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News & Views from Firm Beliefs

We will be posting articles on a regular basis - so check back regularily for updates.

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Charity mergers and trustees - a summer of love and despair

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 31st of October, 2011

Having spent the summer and early autumn dealing with charity mergers, law firm
mergers, joint ventures between profits and not for profits - in fact, a summer
spent bringing perfect strangers together with a view to a better future... - we at Firm
Beliefs cannot but ponder on the role that charity trustees play in this brave
new world of new relationships.

That role varies tremendously.  That is the problem. 

So do attitudes.  Also the problem.   

We are finding that there are rarely cases where both (or more) sets of trustees clearly understand their own role and attitudes, let alone the others' role,  and the process as a whole is often delayed by a lack of clarity around the role and the attitudes of one or more of the trustee boards.

Regardless of charity sector (dogs, carers, international aid), regardless of size (small charity where trustees ARE the day to day workers;  large international charity where trustees rarely meet the employees), regardless of experience of trustees (from the trustee who set up the charity many years ago to the seemingly ubiquitous ‘I donated stacks of cash to this charity and I am a hedge fund manager/banker/business owner...') - there are two clear issues that any merger team must be clear about up front:

1.      What role has the board of X charity played so far in its development? 

2.      What attitude has the board of X charity taken insofar as leading the charity forward thus far?

Because unless these are clear up front, both within X charity itself AND understood by the merging organisation, chaos, delay, uncertainty and even, sadly, failed merger will ensue.

Why the previous role is important:

Has the role hitherto included working with the staff? Charity X Board may or may not have developed a close working relationship with the management/administrative team of Charity X before the merger process.  Certainly they will need to do in the feasibility
process.  Add to this Charity Y who may also be trying to forge a similar working relationship in whether deciding whether to merge, and you have at least 4 groups who have never worked together before, trying to do so. 

Add into this the new Merger Steering Group once things get going and you add yet another group of folk into the mix - reps from the Trustee Board of X and of Y; plus key staff from the Exec teams of X and Y.  Whilst still trying to report back to the Boards of X and Y.  With all of the cultural and managerial and operational differences in language and approach that such mergers bring. 

So an understanding of what role each has
played hitherto is helpful in trying to decide the roles going forward and putting
into place systems and support mechanisms to make sure that all the different
groups work effectively together.

Why previous attitudes are important:

In particular, attitude to change.  For many trustees, their approach to change
has been something tested, or not, in their ‘day jobs'.  Even if they have gone through tremendous changes in their working lives, they may or may not have been ultimately
responsible for delivering on that change.  This may have affected the attitude that the
trustee board as a whole has shown in terms of change for the charity for which
they are ultimately responsible - have they been change averse?  Have they been change aware? 

And for many, regardless of experience in their own working lives, that may not translate into attitude to change as they merge their charity with another.  I think we have all come across the ‘In my commercial role, I have been merged with/lost my job/managed a merger numerous times and this merger for this charity is no different'.  Sadly at the moment,
that attitude prevails all too often.  No merger is ever the same as another - so attitude to change needs to show an element of humility as well as adaptability to the requirements of this particular change.

There are of course many other issues which affect trustees and their role and attitude during a merger - and many trustee boards we have worked with have shown exemplary approaches to both their role and their attitude.  Indeed, the fact that trustees appoint interim independent chairs of merger steering groups to ensure that the merger, not just the interests of the charities, stay at the forefront of the process, regardless of past experience, is to be commended. 

So, trustees need to be clear, up front, about the role they have played hitherto, the attitudes they have shown towards change hitherto - that way they can enquire similarly about the other trustee board/s in the merger.  Once the differences/similarities are ironed
out, the merger process proper can begin.  The courtship that includes a full and frank assessment of one's self, as well as the other, does tend to lead to better outcomes after all.  Even if it is, 'no thanks'.  Better know that sooner rather than later.

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We're all set for our next Firm Elite dinner - with George Bull

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 13th of April, 2016

Baker, Beekeeper, Media Commentator, Photographer, Purveyor of his Life Experiences... and senior tax partner at a major accounting firm, join George as he leads the conversation about 'My Career as a Verb!'.

At the beginning of our working life, we see it as a linear path, each step building on the one before, leading to a point roughly appreciable at the beginning.  The reality, We career from one path to another.  Career becomes a verb! Sometimes leading to the last place we ever expected. And yet we still deem that place as a success.

As usual, a select band of dinner guests come together for an evening of new folk to be met, new topics to be discussed, new ideas to be exchanged and a thoroughly relaxing evening.  Tuesday 19th April 2016.

Seeking Interview Board members

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 16th of February, 2016

Would you be interested in sitting on the Interview Board which interviews those who want to take part in our Skills Development programmes?

We provide two types of programme:

(1) delivered in-house for organisations,  arranged by organisations for those who wish to keep up to speed withe latest thinking, skills and techniques for business and management skills.

(2) delivered to individuals who wish to keep up to speed with the latest thinking, skills and techniques outside the arrangements made by their organisations. 

It is the second type for which we seek Board Interviewers. We take on a limited number of individuals each year.  We always have more on the waiting list. This year, we are doubling the numbers we accept, to 20 people.

The Board Interviewers help us to make the final decision as to whether the individual is 'up to the task ahead' in participating in the programme and then helps us decide on who has priority.

Board members need to:

(1) be an advocate for constant business and management development, especially when in leadership positions,

(2) demonstrate that by taking part themselves in structured learning to support on the job learning,  and encouraging their teams to do so,

(3) have undertaken themselves learning 'in addition to the demands of the day job' so that they can assess whether the individual is up to the task of putting their own time and energy into the experience. It doesn't matter whether the learning has been business, how to fix a car, or a new language!  The point is to understand the need to be motivated enough to keep learning something new when the day job has ended yet there is more to be done...

(4) come from any sector. We have board members from sectors other than legal services, charity or social enterprise, as well as those ones.  The sector does not matter.

You can see the types of programme that individuals follow here:

For those in the legal services sector/social enterprise sector

For those in the charity sector/social enterprise sector

If you are interested in  finding out more about joining the happy band of Board Interviewers, contact Sara.  Full training will be given.  Much wine and chocolates provided in appreciation of contribution!


The road less travelled

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 15th of February, 2016

Our excellent dinner, with Sarah Frost as our conversation leader, led to a few requests for the poem and the sayings that she used. Here they are:

"Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one."  Pocahontas

"It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness." Seneca

"Do not go where thepath may lead. Go inestead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The obstacle is the path."  Zen proverb

"Paths are made by walking."  Franz Kafka

"True morality consists not in following the beaten track but in finding the true path for ourselves and fearlessly following it."  Mahatma Gandhi

"A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who hve been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it."  Machiavelli

"Of all the paths a  man could strike into, there is, at any given moment, a best path...  A thing which, here and now, it were of all things wisest for him to do.  To find this path, and walk in it, is the one thing needful for him."  Thomas Carlyle

"A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere."  Groucho Marx


The Road Not Taken - by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And still be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth:

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear:

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves  no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads onto way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Soon to come - our new website!

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 09th of February, 2016

Bear with us while we develop the new website, reflecting the need to always 'onwards and  upwards' with any business!  This site will of course continue to be updated but the all new and exciting services,  re-focus of existing services and news about clients and contacts will appear on the new one. Watch this (or rather the new) space...

Driveshaft to Valutopia - with pit stops at utopia, Pessitopia and Creatopia

Category: Firm Elite
Author: John Kennedy
Posted: 21st of September, 2015

The latest Firm Elite dinner and discussion took us all on a journey not measurable in mere miles but in terms of Human Valu£. 

If you were challenged to drive from London to Mongolia how would you build your team and develop your plan? How would you value the possible contributions of each crew member?

a) Would you build the most experienced team you possibly could? Packed with technical experts, car mechanics, navigators and even someone with a Haynes Manual?

b) Would you put together a team of optimistic, creative, enthusiastic and energised people who, because of their sheer inexperience and naiveté would overcome all obstacles?

c) Make it into a proper challenge by finding one of the least reliable cars ever produced by one of the great British Brands of the British Motor Industry? One never to be confused with the “Mars Rover”?

d) All of the above?

e) None of the above?

f) Or would you rationalise that this is all really just a “Nissan Micra-cosm” of our own challenges in life as Human beings on Spaceship Earth…………?

g) Did Moore’s Law really apply to the technology of British Leyland?

Pathfinder-in-Chief, Dominic Falcao,  introduced us all to his a world of High Mileages, Innovation, Gods, Monsters and indeed Zen and the art of drive shaft maintenance…….

Does the Human Rally have a future led by those with experience or those with the passion and will to dream the future and then build it?

Aided and abetted by our very own resident “Devil’s Advocate with a dog collar” Dominic challenged, questioned, amazed and inspired us all – over a truly excellent supper from Super Star Sally.

Can you “retrofit” experience? Can we substitute creativity and optimism for years of knowledge and experience?  Will advances in technology make the Human Rally more successful or a redundant race and species in a fast disappearing habitat? Do humans have value in the future? Can we add value?

Dominic mentioned a host of projects that are no longer fiction in the world of science -  The Methuselah Project and  2045 being quite astonishing examples which touch on many of the core beliefs that underpin how we philosophize about the changing world we live in.

All Firm Elite gatherings are challenging to one’s existing mindset. This discussion entranced, stimulated and inspired everyone present. Dominic Falcao is a remarkable guy with a range of incredible insights and ideas. Ask him to come along on your next drive, in your self driving car, with your virtual family. Augmented reality and consciousness may well be coming soon to a brain near you - but challenging and thoughtful discussions are already capable of enhancing and augmenting our thoughts, ideas and consciousness – all that is necessary is a brilliant discussion and an inspirational catalyst and pathfinder like Dominic to fire all our neural circuits……….  

Many thanks to Dominic, Sally, Sarah, Sara, Graham, Kehrela, Debbie, Dwayne, Bertrand.

Further Reading and suggestions….

Puss in ReBoots (Do farm kittens dream of electric mice?) seeking virtual publisher  J F Kennedy


Youngest farmers son inherits the farmyard Cat. Cat has no experience in business but is creative, sneaky, optimistic and with immense drive to please his master. Utilizing a completely new form of business model he transforms the fortunes of disillusioned Young Farmer/Small Holder “this Bloody Digging thing is not the experience I wanted” and masterminds a Brave Mew Pawtopia enabling select Humans and Felines to live off the Trans-Fat of the GM Land - not merely to the end of their days but forevermore with an enhanced “Beyond 9 Lives Transferred Consciousness Package 5.0” (including broadband, multimedia and special download AI system.

HS2 –My Part in its Downfall (…….”Digger Dixon”)

A system of ditches, tunnels, furrows and chunnels – which previously lay undiscovered in the Buckinghamshire region - undermine the HS2 project completely. Structural Engineers carbon date the system to September 2015. Controversy surrounds the discovery – some theorising that it is entirely the work of a single shovel and possibly the work of a lone Dedicated Digger………..

CEEEC (“Curiosity Enhanced, Enabled and Empowered the Cat”) 

Even more interesting stuff…….Ray Kurzweil, Philip K Dick, The Methuselah Project, 2045, “Post Capitalism” - Paul Mason “Jennifer Government” –Max Barry