Monthly Archives: February 2008

John Gapper

I am encouraged to return to the topic of supermarkets and plastic bags by the Daily Mail, my former employer (a long time ago). It has just launched a campaign to stop the proliferation of plastic bags in the UK under the slogan: Banish the Bags.

The Mail estimates that 13bn flimsy plastic bags are handed out by British high street stores each year. It is a classic example of companies and consumers not having to pay the financial cost of environmental destruction and therefore not caring about it. 

John Gapper

Guy Hands, the man whose Terra Firma private equity fund took over EMI Group last year, was brutally honest this week about whom he blames for the fact that his acquisition is not going exactly to plan: A&R men.

These mysterious characters (the acronym stands for “artists and repertoire”), who have been responsible for signing acts to music labels, have not been earning their money, and certainly not being held accountable for it, according to Mr Hands:

The power and the decision has sat with the A&R man, who is someone who gets up late in the day, listens to lots of music, goes to clubs, spends his time with artists and has a knack of knowing what would sell.

They were committing money with no sign off, no nothing.

What we are doing is taking the power away from the A&R guys and putting it with the suits – the guys who have to work out how to sell music. Trying to persuade 260 people to give up their power has been hard.

We had labels at EMI that were spending five times as much on marketing as their gross revenues. We told them you could stick a £50 note on the cover of a CD and have the same effect, and we also wouldn’t have to pay them. Those sorts of comments don’t go down too well.

We’re getting there – a little slower than I would like, but I’m always impatient.

 

John Gapper

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My column in the Financial Times this week is on Microsoft’s efforts to make itself more open and the internal obstacles that stand in the way. You can read it here and comment below.

John Gapper

It was noticeable, watching the Oscars, that there were a lot of foreigners ascending the stage of the Kodak Theatre to accept Academy Awards.

The show started with Alexandra Byrne, the British costume designer, being given a statuette for her work on the costumes for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and culminated in all four of the main actor and actress awards going to Europeans.

The high profile of foreign talent was as striking as the shift towards independent studios and away from big Hollywood studios in the 1990s, led by Miramax.

It strikes me as admirable that Hollywood has demonstrated once again its openness to foreign actors and off-screen talent at a time when there are fears in other US industries about foreign competition and the outsourcing of jobs.

Hollywood has become perhaps the most open industry in its employment patterns apart from Silicon Valley, which draws software engineers from around the world, and Wall Street, where many different nationalities work in investment banks. 

John Gapper

I was pleased to see John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist, comparing the Financial Times to General Electric as a training ground of editorial management talent. A shame that he did not credit me but perhaps great minds think alike.

John Gapper

Today being National Corporate Philanthropy Day in the US (the first I had heard of it, I have to admit), I went to a gathering of chief executives whose companies give money to good causes or encourage employees to volunteer.

I had a chance to quiz three of the CEOs there – Jim Rohr of PNC Financial Services, Ivan Seidenberg of Verizon and Sidney Taurel of Eli Lilly – about their companies’ involvement in something that, on the face of it, does not benefit shareholders.

Famously, Milton Friedman argued that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” and that a lot of corporate philanthropy was at best misguided, although some could be justified if it served other corporate purposes, such as increasing the loyalty of customers. 

John Gapper

The other day, Bob Lutz, the General Motors vice-chairman in charge of product development, described global warming as “a total crock of shit”. He went on to say his views on the subject made no difference to his commitment to producing energy-saving cars, including the Chevy Volt electric vehicle.

Mr Lutz did not make clear whether he did not believe in global warming per se, or merely not that it was exacerbated by CO2 emissions. In any case, he said, he believed in reducing energy consumption in order to make the US energy-independent. 

John Gapper

I posted yesterday on Barack Obama’s use of the internet for campaigning and fund-raising. It would be remiss not also to mention John McCain’s website, which includes a fun blog from the campaign trail by his daughter Meghan and two of her friends.

Given that 71-year-old Mr McCain is getting stick from the talk show hosts at the moment for looking like a doddering old man, it is rather astute to get his daughter in on the act. 

John Gapper

For some reason I do not understand, our transfer of blog publishing platforms appears to have stopped my previous RSS feed working. But it works fine if you re-subscribe (there are various  options below right). End of announcement.

Update: the feed that has stopped is http://feeds.feedburner.com/typepad/gapperblog. That figures, I suppose. We have moved from Typepad to WordPress. 

John Gapper

I agree with David Pogue that the time limits imposed by Hollywood studios on film rental downloads are irritating.

Studios are now allowing consumers to download and watch films for a limited period on devices such as TiVo hard disk recorders and Apple TVs.

But the time limit for viewing rented films once you have downloaded them are that you have to start watching within 30 days and, once you have started, you have 24 hours more to complete the film.

I fell foul of these limits the very first time I tried out downloading a film to watch on my Apple TV last week. 

John Gapper

The Journal has a piece this morning on the rise of bowling (indoor 10-pin bowling, not the outdoor sort played by Sir Francis Drake). It has become a kind of hipster retro outing for people who enjoy its fake-suburban appeal.

Coincidentally, there is an article in the New York Times pointing out that golf has been in slow decline for some time. Men are apparently finding it harder to justify spending half a day on the golf course (or a Saturday excursion, as Jack Welch used to insist upon for GE executives). 

John Gapper

Further to my post the other day on the remarkable staying power of Marcel Ospel, the chairman of UBS, it seems the clock is ticking.

By cutting his term of office – and those of all board members – from three years to one, UBS is throwing a sop to investors who would like him to step down. 

John Gapper

It has been obvious for some time that Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is badly run compared with that of Barack Obama.

Leaving politics aside, it simply seems like a poor managerial effort. The fact that she has had fund-raising problems, did not grasp that the campaign would continue beyond Super Tuesday, and has not been able to organise effectively on the ground are all signs of a fundamental lack of competence. 

John Gapper

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My Financial Times column this week is about Northern Rock. It sets out, David Letterman-style (well, sort of) the top 10 losers of the affair. You can read it here and post comments below.

John Gapper

The tensions between American politicians and sovereign wealth funds over investments in the US, which have been muted of late, could easily reignite.

Charles Schumer, the New York senator, has welcomed investments by SWFs in New York-based banks such as Citigroup. But at a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, he sounded a more defensive note, saying he was disappointed in the SWFs’ failure to come to Washington to explain themselves: