On the 50th anniversary of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment fund-cum-industrial conglomerate that now employs 341,000 people and is the fourth most valuable company in the US, the question is: is Warren Buffett inimitable? Or could the Sage of Omaha be cloned?

A colleague who headed an overseas editorial bureau of the Financial Times once called me to ask my advice: did I think he should devote more time to managing the journalists in his team or to writing front page scoops?

Stuart Gulliver’s crisp explanation this week of why he once held his annual bonuses in a Swiss private bank account via a Panamanian company was plausible yet somehow more puzzling than if he had been evading tax.

Adam Jones

  © Henrik Sorensen/Getty

Remember those days when long-haul flights were sometimes only a half, or even a third full? The joy of sprawling out across four seats in economy for the original “flat bed” experience?

Airlines’ use of technology to manage their flights more efficiently has largely killed that 20th-century pleasure. I’ve struggled to count more than a handful of empty seats on most of the flights I’ve been on in recent years.

Now “big data” seems to be on the cusp of streamlining many other workplaces in a similar fashion — with consequences for workers that go far beyond a mere bad night’s sleep.

The latest edition of Harper’s magazine picks up on the growth of labour scheduling software in business, which, by matching shifts to demand more accurately, is helping to make sure businesses are not overstaffed. If only it stopped there. Read more

John Gapper

Here is a quiz: with which big three auto companies has Google partnered to build a self-driving car? If you guessed Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, you are wrong. The correct answer is Bosch, Continental and Delphi, three of the industry’s global suppliers.

Emma Jacobs

Vivek Wadhwa

Can a man speak for women’s experiences? It is a perennial issue, leading to charges in the Twittersphere of “mansplaining”, explaining things to women that they have more expertise on themselves.

The controversy re-emerged this week, centred on Vivek Wadhwa, a lecturer at Stanford University. A blogpost by Amelia Greenhall, a tech blogger, forcefully described her anger at Mr Wadhwa having become the go-to guy for opinions on women in the tech industry.

“Many tech feminists (such as myself) like to mock Vivek Wadhwa as “The Guy Who Gets Paid to Talk About Women in Tech,” but what he does is a serious problem that hurts women in tech in tangible ways. By appointing himself the unwanted spokesman for women in tech he has kept actual, qualified women’s voices from being heard widely in the mainstream media.” Read more

I am angry with Stephen Green. I am angry in part because HSBC’s former chairman (now Lord Green) presided over a financial institution where, it turns out, oversight was so distant that large-scale tax avoidance schemes could be peddled by a Swiss subsidiary, in breach of, at the very least, the spirit, if not the letter, of good banking.

Money laundering is when someone channels the cash from robbery, fraud or expropriation into a Swiss bank account, or an expensive apartment in Manhattan, to make it look clean. So what is the term for sullying profits from legal enterprise with tax evasion and shenanigans? Money staining, perhaps.

Emma Jacobs

Project managed home life

The lean and flexible management model deployed by software developers is being adopted by companies in sectors beyond technology. A new book by Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of the Scrum project management process, encourages teams to work together by setting clear goals. The book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, claims that meeting regularly and having visual workflows can reduce workloads, raise productivity and speed up development.

A recent interview on the Harvard Business Review blog discovered that executive coach Frank Saucier applies such management methods to family life.
At home, as well as the office, he uses a board to display tasks that need to be done, are being done and done. So, “go bowling” gets added to a list, much like tasks in beta testing would.

 Read more

In 1986, Tom Stemberg opened the first Staples superstore in Massachusetts. Stationery retailers have not stood still since. By 1990, Mr Stemberg’s disruptive bright idea had spawned dozens of lookalike office supply warehouses. “When people asked how it felt to be the father of the industry, my answer was ‘I wish I’d used a condom’,” Mr Stemberg tells me.

Andrew Hill

“Even if the truth is more complex than the headlines, re-establishing confidence in and respect for the banks will be a journey up a steep mountain.”

Stephen Green – now Lord Green – has not commented on the leak of files exposing tax-avoidance practices at HSBC’s Swiss-based private bank. But in 2009, the then chairman of HSBC put his whole philosophy of ethical business on the record in his book Good Value, sub-titled “Reflections on money, morality and an uncertain world”. The newly topical quotation above is an extract. Read more

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison: entrepreneur, plain and simple © Getty Images

Thought leaders were bad enough. Changemakers were hard to cope with. Do we still have to put up with serial entrepreneurs?

The phrase has become alarmingly common — more than 15,000 people on LinkedIn have decided that “serial entrepreneur” best describes their career path.

Admittedly, there is a certain genius in co-opting a word whose better known application to careers has been as a preface to “killer”. And these days being an entrepreneur is more fashionable than shaving off your beard while binge-watching Netflix.

But that does not excuse the phrase serial entrepreneur. Read more

Andrew Hill

Uber – arming up (Getty)

I did a double-take at Uber’s decision to fund driverless car research in partnership with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Not because I think it is a strange departure for a company whose relationship with drivers is key to its success (though if I were a young Uber driver, I wouldn’t count on the job for retirement income). It was the juxtaposition of the names Uber and Carnegie that stood out. Read more

While I flew to Barcelona last week to speak at a conference, my iPad was at breakfast at a restaurant in Cambridge. That, at least, is what I deduced from the device’s location, transmitted to me after I activated the Find My iPhone app on my mobile phone.

Emma Jacobs

LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman assesses levels of 'alpha-ness'. © Bloomberg

Everyone knows what an alpha personality is. Typically but not always a man, they dominate a group or workplace and are at the top of the pecking order, or ambitious to be so; they are assertive, often with a whiff of aggression. Read more

Mary Barra is a lifer, born and bred to do the job she now holds. But as General Motors’ chief executive pointed out in an interview last week at the World Economic Forum, few young Americans now anticipate spending their lives in the warm embrace of a single employer, as she has.

Nicolas Brusson, the founder of BlaBlaCar, the French ride-sharing start-up that in June raised $100m to expand across Europe, got the biggest laugh of the week at the DLD technology conference in Munich. Asked about operating in a “single market” with 28 sets of laws and regulations, he replied: “When you start from France, everything looks simple.”

Emma Jacobs

Wobbling among the Elsa princess outfits and the dinosaur models at the Toy Fair in London’s Olympia exhibition centre this week was a four-foot, buildable robot, the $399 Meccanoid G15 KS.

With its big saucer-shaped eyes and moveable limbs, the toy has revived interest in its maker: Meccano, which was created by the British toy maker, Frank Hornby, a century ago.

Spin Master, the Canadian company that bought Meccano in 2013, hopes it will be essential kit for parents hoping to get their child interested in building and engineering.

It is very much in the spirit of the “maker movement” — an enthusiasm for manufacturing and making things, helped in part by the rise of 3D printing. Read more

Chief executives project an air of certainty but their real state of mind must be constant doubt

John Gapper

  © Charlie Bibby

It was a kinder, gentler and more strategic Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, who took to the stage at the DLD technology conference in Munich on Sunday to offer the mayors of European cities a “new partnership” with the ride-hailing network, rather than a bitter legal and regulatory battle. Read more