A few years ago the BBC broadcast a fly-on-the-wall documentary
about Marie Claire. In the closing sequence, the then editor, Glenda
Bailey, was seen designing an ’As seen on TV’ sticker to go on the front
cover of the next issue. It was a rare moment of light relief for the
title - an otherwise compulsive 50 minutes’ viewing mercilessly
portrayed Marie Claire as a vacuous glossy.
Since then I have watched innumerable similar workplace-type
documentaries: those featuring DMB&B, Rover, St Luke’s, McKinsey and The
Independent spring to mind. In every case TV emerges the winner. Who can
forget Robin Wight’s stunning appearance in the Rover series.
Resplendent in a lime-green suit, Wight was last seen explaining the
concept of brand architecture to a Rover board which clearly thought he
was an alien. The truth is that even quite normal people can be made to
look ridiculous by sharp editing.
So how did Dino Adriano, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, fare in last
week’s BBC2 Back to the Floor programme? The film followed Adriano as he
spent a week in the Chichester store, although it’s not every
Sainsbury’s employee who turns up for work in a chauffeur-driven BMW.
The signs were not auspicious. By a cruel piece of timing,the programme
was broadcast the day after the group reported yet another drop in
What possessed him to do it? Maybe a chance to set the record straight
after months of sniping in the press; vanity - even men as manifestly
self-effacing as Adriano are not immune to 30 minutes prime-time
exposure on BBC2; and the belief that he might actually learn
I expect he did. There were some telling moments in the programme, not
least the moment a lowly trolley-pusher asked him how he spent his
Adriano’s lame reply: ’Well, I have a lot of board meetings. I’m on the
board of the group, and then there’s the supermarket. I also chair the
bank’ - cut to employee nodding incomprehensibly.
None of this compared to the board meeting with other directors.
Staggered by some of the shop-floor practices, Adriano invites a wary
manageress from Chichester to tell him and the board where they are
By this stage the board, who are obviously not used to hearing what the
staff think, clearly thought Adriano was off his rocker.
There, in a moment, were Sainsbury’s troubles illuminated for all to
see: a centralised, command-and-control organisation completely out of
touch with its front-line troops, who for their part were too
intimidated by the top-down culture to tell them the truth. Clearly a
nice and decent man, Adriano by this time resembled nothing so much as
the John Major of British retailing circa 1997.
Unlike Major, however, Adriano doesn’t have a book to promote, which is
the only valid reason for participating in fly-on-the-wall
So next time TV executives come a-wooing, just say no.