The tragic mistake that the Co-op keeps making is to try to accommodate itself to the era of unrestrained, crony capitalism just as we need it to prove that its 19th Century mutual values are a plausible alternative to corporate excess.
Euan Sutherland – who resigned this week after the leak of his £3.5m pay package – demonstrated not only a poor fit with the Co-op’s mutual ethos, but a complete lack of the leadership values that will turn round public disaffection with business.
It may have been lame of Sutherland to declare the Co-op “ungovernable” before he’d even attempted to reform it, but this was consistent with an executive whose leadership style had demonstrated – as Will Hutton put it – no understanding of his organisation’s core challenge:
“That challenge is to marry Co-op values with a new and better functioning business model. What is astounding is that it occurred to nobody, not the executives themselves, that by being offered and accepting sums this large the management were trashing the very values they were on a mission to rebuild.”