Brent: The GW Chairman’s Ramble in Shambles

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Tom Kirby, the Chairman and Acting CEO of Games Workshop, has ruined my Terrible Tuesday Eve.

Why, hello!  My name is Brent.  Tuesdays are my day here on Bell of Lost Souls.

(That was the introduction for this editorial.  As introductions go, it wasn’t that great, but it hit the necessary points so let’s just get on with things.)

Two weeks ago I went to the city of Austin here in Texas for a behavioral conference.  I work in mental health, so conferences are a popular way of earning continuing education credits to keep up with whatever license you’re still in debt for.  Not that it’s germane, but it was a rather great conference, being educational, entertaining, and, some other e-word.  As the icing on the cake, Austin is also home base for Bell of Lost Souls, so I made the pilgrimage to Big Red’s home, where I talked him out of a bunch of stuff, took pictures of his game room (which is where the magic happens), and played 40K with Goatboy late into a Wednesday night.

I intended to talk about the game and the conversation we had afterward.  I haven’t played very many games of 7th Edition 40K, but I recall saying something like, “Not to be a bit of a Fanboy, but I felt like I was Forging a Narrative.”  I may have said I was excited about 7th Edition and looking forward to its future.  I was looking forward to talking about what I learned from the game, like how the old 4th-6th Edition 40K adage, “Stay in Your Tank,” was no longer so applicable.

And Then…
I was excited to write that article.  Trust Tom Kirby to mess that up for me.  (Note, I read Mr. Kirby’s preamble first on Blood of Kittens, so in fair play, here’s the link to his article.)

In case you’re just waking up to this, The Games Workshop Chairman in Chief in Charge, Tom Kirby, released the preamble to what is probably the annual report to the company’s investors.  Many in this community are interested in how the past year has paid off for GW.  Last year’s report wasn’t great and there were indications this year’s would be a tough sell.  There was speculation on BoLS that the many changes we’ve seen in recent years may have been designed to infuse the product line with expensive, exclusive products.

I have no idea.  My background doesn’t prepare me to even guess, so I’ll wait for the report.  To go one step further, if this is what it takes to release Codexes (or Codices, I know!) and Army Books faster, then I’m prepared to be just fine with it.

What I do have an educated opinion on is… management, leadership, and communication, and Mr. Kirby’s swaggering ego-fest never should have seen the light of day.

Let me interrupt what some of you are thinking: no, the kind of writing I do on a Typical Terrible Tuesday isn’t professional writing.  Seriously, I sign off every article with “Hugs and Gropings.”  How far would that go in a professional environment?  It’s obviously not the same thing, and if you can see that – and I’m sure you do – how appropriate is the following?

We have, this last year, spent an indecent amount of your money trying to stop someone stealing our ideas and images. It is a very difficult thing to do when it is done through a legal system designed to prevent people stealing hogs from one another. Our experience has probably been typical of most – far too much money spent on far too little gain. The argument is that we have to do this or we will, bit by bit, lose everything that we hold dear, everything that keeps the business going. Our crops will wither, our children will die piteous deaths and the sun will be swept from the sky.

WTF?  Editorialize much?  “Our children will die piteous deaths and the sun will be swept from the sky?”  I don’t even know what to say, except maybe come down from the mountain.

Let’s break this down.  Obviously Mr. Kirby is referring to the lawsuit against ChapterHouse Studios, which was a loser to start with.

Sorry, but it’s true.  We’re not debating the morality of anything here; I know there are folks who believe it was theft and capitalizing on the work of others.  You can believe that, or you can believe a healthy industry spawned smaller companies who filled a want or need for a product or service.  Neither one is the point; there is a reason CHS was able to retain the pro bono services of a Bloodletter in IP law.  And ChapterHouse won, though I’m sure it aged the aforementioned owner quite a bit in the process.

Because companies sometimes make accessories to products manufactured by other companies.  Look at all the after market cases for iPhones, iPads, and the like.  Otter, for example, makes an expensive product with a reputation for being tough and saving your investment in technology from cracking a screen two months after your purchase.  The Otter Boxes have iPhone written all over them.

Oh, yeah.  I almost forgot.  Mr. Kirby compared himself to Steve Jobs…

Last year I published the secret that I believe is at the heart of what makes this business great. Steve Jobs once did the same over at heavily litigating Apple. He said they ignored everything that did not lead to ‘insanely great products’ and that was what made them great. None of the people Apple are suing are trying to do that, so why sue?

I don’t know,  Mr. Kirby.  You didn’t actually answer your own question.  But frankly, I think Apple has better lawyers.

It does appear to me, however, that GW has learned its lessons from the lawsuit.  ChapterHouse and similar companies were able to do well selling kits which there were rules for but no models.  We’ve probably seen the last of that; do any of us believe they’ll release another Codex with gapping holes in the product line?  It’s a viable way of cutting straight to the heart of the problem.  Games Workshop makes the best figures in the industry, so if given an option most all of us will go with their product.

Moving on, I think he threatened to step down.

On the first of January next year I will be stepping down as CEO of Games Workshop. I intend staying on as non-executive Chairman (if the board will have me), so those of you who want to see an end to these preambles (rhymes with rambles), don’t get your hopes up just yet.

Rhymes with shambles.  But wait!  There’s still more…

The board has prepared a job specification for CEO, and the consequential advertisement. The ad. will be published the day after our AGM (September 18th). If you apply, we require that you write a letter saying why you want the job. No letter, no interview. The interviews will take place on November 7th and will be at Nottingham. An announcement will be made the following week. We have not decided what will happen if no suitable candidate is found but I suspect my wife will be livid.

I’ll let that last line speak for itself, except to say it reads to me as if Mr. Kirby believes there is a significant chance that he’s irreplaceable.  Now, you may be wondering about this letter he keeps referring to.  It’s obviously important, but not to worry!  He dilates about it in the last paragraph, while also offering a hint into his management strategy.

Let me dilate about this letter. Last year I wrote here about our recruitment process, and shortly afterwards we recruited a new non-executive director (NXD) using the method described. We got a great (not good, great) new board member. She is still surprised that I did not read her CV (exasperated would be a more accurate word) but there was no need. Her letter told us what kind of person she was: sincere, open-minded, a learner, excited at the opportunity. The interview told us she had all the qualities needed. It mattered not one jot what her CV said. Appointing NXDs because of their careers rather than who they are is at the heart of the rot in the corporate world.

A Non-Executive Director is (from Investopedia), a member of a company’s board of directors who is not part of the executive team. A non-executive director (NED) typically does not engage in the day-to-day management of the organization, but is involved in policy making and planning exercises. This is an individual directly involved with company strategy.

Note, she’s still exasperated that Mr. Kirby didn’t both to read her CV… which I take to be a good sign.  Seriously, I just don’t get this one.  He’s openly acknowledging he couldn’t be bothered to look at a list of someone’s professional qualifications because he got what he needed from a cover letter?!

Who knows anymore.  Maybe I can sign off with hugs and gropings tomorrow at work.  I’m just out of touch with the new crunchy way of doing business.  Still, I can’t help but wish Games Workshop a successful future.  Mr. Kirby referenced significant changes in structure and an investment in the future.  I love the products, from the models old and new to the rules that create collections from disparity and encourage socialization out from behind a keyboard.

Folks, I strongly recommend you read the letter.  I’ve included the link in two places above, but here it is again.  You’ll find that while I seem to have copied it entirely, I didn’t.  There is plenty of discussion to be wrung from this little gem yet!

As always, feel free to drop your comments, especially as it relates to areas of the article I didn’t touch on, which are probably the more important items anyway!  Disagreements welcome, as well as adult and very macho, forward-thinking hugs and gropings.

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