Business Editor John Duckers chats with Lord Bhattacharyya about why Birmingham and the West Midlands must improve...
I always enjoy chewing the cud with Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya - you know you are going to learn something.
He is one of the few people in the West Midlands who has made a real difference.
We are sitting in one of Warwickshire's top hotels.
Lord Bhattacharyya likes his creature comforts - decent wine, fine dining and a venue with a quiet ambience.
And why not?
At 65 he has been there, done it, got the T-shirt.
As head of Warwick Manufacturing Group he has brought jobs to the region and is constantly striving for its improvement.
A Labour peer, he takes his job in the House of Lords seriously and is frequently in London attending debates.
A Government advisor, he has the ear of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
He is constantly travelling, Singapore one week, China the next, pushing the West Midlands, looking for new ideas.
Naturally, I am not paying the bill.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch. I have been summoned for a reason.
He has a theme - Birmingham and the West Midlands are not aiming high enough. There is insufficient risk-taking, a lack of leadership. Even our MPs are a lacklustre lot.
And we are in grave danger. Globalisation and the fast-moving change it brings is threatening to leave us behind.
He returns again and again to the same issues.
Our transport infrastructure is just not good enough. How can Birmingham call itself the second city, suggest it can be a world player, when we have an airport and a railway station which are so inadequate?
Not that he believes all is bad.
Birmingham has good schools such as King Edwards and increasingly among the state sector.
It has strong arts - Symphony Hall, opera, the Hippodrome.
Some of our hospitals are up there with the best.
The Bullring is "fantastic", a symptom of massive new development.
There are world class gems amongst industry - GKN, JCB and Qinetiq.
He notes: "There is no shortage of intellectual capital in the Midlands. We have a lot of experience - the world would love that experience."
There is a thriving professional sector. We have the Potteries, Shakespeare Country, the Cotswolds, all the history of the Black Country. How can we fail? But then there is the downside.
Why is it, he asks, London rarely thinks of any of these things when it ponders Birmingham? Why do they view Birmingham as introspective? Why are we seen as a city of vote riggers? Why are we tarred by the demise of Long-bridge and Rover?
Lord Bhattacharyya knows all too well why.
He said: "Our skills are not good enough. Our transport is not good enough. Our marketing is not good enough. Our MPs are not good enough."
There are no real icons. We lack people with charisma and political nous. Perhaps surprisingly he doesn't blame politicians.
He believes the likes of Sir Dick Knowles, Sir Albert Bore and now Mike Whitby have all contributed much.
Regional development agency Advantage West Midlands is "doing its level best".
Lord Bhattacharyya is a wily old buzzard - he knows there is little to be gained from personal criticism. About the only thing I have disagreed with him on.
I think Birmingham is so enfeebled by timidity, safety first, and a culture of under-performance first you need to destroy much of the edifice before you can rebuild.
The West Midlands, says Lord Bhattacharyya, has much to be proud of - it is a tolerant society despite a mixture of religions, creeds and ethnic backgrounds.
"We are at peace with each other," he declares, which you can say of all too few parts of the world.
It has accepted and coped with manufacturing decline.
Longbridge, so long a "mascot", has gone and it has been achieved without "major reverberations". And Midlanders don't whinge.
But how can we compare ourselves with the second cities of France, Holland and Germany without a "proper" station or airport?
How can we pretend to be global when despite Continental's best efforts to New York we have "no real flights to the United States"?
And alluding to the airport's inadequate runway, he bemoans: "It amazes me Birmingham cannot land a fully loaded jet."
Which brings him to another issue - why Birmingham is so hopeless at marketing. How can it be there is so much affluence in the surrounding areas of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Leicestershire and parts of Derbyshire, yet Birmingham has failed to support transatlantic flights - the BA service to New York was dropped as was American Airlines to Chicago?
Lack of marketing, which brings me onto my hobby horse.
Why, for goodness sake, don't we rename BIA after somewhere, something or somebody the rest of the world has heard of - and doesn't mean to most Americans some place in Alabama.
I want it renamed Shakespeare International.
I could even live with Birmingham Spitfire International - everyone knows Britain for our Second World War heroism and the Spitfire was made in Castle Bromwich.
After all, it is barely credible to call it international and it isn't even in Birmingham.
Lord Bhattacharyya seems a little dubious but agrees with the general principle. And he heartily accepts my next marketing example.
We both live in Moseley and find it baffling Birmingham so completely missed out on the hype surrounding the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Tolkien built most of it around the sights and sounds of his Birmingham boyhood, the likes of Sarehole Mill.
The problem extends to our universities.
"Birmingham and Warwick are two top universities," he said. "But they should cooperate and coordinate better."
Which brings us on to our MPs. I think they are useless. Lord Bhattacharyya believes they are capable of more.
"They may fight for their constituency, but do they fight for the region?" he asks. "We need them to. We need them to fight for our second city status. To fight for us to be above mediocrity. What the hell are the MPs doing? Labour should never have such a big majority - it makes MPs sleep."
Skill levels are not acceptable. Where are Birmingham's iconic buildings?
We could go on all night, but the cheese is finished and the coffee in danger of going cold.
The trouble is globalisation and change isn't going to cool.
"Birmingham is missing out," warns Lord Bhattacharyya.