John Gapper

There is something peculiarly impressive about the video below of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, talking in Mandarin to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. If nothing else, it shows a dedication to the country’s customs that very few foreign business leaders can match.

 

Forty years ago, when Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the US Federal Reserve, was an economist at Harvard University, she was interested in the film Five Easy Pieces. She noted the scene in which a diner waitress refuses to bring Jack Nicholson’s character an omelette with coffee and wheat toast because it serves omelettes with cottage fries and rolls. “I know what it comes with, but it’s not what I want,” he retorts.

Andrew Hill

The implications, opportunities and challenges of increased longevity are beginning to dawn on many companies, as our Silver Economy series is revealing. But here is one that I don’t believe chief executives have yet focused on: the increased risk that your predecessor, and possibly his predecessor’s predecessor, will still be around to snipe at your strategy. 

Andrew Hill

No matter how good Total’s preparations, the death of its chief executive Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash late on Monday will have plunged the senior ranks of the French oil group into an emotional, logistical and governance nightmare.

When boards discuss succession planning, they often talk about it in jocular-morbid terms, typically debating “what happens if the CEO is run over by a bus?”. But when such sudden deaths occur, it often exposes just how poorly they have prepared for this type of emergency.

The US-based Conference Board, in a useful note for directors issued last year, pointed out that while three-quarters of S&P 500 companies surveyed in 2011 had succession plans in place, only 83 per cent of those had put in place an emergency succession component. Given that between 7 and 15 US public companies are hit by the sudden death of their chief executive in any given year, the group suggested the fact that a third of large companies had not considered emergency succession was simply not good enough. 

If you are wondering where your transformational merger is going wrong, you may want to look in the toilets. After Lenovo bought IBM’s personal computer business in 2005, the Chinese company replaced traditional squat toilets in its Beijing headquarters with western-style sit-down bowls to put non-Chinese colleagues and customers at ease.

Technology has its eyes on banking. Apple is expected this week to launch Apple Pay, its touchless payment system for iPhones; venture capital funds are pouring money into “fintech” start-ups; and Marc Andreessen, the technology entrepreneur, talks of “a chance to rebuild the system. Financial transactions are just numbers; it’s just information.”

Andrew Hill

Drones are a useful tool for delivering flags to football pitches, as Albania’s supporters demonstrated on Tuesday night during their national team’s match against Serbia, but they remain an extreme option for same-day parcel delivery. Click-and-collect is the mundane but potentially disruptive approach favoured in the UK – an approach that Amazon, predictably, is about to take to the next level.

 

Emma Jacobs

Corporate perks are tricky. One employee’s free healthy meal at Google’s canteen is another’s misery – yet another reason never to leave the office.

And so what to make of Facebook’s and Apple’s offer to employees that they will cover the cost of freezing their eggs? 

When Bill McDermott addressed SAP America’s annual sales meeting for the first time as their boss in 2003, the audience “reeked of doubt”. But he aimed “to plough through their doubt with my agenda and with certainty . . . At no point in my career have I been so intent, or felt such urgency, to change people’s minds, and their behaviours.”

John Gapper

Mark Carney

Mark Carney   © Photo by Chris Watt – WPA Pool /Getty Images

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, would not win a popularity contest among directors of banks at the moment. Yet he and the Bank are taking a stance on individual responsibility that most people think is long overdue. 

Emma Jacobs

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella © Getty Images

What was Satya Nadella thinking? On Thursday, the Microsoft chief executive made a monumental gaffe on the topic of women’s pay. Not asking for a pay increase, he said, was “good karma” and might be “one of the additional superpowers” for women. In the long term, “it’ll come back because someone’s going to know that that’s the kind of person I can trust,” he said. As the Twitter storm pointed out: karma does not pay the bills. Women have traditionally suffered under the illusion that being conscientious, likeable and patient is the key to getting a salary hike, only to see their mal e peers swagger into the corner office and demand to be paid their worth (and sometimes more than they are worth). His advice is contrary to that of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she wroteof her idiocy of being patient. 

Star fund managers are very valuable people, but not as valuable as they think they are. In a world of precise calculations and spotting the arbitrage opportunities between prices, this is one gap they fail to notice.

Andrew Hill

 

Codejam-filled Doughnut – GCHQ head office in Cheltenham (Crown Copyright)

GCHQ – the UK government electronic eavesdropping agency – could be the most innovative employer in Britain. But short of a management-obsessed successor to Edward Snowden daring to leak its org charts, it would normally be hard for anyone to find out.

Its press officers will not reveal their last names, its automated welcome message warns that calls “may be recorded for lawful purposes” (immediately reminding callers of the grey area between lawful and unlawful phone-tapping), and it will say only that it employs roughly 5,000 staff. GCHQ is, however, said to be building a happier workplace for those staff. In fact, its innovative change programme has won a prize. 

If I were the new chief executive of Tesco and had just learnt my profits were overstated by £250m, that the regulator was investigating and that I had lost the confidence of the world’s best-known investor, my first instinct would be to nail my accountants, shareholder-relations staff and PR people to their desks until they had sorted it out. I would not be urging them to don a smock or a hairnet and head for the front line.

John Gapper

It is just about possible to regard Meg Whitman’s decision to split Hewlett-Packard in two as consistent. Her first move when appointed three years ago was to keep the whole thing together but now may simply be a better time to attempt a separation than the rushed effort by Léo Apotheker, her predecessor.

All the same, despite the greater discipline and focus that Ms Whitman has brought to HP since Mr Apotheker’s unhappy period at the helm, the underlying logic was relentless. HP is no longer the technology growth stock it once was so all roads tend to lead to corporate re-engineering.