Business and Finance

I have taken a keen interest in company-history projects over more than 20 years. In 2007 and again in 2008, I was one of three judges for the annual Wadsworth Prize for business history, awarded by the Business Archives Council of the UK.

In addition to my own full-length books, I have undertaken occasional commissions to contribute to shorter projects, designed by companies for corporate marketing purposes. In the summer of 2008, I authored the text of The Book of Penguin, a profile of the Penguin publishing group and its international activities, which was designed and illustrated by the Radley Yeldar agency.

The Book of Penguin Struggle for take-off

One of the most intriguing stories that I wrote about as a features writer at the Financial Times concerned the privatisation of British Airways in the 1980s. At the heart of the story was a high-stakes poker game between BA (and a clutch of other major flag carriers) and the entrepreneurial Freddie Laker, pioneer of the cut-price airline sector and founder of the Laker Skytrain. Given clearance by the Thatcher government to go ahead with its own privatisation, BA made an awkward discovery: a huge lawsuit lodged by Laker, blaming BA for the recent collapse of his Skytrain operation, was effectively blocking the runway. Laker gambled that BA would have to pay him off royally in order to proceed. BA struggled for a year to persuade Laker that he had no case and should take a minimal pay-off. The result was a remarkable episode in the history of the airline industry. I described it in a book, Struggle for Take-Off, The Story of British Airways, that was published by Coronet Books in 1986.