(Or “Ah Loong imitated Buffett, not dad”)
When business leaders make mistakes, they have nothing to lose from a proper apology
Thus runs the subtitle of a an aricle in an article sometime back FT which goes on: One business leader who has no problem detailing his mistakes is Warren Buffett. He regularly does it in his annual letter to shareholders. This year’s marked the golden anniversary of his and Charlie Munger’s control of Berkshire Hathaway so he dredged up 50 years of mistakes.
They included investing in dying textile companies and seeing acquisition “synergies” evaporate.
More recent mistakes included holding on to Tesco shares even though he knew it was likely that the UK retailer’s initial problems were just the first in a series. “You see a cockroach in your kitchen; as the days go by, you meet his relatives,” he wrote.
The reasons Mr Buffett gave for his mistakes were not poor advice, or lapses by his managers, but his own “thumb-sucking”, “childish behaviour” and “I simply was wrong”.
The advantage of pointing out your own errors is not only that it deprives others of the opportunity but that it makes it plain that business is hard, that we make mistakes and that only by examining them can we reduce, but not eliminate, our chances of making them again.(FT extract)
Well it didn’t work in politics for our PM did it?
Ah Loong in 2011 departed from dad’s Hard Truths of “Never explain, never apologise”, “PAP is never wrong”, “The message is always right. Blame the messenger, not the message”, “THE LKY way or the highway”, and “It’s the song, not the singer”..
In an attempt to avoid losing a GRC and setting a new record low for the popular vote, he said, “If we didn’t get it right, I’m sorry. But we will try better the next time.”
It was an apology that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saw fit to repeat twice on Tuesday during the People’s Action Party (PAP) first lunchtime rally at Boat Quay next to UOB Plaza.
PM Lee acknowledged some of the government’s initiatives have resulted in “side effects”, such as problem gambling among Singaporeans due to the opening of the Integrated Resorts.
He also cited the congestion in public transport because of the increased intake in foreigners.*
Fat good it did him or the PAP say the hardliners in the PAP and other “Lee Kuan Yew is always right” groupies: the PAP only got 60% of the votes (PAP’s worst result ever) and lost a GRC that had two ministers and one junior minister.
Worse in the presidential vote that followed, the PAP’s preferred candidate (Dr Tony Tan) won by a handful of votes from Dr Tan Cheng Bock. They shared 70% of the vote, showing that with the right formula, the PAP could do well.
The problem is that the PAP don’t have the right formula.
So apologising doesn’t always work, FT writer. The problem for Ah Loong is finding the right formula. More on the right formula soon.
*“These are real problems, we will tackle them. But I hope you will understand when these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us, we are trying our best on your behalf,” said PM Lee to a crowd of about a thousand.
The secretary-general of the PAP continued, “And if we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry but we will try better the next time.”
Pushing on with a message he had for voters on Monday, PM Lee also admitted the government had made two other high-profile errors.
“We made a mistake when we let Mas Selamat run away. We made a mistake when Orchard Road got flooded,” he said.
“No government is perfect… we will make mistakes. But when it happens we should acknowledge it, we should apologise, take responsibility, put things right. If we are to discipline somebody, we will do that, [Err, the train services are getting worse under the “new” CEO and tpt minister, but no-one is being fired] and we must learn from the lessons and never make the same mistake again,” said PM Lee.
Yet, he explained the difficulties in making decisions with incomplete information.
For instance, if the government knew there would be a sudden surge in demand for HDB flats in mid-2009 and that foreigners would have created such congestion on the roads, it would have ramped up plans for more flats and MRT lines.
“We’re sorry we didn’t get it exactly right, but I hope you will understand and bear with us because we are trying our best to fix the problems,” he said.
The government will build 22,000 flats this year and open one new MRT line every year for the next seven years however, the government “has been right more often than wrong,”