It seems unlikely, but Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct, played an absolute blinder at the BIS select committee hearing on working practices at his company yesterday.
He admitted where things had gone wrong. He appeared entirely candid, and truthful. There appeared to be no gloss, no attempt to obfuscate, no, dare I say it, PR spin. And he did it on his own terms. He didn't shy away from admonishing MPs when he felt he was asked unfair questions. There were times when he didn't hide that he was riled. "Keep it positive!" he pleaded at one point.
In fact everyone was so busy falling under his spell nobody got round to asking him why, as the overall boss, he hadn't noticed that there were problems in the first place. He said he couldn't be responsible for the actions of all the staff at a company the size of Sports Direct, and since he wasn't pressed on it (yet surely every company culture starts at the top?) he didn't have to come up with any explanations.
No doubt the video of his appearance is already being shared in boardrooms across the country and will be on the Crisis Comms module of every PR degree soon after.
Sitting beside his PR man, Keith Bishop, Ashley said that his adviser had told him to keep his answers short and not to commit to anything and then promptly proceeded to ignore both suggestions. He admitted to failings. At the end of hearing, the committee chairman askied Ashley whether he would have liked to buy BHS. Bishop said it was unfair question but Ashley blurted out: “I can’t resist. Yes, 100pc, I wanted to buy BHS." Instead of the kind of rehearsed performance we are used to seeing in these situations, Ashley appeared to be getting by on the sheer force of his personality. In many ways it was a bravura performance. At times the MPs' questions had all the force of grapes thrown in front of a runaway steamroller. Ashley gave the impression of being candid, contrite and conciliatory.