Successful companies don’t rely on superstars from outside. They know the importance of fostering talent within says Simon Howard

You don’t have to know anything about football (and believe me, I don’t know anything about football) to know that the spectacular losers in Euro 2004 were France, Germany, Italy, England and Spain. On the one hand they were all prematurely dumped out of Euro 2004 but on the other they showed that they were, in my opinion, teams populated by overpaid, prissy prima donnas who are so full of themselves that they think they are bigger than their national sides; sadly, these are all footballers who condescend to play for their country.
By contrast, the smaller nations who fared so well in Euro 2004 were made up of squads proud to represent their countries and who played together as teams.
It all went to prove what a wise Australian sports coach once said: “A team of champions doesn’t make a champion team.” And that’s a lesson that business could learn too.
One business big name to come a cropper recently was Sir Peter Davis, late of Sainsbury. Back in March 2000, he arrived to head up the moribund Sainsbury bureaucracy, having cut a swathe through a similarly moribund bureaucracy at Prudential in the late 1990s.
But where Prudential responded to treatment, the inertia of Sainsbury got the better of him. However, why should he be blamed? To go back to the football analogy, Sir Peter was only ever the big name coach. It was his team that let him down - and that means the top management: all of the top management.
Although I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m still a loyal Sainsbury customer - it’s rather like a fondness for an aged aunt who you know should have popped her clogs years ago
But I no longer complain to the local managers because, as they’ve always told me, it is head
office that decides everything and treats them like monkeys.
In fact, the only way you can keep shopping there is to treat it as a bit of a game.
You just make a short shopping list, pop down to your local Sainsbury superstore and see what they don’t have in stock.
Last Saturday was a delight. I was holding a small barbeque and so popped in for a few essentials. Fruit wasn’t a great start as there were no limes (probably 50 varieties of obscure tropical fruits, but none of the basic stuff).
Happily, the meat department was stocked with offers all ‘ideal for barbecuing’ but a search of the superstore yielded no kebab sticks and they weren’t out of stock either. “I’m very sorry, sir, but we aren’t ranged for barbeques this year.”
Now you don’t need me to point out the flawed logic of this. But where any other customer might have ranted at the crass stupidity of selling the cut-up meat but not the skewers to put it on, I consoled the manager with how difficult it was for him dealing with such a situation and how it really wasn’t worth his while trying to change what head office decreed he should and should not stock.
Mind you, the manager did seem to take some solace from the fact that it was no better in Eastbourne - where my mum and dad have moved to Tesco - and sold their Sainsbury shares into the bargain.
The City would do well to remember the football analogy, too. Rather than just Sir Peter Davis, they should be looking for the scalps of many of the senior Sainsbury management - certainly all those with long-standing service - because the roots of poor performance at Sainsbury stretch back years.
Of course, it’s interesting to contrast all this with Asda and Tesco - the UK’s two most successful grocers.
There, you won’t find superstars hauled in from outside because from the bottom to the top they’re well-managed, well-led companies which are committed to recruiting and developing talent.
This is precisely why Sainsbury has to look outside each time it needs new top talent. Over the years it has failed to consistently recruit and develop good people.
So there you have it: France, Germany, Italy, England, Spain and Sainsbury; all victims of the same syndrome and all in need of talented top teams which play together as teams.
n Simon Howard is a founder of Work Communications and writes the Jobfile column for the Sunday Times.