Monthly Archives: January 2013

When David Cameron flew to Davos last week to tell companies that reduce their tax bills by dividing activities among countries to “wake up and smell the coffee”, his target was clear. Starbucks now faces a consumer boycott and has been publicly accused of acting unethically.

Andrew Hill

Horsemeat scandal leaves severe cracks in Tesco's reputation. Getty Images

Tesco has defined the limit of mutual responsibility for supply chains. Having inquired into the provenance of beefburgers that contained horsemeat, it has dumped Silvercrest, its supplier of frozen burgers, essentially for deviating from the list of Tesco-approved meat suppliers.

“The breach of trust is simply too great,” said Tim Smith, the UK retailer’s technical director, in a statement. (The owner and founder of Silvercrest’s parent told the FT earlier this month it had been “let down” by its own suppliers.) Read more

Andrew Hill

Getty Images

A merger between Anglo American and Xstrata falls into the “what if?” category of corporate counterfactuals. Anglo rebuffed Xstrata’s 2009 approach and the latter is now itself in the waiting room for a takeover from its largest shareholder Glencore.

But as Xstrata’s boss Mick Davis told me and Helen Thomas last week, he still feels he could have applied some merger-magic to Anglo, which on Tuesday confirmed speculation that it would write down the value of its Minas-Rio Brazilian iron ore project. Mr Davis said he had “absolutely no doubt” that he would have been able to liberate a more entrepreneurial culture at Anglo, by devolving more responsibility to operational managers, as at Xstrata. Here are his comments in full: Read more

Romantics searching for a business model to lead the financial sector out of post-crisis limbo keep flirting with the idea of partnership.

John Gapper

Everyone you meet at Davos tends to ask you what are the things that have most struck you about the week. If, as David Rothkopf remarks, the World Economic Forum is “a factory where the conventional wisdom is manufactured”, that is how it is done.

So, in that spirit, here is my biggest “takeaway”: it is quite possible to have a useful meeting in 15 minutes. Read more

John Gapper

Will the rise of higher education in the US and elsewhere be curtailed by the expansion of Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) that allow people to study digitally rather than attend lectures and classes? Some surprising people think so.

One of them is Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He told a panel in Davos organised by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, that he didn’t think institutions such as MIT could keep charging $40,000 a year for tuition in the digital world. Read more

Greetings from Davos, the annual shindig of world leaders and chief executives in a valley by a Swiss mountain. Or perhaps the site of a global conspiracy of the power elite. Or perhaps the place where a Swiss professor imposes his quaint euro-views on “stakeholder capitalism” on US corporations. Or perhaps one giant cocktail party.

John Gapper

My first task at Davos this year was a fun one: to interview Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winner and author of the best-selling book on the psychology of decision-making, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

One of the thoughts Mr Kahneman mooted in a lively hour of presentation and discussion was that chief executives, who are naturally optimistic people (for they would not be in that position if they weren’t), hold two sets of expectations in their heads. Read more

John Gapper

There is constant status anxiety at the World Economic Forum – am I at the best session, have I been invited to the best party, what colour badge am I wearing?

But what if the best Davos badge is not the white badge that admits you to all official events, but no badge at all? It is certainly cheaper than SFr20,000 for an official place at the forum. Read more

Andrew Hill

Adam Posen’s attack on the management and culture of the Bank of England may be the strongest yet, but it is by no means the first – and won’t be the last – criticism of a persistent and dismaying lack of robust governance at the UK central bank.

What is astonishing is that despite countless warnings – three independent reviews, several newspaper editorials and sundry MPs’ warnings – the central charge that the governor is over-mighty and under-governed still stands. Read more

No corporate activity is as dispiriting, as futile, or, unfortunately, as common as blame-shifting. The tawdry process is familiar to anyone who has worked in business. However, the temptation to lay blame first and ask questions later is greatest at big companies with their web of complex, global suppliers.

John Gapper

Sony sells its New York HQ. Getty Images

Sony’s sale of its New York headquarters, 550 Madison Avenue, is one of those moments that have deep symbolism, whatever the substance. It is a neat reversal of Mitsubishi Estate’s purchase of the Rockefeller Center in 1989, which led to an outbreak of concern that the US had lost its edge.

The second event that promoted the idea that the surging Japanese economy was enabling a US takeover was Sony’s purchase of Columbia Pictures in the same year, for $3.4bn. Sony still owns the Hollywood studio, although its problems with its electronics operations have weighed the whole down. Read more

Andrew Hill

Tom Albanese’s departure looks abrupt, but only in the sense that most outsiders had wearied of hearing calls for the Rio Tinto chief’s head. As Lex has pointed out, his resignation was long overdue.

Since the dire implications of Mr Albanese’s decision to push through the Alcan purchase at the top of the market in 2007 became clear, people had been saying his days were numbered. “I expect him to be out within 12 months,” was the rash prediction of one unnamed investor in 2009. Read more

John Gapper

The death of the internet activist Aaron Swartz at the age of 26 has rightly evoked tributes to his creativity and selflessness. Swartz, who faced jail for illegally downloading millions of academic papers from an electronic library, committed suicide last week.

Andrew Hill

I predicted that HMV would fail – two years ago. The survival of the venerable British brand, defying doomy analysts’ forecasts, the digital musical revolution and generalised High Street decline, was arguably more surprising than its eventual slide into administration overnight on Monday. It still hurts – even if there is sense in the cold argument that “zombie” companies need to be cleared out before recovery begins. Everyone has shopped at HMV. Its demise has left my son as an unsecured creditor, with £30 of unspent HMV gift vouchers that now have purely souvenir value.

The fact the company lasted this long was partly down to the misfortune of rivals like Virgin Megastore, Woolworths, Game and Zavvi, whose earlier collapse drove CD, DVD and computer game buyers to the few remaining physical outlets. Read more