Three pieces from Management Today - well, I worked there for a while - ranging from shoes to the business lessons to be found in organised crime. Click on the arrows or scroll down to read.
1. Corporate Bodyguarding

2. Hire and Fire the Godfather Way
3. Clarks Shoes

 

1 - THE PROTECTION RACKET


To some they are the latest accessory, along with a gold Rolex or S reg BMW. To others, close protection staff, or bodyguards, are becoming a corporate necessity. By Rhymer Rigby


Back in June, the president of Chanel decided to visit Italy. Chanel's security thought that the trip might entail some risk, so they called in Alberto Gallazzi, an Italian 'close protection specialist' - what used to be known as a bodyguard. 'She doesn't really like bodyguards,' says Gallazzi, 'but she doesn't decide. Most of the time these people don't realise how important they are - but the people behind her at the company do and they call us. Y'know it scares me - I'm walking in and she's the president of Chanel.'

Alongside pop stars and politicians, it is now fairly common to see business top brass accompanied by executive close protection staff. Their duties range from detecting bugs to ensuring their charges stay alive. Actually, says Dave Roberts, president of US based British American Security Consultants, corporate types are pretty good to work for: 'You can say to the head of a Fortune-500 company "You're not going down that street" and they're fine about it. Whereas a well-known singer will say "I want a KFC" and then insist on getting it themselves.'

Business executives may be preferable to celebrities, but this says little in itself: after all, Sir Dominic Cadbury rarely has his jacket torn off by screaming 12-year-old girls. More to the point is: do executives need close protection at all? It depends not only on who they are and what their company is up to but also where they are. A relatively obscure FTSE-100 chief executive can stroll around the City all day with impunity.

But wandering through, say, certain areas of Azerbaijan or Georgia is probably not best done alone. Equally, if the company is embroiled in some sort of controversy or the individual enjoys an unusually high profile he or she may want a little 'company'.


The comparison with those higher-profile groups who are likely to get shot at, kidnapped or to have less-than-desirable forms of attention lavished upon them is instructive here. Like celebrities and politicians, the corporate top brass is wealthy and 'important' (or at least important enough that someone will pay to prevent extremities arriving in the post). But unlike celebs and politicians most business executives are near invisible: everyone can name a few top government officials and any number of 'entertainment workers'. But ask the average person to name five business chiefs and they'll be lucky to get beyond Richard and Anita. Business people are not normally a tabloid mainstay and relative public indifference makes for a low level of exposure. For those who are not natural egomaniacs or exhibitionists this can only be a good thing: 'Anonymity,' says Roberts, 'is always better than the alternative.' Moreover, anonymity is something that even the most important company chiefs in the world may enjoy. A little over a year ago Gallazzi was looking after Panasonic's world and European presidents in Italy. 'For the Japanese,' he explains, 'it was a big event and for them it was very important to have someone to follow (the two chief executives), but I can say that the threat level was very low. Because, for the people in Italy, they looked like normal Japanese going around taking photos of monuments.'

Of course, a businessman's visibility (pace Branson) is largely a function of the media. Michael Baron, external director of the self-explanatorily named Control Risks Group makes an allied point: 'If, say, your chief executive has just made it onto the Sunday Times Rich List and they publish a nice big photo of him he suddenly develops a higher profile.' Using resources such as Companies House anyone with a little determination can dig up a chief executive's address; moreover, among the numerous iffy web sites there are now those set up by 'single issue groups' that specialise in publishing the names and addresses of top business folk. In truth, this kind of attention will often fade soon enough, although former British Gas boss Cedric Brown may feel that celebrity status lingers interminably.

Paradoxically, any security employed is likely to raise the user's profile, though some people seem to actively welcome this. It is unlikely, for instance, that Mohamed Al Fayed is wholly oblivious to the attention his 12-strong entourage attracts. Still, in certain parts of the world businessmen consider it de rigeur to have a couple of 16-stoners at their sides. This is particularly apparent in Russia where the reason for it is a combination of a genuine need (shootings are routine) and the current gaudy gangster trappings favoured by wealthy Muscovites.

It is also catching on in the States, where, in some cases, it is just about vulgar ostentation. As Baron says, 'It can be as much a status symbol as buying a car or yacht. It's obvious that this highly visible security costs money.' But, he continues, 'on the other hand, it can buy peace and reassurance as long as its effective, the people are properly trained and are not just there because they're very large.' Of course those who adopt this do make themselves more of a target: 'You can have highly visible security, but then you're highly visible - you obviously have something that needs protecting.'

Most respectable western businessmen and women (if 'at risk') will usually eschew bodyguards who conform to the popular public stereotypes in favour of rather more discrete protection. Explains Roberts, 'They look for someone who the head of the company can introduce as their "executive assistant" and who will be regarded as such. Your bodyguard needs to be someone who will blend in the principal's community. Large individuals with a broken nose and dark glasses are out. You want someone who can articulate without grunting but if the chips are down will respond accordingly.' Gallazi agrees: 'In the past it was a big guy - you'd get martial artists, ex-members of Mossad, the Foreign Legion, whatever. Now it's more brains than muscle - most of our job is prevention, prevention, prevention. You don't walk around with a machine gun in your hand.'

Gallazi's CV backs this up: he was once the Italian kick boxing champion, but he is also speaks three languages; he's qualified in small arms and edge weapons - but is also PC literate. So, true to the spirit of the '90s, being a bodyguard is much more about using intelligence and information to minimise the risk of an incident happening than being able to react if one does. Gallazi's duties might involve making several hotel reservations and choosing one at the very last minute and ensuring that sensitive information is secure - as well as the more obvious checking for bugs and bombs and being able to use firearms.

Having said all this, Britain is a relatively safe country - especially, as Gallazi points out, 'now they've taken all your weapons away'. Celebrated public figures like Branson may need a few assistants, as might those whose companies attract the attention of potentially violent groups like animal liberationists. However, businessmen and women in general are only really 'at risk' in the sense that any wealthy person is. This goes for the whole of Western Europe, except southern Italy and Sicily.

Even so, protection and risk assessment are big business. Dave Abbot, director of Defence Systems Limited (DSL), says that the real danger spots are Eastern Europe and the Confederation of Independent States (CIS), where crime is the principal risk, South America (kidnapping) and Africa (minor wars).

The US, despite the gun-toting horror stories we hear is really much like Britain, just more so: there is little danger unless visitors do something naive and ill-advised like jogging in Central Park after dark. 'You'd be surprised how many people do that kind of thing,' says Abbot.

That businesses like DSL prosper attests to the compelling reasons to do business in genuinely dangerous areas. While a software or rug-making business can set up almost anywhere, companies in some sectors have little choice: British Petroleum and Mobil executives do not hang around Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, because they like the beaches. Oil, gas, diamonds, gold - unfortunately all these highly desirable extractables are often to be found beneath countries which are currently staging re-enactments of age-old conflicts using ground-to-air missiles. Moreover, says, Baron, 'Even if a country's safe the discovery of a huge deposit can raise old tensions - it's often called "the curse of oil."'

There are also the emerging markets, particularly in Eastern Europe - places that forward-thinking companies want and need to be established in. Although compared to Africa or South America, these are far more like the West, unfamiliar visitors can often find real trouble. Again, it can vary with sector: a company looking to muscle in on the Mafia-dominated alcohol and tobacco industries is likely to run into entrenched opposition.

As Abbot says of Russia, 'It's not unknown for an ex-patriate to be shot as a warning. There was an American company a couple of years ago which got into bed with the wrong people.' Things went very well for over a year with the company showing (surprisingly given the time scale) a small profit. This, he adds, should have set alarm bells ringing. Eventually a dubious invoice was queried, the Americans realised that something was amiss and shortly afterwards the chairman was murdered as he got out of a lift. He was replaced by a considerably less conscientious Russian. 'We were then called in to investigate and they were in it up to their necks. They asked us for help too late, they should have done it before they moved in.' Shortly after DSL finished its investigation a car bomb exploded outside one of the company's shops in Azerbaijan and the company was forced to withdraw from the CIS altogether.

Gallazi is similarly blunt about the perils for all concerned in Russia: 'I knew two (close protection) teams who worked for the same man and they both had people shot - one of the guys last year and one in '95 - they got killed, they worked for the same association as I do.' He himself has been fortunate: 'I see a lot of violence but thank God never gunfire - I hope I never do. I was cut a couple of months ago but that's something you are trained to deal with.' He prefers to avoid firearms but 'sometimes the threat level is very high and you cannot just work with your hands, though I try to'.

Peculiarly though, the biggest single risk in Russia, according to DSL, is traffic accidents. Locals in oil burning Ladas who see westerners cruising the Muscovite boulevards in a flashy, western car will sometimes crash into them deliberately in order to demand money. Russian road rage is quite something: 'You get people hitting each other with spanners.' DSL provides a 24-hour call out service for its clients because traffic disputes can be terrifying for European or American businessmen and their families, the vast majority of whom do not speak Russian. Abbot recalls one such incident that involved a local Mafia boss who sustained whiplash - impressively, it was resolved through the normal insurance channels.

There is also the question of who to protect: there are easier ways to get at a business than by, say, kidnapping the chairman. If someone, such as a disgruntled former employee, is targeting a business, says Baron, 'they may not be too choosy about who they target. As far as they're concerned, they're after XYZ plc and incidents further down the chain can cause just as many problems.' This affected Shell during the Brent Spar debacle.

Here, the chairman and headquarters may have been subject to demonstrations and public displeasure but, on the Continent, it was the filling stations that were petrol bombed. 'What we do,' Baron continues, 'is look at the wider picture, not just one individual person - put it in their business context and a social and political context as well. How much security you need and whether top people need bulletproof cars goes back to the initial risk assessment.'

Where protection is definitely required, as with Versace, there will usually be a team of four or five that works solely for the family and follows all their movements. The corporate side of things is dealt with by a more conventional security firm. While the two will liaise, and their remits may occasionally overlap, they are effectively separate. As Roberts says, those who look after the family should know everything: 'If one's looking to target an individual, one looks for the weakest link - wife, kids - they might even snatch the wife's lhasa apso and send an ear back.' In this country, such incidents remain rare but, says Baron, executives are nonetheless targets: 'Bill Gates and the custard pie - there have been a lot of incidents like that. People hold grudges and powerful people have enemies - then there's the power junkies. Certain individuals like to see big companies get into a panic and say "I did that". Mostly these are just silly, disturbing things, but some top people may feel very threatened.'

BOX: IS THIS GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND TURNING INTO CRUEL BRITANNIA?

Most of Britain's business elite - quite rightly - do not worry too much about violence on home ground. This is a sensible attitude: despite newspaper horror stories this country remains a relatively safe place.

That said, there is no reason for complacency. Wealthy business people make tempting targets for sophisticated criminal and opportunist bag-snatcher alike.

The main problem is that robbery, traumatic enough in itself, is increasingly accompanied by violence. Earlier this year, for example, Sir Patrick Sergeant, a 74-year-old businessman, and his wife were attacked outside their north London home: not only was her £30,000 engagement ring stolen, but he sustained a fractured ankle and required plastic surgery.

In a similar vein, in 1997, a Greek businessman in London was stabbed and relieved of his £11,000 watch; while RyanAir's Tony Ryan was beaten and robbed by assailants who had waited for him in his Chelsea home. Indeed, last year saw a spate of such incidents. Carlton's Michael Green was slashed across the face at his Mayfair home and jewellery, cash and credit cards were taken. Lady Weidenfeld, the wife of publishing magnate Weidenfeld, although not hurt, had £110,000 worth of jewellery stolen on the doorstep of her Chelsea flat.

Two years ago, also in Chelsea, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and his wife were ambushed by their house and had a £650,000 ring stolen.

Even more distressing was an attack on Stephen Burke, the head of a City recruitment company, at his Hertfordshire home. The thieves took £15,000 worth of watches and threatened the family with abduction and murder.

Finally, last year's attack on the home of Sir Desmond Pitcher, then the United Utilities chairman, was perhaps most chilling of all in that it was not financially motivated. While Pitcher was on holiday, the house was firebombed. A caller told police. 'All fat cats are terrorist targets.'

The common thread running through many of these incidents is that they took place at the victims' homes. Their attackers knew their movements, where they lived, and that they were worth robbing. This does not mean that every FTSE-350 chief should run out and get a bodyguard, but it does suggest that an increased awareness of attention to security could substantially reduce the risk of it happening to them.

BOX: HEINOUS CRIMES IN FOREIGN CLIMES

Kidnappings are very rare in this country. This is largely because it is a crime which requires organisation; and in recent years, the only large-scale UK criminal organisation has been the IRA, whose members have agreed to a cease-fire. Elsewhere, things are rather different. On the Continent, kidnappings are more commonplace. Naturally business people - and their families - make good targets. Even if they cannot afford hefty ransoms, their companies may be able to.

Kidnappings so far this year have included the son of a German businessman (who cannot be named for legal reasons).

Fortunately, he was released and the police arrested the kidnappers. Less fortunate was Giuseppe Soffianti, a 62-year-old Italian businessman who was freed in February after being kidnapped last year. Before receiving the $2.75 million ransom, his captors withheld his heart medicine and sent part of his ear to a television station.

In Spain, the duo who snatched Anabel Segura, a businessman's daughter, from a fashionable Madrid street in 1993 were also jailed this year, for 39 years apiece. They had hanged her even before issuing a ransom demand.

Likewise, 1996 saw quite a few abductions. Italian businessman, Ferruccio Checci was freed by his Sardinian captors upon the payment of a $4 million ransom. In Germany the body of abducted multimillionaire Jakub Fiszman was found in woods outside Frankfurt.

On a more positive note, Marshall Wais, a 79-year-old American Steel tycoon was kidnapped in San Francisco. Upon the payment of the $500,000 ransom, he was released and his abductors considerately gave him $20 to take a cab home. Most kidnaps do not have such cute endings. If a group is prepared to kidnap someone, they are quite likely prepared to kill them, too.

2 - Management Lessons from Hollywood - Hire and fire the Godfather way.

Love, trust, betrayal, revenge ... emotions can run high in the world of business. Rhymer Rigby kicks off a new series which looks at management Hollywood style.

The Godfather, widely hailed as 'the greatest gangster picture made' chronicles the passing of power from Don Vito Corleone, the head of the New York Mafia (Marlon Brando) to his son Michael (Al Pacino). Naturally, succession in crime dynasties is a delicate business and, before Michael establishes himself, the body count has grown to include his bride, his sister's husband, several dozen assorted hoods and, through no fault of its own, an unfortunate horse. In this country at least, it is now considered extremely poor form to conduct your commercial affairs with a loaded machine gun on forearm; nonetheless, there is still plenty the British business community can learn from the infamous Five Families of New York.

The importance of leadership and unity

'Fredo', says Michael, 'you are my brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again.' Fredo has jeopardised a delicate business transaction by going beyond his remit. Michael reminds his brother that he is the chief executive and that public dissent within the boardroom cannot, and will not, be tolerated under any circumstances.

Effective use of warnings

Having refused Don Corleone a favour, Jack Woltz wakes up to find himself in bed with a horse's head. In the Don's eyes, Woltz is guilty of gross misconduct. But it is a first offence, so Corleone gives him a written warning. By severing the head of Woltz's favourite stallion, personalising and underscoring his message, the Don communicates effectively and demonstrates good 'people skills'.

Succession management

After the attempt on his life, Don Vito Corleone decides to retire, passing the torch to his son, Michael. He continues to give Michael advice that will ultimately save his life, however. Corleone Sr is keenly aware that the transition from one CEO to another can be a difficult one and makes himself available on a consultancy basis until the new boss has found his feet within the firm.

Key man insurance

Having stormed off to stomp his sister's abusive husband, Sonny Corleone, the Don's anointed successor, is cut down in a hail of gunfire. Don Corleone had long realised that his heir apparent would be a natural target. Although the Don had always wanted his third son, Michael, to 'go legit', were misfortune to befall Sonny, Michael would be there to step into his shoes.

Using your mandate for change

'Today, I settle all my family business,' announces Michael, before having all those who have crossed him executed, while he is at a christening. As an incoming CEO, Michael knows that his first 100 days are important: he is the 'new broom' and any sweeping changes he wishes to make should be made quickly. Tough decisions now will greatly strengthen his position later.

3 - RETURN OF THE OLD SOFT SHOE

A struggling shoemaker earmarked for takeover in 1993, the old family firm of Clarks has been brought smartly up to date by a slick chairman/CEO double act.


Author: RHYMER RIGBY


When he's down with his home boys (gangsta rap crew, the Wu-tang Clan) Ghost-face Killah is usually bigging it up on the mike - disrespecting women, badmouthing fellow rappers and telling you about his less-than-convivial relations with the local police. But when he gets home and kicks back, he's just a regular guy who likes to slip on a pair of Clarks Wallabees and relax. That's Clarks as in the shoes that 95% of Britons grew up in.

What's more, the nice Mr Killah isn't the shoe company's only unlikely customer. Brit-twit brothers Noel and Liam are big, big fans of the company's venerable desert boot; the shoes regularly crop up in the glossy mags like The Face, Arena and GQ; and if you hang around glitzy London bars and glance down at the footwear sported by the beautiful people, chances are that among the Prada trainers and Patrick Cox loafers you'll spot a couple of pairs of Clarks.

Clearly something happened to one of Britain's best-known brands when we weren't looking. Clarks shoes aren't supposed to be cool. And Clarks shops are meant to be where mums and dads drag unwilling offspring to buy sturdy, sensible shoes untouched by the vagaries of fashion. And in years gone by Clarks was all that. But it isn't any more. The shops have lost their '70s shopping mall decor; the traditional shoes have been bought smartly up to date and some of the new collections are positively weird.

Even the current ad campaign, with its 'New shoes' leitmotif, is by uberhip London agency St Lukes. Oh, and while we're at it, the company's profits have also changed for the better. In early April, it turned in a third year of record results, with sales up a respectable 5% to pounds 832 million (not bad when the shoe market is pretty much a zero-growth area) and profit improvement of 19% to pounds 50.4 million.

Descendants of the original Clarks still own about 70% of equity, making AGMs a little like extended family reunions. Yet this venerable British business has undergone a management revolution in recent years. To see the whole story requires a visit to Street, in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor. This is Clarks' global (more of which later) headquarters and a company town if ever there was one. Across the road from The Bear (the company pub) is an imposing, if rather austere, Victorian structure that dominates Street. And inside work the duo behind the transformation of the business. These are Roger Peddar, the avuncular, rather traditional-looking chairman, and Tim Parker, the CEO who, with his jacket, jeans and enormous mop of curly hair, is the last person you'd expect to find heading up a British institution.

Peddar's story begins in 1963, when he joined the company, quickly becoming the chairman's PA. This, he says, 'is normally a one-year tour of duty, though for me it became a lifetime's duty, as I wound up marrying his daughter in 1968.' Shortly afterwards, he left the company, making him a Clark by marriage but not a Clarks' Clark, an important distinction.

Some 20 years later he rejoined the business as a non-executive director - having worked for BHS, Burton, Halfords and Harris Queensway and co-founded Pet City en route. He was there, he explains, as a 'quasi-outsider', pressed onto the board by shareholders who were concerned about the company's lacklustre performance and boardroom wrangles.

Matters came to a head in early 1993 when the chairman, Walter Dickson, recommended the shareholders to sell up to Berisford, a former sugar company.

In what was, by all accounts, a tempestuous meeting, 'the family reasserted itself', voting overwhelmingly not to sell. Other shareholders, largely institutional, were in favour.

Unsurprisingly, Dickson resigned shortly afterwards and the company looked to Peddar. He became chairman at the end of 1993, and then 'took a year to determine what needed to be done'. The answer was a lot. And this included appointing a new, 'fully outside' CEO. His eventual choice of Tim Parker owes much to luck: reading a business magazine (not this one) on a plane, he came across an article about Parker, an LBS graduate who had been mixing it at Kenwood, the kitchen appliances company. 'So I said to my secretary: 'Can I have that article about that curly-headed fellow?' She gave it to me and I posted it to the head-hunter and said: 'Please can I talk to this man. I doubt he'll reply.''

Two weeks later Parker did reply. He'd got the call and, like many of us, remembered Clarks in the form of 'funny sandals I had as a kid'. But he asked for some more information and realised that the company was far bigger than he'd imagined and that it had 'boxed itself into a corner'.

After numerous discussions, he persuaded himself that it was an exciting opportunity. Besides which, he adds, he liked shoes, even if he wasn't terribly keen on what his prospective employers had to offer at the time.

With Parker on board, the company could set about doing what needed to be done. Clarks' main problem was that it was manufacturing 70% of its shoes in the UK. This was in a market that had globalised quickly (for example, the US imports 95% of its shoes) and almost everyone else was manufacturing in low-cost countries such as Brazil and India. The main reason behind this approach was the company's traditions. Clarks' founders had been Quakers and, in the Quaker tradition, treated their workers in a caring, paternalistic way. The company's shares had largely passed to Clarks' descendants and the ethos lived on: sacking people en masse was not something Clarks did.

As a consequence, it had sought to reduce its costs in other areas: cheaper leathers, reduced detailing and so on. The result was rather dull yet still expensive products. Clarks' bottom line was suffering and would continue to do so as long as it manufactured most of its products in the UK.

'Look,' says Parker, 'nobody likes redundancies and one of the difficulties the company had was that it had got confused between benevolence and inaction - and sometimes you use the notion that you are benevolent to avoid taking hard decisions. But that's destructive in the long term, because the decisions don't go away.'

This is a point that Peddar agrees with strongly. 'You're preserving that which has no future beyond its natural life,' he adds. 'That's not just dangerous, it's anti-social.' The choice was stark: declare a lot of redundancies or watch the company slowly die.

So they embarked on the inevitable, from the top down. Management was cut, a big layer was taken out, outsiders were brought in and some existing employees were promoted. To try to make the process understood (if no easier), Parker made a real effort to explain what he was doing. 'I spent a lot of time trying to get to know people in the company rather than just hiding away in my office, issuing edicts. If people meet you and know you're a flesh-and-blood individual with a family and all those tedious concerns, it makes it far easier for them - even if they don't agree with you - to not cast you in the role of some nasty, dangerous outsider.'

He took this process to impressive lengths. When they lost a quarter of the staff in Street (about 400 people in what is still a village), he went to a meeting of the parish council to account for himself. Here he was asked by the depressed villagers to promise no further redundancies - an assurance he couldn't give. It was, he says, an experience 'I vividly remember'.

Painful, though this period was, it wasn't quite as dreadful as it could have been. Some of the factories weren't shut completely, but they had their workforces cut and their processes simplified; others were sold as going concerns (notably to Doc Martens). Some manufacturing workers were moved into retail or other areas and, in the event, only 9% of its workforce were actually made redundant. 'We have become a UK retail business,' says Peddar. 'The nature of the activities has changed but, in terms of headcount, the attrition hasn't been that great.'

Over to the shops - of which the company has 550 in the UK - and the company sold the 'non-core' Clarks Village, to MEPC, for which it received pounds 54 million. This was distributed to shareholders, who for years had been suffering lousy dividends. And then there was the high street refit. Out went the green-and-white trim (which probably looked pretty swish back in the late 1970s); this has now been largely replaced with a far more millennial glass and blonde wood look.

There were also the shoes, which had become, well, staid. 'Like a rock music business, we have a back catalogue,' says Parker. Using this as a base, they set up a business called Clarks Originals, which produces the footwear that has got the style press into such a lather. It is these that look like the kind of thing you'd find in ranges by Patrick Cox or Prada; the only difference is they cost a third as much. 'What we've got now is a business that isn't just selling shoes to people in their seventies,' says Peddar. 'It is, but it's also selling surprising numbers of shoes to young people and has a fair amount of kudos.'

Was all this easier because the company was private? Not really. 'Most of the big problems with turnarounds,' explains Parker, 'occur because management creates unrealistic expectations, especially about how long things will take.' Indeed, the main difference, adds Peddar, is that you don't get any hassle from City analysts or the media - 'meaning we can take a medium-term perspective.'

From a British perspective, one of the most surprising things about Clarks is its enormous global presence. It is, in fact, the number one 'brown shoes' brand in the world. (For those unfamiliar with shoespeak, black shoes are formal, white shoes are trainers and brown shoes occupy the casual ground between the two - docksiders, loafers and so on.)

Actually, Clarks' international operations go back a long way. Its shoes travelled with the Empire and (unlike the Empire) stayed. Which is why the company has as real brand presence from Bermuda to Papua New Guinea.

It's also big in Japan, where teenagers and twentysomethings have taken the Originals to their hearts, to the tune of half a million pairs a year.

And the other great market is the US, where, with the Clarks and the Bostonian brands, it generates about pounds 200 million in sales and about a quarter of its profits. 'In the last five years,' says Peddar, 'we've gone from UK exporter to branded international retailer.'

So, worldwide activities then, but, thus far, no mention of the world wide web, at a time when most businesses are shouting their net presence from the rooftops. Well, Clarks does have a web site, but it's in no great hurry to sell shoes electronically.

'We were at a conference in America recently where they suggested Tim was a Neanderthal and I was a Luddite, because we hadn't 'got religion'.

But there's one big barrier for us - it's called fit,' laughs Peddar.

The problem, you see, is that although white shoes have a wide fit tolerance (usually about two sizes), meaning that a size eight trainer wearer can get away with anything from a seven to a nine, the tolerance for brown shoes is half a size, meaning you really need to try the things on. That said, adds Parker, 'we will be selling shoes on the internet early next year and we will be collaborating with people who sell on-line, but I have no desire to tell people I'm spending pounds 10 million of the company's profits on the web. That's an advantage of being private - I don't need to protect my backside against acquisition by chivvying up the price.'

Some e-presence aside, what else does the future hold? The downside is that shoes are pretty much a zero-growth market.

As Parker says: 'Every extra shoe we sell is at the expense of someone else.' More positively, the market remains very, very fragmented, with vast scope for acquisition in almost every country that Clarks operates in. Flotation? The possibility seems to have receded at the moment, though will doubtless raise its head again at some point. Diversification? The company already does a nice line in handbags and enjoys the distinction of being the world's largest seller of shoe-care products.

But to be honest, says Peddar, it has only one real goal: 'We want to be known as the international casual shoe company. Why muck about.'

1825: Cyrus Clark establishes his own business in the sheepskin rug trade at Street, Somerset

1828: James Clark is apprenticed to his brother Cyrus. James uses reject rugs and off-cuts to make slippers called Brown Peters

1833: James becomes a full partner in the business. In addition to the slippers, socks, boots and welted shoes now account for a third of sales

1849: The first company poster is introduced showing Cyrus Clark's house and the front of the factory

1851: Two prizes at Prince Albert's Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace turn around dwindling sales and save Clarks from almost certain bankruptcy.

1863: Second threat of bankruptcy. William Stephens Clark is put in charge and is 'very soon able to alter much that had gone wrong'

1866: Cyrus Clark dies

1870 Sheepskin business transferred to Clark, Son & Morland at Northover, Glastonbury

1872: A new partnership is formed between James Clark and William Stephens Clark

1880: 'Torbrand' shoes launched

1883: William buys a cider house opposite the factory and turns it into a coffee house to dissuade workers from drinking

1893: Hygienic Boots and Shoes launched. Coffee house demolished; Bear Inn established

1903: London showroom opens on Shaftsbury Ave

1908: Clarks becomes a limited-liability company

1910: First 'in-stock' system: shoes dispatched from the warehouse on receipt of order

1913: Most of Street depends on C&J Clark

1920: 'Torbrand' becomes 'Clarks'

1925: Clarks lab opened

1927: 'Wessex' range of shoes launched

1934: First press ads

1937: Clarks starts shoe retailing using the name Peter Lord

1938: Roger Clark becomes chairman.

1940 Clarks contributes to the war effort by making aircraft components and torpedo parts

1942 W Bancroft Clark succeeds his father Roger as chairman and leads major expansion

1950 Desert Boot introduced by Nathan Ckark

1952 Clarks brand first appears on shops

1967 W Bancroft Clark retires

1975 Clarks celebrates 150 years

1980 Clarks takes over the 'K' brand

1985 'K' launches Springers range of women's comfort sandals

1993 Shareholders reject Berisford bid; chairman Walter Dickson resigns. Roger Peddar becomes chairman

1996 Tim Parker joins as CEO and starts restructuring and moving production overseas

2000 Clarks celebrates 175th anniversary and third consecutive year of record results.