Monthly Archives: December 2010

John Gapper

I have been trying to pin down what makes me uneasy about Groupon, the online coupon business that has just been valued at $6.4bn in its latest round of funding, which involves raising $950m in cash.

Actually, I think the reason is right there – that Groupon has been carelessly described as a social media business like Facebook and Twitter but at its heart, it is a sales-intensive local advertising operation that is costly to build. 

John Gapper

One does not go to the ballet for a political showdown but, in among the dancing, that was what we got last night at the American Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

According to the New York Times, “kids aside, the audience should be evenly split between harried Brooklyn moms and salivating balletomanes”. Yes, but I squeezed in too for what was a lovely new version choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky.

The excitement started even before the show when David H. Koch, the co-owner of Koch Industries, the largest privately-own industrial conglomerate in the US, came out on stage to talk about his $2.5m sponsorship of the production.

Most people applauded but there were also boos from near where I sat in the balcony, followed by an angry debate in the row in front of me, with one of the booers declaring “he’s an evil man” and a couple next to her telling her to “shut up” and to leave the theatre. 

John Gapper

Reed Hastings of Netflix is widely admired as a chief executive and tends to get glowing media write-ups – including being named by Fortune magazine as its business person of the year. Mr Hastings also seems to have a deft touch with critical investors.

He has just given a fine lesson in how to respond to a critical attack by a short-seller while remaining friendly , and not appearing to be over-defensive or simply talking his own book. That is something that a lot of CEOs struggle with, notably Patrick Byrne of Overstock.com. 

John Gapper

Philip Stephens makes an interesting argument in his column this morning condemning BAA for the failure of Heathrow during the British snow – that the UK airport operator has invested more in providing shopping centres in its terminals than in critical infrastructure such as de-icing equipment.

I have  carelessly equated the two in my assessment of airports – that those with run-down and shabby terminals are probably bad airports per se. But this has made me reconsider US airports such as John F. Kennedy, which I passed through on the way to New Orleans yesterday. 

John Gapper

The Twitter fund-raising led by John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers which values Twitter at $3.7bn is interesting in several  ways. One of them is what it says about the emerging rivalry between venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and those in New York.

Mr Doerr was known for Kleiner Perkins’ green energy investments, but the venerable venture capital outfit has recently been eager to get into the social media boom. It even conceded a valuation of Twitter high enough to beat out Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies. 

On any measure but profitablity, it has been another miserable year for Wall Street, concluding with Mark Madoff, son of the fraudster, killing himself in New York two years after his father’s arrest.

The suicide came as Irving Picard, the trustee for the liquidation of his father’s investment firm, was spraying the last of 60 lawsuits at big banks, hedge funds and others, seeking $40bn in compensation and damages for their roles in the affair. In among them, he has accused members of the family, including Mark, of being “completely derelict” in not identifying the fraud.

John Gapper

There is nothing quite so fascinating as office memos on trivial or superficial subjects and the example from UBS on how its staff should dress is a fine example.

On the whole, I think I more or less comply with the edicts – I try not to wear socks that are too short, or to touch up my perfume during or after the lunch break – but I am stymied by the instructions regarding ties. Under the “don’ts” in the memo, UBS lists: 

John Gapper

The pharmaceutical industry’s effort to find new ways of discovering and developing drugs has been underway for most of this decade, but it remains a struggle.

The latest sign is the replacement of Marc Cluzel as Sanofi-Aventis’s head of research by Eliaz Zerhouni, an adviser to the company’s chief executive, Chris Viehbacher. 

John Gapper

The more I read about the way that Google is giving prominence to its own information and shopping results in search queries, the more I think the European Union is correct to investigate.

Several of Google’s rivals in travel, shopping and health information, have been complaining to regulators that the world’s biggest search engine directs users to its own services rather than theirs. 

To travel on one of China’s high-speed trains as I did recently, is to experience China’s rapid industrial advance. We cruised from Nanjing to Shanghai at speeds of which Amtrak’s service from New York to Washington can only dream.

John Gapper

The entry of Shanghai at number one on the global league table of school students’ results is, as one expert put it in the New York Times, a “stunning” achievement. To anyone who has visited an elite Chinese school, however, it is not surprising.

Fifteen-year-olds in Shanghai, where education standards are probably among the highest in China, topped the OECD’s Pisa global standardised tests. Meanwhile, countries such as the UK and the US have slipped down , pushed down by the chart-toppers South Korea, Finland, Canada and New Zealand. 

John Gapper

Jeffrey Kindler deserves points for honesty in declaring that he is departing  as chairman and chief executive of Pfizer because he is exhausted after four and a half years in the job.

It is an improvement on the usual euphemism of departing chief executives who have failed to deliver what they promised – that they want to spend more time with their families. In this case, Mr Kindler is admitting that he needs to spend more time at home. 

John Gapper

Felix Salmon has a long post about the economics of Gawker Media and why Nick Denton has declared that he’s “out of blogs” and is refashioning his properties to focus on video – and video advertising.

The notable point, covered here before, is the inexorable logic of the fall in the rates advertisers will pay for traditional display ads on the web (measured in cost per thousand clicks or CPMs) 

Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch are entrepreneurs with an admirable record of ignoring conventional wisdom, so it is worth watching when they do the same thing at once.