Lucy Kellaway (FT since 1985)
In the early 1990s, in the days when the FT still saw itself as a fine, upstanding newspaper of record, I wrote a story about the hopeless fashion sense of Britain’s grandest captains of industry. I thought the piece was pretty good, though this was not a majority view. Martin Wolf took me to one side to tell me that I misunderstood the FT’s unique selling point (USP), which was to be boring. Sir Richard Greenbury, the then boss of M&S, didn’t like the article either, though in his case it was because I’d said Sir Richard could be forgiven for looking awful as was obliged to wear his company’s frumpy clothing.
He sent me one of his famously furious letters, in which he made the following declaration: “I have never worn an M&S suit in my life”, or words to that effect. This was a year or two after Gerald Ratner had caused his company’s near collapse by saying his jewelry was “total crap”, and as I read the letter I thought that the downfall of M and S might be nigh. This was quite something for me: my first (and as it turned out my only) big scoop. Alas, it turned out that the FT’s real USP was not so much boring as being blameless. I was told by my editors that we couldn’t use the material: it was contained in a private letter.