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A rose by any other name

Chris Froome, the British-Kenyan cyclist, yesterday suffered a freak accident, leaving him in intensive care. He is one of many superstars working for Team Ineos. They were previously Team Sky and although not a fan, I knew what Sky did. Ineos, not so much; fracking perhaps?

Names are important, they matter, or at least they should. I think that when naming, or increasingly, renaming a company, some thought should go into making its name understandable, some major clues should be given as to what a company actually does.

Have a look at Accenture, for example. If you click on ‘about’ on their website, you are informed about how it works with its clients and how it is cutting its environmental footprint. Lovely, but what do you actually do?

The first sentence of its Wikipedia entry says: “A multinational professional services company that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations.” That’s better.

It is easy to pick on Accenture, which was called Andersen Consulting until a 2001 rebranding. For one thing, it is proof that changing your name to something meaningless and widely mocked is no guarantee of failure.

Also, it is far from the only firm that fails the Wikipedia test, meaning it is easier to find out what it does from the online encyclopedia than its own website or name.

It was not always like this. For a lesson in corporate simplicity, have a look at the companies that made up the FT30 stock market index in 1935. You knew where you were with a group like Dunlop Rubber. There was no need to guess about United Steel or London Brick, let alone the Austin Motor Company or Associated Portland Cement.

Acronyms: the company CRH supplies stuff like cement and asphalt to the construction industry, though you might not guess that from its website, which says it offers “highly-engineered products that close the building envelope and that provide expert solutions for construction projects”.

A serious objection to this twaddle is that it makes it harder for investors to understand what they are investing in. For companies themselves, having a sensible, relevant name saves on marketing costs, especially for a newer business.

They can surely do better, especially when the internet means names must do extra work as a web address, preferably one that draws traffic and, therefore, revenues.

Relying on three useless letters has not bothered DHL, JBL, YKK or other businesses that have lasted in one form or another for decades. It is possible to succeed with a name such as Google, Uber and other such nonsense, but I think it always preferable to be a company whose name tells you what it does.


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