Monthly Archives: August 2012

John Gapper

For connoisseurs of acerbic rulings by judges – I still remember fondly the evisceration of Conrad Black by Leo Strine, chancellor of the Delaware chancery court, as “unreliable and evasive” – this is a red letter day.

Mrs Justice Gloster’s description of the evidence of Boris Berezovsky in his losing case against Roman Abramovich is worth savouring in full. And so, from today’s ruling, paragraph 34, here is is: Read more

If anything is calculated to cause despair about the prospects of making the financial system safer, it is the failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to tame the $2.6tn US money market fund industry. Mary Schapiro, the SEC chairman, has tried her best but she was stymied last week.

Andrew Hill

Britain is “considering new rules” to make the London Stock Exchange more attractive to start-ups, according to Bloomberg, using the US “Jumpstart our Business Startups” Act as the model.

Careful. The quest to make individual exchanges more attractive than their counterparts for initial public offerings is fraught with risk and can quickly turn into a race to the bottom on standards. Read more

Anyone who has worked with a prima donna – and hasn’t everyone? – should study the latest career moves of Kevin Pietersen and Robin van Persie.
Cricketer Pietersen, one of England’s best ever batsmen, was dropped from the team last week, accused of sending what the South African-born player admitted were “provocative” texts to the opposing South African team, allegedly denigrating the England captain. Footballer van Persie, Arsenal’s captain, was sold to newly listed Manchester United, six weeks after stating on his website that he and the London club’s management “disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward”.

Andrew Hill

Both John Gapper and I are away on leave this week. Normal service will resume on August 27.

Andrew Hill

Mark Thompson – image by Getty

I don’t know Mark Thompson, outgoing director-general of the BBC, but I have my doubts about how well his long career at Britain’s public-service broadcaster – interrupted by just two years at commercial Channel 4 – will equip him to run the New York Times Co.

Critically, his new employer has to generate its own revenues, rather than simply pulling money in from a mandatory television licence fee and then spending it.

Management is management, whether in the public or private sector. Mr Thompson is obviously talented and will arrive in Manhattan battle-hardened, not only from his fights with the UK government, and the unions, but from regular set-tos with the New York Times’ biggest rival, Rupert Murdoch, and his clan. Co-blogger and former FT media correspondent John Gapper – currently on holiday – has tweeted that Mr Thompson is “a good choice for the NYT – former hack, strategic, tough, down-to-earth. Used to opinionated employees and controversy” and “also experienced in running a media icon that thinks a lot of itself – mostly justifiably, sometimes not”. Read more

If you’re finance minister of a G7 country, the last place you want to read about the start of the gravest financial crisis in modern memory is in the FT. That’s how the UK’s Alistair Darling heard five years ago of the unprecedented central bank effort to shore up the financial system: at the news stand of a Majorca supermarket where he’d gone to buy rolls for breakfast. When he called his office, he wrote later, “it took several hours to find someone with any idea of what was going on. It was infuriating. Why hadn’t I been phoned?”

Andrew Hill

I wrote in July about the management lessons to be drawn from organising the Olympics and one point that particularly struck me was that the London 2012 organisers’ job continues well into 2013.

First there are the Paralympic Games to stage, then there are venues to be closed, knowledge to be transferred to Rio de Janeiro’s organisers, and accounts to be tallied.

The job strikes me as comparable to that of the administrators of companies that go into liquidation or the senior executives of life insurers that close to new business and go into “run-off”. Read more

Andrew Hill

Barclays may rue having declared its involvement in the Libor lending rate scandal first, but as a consequence it has had first choice of “City grandees” to replace its chairman, Marcus Agius. The bank has managed to land the grandest of those grandees, Sir David Walker.

Author of the Walker report on governance in the financial system (probably the most downloaded document at Barclays’ HQ this week), Sir David is the squeaky-clean face of the old word-is-my-bond City of London, with experience on both sides of the regulatory fence. In 2009, he was one of five wise heads appointed by the Financial Services Authority to vet senior appointments to UK financial institutions (it might be interesting to know just how many of the current and outgoing crop of Barclays’ senior management he helped to approve). If you’re in doubt about what a grandee is, or whether you are one, take my patented multiple-choice questionnaire, published at the time. Read more

Andrew Hill

Obituaries of Sir Bernard Lovell, the driving force behind the UK’s Jodrell Bank radio-telescope, are a reminder of the risks of allowing short-term budget control to get in the way of long-term vision. As my colleague Clive Cookson wrote in the FT:

The project, funded by the government and Nuffield Foundation, ran far over budget and well behind schedule but Sir Bernard’s persuasive powers saw it through to completion.

The Telegraph’s obituary explains that the “building work was plagued by strikes, bureaucratic delays, delivery failures and escalating raw material costs”.

Following a parliamentary Public Accounts Committee investigation, Lovell faced a £1m lawsuit from his own engineer, with the threat of imprisonment if he couldn’t pay. As he explained in a fascinating video interview in 2007, the misunderstandings and legal battles put him under enormous stress. The use of the telescope to detect and track the recently launched Soviet Sputnik had underlined the national importance of the project, ensuring its future. But Lovell recalled:

Those years, particularly 1958, which should have been years of great, great, great relief and pleasure, with the telescope working and all the press in favour, were years of great depression and anxiety.

 Read more

Andrew Hill

The sense of shock in London about the allegations levelled against Standard Chartered goes well beyond the stock market where – as of mid-morning on Tuesday – the shares were down by nearly a quarter.

The group is virtually the only large UK bank not to have suffered serious reputational damage over the past five years. That’s partly because its operations are mostly outside the UK and other developed markets, partly, the bank would say, because of its strong culture.

As a result of that unique position – and the high reputation of its senior management — it was the safe harbour of choice for government ministers and their advisers in autumn 2008, when the rest of the UK banking sector was on the brink of collapse. The recapitalisation and rescue plan for the industry, later copied elsewhere, was cooked up in its boardroom, with the help of its top executives, generating a mass of laudatory coverage. Read more

Andrew Hill

The euphoria at Nasa over the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars is infectious. The public seems to have joined the scientists’ celebrations with a fervour similar to that shown by the British for their Olympic team’s successes. As one wag posted on Twitter: “Gold medal for Nasa in the 563 billion metres.”

Be careful, though, in extrapolating from either the Mars mission or the Olympic triumphs the easy conclusion that “aiming high” gets results. As I’ve written, the achievement of even quite small steps can have measurably positive effects on a team’s performance and morale. Similarly, missing the big goal might prove a crushing blow – I watch some of those heart-rending interviews with athletes that fell short of their and their countries’ expectations at the Olympics and wonder how they will start to recover. Read more

This weekend, NBC kicked off its expensive coverage of the London Olympics by cutting out the part of the opening ceremony that commemorated the victims of the July 7, 2005 bombings, in favour of a soft soap interview with Michael Phelps, the record-breaking swimmer. Then, when Phelps swam (and lost) the next day, it waited eight hours to televise him in action.