An acute Christmas mental health crisis helped what became Marley’s Logistics drive a programme of strategic change, brand realignment and sustained long-term growth.
Seven years after the tragic death of co-founder Jacob Marley the company found itself in a sorry state. Trade was brisk and the surviving founder personally wealthy, but he and his business were also universally despised.
“We were in a dark place, stuck in the old ways of doing things,” recalls Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley’s CEO, in a rare interview to launch autobiography, “Miserly, me?”. “We were focussed entirely on the bottom line, on bean counting, with no strategic vision, corporate identity or mission.”
“This was having a profound psychological effect on me, which in turn was impacting on my business,” says a lean, turtlenecked Scrooge shifting on an outsized orange beanbag in Marley’s “Visioneering Lab”. Along one wall it says, “Learning from the past” and on the other “Making the future”.
“I was working hard but not smart. I was dealing with unresolved issues after Jake [cofounder Jacob Marley] passed away. I just followed him in penny-pinching on staff welfare and public relations,” Scrooge continues, his wiry frame becoming agitated.
“We brought in the consultants, scarily out of this world consultants, giving them total freedom. They helped us brainstorm all the possible worst case scenarios, looking to the past, present and future. It was a harrowing experience, I do not mind telling you.”
He was unwilling to go into the specifics of their findings, saying that the information was “commercially and personally sensitive”. But he says the stakeholders included himself, as well as PA Bob Cratchit and his son Tiny Tim, who was seriously ill at the time.
“Their conclusion was simple: We needed to calibrate our Christmas cheer as a strategic business decision, from me down to workers and their families and, crucially, for our investors.” We needed to build a Christmas value proposition which all stakeholders could buy into.
I ask, tentatively, how he answers accusations that the corporate Christmas revamp was not simply an attempt to improve his company’s poor public image and to create a positive personal legacy for himself? This elicits a sharp intake of breath and a steely look over frameless spectacles.
“I resent that accusation. Look up there,” he says, pointing to a photo of Scrooge photographed with a smiling boy on the wall. “Anyone who critises me should look at that young boy up there, Tiny Tim. He would not be around without me.” In a dozen other photos he pats children on the head.
“As for my legacy, rebranding the business Marley’s was surely acknowledgement enough of where that stood.” He adds that extensive polling suggested that the Scrooge brand was, as he puts it, “irreparable”. He looks fixedly at the wall clenching his jaw breathing heavily, entering a meditative trance.
Scrooge’s long time PA and publicity director Bob Cratchit tapped on the door and ushered me out. A television crew was gathering outside the glass door, preparing for the next in a heavy round of interviews.
“He can be kind of grumpy. I hope you got what you needed,” Cratchit murmurs as I leave. “He means well.” The struggle to salvage Scrooge’s legacy is unfinished. ■