Category Archives: Lifestyle

Manifesto makes a point

The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos will be published next week. These will provide an invaluable resource for insomniacs and political anoraks around the country, as well as giving us an insight into the likely policy priorities of the next Government.

Manifestos are necessarily limited in what they cover, with the infamous exception of Labour’s 1983 offering, “the longest suicide note in history”. They are usually confined to broad policy statements and worded with enough ambiguity to allow future ministers a liberal interpretation of what exactly are their commitments.

But elections also provide an opportunity for outside interests to enter the policy debate. That’s why the run-up to the General Election has seen various businesses and campaign organisations put forward their own manifestos, visions and policy demands.

One valuable contribution comes from vaccine manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur MSD’s manifesto, Putting vaccines at the heart of health care. It calls for a full-scale review of vaccination policy to give it a more central role in the provision of health care.

In his first speech as Health Secretary in June 2009, Andy Burnham said that prevention is a “long-term insurance policy against spending challenges”. The focus, however, has been on attempting to change life-style choices. No one is arguing against this, but if policy makers want to enhance prevention, then greater importance should be given to vaccination, which is a far more effective means of preventing ill-health than relying on people to change their eating and drinking habits.

Vaccination can prevent more than 20 infectious diseases and has helped eradicate smallpox. Only the provision of safe water has done more than vaccines to reduce mortality. But too often it is seen as something that is only for children. The NHS Choices website lists 17 vaccines (including next stage doses and boosters) that are offered routinely to “everyone” in the UK. Yet only two, flu and pneumonia, are for adults.

Our immune systems decline with age, which leads to more frequent and more severe infections. And with the over-60s population predicted to increase by 160% between 1999 and 2050, increasing infections in the older population will increase the burden on the NHS.

That’s why Sanofi’s manifesto echoes the calls of European health academics for a “life course” approach to vaccination. Vaccination programmes should start from 50 years of age, before age-related decline in the immune system begins. The recent approval by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation for a shingles vaccine to be available on the NHS, albeit from the age of 70, is a start. This could help reduce the incidence of this debilitating disease by half, and thereby save the NHS care costs.

Judging by the three-way bun-fight between Andy Burnham and his Conservative and Lib Dem shadows, Andrew Lansley and Norman Lamb on Newsnight yesterday, the election campaign is unlikely to see serious debate on the future of health policy.

Officials and health professionals will read Sanofi’s manifesto with care but will politicians get the point about vaccination? Perhaps when the election is over, they will read other people’s manifestos.

Pleasure yourself. We do!

What is the perfect job? Apple gadget tester? Guinness taster? Most of us have a dream job, but in almost all cases it remains just that: a fantasy. But if you could set up a company and do exactly what you want, how you want, when you want, what would it be like? Well, we did and we called it Altitude.

A little over two years ago, towards the end of a second bottle of merlot, the conversation changed from “what if?” to “how?”, and the concept of Altitude was born. Three firm friends, who had worked together nearly 20 years ago, each with very different and complementary skills and personalities, decided to stop working for other people and to work for themselves.

We stole all the experience from one of our friends, who had done it five years earlier, and just seven weeks from that first conversation we registered our company. By then, we had already drawn up a five-year plan, setting our long-term objectives and goals and worked out the strategies, measures and targets (OGSMT) that would get us there. It may seem little over the top for a three-person consultancy, but it has given us focus and a framework in which to operate. Our OGSMT has barely changed since, other than to add a “J” for “Joy” to the end, of which more later.

It has never been about money: it is about choosing a way of living. Altitude is a lifestyle consultancy: a company created, for better or for worse, in our own image, allowing us to be and to do what we please in our own, idiosyncratic way. Providing a professional, top-notch service is, of course, paramount and we never compromise on the quality of our work. But that leaves our consciences clear when we mess about the rest of the time.

We have clearly-defined roles which play to our individual strengths. The Chairman is also Fire Warden, for instance. And we have a Company Secretary, Director of Finance, Director of IT, Director of Design, Director of HR, Director of New Business, Director of Grammar, Head of Car Hire, Chief Wine Taster, Health and Safety Officer and a Grand Pooh-Bah of Joy. Our diminutive consultant is also Stationery Manager, Women’s Officer, Head of Diversity and Small Business Manager.

We allow sufficient space for very different ways of working. So Altitude accommodates anally-retentive control-freakiness (Steve), fence-sitting forgetfulness (Tony) and deliberating, accident-prone introversion (Richard). Our flexible working arrangements provide ample scope for Richard to come to work an hour later than the others (despite getting up an hour earlier), and more holidays than you can shake a stick at.

We do everything by consensus. If we don’t agree there are several dispute-resolution mechanisms. The first is to browbeat the others into submission (the Steve approach); the second is to think about things for a very, very, very long time and then decide you don’t really care either way (the Richard approach); the third is rock-paper-scissors (the Tony approach – which he persists with despite never winning). When it comes to clients, each of us has a veto, though Richard can’t conceive of any circumstances in which he would ever exercise his.

We have half-yearly strategic business performance reviews, which have so far taken place in Krakow, Bruges and Rome. The next one, in June, is in Berlin and happily coincides with the World Cup and the appearance of big screens in beer gardens.

We always – and I mean always – look for the ridiculous and the humour in everything. We are relentless in exploiting each other’s weaknesses, winding each other up and playing tricks. This approach extends to our favoured clients, one of which we won while playing word bingo – seeing who could get the most words associated with his name into our pitch.

In fact, everything we do must be underpinned with Joy. So we have a Joy Agenda, directed by the Grand Pooh-Bah of Joy (Tony), with a Joy Budget and a Joy Index (with measured targets) within our five-year OGSMTJ. The aim is to exploit anything with Joytential. We have a range of Joy activities, many of which are conceived and executed at the Punch Tavern, including our annual Christmas party and our inter-client pub quiz. The long-planned Altitude Joy Olympics has been delayed due to holidays, but a dazzling opening ceremony will be followed by pool, darts, bowling, pinball, the quiz machine and other sporting events.

It may seem that we are a bunch of overgrown kids, and I suppose we are. But we are also running a business that has won, retained and expanded some prestige clients because of the utter reliability of the work we do for them. We only live once and we want to have fun in the time we spend at work. And how cool is it to start up and run a company and do exactly as you please with it?

Very cool. Take it from us.