When David Cameron visits Kazakhstan next week to expand trade links with the vast central Asian country, the British prime minister might ponder a recent piece of business. Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, the Kazakh company that has tarnished the City of London, wants to go private again, angering investors amid a UK Serious Fraud Office inquiry.
I confess I didn’t really know who Marc Rich was when the commodities trader’s unexpected pardon from Bill Clinton came through in January 2001. As the FT’s New York bureau chief at the time – and duty reporter that Sunday – I had to find out quickly. It was a tortuous story that will be retold many times in the coming days, following the announcement of his death on Wednesday.
You can read Rich’s official online biography or the less flattering Wikipedia version, both of which, interestingly, are referenced in the formal press release from the Marc Rich group announcing his passing. What strikes me, however, is the effort and money he must have spent over the past decades to ensure his story would be told in a positive way.
Caught in a traffic jam on his way to a gala in New Jersey this month, Sir Richard Branson bought drinks at a local shop and handed them out to frustrated drivers himself. So far, so Branson. As the Virgin founder explained last week in a blog post: “Those people who recognised me were happy to wind their windows down. Those who didn’t thought I was up to no good and kept their windows firmly closed!”
Even by China’s standards, Wuhan Iron & Steel is enormous. As we drive along the four-lane highway beside the 22 square-kilometre site – with its eight blast furnaces, hot and cold rolling mills, port on the Yangtze River and Red Steel City workers’ town where 300,000 people live – the scale of Mao Zedong’s favourite steelworks is staggering.
Spend one-and-a-half days at a Founders Forum event and it’s impossible not to get infected by the techie-enthusiast bug. The day after last week’s big get-together I found myself beginning a Bob the Builder story with my two-year-old: “It was a busy time in Silicon Valley.”*
The Financial Times is media partner with the event, and this year sponsored two prizes. Founder of the year was won by Ilkka Paananen, chief executive and co-founder of Supercell, the Finnish gaming company behind Clash of the Clans and Hay Day, while Eben Upton, founder of Raspberry Pi, the credit card-sized microcomputer, was awarded the One to Watch prize.
The western image of Chinese higher education is of relentless self-improvement and of hundreds of thousands of students graduating from universities with degrees in science and engineering. From China’s perspective, it looks a little different.
The slowing of growth and the fact that most new job creation is now taking place in the private sector, rather than in the public sector and state-owned enterprises, has led to a glut of new graduates. The unemployment rate among 21 to 25-years olds is now highest for university graduates.
But some Chinese analysts think it is not simply a demand problem – there is also a supply issue. Victor Yuan, chairman of Horizon Research, a Shanghai-based research group, argues that many universities are offering poor quality vocational education.
“Fashionable management school theory appears to have lent undeserved credibility to some chaotic systems.”
This line leapt out from the 571-page UK parliamentary review of banking published on Wednesday. It’s in the conclusion to the passage criticising the way in which banks applied the “three lines of defence” risk control framework – line managers, risk controllers and compliance staff, and internal audit.
Being invited for tea in China sounds like the sort of hospitable gesture that visitors come to expect. For the growing arm of Chinese bloggers – and users of Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter – it has a different connotation.
In that context, “he cha” (drink tea), means being asked to come and talk to the state security services about what you have been writing. That doesn’t mean being arrested, or even banned from Weibo permanently, but it is a shot across the bows.
I once rashly asked the chief executive of a large listed enterprise if he was overpaid. “I’ve taken no holiday and spent every weekend of the past 18 months trying to rescue this company, breaking up my marriage in the process,” he responded drily. “So, no, I don’t think I’m overpaid.”
You would think that an American executive who came to China in 2006 and has only made one sale since then might be feeling a little discouraged. But, as I discovered on a visit to the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, Brad Bean is not.
Since Mr Bean is trying to sell luxury yachts to billionaires – 70-to-100-metre vessels that retail for between $50m and $120m each – he thinks he is making good progress. China, after all, is not the obvious place to buy a yacht.
You’re about to hear a lot more about “good banks” and “bad banks”. The report from the parliamentary banking standards commission, due on Friday, and Stephen Hester’s departure from Royal Bank of Scotland will reignite questions such as whether RBS should be split into “good” and “bad” operations (Mr Hester opposed this).
Running in parallel is a philosophical debate about how you ensure banks are “good” – in the sense of having a strong, positive purpose.
But there is also the question of whether banks that do good are always good banks.
Sales of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four have risen since Edward Snowden revealed how the National Security Agency of the US gains access to telephone records and data from technology companies. So far, if people do not exactly love Big Brother, they are prepared to accept some invasion of their privacy in return for security.
Everybody loves a conspiracy – provided they are part of it. That is the lesson of the outbreak of outrage in the UK last week, when the “secret world government” that attends the Bilderberg meetings landed on the front lawn of middle England.
Everywhere one looks, Google is doing remarkable things. It could soon overtake Apple in downloads of applications; it is developing self-driving cars; people wear its kooky augmented reality Glass spectacles; it is signing renewable power deals in South Africa and Sweden.