Monthly Archives: October 2012

For me, the most poignant photograph of the destruction left by hurricane Sandy was of the Fairway supermarket in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I used to shop there on weekends and, in the café at the back, next to two disused trams, would enjoy the vista of New York harbour and the Statue of Liberty.

Like a man with a broken umbrella trying to hail a cab in a downpour, the maker of the famous black London taxi is clinging to its last shreds of hope. Last week Manganese Bronze announced it was no longer a going concern and intended to appoint administrators.

John Gapper

There are many serious things to say about the merger of Random House and Penguin but the aspect that most strikes me is what a wasted opportunity it is to have an entertaining brand name.

As widely noted on Twitter, the decision to call the merged entity Penguin Random House is aesthetically far inferior to the alternative: Random Penguin. Jane Thynne, the journalist and author, summed it up nicely:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/janethynne/status/262846418203578368"] Read more

Andrew Hill

Anglo American’s Cynthia Carroll would quite justifiably like to be assessed for her performance as a chief executive, not as a female chief executive. The same goes for two other prominent chief executives of UK companies who have announced their departure this month: Marjorie Scardino at Pearson (which owns the FT) and Kate Swann at WH Smith.

But the continued scarcity of female CEOs worldwide, the fact that two of this trio will be replaced by men (Ms Carroll’s successor has yet to be named), and the coincidence with a heated debate about gender quotas in European Union boardrooms make this a legitimate theme.

Specifically, it draws attention to the only element of the gender quota debate that pro-quota and anti-quota camps agree on (apart from the ultimate objective of achieving greater balance): that it is more important to fill the pipeline of female executives than it is to stock the board with female non-executives. Read more

The last two jobs held by George Entwistle before he became director-general and editor-in-chief of the BBC last month were as its director of vision and controller of knowledge commissioning. Only an organisation where George Orwell once worked could devise such marvellously sinister titles.

Andrew Hill

Apple's iPad Mini

Who wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on the wall when Apple’s senior executives were discussing pricing of the new iPad Mini? At $329 (£269 in the UK), the relatively high price now appears to be making investors nervous.

What would Steve Jobs have done? Overpricing of the original Macintosh computer – conceived as a $1,000 machine, which increased to $1,995 because of Jobs’ tinkering with the design – was one of the first big disagreements between Jobs and John Sculley, then Apple’s chief executive.

As Walter Isaacson writes in his biography of the late Apple founder, Mr Sculley’s decision in 1983 to add a further $500 to the price and charge $2,495, to help pay for the huge launch and marketing push, made Jobs furious: “It will destroy everything we stand for,” he said. “I want to make this a revolution, not an effort to squeeze out profits.” Read more

Celebrity endorsement is the most irritating form of brand-boosting marketers have yet conceived – and that’s saying something. George Clooney flirting over a Nespresso coffee machine; Andy Murray fumbling for his Rado watch in what should have been his moment of US Open glory; Brad Pitt intoning “Chanel No 5: inevitable” in the new “groundbreaking” scent campaign: the product of such tie-ups is almost always cloying or annoying or both.

Andrew Hill

Permira’s agreement to buy Ancestry.com fills me with dread because I am a closet user of the genealogy site – largely through its compulsive iPad app, which my colleague Lucy Kellaway highlighted in an article in 2011.

Bought out: Prince William's family tree, as depicted by Ancestry.com

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John Gapper

Having become accustomed over the years to the calm, soothing, “don’t panic” talk of financial regulators, it was a shock to read Andrew Bailey, the senior UK banking supervisor, bluntly describe banks’ risk models for commercial real estate as “bogus”.

Mr Bailey clearly has very little, if any, time for banks’ internal risk models, which calculate how much they might lose in stressed market conditions, and therefore how much they need to put aside in capital.

As Brooke Masters reports:

After two decades of working with failed and failing institutions including Barings, HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland, he was openly sceptical of bankers’ ability to police themselves.

Their commercial real estate risk models are “bogus”, he said, and their internal stress tests “are not stress at all, they’re mild, it’s a failure of imagination”. As a result, banks “never should have been allowed” to use their own models to determine capital requirements as currently permitted under the Basel rules.

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John Gapper

Larry Page, Google's chief executive

It isn’t often that the Daily Mail splashes on a US stock exchange announcement, so the fuss over Google’s botched disclosure of its third quarter results – and the plunge in its shares on Thursday – is a big event.

The lesson I take from it is that it is awfully hard for a public company to ignore the clamour of the stock market. Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, turned up on the earnings call to explain the premature release of the results, despite the medical condition that makes his voice hoarse.

When Google floated in 2004, Mr Page and Sergey Brin, his co-founder, insisted that they would ignore quarterly results and manage the business for the long term: Read more

John Gapper

The likely end of BP’s tempestuous, yet profitable, partnership with a group of Russian oligarchs in TNK-BP is a moment to tot up the costs and benefits. Financially, it came out on top, but it certainly suffered along the way.

I’ve kept an interested eye on TNK-BP since writing about the energy venture in 2003, when it was formed. I judged then that it was worth it for BP to risk being stitched up by its new partners (the article is not online): Read more

It is somehow apt that the explanations for the sudden departure of Vikram Pandit from Citigroup this week were utterly baffling. “No strategic, regulatory or operating issue precipitated the resignation,” said Michael O’Neill, the bank’s chairman. “I had a very good conversation with Mike O’Neill,” insisted Mr Pandit.
Yeah, right.

Andrew Hill

Michael Corbat looks like the most conventional chief executive Citigroup has appointed for 10, even 20 years. Certainly over the past decade, for a blue-chip, Fortune 500 banking institution, Citi has been led by a remarkably diverse range of CEO types:

1) An entrepreneur: the irrepressible Sandy Weill with his gargantuan appetite for deals. Having alienated his protege Jamie Dimon, Mr Weill appointed….

2) A lawyer: Chuck Prince, his general counsel and long-time legal fixer, who lasted only four years before being forced out as the banking crisis built, to make way for…. Read more

Andrew Hill

Simon Fox of Trinity Mirror, the UK newspaper and publishing group, is the latest chief executive to attempt to give a restructuring plan a sense of focus, simplicity and unity by attaching “One” to the company name. “One Trinity Mirror” – which unifies the regional and national newspaper divisions under a “flatter, more efficient management structure” – follows in the footsteps of One Ford, One Siemens, and One Anglo (at Anglo American), to name just a handful.

I prefer the “One” theme to some of the other names applied to past restructurings. Among my least favourite: “Shape 2012″ at Metro, the German retailer (“Pear-shaped 2012″ would have been more appropriate, as one observer pointed out ); Reuters’ “Fast Forward” – a scheme that predated the Thomson merger and led to mordant humour among the newly redundant about having been “fast-forwarded”; and law firm Linklaters’ “Project New World“, with its sinister Aldous Huxley overtones. Read more

Once upon a time, in a not-so faraway land, an evil poisoner stalked the apothecaries’ aisles, tainting the good things there and spreading fear, until a wise leader decreed the shelves should be cleared. Behold, the danger was averted and trust was restored