Both of these events exposed the family's pain. Many readers will have empathised with Sir William's horrendous marriage and the family's outrage at what they felt to be Alfred's identity theft. However, in the long term, both may improve the reputation of the McAlpines and their firm. Despite being written in a style that might be considered over the top by Hello! magazine, the Mail on Sunday piece offered us an insight into the family as real people rather than Gosford Park caricatures. And the court case – which is subject to appeal from Alfred – was all about how well respected Sir Robert was. This was priceless PR and ample justification for taking the matter to court.
So where does all this leave Alfred McAlpine? Having cast itself as the baddie in a soap opera, Alfred has seemingly suffered the justice conventionally dispensed to such characters. Whatever else it was, the decision to rebrand was entirely rational. As Anthony Danaher says on page 22, a firm called "McAlpine" would have had a "stratospherically" higher profile than Sir Robert and Alfred put together. On the other hand, Alfred's management handled the change insensitively – it failed to inform its rival of the move, despite the fact that, as Ian Grice told the High Court, he "expected the family would be upset and make a fuss and try to stop it".
What the case has exposed is a failure of the sure touch that has characterised Alfred's progress. The firm is well respected in City circles for making the perilous journey from traditional contractor and housebuilder to the support services sector – as trumpeted by Grice in a recent issue (19 March, page 22). The move to rebrand was the finishing touch to that transformation – the brass nameplate screwed into the company's new door.
Grice is respected by City analysts for his sharp, analytic brain, but he risks being seen by the wider industry as a desiccated calculating machine. The boss of a plc needs a good political sense. Grice's curt-verging-on-rude manner when interviewed by Building last (31 October, pages 32-33) underlines concerns over his personal style. Then there was his disingenuous statement that "we would like to emphasise that we are not dropping the official name – it is Alfred McAlpine. We're very proud of our name and heritage". So, time for Alfred to regroup, forget about brands for a while – and brush up on its presentational skills.
Phil Clark, deputy editor