So, did you have a good Christmas? I did. Well, at least until Boxing Day. That was the day I woke up feeling hot and cold, coughing, with a headache and generally pretty crap. The day after that I woke up feeling a bit worse while my two teenage sons both complained of feeling a little under the weather, but basically OK. On the 28 December all four of us drove to the Covid testing sector at Gatwick and a day later me and my two sons were declared positive. Strangely, my wife came back negative. I say strangely, because she turned out to be the worst hit, with a tight chest and some very slight difficulty breathing clearly.
Apart from feeling really quite poorly for three weeks – including a couple of days of feeling almost normal then having a relapse – I experienced what I can only describe as a sense of relief. Relief that I wasn’t going to get it so badly I’d have to go into hospital and be put on a ventilator; relief that I wasn’t going to die; relief that I’d had the bloody thing so (fingers crossed) I wouldn’t get it again; basically, relief that I’d got it out of the way and the tension of wondering whether and how I might contract it was now over.
In case you were wondering, no I didn’t catch the pesky virus in a pub or restaurant. I caught it from one of my lads, who had brought it back from school friends then themselves suffered minor symptoms for all of a day. Grrrr! While there was, as I said, a slight sense of relief, there was also some anger. Anger that, having experienced nothing but tip-top Covid safety precautions at a number of pubs and restaurants during the first nine months of the pandemic, all the good work of the people running those venues in keeping me safe was undone via a route that was, to all intents and purposes, unavoidable.
Still on the subject of Covid (sorry!), I’d like to give a mention in despatches to the Comptoir Group chief executive Chaker Hanna. Chaker is, as anyone who knows him will confirm, a delightful man – and happens to run a very good business serving excellent, value-for-money food.
Further proof, if any were needed, of what an excellent chap he is came early in the New Year when he sent good wishes for 2021 and outlined some of his thoughts on the plight of Comptoir and other perfectly good businesses that, through no fault of their one, were “heading towards failure”. He cited the “lack of understanding and action by the government to rescue us from such imminent ruin”.
When I replied to Chaker that I myself was suffering from coronavirus, he sent me a charming message expressing genuine concern and imploring me to keep him posted on my progress. He then sent me another email asking if there was anything he could do to help, “such as shopping”. He added: “I really mean it, Dominic, as I know how frustrating this will be to you and your family. We have done similar things for friends and also for a team member who had the virus. You can count on us. Please don’t hesitate to let me know.”
I assured him that we were OK on the shopping front, but that wasn’t the end of the conversation. Over the next few days he emailed me several times to check on my progress and that of my family – genuinely concerned to hear that we were getting better. He only stopped his regular enquiries once I’d assured him that we were all back to normal.
To me, the exchange of emails I had with Chaker said so much not only about Chaker and Comptoir’s culture, but about the wider hospitality industry and the people who work in it. It happened to be the Comptoir CEO who offered to help but it could have been any number of other fine people in this fantastic industry. But what was most touching was that I was being offered help and support by someone who was himself battling to save the business he has helped create and loves. Let’s hope the government offers similarly warm-hearted help and support to the hospitality industry in the coming Budget, if not sooner.
Colour of money
Someone who’s dropped off my Christmas card list is Mooky Greidinger, the Cineworld chief executive. Until recently I had rather liked Mooky. Whenever I spoke to him he had always come across as a man who was passionate about the cinema industry, passionate about his company and ambitious about turning Cineworld into the biggest and best company in the business.
Were it not for the small matter of a global pandemic he might have succeeded, but the bloated balance sheet he created to get to the number two position has left Cineworld itself at risk. So what does the company do? It announces a new long-term incentive plan for the top echelons of management that potentially could pay out as much as £208 million in three years’ time, including £65 million to each Mooky and his brother Israel, the deputy chief executive – or £33m each if they don’t meet their highest share price target.
Talk about tone deaf! I appreciate that it is the remuneration committee that decides such things, but the Greidingers also happen to own 20% of the company and opted to vote their stake in favour of the LTIP – a conflict of interest if ever there was one. Sure, if the top brass are enriched then so will the other shareholders be, but that’s not the point. Apart from having claimed government support in the way of furlough monies and the like during the coronavirus crisis, there is the message such Croesus-like rewards sends to other stakeholders in the business.
A Cineworld landlord told me: “This is a slap in the face for all the landlords who are being asked to fund significant rent concessions and deferments. They don’t have a lot of emotional intelligence.”
Conversely, there was no shortage of emotion from employees who have set up the Cineworld Action Group: “This is utterly despicable. As thousands of Cineworld and Picturehouse staff across the country continue to struggle to afford basic necessities, top Cineworld bosses are set to receive potentially £33m each in share awards.”
Dominic Walsh: ‘A tale of two leaders’
So, did you have a good Christmas? I did. Well, at least until Boxing Day. That was the day I woke up feeling hot and cold, coughing, with a headache and generally pretty crap. The day after that I woke up feeling a bit worse while my two teenage sons both complained of feeling a little under the weather, but basically OK. On the 28 December all four of us drove to the Covid testing sector at Gatwick and a day later me and my two sons were declared positive.