Monthly Archives: April 2011

Simon Murray is a straight talker. That is the best that can be said for the interview given by the new chairman of the Switzerland-based commodities company Glencore this week. After describing his native England as “economically absolutely shambolic” the 71-year-old gave his crusty opinions on women’s attitudes to work.

John Gapper

The first thing that strikes me in the scathing report of the Berkshire Hathaway audit committee on David Sokol, the senior executive who resigned last month, is that the thin defence of his conduct offered by Warren Buffett at the time has evaporated.

The second is that it makes Warren Buffett’s initial press release on Mr Sokol look distinctly economical with the truth. It will make for an interesting question and answer session at Berkshire’s annual shareholders’ meeting this weekend.

Here is my column at the time on the subject of Mr Sokol’s trading in Lubrizol shares before the company was acquired by Berkshire:

Mr Buffett provided a pre-emptive judgment on Mr Sokol’s behaviour last year in a memo to Berkshire’s managers and directors, including Mr Sokol. “If you see anything whose propriety or legality causes you to hesitate, give me a call,” he wrote. “If it’s questionable whether some action is close to the line, just assume it is outside and forget it.”

That is clearer than the mealy-mouthed half-defence of Mr Sokol offered by Mr Buffett in the statement announcing his departure. “Neither Dave nor I feel his Lubrizol purchases were in any way unlawful. He has told me that they were not a factor in his decision to resign.” Not unlawful? When Mr Buffett fails to mention ethics, something is up.

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Andrew Hill

One of Nokia’s biggest challenges is to maintain its home-grown Symbian operating system, while simultaneously producing attractive Windows-run smartphones under its brand-new partnership with Microsoft. Exactly how that would be done was one of the questions I couldn’t yet answer in my recent two-part analysis of Nokia’s future.

It turns out the challenge will be met, in part, by offloading it onto Accenture. On Wednesday, Nokia announced that 3,000 staff – mainly Symbian software engineers – would transfer to the consultancy (an additional 4,000 jobs will be lost across Nokia).

I don’t know what the Finnish for “hot potato” is, but Accenture has been handed one. Read more

Andrew Hill

Sony’s launch of its first tablet devices is bound to excite unflattering comparisons with revolutionary Sony products of the past – particularly because it falls in the same week as the death of Norio Ohga, the Japanese company’s former chairman and chief executive.

As every retrospective of Ohga’s extraordinary life has pointed out, he was the Sony executive who helped establish and drive the compact disc. By contrast, Sony’s “S1″ and “S2″ (their temporary names, thank goodness), already seem doomed to be mere “iPad rivals”. Read more

John Gapper

General Motors’ plan to give “a higher profile” to its Chevrolet brand makes lots of sense, given that Chevrolet is the equivalent of the Toyota brand – a volume marque around which other brands are arrayed. But why stop there?

It is increasingly odd for GM, which has been attacking its brand proliferation in the US, to have different brands around the world for its volume cars – Vauxhall in the UK, Opel in Germany and Holden in Australia.

The company has already taken the logical step of losing the GM Daewoo name in South Korea and adopting Chevrolet instead. Why not bite the bullet and do that same in other countries? Read more

Andrew Hill

Sir John Parker’s arrival as chairman of Anglo American in 2009 may well have changed the miner’s destiny. He steadied the ship, stood in the way of a potential bid from rival Xstrata, and threw his weight behind chief executive Cynthia Carroll, who was under intense pressure. All this looks like evidence of the Northern Irishman’s legendary toughness. Except Sir John himself says he’s not tough.

In my latest Turning Points interview, he describes himself rather differently – as a believer in discipline (learnt on the family farm where he was brought up) prepared to be tough only where necessary. Read more

John Gapper

A privacy storm has blown up over the revelation (if that is the right word) that iPhones and 3G iPads keeps data on the movements of their owners, which is backed up to personal computers when the devices are synchronised.

Al Franken, the Minnesota senator, has already complained about this fact, pointing out that:

“Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of the user’s home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend and the trips he has taken over the past months or even a year.”

Two researchers announced their findings on iPhone tracking data at a conference on Wednesday, only to be criticised by another one on the grounds that they were not saying anything new.

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John Gapper

Since it has been a public company, Google has stuck to a virtuous policy of not playing the Wall Street game by refusing to give earnings guidance. It is now suffering Wall Street’s revenge.

The harsh analysts’ reaction to Google’s recent earnings announcement – the first since Larry Page became its solo chief executive – compared with analysts’ enthusiasm about Apple’s earnings shows what Mr Page is up against.

In contrast to Google, Apple blatantly tries to set earning expectations low enough that it will “beat the Street” each time. It did so spectacularly with its second quarter earnings announcement on Wednesday. Read more