Monthly Archives: November 2012

John Gapper

Ofcom could oversee press. Getty Images


Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the ethics and culture of the UK press is generally sober and carefully considered, but it confuses matters by proposing giving a big role in press oversight to Ofcom, the UK telecoms and broadcast regulator.

“I am firmly of the view that the goal here is voluntary independent self-regulation,” writes the judge. His core proposal is for a new press oversight body established by the industry, with powers of arbitration in disputes.

In many ways, this fits with my column setting out a way in which a new arrangement with statutory underpinning could enhance the freedom of the press, while cracking down on Fleet Street’s abuses.

But he allocates an important oversight role to Ofcom; an independent regulator whose chairman is appointed by the government and that is ultimately accountable to parliament. That strikes me as badly misguided. Read more

Andrew Hill

Entrepreneurs should take a look at the video of Groupon founder Andrew Mason being interviewed at Wednesday’s Business Insider conference. It could be the last time you see him as the internet company’s chief executive. The board is due to meet later on Thursday to discuss his future, in the wake of the sharp fall in the stock since its IPO. A series of brutal leaks suggests his job is on the line.

Mr Mason evinces an odd and contradictory mixture of arrogance and humility. For example, he told Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget: Read more

Some years ago, when I was the media editor of the FT, I used to deal with one David Cameron, the public relations executive of Carlton, a large broadcasting company. Since then, Mr Cameron has become prime minister of the UK while I have stayed roughly where I was.

Andrew Hill

A British chief executive I met this week was fretting about the UK government’s attempts to kick-start the economy with infrastructure projects. He didn’t fault the plan, but he worried about the execution, likening ministers to Biblical prophets. The only problem, he said, is that “the word of God” is not enough to make roads, bridges, power stations and broadband networks miraculously materialise. Read more

A charity fundraiser told me recently that it was a rule of thumb in philanthropic circles that you should thank donors seven times.

Apart from online references to “tradition”, “common wisdom” and, inevitably, “Chinese custom”, I’ve found no empirical research to support this magic number. Some experts on charitable giving have never heard of the idea; those who have are divided about whether it is even a useful maxim.

Andrew Hill

If I kept crashing my car, I might well decide that I needed to keep a bigger chunk of cash available to repair it, but I would also consider whether I needed to improve my driving.

Following the same logic, regulators’ efforts to force banks to hold more capital to guard against operational risk seem to me to address only half the issue: the other half is about ensuring basic management competence at financial institutions.

As Brooke Masters writes in Monday’s FT:

Operational risk covers almost any problem – bar trading losses, bad loans and legal cases – that could damage a bank, such as the weeks of computer problems at Royal Bank of Scotland.

Yet while it may suit banks to characterise some of these operational risks as bolts from the blue – interruptions to the smooth running core business of making money from money – the truth is that most of these incidents start with simple mismanagement. Read more

John Gapper

The appointment of Tony Hall as director-general of the BBC, succeeding the unfortunate George Entwistle, indicates how hard it is to appoint a genuine outsider to one of the most wide-ranging and complex jobs in the media.

The director-general is not only chief executive of the organisation but (now notoriously) its editor-in-chief as well. Indeed, since the job of chairman of the BBC was switched to chairing the BBC Trust, the DG is arguably chairman, chief executive and editor-in-chief. Read more

Things got quite exciting in London at noon on Tuesday. First Kweku Adoboli, the rogue trader formerly employed by UBS, was sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud. Then Hewlett-Packard accused the former management of Autonomy, the UK software company, of wrongdoing. The moral appeared to be, as a New York journalist wryly tweeted: “Don’t trust the British.”

Andrew Hill

Roberto Di Matteo. Image by Getty

Chief executives who fret about the short-termist demands of their companies’ shareholders should spare a thought for Roberto Di Matteo, ditched as manager of Chelsea Football Club on Wednesday.

Football is a funny old management game, of course, but Chelsea’s capricious owner Roman Abramovich embodies a combination of short-termism, short temper and short-term memory loss that is extreme even in that curious world.

True, Mr Di Matteo had just overseen Chelsea’s defeat in the Champions’ League on Tuesday night to Italy’s Juventus, which puts the London club in danger of an early exit from Europe’s most prestigious club competition. But Mr Di Matteo is also the man who, having taken over only weeks earlier from the last hapless Chelsea manager, led the club to (admittedly unexpected) victory in the same tournament in May. Read more

Andrew Hill

“Real business value”, “industry-shifting technology”, “unsurpassed innovation” or “accounting improprieties, misrepresentations and disclosure failures”? Or both?

Hewlett-Packard’s accolades for Autonomy’s technology are drawn from an HP “fact sheet” which is helpfully included in the “related links” HP provides from Tuesday’s withering online statement about an $8.8bn impairment charge. Most of the charge relates, HP says, to alleged improprieties at the UK software company the US group bought last year.

The announcement brings back into the open the sort of concerns that dogged Autonomy as Mike Lynch, its co-founder, built up the business – and that he always dismissed as untrue. Read more

The most thought-provoking declaration at the conference I attended last week on the future of capitalism came not from a chief executive, business school dean or management sage but from a newly minted “Gen Y” graduate with an entrepreneurial bent. Traditional education is flawed, according to Hongjun Wang from Singapore. “It isn’t a complete system,” he said. “We need to start taking personal responsibility [and ask ourselves]: ‘What are the ways I can complement and supplement my education?’”

John Gapper

David Carr’s column in the New York Times criticising Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of the Washington Post, for her handling of the venerable Watergate paper strikes me as a little off-target.

Carr, the NYT’s respected media columnist, focuses on how Ms Weymouth, niece of Don Graham, the former publisher of the family-controlled paper, provoked the departure of Marcus Brauchli as the Post’s executive editor. He suggests she lacks the gravitas and people-handling skills of Mr Graham:  Read more

The co-founder of PayPal and Tesla, and founder of SpaceX talks to the FT’s John Gapper and Daniel Garrahan about electric cars for the mass market and putting people on Mars, at the UK launch of his sports car.

Andrew Hill

One of the strongest underlying themes of the fourth Global Peter Drucker Forum isn’t even on the formal agenda: education.

Day one of the two-day Vienna conference – which keeps alive the ideas of the late Austrian-born management writer – began with education. In a video message, Drucker’s 101-year-old widow Doris asked “is a college education still a parent’s best investment?” in a fast-changing world.

It continued with education, as Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman asserted that entrepreneurs are not born, but made – in part through courses like his, which teaches Israeli students to launch and run technology start-ups (Tobias Buck’s FT interview with him explains more). It ended with education: Lynda Gratton of London Business School cited it as one of three key challenges that lie ahead for the global economy (the others being climate change and poverty). Read more

The sex scandal that brought down David Petraeus, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, this week has everything – compromising emails, a relationship with his admiring biographer, a second femme fatale and a shirtless agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Everything but substance.

Andrew Hill

With the Chinese Communist party about to anoint Xi Jinping as its new secretary general, there is plenty of speculation about the implications of its political and economic changes for the rest of the world, but little about its capacity to inspire management innovation.

China is overdue a modern management guru (Sun Tzu, born around the sixth century BC, doesn’t count).

Walter Kiechel has written an excellent potted history of “The Management Century” in the latest Harvard Business Review, starting in the late 19th and early 20th century with an “age of scientific management” (led by Frederick Winslow Taylor), moving through a more sophisticated era of growing self-confidence from the 1940s to the 1980s (dominated by the insights of Peter Drucker, whose life and work is celebrated this week at the Global Drucker Forum in Vienna) and on to the modern era of specialisation and globalisation. But, as Kiechel writes, “most of our story so far takes place in the United States”: Read more

John Gapper

Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky introduces a new tablet computer. Image by Getty

The unexpected departure of Steven Sinofsky as head of Microsoft’s giant Windows division has some inescapable similarities to that of Scott Forstall, who ran Apple’s mobile software. Read more

As elusive as Bigfoot, as addictive as a Big Mac, as sinister as Big Brother: the lure of “big data” is perfect bait for fee-hungry experts hunting new business. It also poses untold risks to companies that fail to read the trend, or the data, correctly.

Andrew Hill

I’m interested to see the name of Caroline Thomson re-emerge on the list of potential candidates to take over as BBC director-general from George Entwistle, who stepped down humiliatingly on Saturday.

Her farewell speech – predating the Savile and Newsnight scandals that laid Mr Entwistle low – now sounds prescient, with its reminder that the corporation “must never lose sight of its purpose”:

It is always when the BBC loses sight of what it is here for that it runs into trouble with licence fee payers. Confidence doesn’t mean arrogance. Indeed, if we are in a biblical frame of mind, humility is in order.

 Read more

Andrew Hill

Justin Welby. Image by PA

The odds are that Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, will be named the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Such are the rumours that a company would have stopped trading in its shares and issued a statement by now, but that’s not how things are done in the Church of England.

Far from focusing on the bishop’s spiritual qualities, however, much of the coverage so far has homed in on his background: Eton – the same private school as David Cameron, British prime minister – Cambridge university, and then stints as an executive at Elf Aquitaine and Enterprise Oil. Is this relevant?


The Eton-and-Cambridge part of his CV is a red herring, to my mind – there seems no reason why someone from a privileged background shouldn’t be allowed to apply that privilege to perform good works – and Bishop Welby put the executive life behind him when he saw the light and quit business 25 years ago. Even in the oil industry, that is quite a long time. Read more