Monthly Archives: August 2013

John Gapper

Suicide is a tragedy and it is impossible from the outside to know exactly what led to someone taking his own life. But Josef Ackermann’s resignation as chairman of Zurich Insurance following the apparent suicide of Pierre Wauthier, its chief financial officer, is an extraordinary event. Read more

Did you hear the one about the strategy consultancy that could not work out a strategy for itself? It might make chief executives being billed $500 an hour for the wisdom of McKinsey & Co or Boston Consulting Group chuckle, but it is not a joke for the industry.

Maija Palmer

When you had a long holiday did you check your email? Or rather, how many times did you check your email each day? When the FT’s Lucy Kellaway suggested in an advice column that people should stay in touch with the office while vacationing, a significant number of readers – amid the howls of protest – agreed this was now simply the reality of life. A recent study by TeamViewer found that 38 per cent of Americans read work-related emails while on holiday.

But behind the scenes, a growing movement of email refuseniks is gaining ground.

 Read more

John Gapper

How do you value a share in an estate agency (what is known in the US as a realtor)? Perhaps as a derivative of a leveraged investment in a highly cyclical market – in other words, with extreme caution.

London investors are getting a chance to use their own methods, with the initial public offering of Foxtons, the chain of London estate agents that was bought by BC Partners for £360m in 2007 at the peak of the UK property boom. It later went through a debt restructuring as the market sagged. Read more

John Gapper

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft

Steve Ballmer. Image by Getty.

No chief executive wants the company’s shares to jump sharply on the news that he or she is stepping down.

Pent-up relief, however, was the reaction to Steve Ballmer’s decision to retire as Microsoft chief executive within a year.

It has been a long time coming. Mr Ballmer has struggled mightily since becoming the boss in 2000 to keep Microsoft at the front of the computing and software industry, but has allowed it to be eclipsed by Google and Apple. Read more

Emma Jacobs

In today’s Working Lives feature I spoke to four novelists who quit banking and law to write. A few found their former careers fertile subject matter for fiction.

After the financial crash, some writers addressed the issue raised by Sir Howard Davies, former director of the London School of Economics and chairman of the judges of the Man Booker literary prize, who complained that there was a dearth of British novelists showing any interest in business. Out came John Lanchester’s Capital, Sebastian Faulks’s A Week in December, and Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money. In the US, Jonathan Dee’s The Privileges, and Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett featured bankers. Read more

John Gapper

The decision by Kensington & Chelsea council to charge a one-off fee of £825,000 to a hedge fund manager who wanted to excavate and build a luxury basement will send shivers through the well-heeled of London.

Not many people will feel too sorry for Reade Griffith of Polygon Investment Partners but it throws a light on the high, and sometimes hidden, transaction fees attached to the inflated London housing market.

Section 106 agreements, the legal avenue used by Kensington to extract the fee from Mr Griffith and his wife, are usually struck between planning authorities and developers of commercial or residential developments, rather than individuals. Read more

Last month technicians from GCHQ, the UK electronic surveillance agency, stood over journalists from The Guardian newspaper to make sure that they destroyed a computer containing files leaked to them by Edward Snowden, the former contractor to the US National Security Agency. This week the British police abused anti-terror legislation to detain David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian journalist, and seize his files. Coming up next: officials from the NSA and GCHQ bang their heads against a brick wall in frustration at having allowed Mr Snowden to abscond with their secrets. It would be as effective, and legal.

Emma Jacobs

To be chief executive of a multinational tech company, even one whose sales are declining, rarely merits the description “underdog”. Yet this is how Henry Blodget, who heads Business Insider, refers to Marissa Mayer, in her first interview since becoming chief executive of Yahoo a year ago, which features in the all-important September issue of US Vogue. Read more

John Gapper

The admission of wrongdoing by Philip Falcone, pictured left, and his hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, along with a five-year ban from the securities industry, is a step in the right direction for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The deal with Mr Falcone (documented here) is the first evidence of a tougher policy on serious regulatory breaches by the SEC under Mary Jo White, its new chairman. This actually requires the offenders to admit to something when they settle and pay a fine.

The previous deal that Mr Falcone and his lawyers had struck with SEC staff – to pay a fine and accept a two-year ban while neither admitting nor denying a breach (the usual SEC formula) was thrown out by the commissioners earlier this yearRead more

John Gapper

The US investigation into JP Morgan Chase having hired the children of well-connected officials in China is one of those events that threatens to up-end a business practice that is long-established and widespread, yet hard to justify when it is placed under a harsh spotlight.

The problem is at least as much for China itself as for the Wall Street banks and financial institutions that have followed the local practice by trying to get themselves some good connections. It speaks to the justified resentment of many Chinese at the way the elite “princeling” class accrues wealth.

As it happens, the investigation has emerged in the same week that Bo Xilai goes on formal trial on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power. Mr Bo’s downfall was a catalyst in exposing the extreme internal strains within the Chinese leadership caused by such issues. Read more

Emma Jacobs

Tim Armstrong, chief executive of AOL, has apologised for firing Abel Lenz, creative director at the company’s Patch, in front of 1,000 co-workers.

It comes on the heels of a leaked recording that was published by Business Insider, in which Mr Armstrong is heard dismissing Mr Lenz in strong terms followed by an awkward silence. The recording went viral. Read more

Emma Jacobs

The battle to get Jane Austen’s face on banknotes was seen as a victory for women campaigners. It also triggered a debate that feminists were too focused on trivial issues rather than the more important effort to gain economic parity with men.

However, there have been a series of interesting pieces of research on female work in the post-crash era that are worth reading. Read more

Emma Jacobs

In an interview with Newsweek, Jill Abramson (left), the editor of the New York Times, admitted that she cried when she read a profile in Politico, a Washington news site, that cast doubt on her editorship.

“I cried… I should say it went right off me, but I’m just being honest. I did cry. But by the next morning, I wasn’t completely preoccupied by it anymore. I had my cry and that was that.” Read more