot might say. Graeme King uncovers the best, the funniest and the strangest of tastes revealed to our reporters over the last 12 months.

What car do you drive?

Apparently straightforward, this can be more revealing than the owners might think. While most respondents fall into the Mercedes, Saab, BMW, Lexus territory beloved of the average executive, there were some more unusual tastes this year.

David Soley of Cameron’s brewery is clearly a real motoring enthusiast and not happy with just naming his main mode of transport – he gave us four – a Bentley, an Aston Martin, a BMW X5, and a BMW 645 CSI Convertible. Lucky man.

For a touch of indulgence, one of our most recent interviewees was only a little behind Mr Soley. Michelle Mone of Ultimo lingerie drives a Bentley and a Rolls Royce, or a double R as she perhaps knows it...

Neil Stephenson of Onyx seemed to have got the measure of the car choice question. He drives a Land Rover Discovery because “it gives the right impression of reliability and stability. I always feel customers don’t appreciate it if you turn up in a Porsche.” Very nice, but you do wonder if he’s actually got a 911 tucked away from the customers for weekends …

Meanwhile, at the more restrained end of the market, golf course designer Andrew Mair drives a modest Mondeo, and Arts Council North-East’s Mark Robinson is not into status symbols, piloting a little Skoda Fabia around the region.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

While this question has generally found North-East eateries named among the favourites, this year several interviewees have suddenly gone all exotic on us.

Professor Malcolm Young of e-Therapeutics named Moti’s in Roppongi, Tokyo as his favourite eating place; Bill Colbeck of Henry Colbeck Ltd lashed out on three top locations – Jesmond Dene House at home, The Savoy Grill in London and in The Royal Champagne near Epernay in France for holidays.

Meanwhile Arnab Basu of Durham Scientific Crystals named the Coyote Café in Santa Fe, USA, as his favourite spot besides the delights of Café 21.

Who or what makes you laugh?

Most interviewees were pretty straightforward here, with many choosing their own children, lots going for Peter Kay, Johnny Vegas, or Only Fools and Horses, but then there were a few chin stroking answers too.

First up, YO! Sushi’s Simon Woodroffe, who said the question itself amused him. Hmmmm. Then there was Julian Blades of the Jules B fashion empire, nominating “The law”. We’ll join you on the barricades there, Mr B.

And then there was Karol Marketing boss Stefan Lepkowski. “The irony of life makes me smile,” he told us, pausing only to adjust his beret and light another Gauloise.

What’s your ideal job, other than your current one?

The entrepreneurial Simon Woodroffe did us proud again here. He would like to be an ideas executive – employed simply to come up with interesting notions to pursue.

Peter Rowley at Darlington Building Society fancied a new life on the other side of the world – as a trail guide in the Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand – clearly a favourite holiday haunt.

Print company boss – and once a footballer – Anthony Cole really got the measure of the financial potential in the question. He wants to “manage a Premier League football team, get beat the first 10 games, get sacked and receive a £2m pay-off.”

And Stefan Lepkowski redeemed himself with a desire to be an international researcher for the Michelin Good Food Guide. Good call.

If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?

Again, a really diverse range of answers here. Some took the opportunity to garner some flattery. Mary Coyle of Aspire and Rhona Blades of Jules B both wanted to be told ‘You’re gorgeous!” and Nick Spurr of Amble Boat Company decided the bird should squawk ‘Morning, handsome!’

Simon Woodroffe wanted the bird to tell everyone to “f*** off”, and Mike Dukes from The Alnwick Garden wanted rid of it altogether. He would teach it to say “Parrot for sale”. Alastair McColl from Business Link was adamant the bird deserved its independence. “I’d teach it to think for itself,” he said.

What’s your greatest fear?

Another vintage year for terror on the pages of nebusiness. Departing Baltic boss Peter Doroshenko kicks us off with capsizing in a sailing boat, closely followed by Premium Bars and Restaurants (ex-Ultimate Leisure) boss Mark Jones and his strong dislike of caving. “Why do people do it? It’s not for me,” he quite reasonably says.

David Soley is concerned about “third world nuclear missiles,” while Mark Robinson from the Arts Council came slightly closer to home – fearing Sunderland might beat his team Preston North End in the Championship play off final, because he’d get so much stick in the office.

Recruitment boss Maurice Duffy is haunted by the fear of failure. “Not winning at everything I do” is his big fear.

But leading the field with the year’s top fear was Christine Mavin of fireplace manufacturer Plaster Piece. What strikes terror into her heart? “Giant man-eating spiders.”

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?

Take note, all you budding entrepreneurs – the following sentences could be the keys to a successful career...

“Never refuse a cup of tea,” is the down to earth advice of Colin Peacock from Peacocks Medical Group

Colin Seccombe of Newcastle Building Society said: “Be reasonably unreasonable in what you ask for,” while chef Gareth Marks said you should not be in too much of a rush to be successful.

Simon Woodroffe advised “If you do nothing problems go away,” though don’t follow this too closely – he gave the same phrase as his worst advice.

Mario De Giorgi of Gusto Group – “When I left Italy in 1956 my mother and father said to take three things with me; honesty, respect and fidelity and it would stand me in good stead – they were right.”

What’s the worst piece of business advice you have ever received?

Peter Rowley of Darlington Building Society was clearly still saddened by the miserable individual or who told him – no doubt in a thin reedy voice: “You must stress test your risk mitigation programme,” as he said this boiled down to not being adventurous enough, and always looking for the downside, when you should be trusting your judgment.

Mike Dukes from The Alnwick Garden said the worst advice he’d got was “Tell your manager as little as possible,” which sounds like it might have a story attached to the individual who passed it on.

And Bill McPherson of Emirates airline gave us all a lesson in common sense, saying “I was told the only way to get ahead was to put in the hours – it is not true.”

What’s your most irritating habit?

Stephen McNichol of Muckle spoke for many spouses in saying: “My wife tells me that it is my inability to accurately assess the time that it will take to get away from the office.”

Maurice Duffy admitted to being a little verbose. “Talking, talking and talking some more. God, I love to talk. My wife hates it first thing in the morning. I drive her nuts.”

Rob Langley from Watson Burton and estate agent Sarah Mains were both guilty of finishing other people’s sentences.

Restaurateur Mario De Giorgi suffers from a common ailment – he says he’s always right!

And Alastair McColl from Business Link was most self effacing of all. “Where do you want me to start?” he said.

Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with/admire?

The secret to this question is in the oblique between “identify with” and “admire’. We probably ought to ask which one the interviewee means, but it’s more fun guessing...

Neil Stephenson of Onyx and print boss Anthony Cole were both agreed on Kiefer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer in 24. Anthony just wants to be him, while Neil admires his positivity even on the worst day of his life.

Former boxer Glenn McCrory went for Oscar Wilde and Che Guevara, saying “They are polar opposites but emphasise what I’m about and what is important to me.”

And we would not argue with him.

Prof Malcolm Young of e-Therapeutics could not stop listing his favourites – “Einstein. Or maybe Marlborough. Or Rommel. Or perhaps (musician) Steve Hillage.”

But it was Tony Whelan of construction firm Whelan who brought the house down, plumping for Genghis Khan.

Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?

There were many fine choices, many had clearly been the result of very deep thought, many just came from a desire for a good laugh, and some were nakedly choosing at least one dining companion who they would find easy on the eye.

Mary Coyle of Aspire named the eclectic grouping of Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Bob Geldof, and Debbie Harry.

Simon Woodroffe was all for inviting Ian Dury, Jesus Christ, Michael Caine and Bruce Forsyth round for a good meal.

Christine Mavin was even more ambitious – wanting Sir Alan Sugar, Gordon Ramsay, Peter Kay, and ET!

How would you like to be remembered?

Architect Peter Walker was in a modest mood. “The Post Office issuing a commemorative stamp would be nice,” he said.

Simon Woodroffe got a little creepy, opting for “Stroking of the gravestone.” Mike Dukes wanted to be known “For doing something rather than being someone,” and Consett regeneration boss Eddie Hutchinson simply wanted the epitaph: “He was a canny lad.”

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