Monthly Archives: June 2012

Andrew Hill

As part of my investigation into benefit corporations – a new legal corporate form springing up across the US – I asked early adopters a simple question: “Are you a capitalist?”

It put some of them on the spot. Benefit corporations are set up to serve a “triple bottom line” of social, environmental and economic objectives and their backers don’t fit the capitalist stereotype of cigar-chewing plutocrats running smoke-belching industrial behemoths. (Gary Gerber, who runs Californian solar energy company Sun Light & Power, is the first chief executive I’ve interviewed who apologised for coming to find me in his hybrid Toyota Prius because the two electric cars he uses were unavailable.)

I tend to agree with Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby, whose book Standing on the Sun points out that capitalism is “only a term for what capitalists tend to believe and do”. They suggest that in time “puzzling exceptions to the pursuit [of financial profit maximisation] – corporate social responsibility, venture philanthropy, sustainability – will be recognised to have a logic consistent with capitalism”. Which would mean that even contrarian “reluctant businessmen” like Yvon Chouinard, the surfing and mountaineering founder of Patagonia, the biggest benefit corporation, are capitalists. Read more

Andrew Hill

I’m fascinated by the first part in a new FT series on manufacturing, led by our expert Peter Marsh, who has a new book coming out on the topic.

In particular, I love the bar chart in this interactive graphic about the “seven ages of industry“ (click on the “chart” tab when it opens). Read more

Andrew Hill

I wonder what Sir Terry Leahy, former chief executive of Tesco, makes of the fanfare about rival UK retailer Marks and Spencer launching a bank with HSBC. According to Marc Bolland, M&S boss, the rationale for putting 50 bank branches inside its stores goes as follows:

This bank will be built on M&S values; putting the customer at the heart of the proposition and delivering the exceptional service that sets us apart from the competition.

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Whenever financial disaster strikes, it is tempting to try to identify the moment when it became inevitable. In the case of MF Global, was it when Jon Corzine, its former chief executive, started trading in European government bonds? Was it when MF Global first bent the rules on using client funds?

Andrew Hill

Les Echos, the French financial journal, begins its tribute to Antoine Bernheim, who died this week aged 87, by describing him as a “véritable Talleyrand” of business. So it’s worth asking, as Metternich reputedly did when news of the wily French diplomat’s death reached him: “What do you think he meant by that?”

Bernheim had been entrenched at the centre of a network of French and Italian finance for so long and with such influence that it is tempting to assume that his passing means the whole edifice is in jeopardy. Tempting, but, alas, wrong. Read more

John Gapper

The dismal performance of Facebook’s initial public offering, after several years in which it was expected to crown the emergence on public markets of social networks, is bound to dampen the mood in Silicon Valley.

Paul Graham, who runs Y Combinator, a start-up incubator, says the effect will be what you might expect – early-stage valuations will suffer. His email to portfolio companies, obtained by Business Insider, contains this warning:

“If you haven’t raised money yet, lower your expectations for fundraising. How much should you lower them? We don’t know yet how hard it will be to raise money or what will happen to valuations for those who do. Which means it’s more important than ever to be flexible about the valuation you expect and the amount you want to raise (which, odd as it may seem, are connected). First talk to investors about whether they want to invest at all, then negotiate price.”

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Of the many career appraisals I’ve perpetrated on team members, two stand out. In one, I spent so long probing the weaknesses of a star performer they eventually asked: “Was there anything good about my performance last year?” In the other, I added a colleague’s lofty goal to the box on the form labelled “career aspiration”, only to be told by my own manager to go back and inform my team member that the dream was way beyond their reach.

John Gapper

The latest tussle between BP and the billionaire oligarchs with whom it owns BP-TNK, its Russian oil joint venture – this time over BP’s wish finally to sell out – reminds me of the controversial way in which it started.

I wrote a column in 2003 arguing that, despite all of the risks of becoming partners with AAR in Russia, BP probably ought to do it. The rewards were worth the obvious prospect of being double-crossed. Read more