Strange, isn’t it, how few annual reports and accounts show pictures of directors using their own products? For example, take the case of HP Bulmer Holdings, the west country cider maker. Its annual report features pictures of chairman Esmond Bulmer, group managing director and chief executive John Rudgard and group finance director Alan Flockhart, all wearing smiles as broad as a Somerset cider farmer’s accent. But not one of them is exercising the elbow. Then there’s the Boots Company, the high street multiple that includes Halfords and Do-It-All under its wing. Admittedly, it might be going a little far to see deputy chairman and chief executive Lord Blyth of Rowington actually rubbing on some efficacious ointment, but couldn’t we see joint group managing director and finance director David Thompson at least lathering up with Boots own-brand shaving cream? Pictures of directors using their own products could certainly make annual reports and accounts more entertaining. Perhaps judges of the Stock Exchange and Chartered Accountants’ (SECA) Annual Awards for Published Accounts ought to give bonus marks for it in future years. But there should be this proviso: information should not be sacrificed for style. The 1999 SECA winners, Boots (in the large company category) and Bulmer (the small company), are both models of informative clarity. Richard Sykes QC, chairman of the judging panel, said Boots scored because of its attention-grabbing qualities. For a start, it is an unusual size – nearly four times as high as it is wide. So it stands out from standard-sized documents on a desk or a doormat. It has some lively colour photography of ordinary people in everyday situations (fixing a car, cleaning teeth) that could involve the use of Boots companies products. At least two of the women seem to have been shopping at Boots – they’re carrying plastic bags, see? Then, there’s the clarity of the information. Statements from the chairman, Sir Michael Angus, the chief executive and the finance director are written in clear English and broken down into topic paragraphs. Angus gets a pat on the back from Sykes for mentioning Year 2000 and EMU in his statement. Where the Boots report really scores though, is with a double page spread that provides an overview of each of the group’s seven operating companies. Logos, briefings, key facts and five year reviews of turnover and operating profit provide a clear snapshot of how each part of the group is performing. And all this is picked up effectively in subsequent pages which explore each of the operating companies in detail – again breaking down the descriptive narrative into clearly labelled topic paragraphs. The statutory information part of the report benefits from similar clarity. An especially useful feature is its own contents page, which provides an at-a-glance guide to where to find the detail about, for example, group cash flow or directors’ remuneration. With a £310m turnover, HP Bulmer is a large “small company”. The judges especially liked a statement of company objectives on the inside front cover. The Bulmer annual report has a similar clarity in its structure to the Boots version, with good signposting of topics, clear jargon-free English and an easy-to-follow layout. The photography consists of full-page plates of products (although even Cartier-Bresson would be up against it to make a can of cider look interesting) and a job lot of small pictures showing the company at work, from the orchard to the brewery. A key point about the Bulmer report is how the company’s values come through strongly. The objectives statement is a start, and the report contains comprehensive information on employee involvement and development, issues which Bulmer clearly regards as important. It also takes the trouble to list long-service employees, with the chairman and chief executive mentioned last, which is a nice egalitarian touch. And the report lists the members of its employee council. Many reports make the right noises about their employees but they too often come across as an after-thought. From pictures of employees at work to the mention of its Investors in People award, the Bulmer report makes you feel it really does care. Richard Sykes, who stands down as the awards’ judging panel chairman this year, says that annual reports and accounts are much improved since he first became involved with them, 17 years ago. It may even not be long before directors smile for the cameras, and pose using their products.
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