Monthly Archives: February 2013

Andrew Hill

As politicians, members of the European Parliament are justifiably proud of the bonus cap they have agreed to impose on bankers. They seem to have found a politically expedient, legally watertight, electorally popular way to use their limited powers to whack high finance where it hurts. That doesn’t mean that the measure, if confirmed, won’t have potentially grave consequences.

It will increase banks’ fixed costs, weaken the link between pay and performance, accelerate the inevitable drift of financial know-how and power from Europe to Asia, and instantly conjure up a thousand more complex, lawyer-driven alternative compensation structures to get round the rules. Read more

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new chief executive, has caused consternation by insisting that employees who have worked from home must in future come to the office. Her critics have pointed out that home workers are as productive, if not more so, as those in cubicles.

When Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop booked the Grand Tarabya hotel in Istanbul for the group’s annual leadership meeting at the end of January, he planned a spectacular finale. As the meeting of 200 senior executives drew to a close, musicians introduced themselves into the room, playing Ravel’s Bolero, until the whole orchestra was present for the climactic bars.

John Gapper

Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine won Oscar for best documentary short. Getty Images

This Oscars had many surprises, including the winner of the best actress award tripping over her dress on the way to collect it. But one interesting innovation was that for the first time, an Oscar went to a crowd-funded film.

Inocente, winner of the best short documentary award, was funded through Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform on which creative projects solicit donations. The film raised $52,527 in this way.

Inocente was one of three Kickstarter-funded films nominated for Oscars this year, all in the low-cost short film categories. Read more

Andrew Hill

What strikes me about the findings of the UK Competition Commission’s inquiry into the audit market is that in a world of ever more rapid change, a company’s relationship with its auditor is now often the oldest fixture in the boardroom.

Think about it. The commission says 31 per cent of blue-chip FTSE 100 companies have had the same auditor – almost invariably one of the “Big Four” – for 20 years or more. During that period, on average, most companies will have changed their chief executive at least four times, their non-executive board members (assuming replacement at the nine-year mark, when they lose their independence according to UK guidelines) twice, and their computer systems probably five or six times. Read more

John Gapper

Video game designer Mark Cerny talks about the new platform of the Playstation 4. Getty Images

Perhaps there is a method to the madness but I find Sony’s so-called launch of the PlayStation 4 without producing the games console peculiar.

Its executives revealed all kinds of technical details about the new console in New York on Wednesday evening, but did not unveil the thing itself. As the New York Times reported the event:

The console itself was never shown during the two-hour presentation. No release date was given, although before the Christmas holidays is a good possibility. No price was mentioned.

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If I were a mastermind seeking to undermine the City of London, I would shift Germany’s financial centre from Frankfurt to Berlin, just as the country moved its political capital from Bonn in the 1990s. Then it would be part of a cosmopolitan city where foreign bankers and lawyers might actually want to live.

Andrew Hill

French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg told: "How stupid do you think we are?" Getty Images

French Socialists and American chief executives make awkward bedfellows at the best of times. Just how awkward is evident from the extraordinary letter Maurice “Morry” M. Taylor – nicknamed “The Grizz” for his uncompromising negotiating style – sent to Arnaud Montebourg, France’s industry minister.

“How stupid do you think we are?” was Mr Taylor’s response to Mr Montebourg’s attempt to find out if Titan, the tyremaker Mr Taylor heads, would take over part of Goodyear’s factory in Amiens. Earlier efforts by Goodyear to forge a deal with Titan foundered on union opposition, which has not endeared French workers to the Titan CEO, who claims they “get paid high wages but work only three hours”. Read more

John Gapper

Novartis has done the right thing by scrapping its proposed payment of up to $78m to Daniel Vasella, its outgoing chairman, not to compete against the Swiss pharmaceuticals company. It raises questions not only about Swiss corporate governance but the entire principle of non-compete deals.

Mr Vasella was a dynamic and effective chief executive of Novartis but there is no obvious reason why he needs an extended non-compete agreement any more than another retiring chairman or corporate executive. Read more

Not since Sweeney Todd has there been such uncertainty about what exactly goes into processed meat. This time, it isn’t the customers of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street but Romanian horses.

John Gapper

Getty Images

Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ new squeaky clean chief executive, is winning good reviews today for his attempt to turn his back on the “aggressive, short-termist” regime of his predecessor, Bob Diamond.

That includes shutting down the bank’s controversial, but very profitable, tax avoidance unit. Conveniently, the announcement coincides with an example of what exactly this unit was doing.

BNY Mellon Bank has just, very expensively, lost a tax battle with the US authorities over an extremely complex swap arrangement dreamed up by Barclays. The judgement will cost the US bank about $850m. Read more

Every company used to have one. The curmudgeon whose habitual contribution to the strategy discussion was a slow intake of breath, a shake of the head, and a gloomy judgment on the latest plan: “We tried that in 1980: complete disaster.”

Andrew Hill

Pope Benedict XVI. Getty Images

How does the Pope’s decision to step down measure up against best practice in corporate succession planning?

Luckily, the Association of British Insurers – which issues regular guidance on governance issues – has recently, ahem, pontificated on this matter, recommending that companies improve their succession planning and have strong candidates ready to take over as chief executive. Read more

John Gapper

Getty Images

As an old student of HSBC – or, as I prefer to call it, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation – I found Stuart Gulliver’s remarks about the inadequacy of its structure following the Mexico money laundering scandal fascinating.

HSBC’s chief executive told the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards on Wednesday:

“Our structure was not fit for purpose for a modern world. Our geographic footprint became very attractive to transnational criminal organisations, whether they are terrorist in origin or criminal in origin.”

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It has been a vintage week for old remains. A skeleton beneath a car park was confirmed as that of Richard III and the US Department of Justice exhumed Standard & Poor’s emails from nearly a decade ago. Neither was a pretty sight.