Northern Rock’s troubles came as no surprise to Christeen Skinner. She says: “You couldn’t have a more Saturnine name for a company if you tried. And Saturn was in a very vulnerable position at that time.”
Ms Skinner is not a horoscope-reading saver at a rival bank but one of Britain’s handful of corporate astrologers.
She claims to offer “the last word in competitive intelligence” to clients ranging from senior management of FTSE 100 companies to small businesses and lawyers.
Astrology may seem an unlikely tool to be adopted by such a supposedly rational activity as business, but Ms Skinner claims plenty of customers seeking guidance on corporate concerns.
She provides business customers with predictions based on corporate research and her knowledge of planetary movements.
“The important thing to remember,” she explains, “is that astrology isn’t a religious belief system and it doesn’t lend itself well to analysis. It’s a timing system.”
So, a company considering opening a new branch in Brussels will ask her which dates would be best or lawyers might quiz her on what to expect in an important meeting on a particular day.
Companies, however, very rarely contact her directly – and her services are unlikely to be put on corporate expenses. It tends to be individuals within organisations who ask her for strategic advice on their personal day-to-day business.
Perhaps understandably, she adds, executives who use astrologers tend to be rather coy about it, although the late Anita Roddick was quite open about her use of astrology.
In India, though, people are far less reticent. Bejan Daruwallah, one of the subcontinent’s best-known astrologers, says he makes predictions for some of the biggest companies in India.
“I do all sorts of forecasting,” he explains, “looking at areas such as what new products to launch, how the market will respond and so on.”
His prominence is such that, in 2000, Mr Daruwallah was invited to meet the country’s prime minister to give his views on the running of the country.
Indian businesses’ use of astrology, according to Mr Daruwallah, is widespread. Some company owners will not select a chairman without first looking at the candidate’s horoscope. Key decisions with big financial implications – notably in the film industry – can rest on the astrologers’ say-so.
One reason astrology is so popular in business Mr Daruwallah suggests, is that if someone takes astrological advice and then makes a bad decision they can use the astrologer as a scapegoat.
In the US, the best-known astrological moneyman is Henry Weingarten, who runs several funds that invest on the basis of astrological predictions. He cites the success of his (unaudited) fund as evidence of astrology’s efficacy.
Mr Weingarten, who works with a number of large companies, says astrology gives superior results. “You can make money without it but anyone who doesn’t use it is at a serious disadvantage. We do make mistakes, but it is a superior tool.”
To the sceptics, Ms Skinner points out that people are in business to make money. “They’re canny and, if it doesn’t work for them, then why would they use it?”
Mr Daruwallah says that, for many people, chatting things over with an astrologer may provide a sounding board or a confidant-cum-consigliere.
In any case, they argue, a lot of thinking in business, from gut feelings to management fads, doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Moreover, in countries where following planetary advice is widespread, corporate astrology could have an element of self- fulfilling prophecy. especially in areas such as markets, where a herd mentality rules. But some do not need such a nuanced, cautious persuasion.
Last year – the year of the dog – the Jilin Jiangshan Human Resources Development Company in China took astrological human resources to its logical extreme when it advertised for staff who were born only in the year of the dog.
The company’s HR manager, Mr Dong, says explains: “We consider the requirement necessary to select employees who match our corporate culture.” Naturally, he was himself a dog.