His name is Mr. Robinson.
He works for London Underground, often at Clapham Common tube station. Originally hailing from the Caribbean, Mr. Robinson has worked for LU for an incredible 38 years. Next week is his last week. He is taking retirement.
Whenever we see him, he is always ready with a smile, a hello and a how are you and the family. Even when he might be tired, he is always there for the community of people who pass by him in the ticket hall. He knows who my son is and keeps an eye out for him. Mr. Robinson epitomises what is great customer service, without thinking about it.
Mr. Robinson has Elegance in the bucketload. Now Mr. Robinson cuts a fine dash, but I am not referring to his sartorial elegance.
That is not my focus of Elegance.
The inspiration comes primarily from the worlds of mathematics, engineering and computer programming. Proof of a mathematical theorem to a complex problem is seen to be Elegant if it is simple, constructive, long lasting and effective. In computer programming, elegance is achieved by using the least amount of code to create a simple and effective output.
So I took this Elegance and transposed it into the world of Business, where all too often we over-complicate our relationships with people, be they colleagues, investors, partners or customers.
My TEDx speech was the first attempt to outline how Elegance may unfold in Business.
In essence, I see an Elegant Business as one that, amongst other things, is:
- agile to the evolving relationship with people
- shapes long lasting coherent business strategies
- seeks to build trust by delivering on the company promises
- has values that come to life on a daily basis throughout the organisation, rather than just sit on a powerpoint deck and the website
- makes life simple for their customers, their partners, their colleagues and their investors
- in the business of making business
- listens, truly listens to customers (aka people)
People within the organisation are clearly critical to this Elegance. A great cashier, wonderful service on the phone, a speedy and helpful response from someone at a company on Twitter. These and many other examples add to the sense of an Elegant Business.
Meanwhile, we have witnessed in the UK (and elsewhere) the monthly parade of obscene bonuses, rewards and pension pots paid to many bankers and others, each of whom seem to have had a morality bypass. We see senior management incompetence rewarded in the banking, political and public sectors.
With (justifiable) anger focused here, it is easy to forget the flip side.
We are surrounded by Elegant People. People who are to be admired, trusted and cherished. People who do what they do with dignity, with care and with a focus on doing their work with excellence and with pride. People like Mr.Robinson.Yet in the rush to go somewhere, many people walk past and don't notice him or his colleagues. Place oystercard on the machine and go.
We have known Mr. Robinson for 27 years now, and we will miss him. For us he is a symbol of what is great about public transport, and about customer service. The London Underground tends to get negative coverage when trains fail to work, buses are late and strikes occur. Yet for the vast majority of the time the people who work at the stations, on the trains, boats and buses, do their best for us.
So if you pass by Clapham Common today or next week, say hello to him. If you can't, how about saying hello to the other people who look after you on your journey from A to B on the bus or metro instead.
I think Mr. Robinson would like that.