Archive for January, 2013

After managing to summit a tiny peak, Toubkal, in Africa, last October, I felt completely inadequate reading about Tori James’ ascent of Everest in today’s Western Mail.


On top of the world: Tori James, the first Welsh woman to conquer Everest

Everest is over twice the height of my little mountain and Tori’s story is quite amazing. It tells of her facing the Death Zone on Everest where so many climbers have lost their lives. Her account of struggling with fear and illness on the ascent makes for compelling reading.

It is heartening to discover that a key incentive for carrying on when she was considering giving up was that she “wanted to make Wales, my friends and family proud.”

She was helped by listening to music performed by our famous Welsh artists and inspired by the Welsh rugby team’s unexpected win against England at the Millennium Stadium that year.

I suggest that every member of the Welsh Squad reads the Western Mail today to be motivated by this truly extraordinary feat, by a 5 foot 2, 30-year-old Welsh heroine. Tori, you are a truly wonderful example of Welsh courage, tenacity and pure guts to summit the world’s highest peak – well done!

wales rugby fansAs a supporter of the Blues and our boys in the hallowed red shirt over many years, I was delighted to hear in today’s Western Mail of the WRU’s decision to lower prices for the Six Nations’ matches next year.

From attending every home game until recently, I have been very concerned about the gradual increase of ticket prices.  However well or badly the team are playing, supporters should only expect to pay a reasonable sum the games, not be exploited.  As we have seen last season, seats will remain empty if the prices are too high in these difficult economic times, however entertaining the games are.  Well done to those advising the WRU on a move that will tick many boxes with the fans and clubs.

The timing of the PR is perfect bearing in mind Saturday’s game against the Irish team.  Good luck Wales and let’s see a real bounce back from the disappointments of last autumn.  We are behind you.

nicole cookeAs we read in today’s Western Mail of the remarkable career of Wick’s cycling heroine Nicole Cooke, I do believe that she ranks among the greatest Welsh sportswomen ever.  She must have that bit of Welsh magic which helps make our World Champions.

It is sad that she reports of a ‘sport currently in turmoil over doping’, and of the infamous Lance Armstrong, once one of my own heroes until he admitted taking drugs to enhance his performance.  I do hope that we shall soon see an end to this unfortunate chapter in a wonderful sports history.

As a modest oarsman I remember the dilemma, which my rowing partner and I had at an International Rowing event in Seville when we sipped a few mouth fulls of the well known supplement Red Bull, as to whether we would be tested for drugs if we won our race (which we didn’t by the way!)  How times have changed it seems, with drugs being taken in so many sports.

Let’s hope that one of the legacies of Nicole’s remarkable career will be that young sports men and women can see that if you have the dedication, talent, good coaching and commitment, you can win at the highest level without taking drugs.  Have a super retirement Nicole and thanks for the memories, especially of that final 50 metres in Beijing when you had the whole of Wales and GB rooting for you as you crossed the line to take Wales’ first individual gold medal in 2008.

Breakfast ClubGraeme Yorston, Chief Executive of the Principality group, was our first speaker of 2013. He addressed a packed audience at this morning’s event, kindly sponsored by our long-standing host venue, the St David’s Hotel & Spa.

Principality is the largest building society in Wales, and the 7th largest in the UK. The Group comprises of 4 businesses, covering the building society, lettings agent Peter Alan, personal loans and commercial lending. Graeme joined in 2006 as Chief Operations Officer after many successful years with Abbey National (now Santander), becoming Chief Executive in October 2012. His in-depth experience in the sector leaves him very well placed to discuss “how we got to where we are” economically, as well as the key differences between mutuals and PLCs, and the importance of engaging with local communities.

Graeme began by reading a letter from a disgruntled bank customer that demonstrated public attitudes and frustrations towards banks. Many of these hit home with the audience – yet Graeme revealed the letter was actually 15 years old. So, he asked, what has changed?

While “not here to knock banking”, Graeme outlined just some of the issues that had “battered” the sector during 2012, including the PPI scandal and the introduction of complex dual regulations. He suggested that the cultures at the heart of our current situation must be “reset and rebased” in order to repair it – something that will take a long time.

Graeme Yorston, chief executive of Principality

Graeme Yorston, chief executive of Principality

He took the opportunity to outline how building societies are different from banks. At its very roots, Principality is “a safe place to deposit savings, to help people to enter the housing market”. As a mutual it has no shareholders; “every member is an owner, and every member has a vote”. Another key difference is their approach to profit. Building societies look for profit optimisation rather than maximisation, endeavoring to make enough profit to protect the business’s capital, and then looking to return value to members.

This return of value drives Principality’s commitment to community involvement, something Graeme said is “expected from businesses” at the moment. Principality invests a huge amount of time, effort and resources into its community commitment schemes, supporting community groups (such as Only Boys Aloud) and key cultural events like the Eisteddfod and Royal Welsh Show. It is so closely associated with rugby (as sponsor of the premiership) that many believe it to be the sponsor of the Wales team!

Principality also conduct research in order to respond directly to members’s concerns such as the survival of the high street, an “absolutely key place to do business”. Principality has upped its physical presence and representation in Wales, combining branches to “use assets more intelligently”.  Principality also invests in education, with a comprehensive work experience scheme that promises to take on 4 students a year from its two partner schools.

In the future, Graeme sees “definite opportunities” to grow. The Group will look to grow outside of Wales, although this will be done primarily through their e-channel. The Group brand is “very powerful” in Wales, and trust in building societies remains “strong”, leaving Graeme optimistic. Headlines concerning the industry as a whole have also improved in recent weeks, although the dramatic “rebasing” of cultures still needs to be achieved. In all, the industry is making steps along a positive path – but we may be in for a bumpy ride.


AH-002-Cardiff-BayIt gave me the greatest of pleasure to read the various headlines in Sion Barry’s excellent ‘Business in Wales’ section of today’s Western Mail.

‘Christmas sales jump 13% at John Lewis’, ‘484,224 businesses started in 2012, 10% more than in 2011’, ‘Welsh firms (not fims!!) growing in confidence says Lloyds’ and ‘Manufacturing returns to growth with highest output for 15 months’.

Would it not be wonderful for these positive signs about the economy to continue to raise confidence about 2013 and indicate perhaps that we, at last, are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

As further proof of the positive times ahead, the only advertisement on Sion’s pages was to announce next week’s Cardiff Breakfast Club (which we organise by the way!), where Graeme Yorston, Chief Executive of the Principality Group will address the members on the following topic; “2013; Reasons to be cheerful”.  If you want to come, please contact Sally on or 02920 549597.FE_DA_RecessionOver_0921425x283

Let’s hope that the optimism shown by Graeme and all those who contributed to Sion’s articles in today’s Western Mail is realised and that, in 2013, we really will see the economy in the UK, and importantly here in Wales, start to motor once again.