The puppeteers



They shape your record collection, influence your clothes, make sure your kettle boils - even get your children to pester you. Meet the invisible men and women who pull the strings in your life

Saturday June 21, 2008
The Guardian

She picked out your underwear this morning ...

Soozie Jenkinson, head of lingerie at Marks & Spencer

With 20 million bras and 50 million knickers sold every year, Jenkinson probably has something in your knicker drawer. As a strategist for M&S's lingerie design, she decides what British women are wearing to hold it in and push it up.

"We look to the catwalks, at what celebrities are wearing, magazine influences, the red carpet," she says. Currently working on ranges for summer 2009, she also keeps an eye open for fashion moments that could translate into sales within weeks. "What Amy Winehouse is wearing today - the red bra or the 50s style - is something our customers might want quickly from us - some ranges can be in store within three months."

As the infamous Jeremy Paxman letter showed, people care about M&S underwear. "Lingerie is pretty much my life 24/7," Jenkinson says. "In the back of a cab, at dinner parties, people share their intimate views on lingerie and what they'd like us to provide for them."

Fulfilment, she says, comes from knowing she has affected individual lives - letters of thanks after the launch of post-surgery bras, for example. And she feels her influence, too - when she told journalists that the bra range would extend to a J-cup, they'd sold out on the web within three days.
Ros Anderson

Curse him when you are struggling with flat-pack furniture ...

Gillis Lundgren, furniture designer

A reclusive Swedish pensioner is an unlikely British design hero, but there's no doubting the impact that Lundgren has made on our homes. As designer of the Billy bookcase, one of Ikea's bestselling products, he has had more of an influence on our home lives than anyone before or since. He was Ikea's fourth employee and, as legend had is, the man who in 1952 suggested pulling the legs off a table and thus inventing the flat-pack.

Billy is a masterstroke of design: cheap; simple enough not to compete with the books it houses; sturdy; flexible. It appeared on these shores in 1987, with the opening of Ikea's first UK store in Warrington, and remains unchanged. Overnight, ornate Victorian bookcases were replaced by clean European shelving, making us all seem a touch more intellectual and urbane - and our ceilings look higher.
Hannah Booth

She puts the books on your bookshelf ...

Caroline Mileham, books category manager at Borders

Ask Mileham if she thinks she can make or break an author, and the answer is an emphatic yes. As well as buying in all the chain's books, she decides which titles receive such sales-transforming treatments as multi-buys (three for two), straight discounts or simply being given a prominent position in the stores. "The right title, with the right promotion, can result in a sales uplift of between 500% and 1,000%."

Borders first arrived in Britain in 1998 when it acquired Books Etc, and now has an 8% share of the UK market, competing with Waterstone's and WH Smith. But with Borders it's not only the bankable authors who feel the benefit of savvy promotion. "What's way more interesting is drawing customers towards something more obscure - say with our Greatest Authors You've Never Read campaign. Left-field titles are more rewarding to get behind, as they're the ones that have the potential to change the market." Freakonomics is one market-transforming title Borders helped push into the bestsellers list, having frequently featured it as lead offer of the week.

But ambitious publishers take note: no amount of schmoozing or money can buy a title the coveted promotional spot. "Publishers might support us by helping us produce point-of-sale material or advertising for a promotion," she says, "but I'll never choose a title if I don't believe in it. My career in books began as a Saturday girl, working on the shop floor, telling customers what's good. Essentially, that's what I'm still doing now. Just on a bigger scale." And with a much bigger budget.
Jenny McIvor

It's his fault your children pester you ...

Dr Michael Shore, psychologist

Shore has spent the past 15 years at Mattel Inc, the world's largest toy company, talking to children and parents about the world of play. He's almost certainly responsible for the toys your child will nag you for this Christmas and, as vice-president over worldwide consumer insights, he heads a team of 30 researchers who consult children at every stage of a toy's development. "It's a pretty unique process," he says, "because our focus is on a group of people who are very different from us. You can feel disconnected from your audience when you're sitting behind a desk, so we're Mattel's ambassadors to kids." Shore's department interviews 100,000 children worldwide every year, seeking inspiration for new toys, refining concepts and keeping up to date iconic toys such as Barbie (the Barbie line is still responsible for more than 80% of Mattel's profits).

He finds it virtually impossible to name a favourite Mattel toy (the company's range includes Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels and Matchbox) - "Oh, God, this is like trying to pick your favourite son" - but he recalls with fondness the remote-control Tyco Terrain Twister and the Diva Starz range of dolls. "I know how much I got out of toys when I was young," he says, "and I'm very aware of how my work shapes the development of children."
Rhodri Marsden

You care about Brad and Angelina because of him ...

Darryn Lyons, photo agent

Received wisdom may say it is editors who decide what celebrity pictures appear in their papers. In reality, it's got more to do with Lyons, the man behind Big Pictures. In the 16 years since he set up the company, it has become the world's biggest celebrity picture agency, driving the British public's apparently insatiable hunger for celebrity-focused stories, upgrading them from showbiz section fodder to the front page, and fuelling the emergence of a new genre - the celeb magazine.

Lyons is clear about what gave Big Pictures its edge. "I was the first to concentrate on the long lens approach, which created context around an image, allowing editors to tell a story through pictures alone." Major scoops, such as the first shot of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together, or David Beckham exiting a club with Rebecca Loos, bring in big money (£1m and "hundreds of thousands of pounds" respectively), but for Lyons it's not just about the thrill of the exposé, it's about the way in which pap pics - Sienna Miller in that dress, Kate Moss carrying that bag - drive the aspirational lifestyle economy. "The fashion industry totally relies on celeb culture, and that's a big factor in dictating who I do or don't make famous. I'm the greatest PR man in the world!"
Jenny McIvor

If you're stuck in traffic, blame him ...

Derek Turner, network operations director, the Highways Agency

Turner does not have an enviable job. His daily task is to soothe the rising irritation among Britain's drivers by streamlining repairs on our motorways and trunk roads. With his seven regional directors, he manages everything from simple re-routing to emergency planning in the event of a national crisis, and does so while dealing with a constant rise in traffic on the roads - 12% between 1997 and 2006, according to a report in January. "The network is like a saturated sponge," he says. "You add a drop at the top, and a drop emerges at the bottom. We have, arguably, the busiest road network in Europe - perhaps the world - and the increasing number of cars and lorries using it obviously accelerates maintenance problems." And congestion time, too; according to the Highways Agency, a road closure of just one hour will create a tailback of three miles.

Incredibly, Turner says the Highways Agency helpline does occasionally receive calls from members of the public complimenting it on its work, for which Turner is grateful. "It's a plate-spinning job," he says, "because, sadly, you can't please all the people all the time."
Rhodri Marsden

You've roasted this man's chickens ...

Nigel Joice, poultry farmer

"I've never knowingly eaten one of my own chickens," says Joice from his Norfolk farm, "but I'm pretty sure I have." Joice supplies five million birds a year to the UK market, and his customers include the likes of Tesco and Morrisons.

He is one of the largest independent chicken farmers in the UK, and if you have ever bought a pack of chicken breasts from either of those shops, then there is a very strong chance you will have digested the relentless labours of Joice and his staff. "The first thing I do after opening my eyes in the morning and putting on the kettle is to check all the computer systems in the sheds," he says. Then it's down to the farm. "Nothing replaces the eyes, ears and nose when you are raising animals."

Joice has spent the past week tending to the 400,000 day-old chicks delivered to him directly from his local hatchery. The new influx brings to around 800,000 his total number of birds, all of which spend their lives in computer-monitored barns. And in a country that eats 832 million chickens a year, Joice's role is pivotal, although controversial, because his birds are not free range. "There are critics out there who think we should be," he says, possibly referring to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's high-profile Chicken Out! campaign. "But it costs more to keep birds outdoors as they require more feed to stay warm. I could buy four of my chickens for the cost of one organic chicken."

He insists that welfare is a number one priority. "I am a firm believer that if I keep my chickens in the correct environment, they will reward me with good performance." By which he means good meat.
Becky Barnicoat

She makes sure you land safely ...

Gretchen Burrett, safety director at Heathrow airport

Around 1,350 flights a day pass through the UK's busiest airport, Heathrow, and many thousands more arrive and depart at the UK's other airports. As director of safety at Nats (National Air Traffic Services) - the UK's main air traffic control organisation - Burrett's job is to ensure they all take off and land safely. She does this by constantly monitoring the UK's airspace (it stops halfway across the Channel, North Sea and Atlantic), and making sure that air traffic controllers and pilots communicate effectively.

"The airspace is a bit like a giant motorway in the sky. We can add lanes or remove them, but only if we are sure it's safe. To do this, we consult all stakeholders: aviation experts, consumers, people who live under flight paths, airlines." The latter feed back to her about changing consumer tastes - more people want direct flights now - or forthcoming destinations: it's her job to see if these demands can be safely met. If they can't, she vetoes them.

Does this put airlines' backs up? "You'd think so, but no. They're as passionate about safety as we are." She even tells airlines if there's room for improvement - for example, training pilots to communicate better with air traffic controllers.

Burrett is currently implementing a "London lower altitude radar service" - a buffer zone around the controlled airspace above London to prevent private aircraft drifting in front of Boeing 747s. It all sounds terribly responsible. "I take it seriously, but it's not daunting. It's the most fun job I've ever had.
Hannah Booth

He stops your toilet overflowing ...

Phill Mills, deputy chief executive of Water UK

Below our feet and out of sight lies a vast system that keeps us alive. Before sewers were laid 200 years ago, human waste went straight into drinking water, and cholera and other diseases killed one child out of two before the age of five. "There's an old saying," Mills says, "that engineers have saved more lives than doctors."

With no chief inspector for sewers, Mills is the nearest we have to a national voice, advising on all issues related to sewage and improving policy on drinking water quality. Nearly half a million miles of mains and sewers are buried beneath the ground - that's enough to stretch to the moon and back, and 200 times longer than the UK's entire motorway network. But the system isn't perfect. Most sewers are designed to take all surface water, but with population growth and changing weather patterns, they can easily be flooded by just an inch of rain.

People's thoughtlessness doesn't help, either - congealed cooking oil, poured down the sink, say, costs Thames Water £6m a year to remove. "People use their toilet as a wet wastepaper bin," he says. "There is a 'flush and forget' mentality." With 6,000 incidents a year of blocked sewers spewing sewage into people's gardens and living rooms, we may have to change our habits.
Rose George

He puts the coffee in your cup ...

Coleman Cuff, chief coffee buyer, Starbucks

Not even the most committed caffeine addict drinks 500 cups of coffee a day, but that's an average morning for US-born Cuff. It can be up to 800 cups. "We make it black, slurp it off a spoon and spit it out, just like wine tasting," he says.

Love it or hate it, Starbucks is hard to avoid, serving two million of us in the UK each week. With a handful of traders, each covering a different growing region, Coleman selects the beans that become a Starbucks brew. "Our biggest suppliers are from Costa Rica, Guatemala and Colombia," he says. "I look for different characteristics, because most of our coffees are blends. East African beans, say, have a bright acidity, whereas Indonesian beans have a heavy body. You need a combination." The most popular Starbucks coffee in the UK is the espresso roast, a blend from Latin America and Asia/Pacific.

Cuff has been tasting coffee for 17 years. Doesn't it ever get a bit, well, samey? "It's never boring, things change all the time - crop harvests, weather, consumer tastes. People get into this business and never leave. It's great to be involved in such an everyday product."
Hannah Booth

He sold you your music collection ...

Nick Gatfield, head of A&R at EMI

Gatfield employs a legion of talent-spotters - some still in college - to help him get inside a teenager's head. "I suppose the significant record sales come from people over 25," he muses, "but the people driving the trends are 16."

Gatfield, who played keyboard and sax in Dexy's Midnight Runners for three years, claims to have "no credibility" with 16-year-olds himself, but his network of spies and his self-proclaimed "punter's taste" have helped him become one of the most influential people in the music business. Gatfield has broken everyone from Pet Shop Boys, Radiohead and Portishead to Mika, Sugababes and Amy Winehouse. He claims only a small part in their success, though. "I grew up appreciating big chart hits, and if a song pleases me, I'm fairly confident it will please most of the population. But it's not just about the music. It's the whole package: the X factor.

"Amy Winehouse is a classic example. I'd heard a couple of her songs before I met her and they had blown me away. I remember thinking: 'Please be great.' She was a force of nature. I knew immediately she was someone I had to be ambitious with."

Gatfield has a clear idea on what makes a great artist. "I look for aptitude and commitment, for people who would be making records with or without a record deal. I firmly believe that great talent always surfaces. I just follow an artist's vision and support them in any way I can."
Becky Barnicoat

She decides whose TV adverts you see ...

Jill Kerslake, sales operations director at ITV

Each month Kerslake has to figure out how to shoehorn 8,500 campaigns into 150,000 different advertising slots. It's as easy as grappling with "a huge Rubik's cube", she says. Advertisers battle to take the prime viewing spaces - the final episode of Britain's Got Talent, for example, pulled in 13m viewers, all potential consumers. But Kerslake has to consider not only which of 15 target audience groups will be watching each programme, but also keep an eye on ever-changing TV ratings to ensure that she's treating every advertiser fairly. As her work is heavily regulated, she works with a large team who check and recheck every aspect of each campaign. But it is unexpected events that pose the biggest challenges.

"Who would have thought, a year ago, that we'd have had two domestic teams in the Champions League Final?" she says. "Suddenly there's massive competition for those breaks. Conversely, after a terrible event such as 7/7, we have to be careful which ads we run when normal programming resumes, showing sensitivity to both our customers - the advertisers - and, of course, the viewing public."
Rhodri Marsden

Your kettle boils thanks to him ...

Jon Fenn, electricity operations manager for the National Grid

Fenn's role is so crucial to the smooth running of the country that, for security reasons, he can't even disclose the location of the control room where he and his 200-strong team monitor the delivery of power to England, Wales and Scotland.

But he can reveal what it looks like. "It's dominated by a huge screen about 40ft wide by 14ft tall, showing a diagram of all the high-voltage circuits in the country. It's a mission control-type layout, with banks of screens giving information about how the system is performing. It's very calm and professional - no running around and shouting."

As electricity can't be stored, it's Fenn's task to match supply with demand from second to second. Not an easy task. When 12.6 million viewers tuned in last spring to see Coronation Street's Tracy Barlow jailed for murder, at the end of the episode the National Grid saw an electricity surge of 1,600 megawatts - equivalent to 650,000 kettles being boiled at the same time.

During the floods of last year, Fenn was awarded the MBE for his work in keeping the system up and running - but having planned meticulously up to seven years in advance, he can always be certain that when we turn on the kettle, the water will boil.
Rhodri Marsden

He tells you the news ...

Steve Herrmann, BBC News website manager

"I don't feel as if I wield a huge amount of power," Herrmann says modestly - but 5.5 million people rely on him each day to collate the BBC's news output on to Britain's most popular news website and give them an instant snapshot of the day's events. "My job," he says, "is to join up all the dots: regional, national, international and current affairs. Sitting in the middle of it, it feels as if I'm networking - massively - between all these bits and making sure they're firing on all cylinders."

Launched in 1997, the site now averages around 15 million visitors each month worldwide. Herrmann has 150 journalists working with him, as well as an enormous "distributed network" of journalists across the world who indirectly provide content. As stories are placed on to the site, he can see instantly which ones the public are interested in. "That granular level of feedback is unique to the medium, and very addictive to watch. But while we take into account the audience's agenda, we have to ensure that it informs what we do, rather than dictates what we do."

Herrmann's other challenge is to combine depth, detail and background with immediacy. "Of course it's more important to be right than quick. But we can't afford to be slow - and that's partly what makes it such an amazing medium to work in."
Rhodri Marsden

Mobile signal driving you mad? He's responsible ...

Derek McManus, chief technology officer at O2

We assume our mobile phones will work wherever we might be, and are furious when they don't. It's the job of McManus, with more than 2,000 engineers across Britain, to minimise those moments when we're left without reception. "Some of them roam the country making calls on the network," he says, "identifying problems and ensuring everything is working as it should be." O2 is our biggest source provider. Chances are if you're not with them, you regularly talk to someone who is. Their service matters.

Having joined the fledgling industry more than 20 years ago, McManus has seen coverage spread to such remote spots as Scotland's Highlands and islands. "We combine survey data with information telling us where people use their phones; for example, we provide extra coverage in Wimbledon because of a high concentration of customers. But we have also put up a mast in a remote village near Merthyr Tydfil after negotiations with the local council." Sensitivity towards the thorny subject of masts in urban areas also plays a part. "We listen to the communities and try to reach a compromise where we can provide our service in that area and still keep everyone happy."
Rhodri Marsden

You can find things on the internet thanks to him ...

Thomas Hofmann, engineering director, Google

How you decide which search result to click on when you're in Google is hugely influenced by Hofmann. He and his team of 300 engineers at Google's European engineering centre in Zurich focus on improving the way the search engine deals with our queries. "Improvements are made every week, using hundreds of contributions from our search team. It's so complex that there's no single person who understands exactly how it operates," says Hofmann, a former professor of computer science.

The battle to stop spammers manipulating the system and pushing their own sites to the top of Google's search results is a priority. "It's a constant struggle, because if these people succeed, our service is no longer useful." While the donkey-work of indexing and ranking the web is done by a massive network of computers, it's Hofmann and his team who are constantly responding to the way we click on search results. "If we were doing a poor job, we would immediately see users leaving the site and going elsewhere."
Rhodri Marsden

He has you on the edge of your seat ...

Jeff Ford, director of acquisitions at Channel 4

Ford spent £148m last year fuelling our appetite for American shows. On the strength of watching the Ugly Betty pilot, he bought the series. "It was that whole escapist element that attracted me. It was so colourful and over the top, I knew it would work well." It did. When the show aired last year, it drew three million viewers, up there with Desperate Housewives - a series Ford also successfully renewed.

Other recent purchases include Dirty Sexy Money and Brothers & Sisters. Buying in big hitters such as Desperate Housewives and Lost isn't as easy as it looks - you don't have the luxury of seeing how well they're performing before you write the cheque. "You see only the pilot episode in the majority of shows and the market is so competitive that it could be picked up within three or four weeks of that. You make decisions fast."

Channel 4 has always relied - too heavily, some say - on US dramas to boost ratings. That may be changing now that America increasingly looks to the UK for entertainment formats. "A lot of British shows are turning up there, such as Wife Swap, Supernanny, The Office and Life On Mars. Channel 4 was always a bastion of American formats, but now you think, 'Hang on, we're seeing all our shows again.' "

Ford has wanted to do this job since he was nine. It started with an episode of Columbo. "When I saw that, I knew even then that there was somebody out there picking programmes for us to watch that weren't British. From then on, it was a life ambition."
Emma Cook

He guarantees your pint is pulled ...

Philip Whitehead, Logistics director, Coors brewing company

It's his duty to make sure that four million pints of beer downed each day in Britain taste good. At Coors, the UK's second largest brewer and owner of the UK's biggest-selling lager, Carling, Whitehead also has to ensure around 39,000 pubs, clubs and shops have enough beer in the cellar and on the shelves. We drink 1.5 billion pints of Carling each year.

Whitehead oversees every step of the process, starting with the malt and barley that goes to the breweries, and ending in your local. "I have a team of 180 engineers who work with landlords, checking how the beer is dispensed. If it's too old, not at the right temperature or served into a dirty glass, all of this can interfere with the taste."

His team is also responsible for a mix of analysis and crystal ball gazing to work out how much beer will be sold when. "People create sociable events on the back of good weather - have parties and barbecues at home, and feel more inclined to go to the pub. My job is to understand and anticipate that."
Ros Anderson

Ask her what to wear to the 2010 Christmas party ...

Catriona MacNab, trendsetter

"People love my title, head of trends," MacNab says. "They're fascinated by how it all works. For example, we're currently looking at what people are wearing at a music festival in California, at the TV show Gossip Girl, the Venice Biennale, the Milan Furniture Fair." This cultural buzz, along with business information, is then analysed and "trended" to predict what fashion-forward consumers will be wearing in a few years' time.

MacNab heads a creative team at WGSN, the fashion trend forecasting website that provides information and inspiration to design and retail businesses around the globe (part of Emap, jointly owned by Guardian Media Group and Apax Partners). "We've a team of 150 experts around the world," she says. "They design, photograph and write about style."

The trends she picks out will influence what you buy in Topshop, Zara, H&M, Tesco and M&S - all clients - in 2010; the prints textile manufacturers create; and ideas used by ad agencies. Loved or loathed skinny jeans? It was MacNab's team who picked up the trend on the streets of Japan and reported it.

So what's the next big trend? "We're working on autumn/winter 09/10 right now. Patti Smith will be a big influence." You heard it here first.
Ros Anderson

He makes sure you're on time ...

Peter Whibberley, scientist

Whibberley has less excuse than most if he's late for work. Not that he would be, as even his alarm clock is tuned into a radio signal transmitted by his team. "That's the satisfying part - helping to make time more reliable, even my own clock."

Time is more accurate than it's ever been since it became atomic. It has to be because the whole world now runs on the same timescale, sending signals to many vital applications, from our computers and mobiles to emergency services, speed cameras and those BBC radio "pips".

"We used to measure time based on the earth's rotation. Now it's based on atomic clocks and is accurate to a few billionths of a second each day." He and his team constantly check their atomic clocks with others worldwide, to make sure they never lose a nanosecond. Does it feel like a big responsibility? "There is a worry when there's a leap second. The clocks gain time and we have to bring it back in line. We programme it into our radio signal and you know a lot of people will be watching for that - if there were a mistake, they'd spot it. That can be stressful."
Emma Cook

accelerate – zwiększać, przyspieszać

acidity - kwasowość

altitude - wysokość

aptitude - uzdolnienie

bankable – bankowy, kasowy

barley - jęczmień

boost – zwiększać, powodować wzrost

buzz – gwar, szum

congealed – zakrzepły, ścięty

congestion – przeciążenie, zator

conversely – na odwrót, odwrotnie

coveted – upragniony, pożądany

credibility - wiarygodność

daunting – zrażający do siebie

disclose - ujawniać

fledgling - żółtodziób

fodder - pożywka

grapple with – zmagać się z

hatchery - wylęgarnia

implement – wdrażać, wprowadzać w życie

inclined - skłonny

insatiable - nienasycony

interfere with – ingerować w, kolidować z

maintenance - utrzymanie

make or break – sprawić, że coś będzie odniesie sukces lub okaże się porażką

malt - słód

masterstroke – mistrzowskie posunięcie

meticulously - skrupulatnie

muse – zadumać się

nag – nagabywać, marudzić

ornate – bogaty w zdobienia

over the top – przesadzony, przesadny

pensioner - emeryt

pester – molestować o coś, zadręczać

pivotal – decydujący, zasadniczy

priority - priorytet

punter – gracz (na wyścigach konnych)

reclusive – samotny, pustelniczy

red carpet – czerwony chodnik symbolizujący uroczyste traktowanie

relentless - bezlitosny

respectively – odpowiednio

samey – nudny, jednostajny (potoczne)

savvy – zdrowy rozsądek, chłopski rozum

schmoozing – plotki, opowiadanie, gadanie

scoop – sensacyjny materiał, sensacyjna wiadomość

sewer - ściek

shoehorn – zmieścić, ścieśnić

slurp - siorbać

soothe – łagodzić, uciszać

spew – wypluwać

stakeholder - udziałowiec

streamline – usprawniać, racjonalizować

sturdy – solidny, wytrzymały

tailback – korek uliczny

tend to - doglądać

uplift –polepszenie poprawa,

wield – dzierżyć, sprawować (np. władzę)

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