This week, Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley met with MPs on the Business Committee to discuss the treatment of his employees. In justifying his actions, he stated: 'I'm not father Christmas, I'm not saying I'll make the world wonderful' and 'I can't be responsible for everything that goes on at Sports Direct' among other interesting - and at times ridiculous - comments.
Usually in such situations, we would expect a sensible and conservative PR performance - one of deep regret, which was rigorously rehearsed. However, Ashley really didn't seem to play by the rules. He was bashful, awkwardly upfront and at times cringe-worthy.
Yet, rather surprisingly, the very nature of his performance may have deterred MPs from giving him the hard questions we would expect. Instead, they hardly even nailed down why these workplace issues occurred in the first place.
Which makes me question - was Mike advised to deliberately act out in this way in order to deflect responsibility for this actions?
Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct, is not media trained. We know this because he repeatedly said as much at the BIS select committee hearing on working practices at his company. "How would you media train me?" he asked, not unreasonably. Sitting beside his PR man, Keith Bishop, he proudly mixed his biological metaphors to declare: “I’m going to put my foot in my mouth and say what’s in my heart.” He was as good as his word. 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: “Sports Direct has to pull its socks up. Simple as that, fellas." Then he remembered that a third of the committee were women. “Not just fellas, girls. Sorry.” At the time he was answering questions about sexual harassment in the workplace.