Monthly Archives: May 2011

John Gapper

The changes to director remuneration at Tesco following a shareholder rebellion last year are sensible enough. The interesting thing is the line they draw between entrepreneurial risks and rewards, and what directors of big companies should be paid. 

In 2008, Samsung ran a print advertisement picturing a lissom young couple next to a forest road. They have dismounted from their mountain bikes to tend to an injured young deer. Mr Lissom has unfurled a flexible electronic display from the side of his mobile phone and is consulting a website about first aid for fawns. Samsung researchers are “inventing new technologies one could only imagine”, the copy boasts, “so getting real-time interactive first-aid instructions for a wild animal at a moment’s notice becomes a real possibility”.

It was probably inevitable that when Nicolas Sarkozy invited the leaders of the world’s biggest technology companies and high representatives of Silicon Valley to Paris to mull over the future of the internet, a culture war would break out.

Andrew Hill

For my latest column about the ideal age and tenure for a chief executive, GovernanceMetrics International pulled from its database of 4,268 companies worldwide a list of the 16 oldest sitting chief executives in the world. (They did 16 so that Warren Buffett – undoubtedly the most famous, and the youngest, of this bunch – would appear in the ranking).

In the article, I only had room to refer to Buffett and Cubic Corporation’s Walter Zable, 95-year-old doyen of the group. So here is the full ranking by age, with company name and links to official corporate biographies, where available: 

John Gapper

I am in Paris with a group of leaders of internet and technology companies, all of whom have been asking the same question: What am I doing here? 

Many executives joke about being carried from the office in a box; few earn that right. Malcolm McAlpine was still involved in the day-to-day running of the construction company Sir Robert McAlpine at his death last week, aged 93 – 75 years after he joined the business.

John Gapper

The pop in shares in LinkedIn following its initial public offering last week has prompted a heated debate over the tactics of the bankers that underwrote the offering and whether they deliberately underpriced to benefit their favoured clients.

Joe Nocera of the New York Times opined on Saturday that LinkedIn was “scammed by its bankers”:

The fact that the stock more than doubled on its first day of trading — something the investment bankers, with their fingers on the pulse of the market, absolutely must have known would happen — means that hundreds of millions of additional dollars that should have gone to LinkedIn wound up in the hands of investors that Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch wanted to do favours for.

Nocera was backed by Henry Blodget of Business Insider, prompting a back and forth with The Epicurian Dealmaker on whether they knew what they were talking about. The debate was summarised by Felix Salmon in this post

John Gapper

The 137 per cent surge in LinkedIn’s shares on the first day of trading – on a stock that was initially priced at 17 times last year’s estimated sales – is pretty much impossible to justify on normal financial measures and has led to talk of a new internet bubble.

I will not try to justify it because, as I wrote the other day in a column, valuing social networks is inherently a highly risky business – there is a history of others such as Friendster, Bebo and  MySpace flaming out despite high initial hopes.

Meanwhile, I agree with John Plender’s doubts about the dual share structure being adopted by networks including LinkedIn and Renren, which insures that the founders retain control while selling shares to the public.

Yet there are at least good reasons to believe that LinkedIn is a proper business – with more potential staying power than some of the consumer-oriented social networks. Whatever it is worth, I am at least hopeful that it will stick around. 

Andrew Hill

Listen to political debate about the future of Britain’s public health system and you’d quickly draw the conclusion that it is overburdened with useless, pen-pushing bureaucrats who prevent “front-line” staff from saving lives.

Wrong, says a new report from the King’s Fund, a think-tank that has managed to condense into a core of 31 pages the latest thinking on public health management – and on management in general. 

The news this week that Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney-general has launched yet another inquiry into Wall Street’s role in the mortgage crisis will no doubt be greeted with groans at investment banks. Four years – and multiple investigations – after the meltdown started at two Bear Stearns hedge funds, isn’t it time to move on?

The chief executive of the Public Relations Society of America has called the revelation that Facebook secretly hired Burson-Marsteller in the US to drum up stories and comment pieces criticising Google’s approach to privacy “a PR nightmare”.

John Gapper

I’m intrigued by McDonald’s move in Europe to replace some cashiers by introducing touchscreens on which customers can order their own food because it is a practice that could be introduced more widely in retail outlets and restaurants.

My reaction stems from having noticed that I prefer to use self-scanning machines at a local supermarket rather than go to the aisle where items are scanned by a cashier. I find it generally quicker and easier to scan them for myself. 

Andrew Hill

People, not companies, are at the heart of the battle over the European Union’s passport-free travel zone. France, Italy and Denmark are trying to crack down on the movement of migrants across their borders. The European Commission is concerned that the so-called Schengen system could be undermined. But business should be worried, too.

Think how many companies’ strategies are now based on the principle of free movement of people and goods between the 25 members of the zone. If “temporary” border controls were reinstated, tourism would be the first to suffer. As Denis MacShane, former UK minister for Europe, tweeted on Friday:

Schengen rules allow for passport, custom checks on temporary basis. Will Germans put up with 10km queues to go into Italy, France 4 hols?

 

Andrew Hill

The conviction of Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading means McKinsey can breathe again. For now, the drip-drip of courtroom revelations about what Rajat Gupta, ex-head of the consulting firm, or Anil Kumar, a former partner, told the hedge fund billionaire, has stopped.

Mr Kumar has already pleaded guilty to insider trading. Mr Gupta, who denies wrongdoing, faces Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges. (A third McKinsey partner, David Palecek, who died last year, was mentioned in the trial, but his widow’s lawyer has said that he never agreed to “play ball” with Rajaratnam.)

Pending any action against Mr Gupta, the consulting world is wondering what will be the fall-out from the case – and not just for McKinsey. 

Steve Ballmer became chief executive of Microsoft in January 2000, a few months before a federal judge ordered the company to be broken up on antitrust grounds, because it was too powerful and was extending its grip too widely. This ruling was later reversed and, 11 years later Microsoft remains in one piece, and its size and scope has turned into its weakness.