Monthly Archives: September 2013

John Gapper

There is more than one way to lead in the smartphone industry, and China is at work on all of them.

No longer content to copy foreign products. China is developing brands to compete with Apple and Samsung. Xiaomi is known as its answer to Apple, and Huawei and ZTE, the equipment companies, have moved into handsets

John Gapper

The new free trade zone in Shanghai is a fascinating experiment by the Chinese government – among the most radical since it established the special economic zone in Shenzhen in 1980. But what does “free” mean?

As my colleague Simon Rabinovitch writes, there is uncertainty about how much economic liberalisation will be permitted in the zone, although plenty of big ideas have been bandied about: 

Not long ago, Goldman Sachs was Wall Street’s lightning rod, attracting bad publicity and interventions from regulators. Its place has been taken by JPMorgan Chase.

Andrew Hill

The controlling Jack Ma

Well done, Hong Kong. By sticking to its principles and not bending to Alibaba’s pressure for an unusual board control structure, the city’s stock exchange has struck a blow for investor rights over the increasing demands of technology executives.

Not that it will make a jot of difference. 

Ravi Mattu

I blame Wayne Gretzky.

Ever since the world’s greatest ice hockey player said a tearful good-bye to playing in Canada way back in 1988, his fellow Canadians have been smarting at the rules of big business.

Then, it was Gretzky’s move from snowy and quiet Edmonton to showy and glitzy Los Angeles. Now, 25 years later, the woes of BlackBerry, our one-time technological champion, have led some to wonder if national pride is again at stake. The putative bid by Toronto-based Fairfax Financial to take the company private has only added to the concern, with many analysts and investors unconvinced of the business case. 

Ask chief executives to make controversial public statements about their core business and they tend to be shy. I know this because I spent a few years trying to coax them into print as editor of the FT’s comment page. But provide them with an opening to tell the world about their sustainability initiatives and they are often impossible to shut up.

Andrew Hill

Di Canio confronts fans; a day later he lost his job as Sunderland manager

With Harvard Business School professors analysing Sir Alex Ferguson’s management style, and consultants drawing parallels between football coaches and chief executives, is there room in the crowded literature of sports management case studies for “The Di Canio Way”?

If there is, it will be a slim volume – Paolo Di Canio lost his job as manager of Sunderland on Sunday night after just 13 games and barely a month into the new season. I don’t have much truck with parallels between sports management and business management, but there are four cautionary chapters executives everywhere might want to read. 

John Gapper

BlackBerry’s belated decision to focus on corporate customers, amid the uncertainty over its future, is further evidence of how hard it is to bridge the gap between business and retail markets in mobile.

Both Microsoft and BlackBerry have been stranded by the shift toward consumer power in buying mobile devices. Individuals are no longer happy to take the smartphones their employers want. 

John Gapper

The news that Stephen Elop is receiving a pay-off of €18.8m to move from Nokia back to Microsoft will be the last nail in the coffin of his reputation in Finland, where many people resent what happened under his leadership of the national champion.

Mr Elop’s decision, on becoming chief executive of Nokia in 2010 to bet the future of its mobile phones on Microsoft Windows software, didn’t work. He rejected the more obvious path of adopting Android for its smartphones. Instead, Nokia has struggled to turn Windows into a rival to the Google platform or Apple’s iOS.

As the Lex column notes, Mr Elop is getting the money despite Nokia’s market capitalisation having fallen from €28bn to €18bn under his leadership. That hardly suggests he deserves a big payout. 

The New York minicab service I used to favour communicated in code. When you rang and gave your address, the radio dispatcher would reply “five minutes” and hang up. This meant a cab would arrive at any time from one to 10 minutes later. “Seven minutes” meant 20, and “10 minutes” meant that anything, or nothing, could happen.

Andrew Hill

Credit to Jamie Dimon for attempting to see the wood for the trees by felling some of the trees. The JPMorgan chief executive’s memo to staff makes clear that “simplifying [its] business” and “refocusing [its] priorities” is, well, a priority.

But what Mr Dimon is attempting is arguably the most complicated task known to managers of large multinationals, whether they sell food or financial services. It is dangerous to imply, as he does, that the goal of simplification can be achieved, once and for all, by “recognising our problems, rolling up our sleeves and fixing them”. 

Howard Wilkinson, former manager of Leeds United, knows about pressure: “No offence to captains of industry but even a FTSE 100 chairman can postpone a board meeting. A manager can’t postpone a football match and every match is a shareholder meeting, [sometimes] in front of 88,000 people.”

Michael Skapinker

If ousted Danske Bank chief executive Eivind Kolding’s controversial advertising campaign persuaded any customers to take their accounts elsewhere, that is some achievement. Bank customers are reluctant to change banks regardless of what the advertising says.

I may be an extreme case – I have been with the same bank for 35 years – but international studies suggest I am not unusual. A worldwide survey last year by EY, the professional services firm, found that just a third of customers had ever changed their main bank.

Of course, Mr Kolding’s aim was to persuade customers to put their money in his bank rather than to take it out. The problem was that the Danske Bank ad (“A new normal demands news standards”), which featured, among other things, street rioters, Occupy campaigners and crumbling icebergs, was a category error. 

Michael Skapinker

Thomas Bach, the new president of the International Olympic Committee, is the ninth person to hold the position since it was established in 1894. The election of Mr Bach, once an Olympic gold medal fencer, comes shortly after the investiture of Ephraim Mirvis as chief rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth. Britain has had chief rabbis since 1704. Rabbi Mirvis is just the 11th to hold the post.

When the Olympic movement and British Jewry appoint bosses, they expect them to stick around.

Contrast that with company chief executives, who are being thrown out in almost unprecedented numbers. 

John Gapper

Tina Brown isn’t quite the power she once was in the New York media world but the famed editor is always worth watching for what she comes up with next. Her departure from The Daily Beast to run a live events company is no exception.

Barry Diller, founder of IAC, clearly lost patience with the ongoing losses at the Beast. It is reported by AdWeek to be on track to lose $12m this year, even after ditching Newsweek, which Ms Brown tried and failed to turn round.

But, never daunted, Ms Brown, a former editor of Tatler, the New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines, is setting up Tina Brown Live Media. A sort of newfangled conference business it will, according her press release, produce “sponsor-supported summits, salons and flash debates”.

The first question is: what on earth is a “flash debate”? The best explanation so far was provided to Erik Wemple of the Washington Post. A “source close to Brown’s negotiations” told him: “’It’s bringing a group of people together in a quick time period doing topics of the day.’”