29 09 2012

Living in a free society we sometimes take things for granted.

The right to share and debate opinions, when and where we holiday, what we do with our leisure time, what we read online, where we work….the list is endless.

Every now and then an opportunity comes along to say thank you to those who gave so much, and continue to give, so we can all enjoy those freedoms we take for granted. The Poppy Run has been just such an opportunity for me and, I hope, for you.

The Poppy Run, now in its second year, is a national series of 5km fun runs aimed at raising funds for and awareness of the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. As part of my annual commitment to support charity I fill the role of National Director for The Poppy Run.

The concept is simple, volunteer local organisers put on a Poppy Run for their community supported centrally in taking entries, ordering resources, managing health and safety and all of those necessarily elements which can add an unwanted administrative burden on the volunteer. Some Poppy Runs attract 50 participants, others over 200 or more and in the future…..who knows.

People who want to take part in a Poppy Run can enter online or by post. Talent isn’t an issue, The Poppy Run is not a race; there are no prizes, just medals for all finishers whether they run, jog, walk or even crawl the 5km route. If you want to take part but don’t fancy the 5km, you can get involved by volunteering to marshal at one of the events.

All Poppy Runs start at the same time, 11.00 a.m. on Sunday 28th October (the last Sunday in October annually), timed to coincide with the official launch of the annual Poppy Appeal.

This year, in only its second year, there are ten Poppy Runs taking place around the country so there is a good chance there is one near you. We are aiming to have more and more Poppy Runs every year at more and more places around the country.

If you are interested in finding out more about organising your own local Poppy Run in 2013, please drop me an email to If you would like to volunteer to marshal at one of this year’s Poppy Runs contact the office at And if you would like to Run To Give For Those Who Gave™ visit and enter today. And if you really don’t want to leave the comfort of your sofa, you can still support The Poppy Run by ordering your Poppy Run T-shirt from the Poppy Run Facebook shop.

Think about those freedoms we all take for granted; how will you say “thank-you” to those who gave so you can continue to enjoy those freedoms today, tomorrow and long into the future?



Twitter: @poppyrun

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


21 11 2011

If recent media reports are to be believed (and people are believing them) then introducing myself in this way now gives me a somewhat lower social standing than, let’s say bankers or estate agents.

However sensationalist newspaper headlines hide a sector which offers much to Britain emerging stronger from our current economic problems and, far from what the media reports claim, the vast majority of us are not out to rip you off!

The problem with modern media news reporting is that very often ‘sensational’ will trump ‘balanced’ and ‘headline’ will frequently beat ‘proper research’.

Take last week’s news that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has run up a £600 million consultants bill and you will see what I mean. Great headline and definitely sensational but how many news carriers that you saw balanced their report by seeking the view of a consultant? How many compared the one ‘shock, horror story’ with the hundreds where good consultants offer exceptional value for money.

It is not as if the good consultants are not prepared to make our case. When the above story broke I contacted the news desks at the BBC, ITV and Sky offering my services (free of charge I add) in order to provide balance to the reporting. Not one of them even acknowledged me let alone replied. I know of colleagues in consultancy with similar tales.

At the last election the public services union Unison ran a poster campaign decrying the money spent on consultants by local government. Not once did they look at cost v benefit, not once did they ask about value. As with the media, I wrote to Unison and offered to discuss what it is that consultants do; the benefits we provide and ways in which (good) consultants will ensure that cost and benefit are carefully weighted from the outset and then monitored as work progresses. Their response? I don’t know; I still haven’t received it.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with the Director of a government quango. We discussed the difference between simple cuts and bigger picture effectiveness, efficiency and economy. We discussed the lack of real consultation with the people footing the bill (the taxpayer) and we talked about how single issue policy costs so much more than properly integrating strategy. “Jim,” he said, “we could do with your services, indeed they (the government) could do with your services but the Minister has made it clear; no consultants.”

I am left wondering at the damage done to my profession by a few bad and greedy consultants who have tarred the decent, honest majority with the same brush. Yet the question that recurs in my mind is the paucity in logic in all of the above thinking by media, unions and now government.

If you employ a specialist to do a job and they get it wrong or overcharge you have (or should have) recourse. Didn’t the people in (eg the MoD) who negotiated these contracts stop and say; “hang on a minute, this looks a bit pricey?” or maybe “our budget is £xx and therefore the job must, contractually, be done within that budget.”

No? Am I alone in thinking these are probably the sort of people who respond to emails from Nigerian princes who have a few million quid they need help moving to Britain? Maybe that was their plan for raising the £600m? A contract is a two-way agreement and while these particular consultants took the proverbial; who was letting them?

I am reminded of another story from last year which, on the basis of a single experience, criticised consultants. Dame Mary Perkins is, by any standards, an extremely successful businesswoman and if you haven’t heard of her, you will have heard of her brand – Specsavers. So when Dame Mary said last year; “I’ll never hire consultants again,” the media were ready with their sensationalist headlines but no one thought to ask a (good) consultant any questions to gain a balanced view.

In a nutshell; the story centred on Specsavers growth into the Netherlands, a move for which a consultant was hired. The consultant’s advice proved to be poor, Dame Mary stepped in and changed course and decided never to use a consultant again (and to tell the world about it).

Consultants being marginally less popular than Satan right now, the media lapped it up however; allow me to put a slightly different take on Dame Mary’s approach:

Imagine I visited an optician for an eye test and received bad advice. Would it be wise, or even moderately sensible, to say that I would never use an optician again? Probably not. How far does that principle apply? Plumbers? Doctors? Mechanics? Consultants?

You tell me.

As in all walks of life there are good consultants, bad consultants and indifferent consultants. As in all walks of life the buyer needs to be aware for the bad and try to seek out the good. If in doubt, ask advice and take references. When drawing up contracts clarify budgets, charges and what will or won’t be included. Ask the consultant how they add value and monitor them against this. Don’t ask the consultant to do jobs your own staff can do at a fraction of the cost – they will charge in the same way you would them, at their going rate.

Consultants can play a key role in helping Britain move forward from our many current issues; economic, social and otherwise. Please, apply a little common sense and don’t ask the good, honest majority to carry the can for few rogues.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, November 2011

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal

Introducing Jim Cowan and Cowan Global

7 05 2010

Hi. I’m Jim Cowan and my company is Cowan Global based in Nottingham in England’s East Midlands. The company has three principal strands of operation; 1) a consultancy specialising in sports and leisure provision and in strategy, 2) event concept, design and management and 3) education and training designing and delivering workshops and seminars in both sporting and corporate worlds.

I am a former athlete (800m runner) who moved to coaching then to business. As a coach I have worked with all abilities from beginners to world record holder/champion as well as coaching performance fitness in professional sports including football (soccer), rugby, motor sport, surfing, basketball, hockey among others.

I have worked with sporting organisations including national governing bodies, clubs, local government and more in the UK and in the Middle East, Africa, Australia, Japan and Europe as well as with services including the Royal Air Force and Police Sport UK.

Our events have ranged from small, local events through to large mass participation events and have included grass-roots and elite sporting events as well as sportsman’s dinners, corporate fun days and charity challenges. Our ethos is that an event should be a) fun, b) easy to understand and c) should benefit at least one section of the community. I’m very proud that, to date, my events have raised over £1/4 Billion for charities and good causes.

Our workshops and seminars include those aimed at coach development and at supporting talented performers realise their talent as well as catering to corporate clients on a range of topics including strategy, time management, team building and more. We also offer a bespoke design service for specialised client need.

My interests, not surprisingly, centre on sport especially athletics, football and motor sport. I am a lifelong Chelsea supporter and follow the McLaren Formula One team. I’m not entirely one-dimensional and also enjoy music, travel, reading, cinema, theatre, dining out, walking and, above all, time with Otis my dog.