Monthly Archives: December 2013

Every year, at services of lessons and carols, or in renditions of Handel’s Messiah , I hear a version of this sonorous Old Testament passage: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.”

What is a doctor’s job? Is it: a) to diagnose illness; b) to treat patients; or c) to persuade other doctors to prescribe a brand-name pill? To those answering c), here is an additional question: do you work for a pharmaceuticals company?

Lucy Kellaway

This is the last day of my Golden Flannel award blogs, and I want to thank you for all your fine, discerning judging so far, and to ask you to rule on two final categories.

The first is for the best (worst) rebranding of a common object. It is one of life’s grand mysteries why marketing people are so keen on turning something that people need and want into something entirely baffling, but it seems they are.
Countless heroic rebrandings took place in 2013, of which the finest three were: 

Lucy Kellaway

Some readers may remember Martin Lukes, the late CEO of a-b glöbâl, who tragically died three years ago when skydiving as part of a team building exercise.
The jargon-spouting executive, who wrote a column in the FT about his life and works, was most famous for coining the term “creovation”, part creativity and part innovation, but more blue sky than either.
Since then there have been a thousand imitators, who have taken two perfectly good words and put them together to make an ugly monstrosity that means nothing at all. General Electric was the first to copy Martin Lukes when it created a whole movement based on something called “Ecomagination”, which was pretty good, though not quite as creovative as the original.
This year’s entries are as follows:

Iconicity.  

What struck me most forcefully in the profile of Jack Ma, Financial Times person of the year, was not the Alibaba founder’s youth, his love of martial arts, or his against-the-odds subjugation of eBay, once the dominant force in Chinese internet auctions. It was this: what a failure he was.

Andrew Hill

As the FT’s Milan correspondent in the 1990s, I used to be a regular visitor to Palazzo Mezzanotte – the headquarters of the Italian stock exchange – an imposing 1932 building that its own website describes as “one of the architectural symbols of the Fascist era”. Given that history, if I were running Moncler, I probably wouldn’t have used this photo to publicise the first day of trading in my company’s shares – unless, of course, it is a deliberate Benetton-style attempt to shock.

 

Lucy Kellaway

Today’s prize is for a person, not for a word. It is awarded to a big-name CEO who in the course of 2013 has shown outstanding dedication to raising the jargon bar across all touch points.

Last year’s Chief Obfuscation Champion was John Chambers at Cisco who wrote the following lines in a memo to staff “We’ll wake the world up and move the planet a little closer to the future” – thus managing to be both banal and grandiose all at once.

This year there are four strong contenders for 2013 COC. I think my favourite is the last, though as I had never heard of him before, I’m not sure that he qualifies. Please tell me what you think. Your vote counts. 

Lucy Kellaway

The next category in my Golden Flannel Awards covers grammatical atrocities including “nerbs” (nouns masquerading as verbs) and “vouns” (verbs masquerading as nouns). These have long been a mainstay in the jargon space – think “to task” and “to action” and “to architect” – but I hope you will agree with me that this year’s shortlist is even better than usual. 

Andrew Hill

Come dine with me: Quid's Gourley takes on SAP's Graf (right)

“I refuse to accept that small companies innovate and disrupt and large companies don’t, because that’s fundamentally wrong.”

That was the response of Peter Graf, Silicon Valley-based chief sustainability officer of SAP, to some sustained needling from Sean Gourley, co-founder of Quid, at a debate I chaired last week at the FT’s Innovate America conference on the Stanford campus. (The full video is here – things really start to kick off about eight minutes from the end). 

Lucy Kellaway

The next prize in my Golden Flannel Awards 2013 is the COMMUNICATIONS CUP.
This is awarded for the most awful way of suggesting that two people meet, email or talk. As I explained yesterday, I’m asking you to cast your vote below: this year’s awards are truly democratic.

As a renowned thought leader in the jargon space, I am intrigued by this category. Meeting, talking on the phone and emailing are all pretty straightforward, so you wouldn’t have thought new words were needed to describe them. But evidently they are, which explains why this category continues to dazzle and amaze year after year. Previous winners have included: to reach out, to circle back and to revert. All three are terrific, and all are still in use. However, in 2013 there have been many additions of which the best (worst) are: 

The internet and social network companies of Silicon Valley enjoy one of the world’s most attractive business models. Offer a free service, collect personal data, use it to lure advertisers, and expand seamlessly across the US and around the world to millions of users.

Lucy Kellaway

Firing with finesse: George Clooney played a downsizing expert in the film 'Up in the Air'

Every year at around this time I hand out prizes for the finest examples of corporate drivel written or uttered in the last twelve months. The point of my Golden Flannel Awards (now in their splendid 8th year) is to celebrate business leaders and companies that have gone the extra mile to push the envelope when it comes to creovative, best-of-breed drivel. As I’ve often pointed out, the great thing about the bullshit market is that it only has a bull phase, which means that every year the awards go on getting better (or worse).
This year, in recognition of the sheer scale and maturity of the bull industry, I’ve decided to conduct the Flannel Awards in a more organised way. In the past I’ve chosen the winners myself. But this year I want FT readers to help me. Every day until Christmas I’ll be posting shortlists for a different category on this blog and I would like you to tell me which you think deserves the prize. The shortlists are short, as I’m only putting forward things that I think are a) new b) excruciatingly awful. However, if anyone has come across any more worthy examples, let me know. The glorious winners will be announced in my first column of 2014. Without more ado, here is the first category: 

Andrew Hill

GM's off – and Barra's driving (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Of two immediately obvious facts about Mary Barra, chief executive elect at General Motors, the more interesting is not that she is a woman but that she is a company “lifer”.

To my mind, GM looks as though it is signalling that it has turned the corner following the trauma of government bailout, just as Citigroup did when it appointed career insider Michael Corbat as chief executive last year. 

Before long, “everything that computes will connect, and everything that connects will compute”, Abhi Ingle, who spearheads innovation at AT&T, told last week’s FT Innovate America conference in Silicon Valley.

Andrew Hill

EADS closes Paris: "Someday you'll understand…" ('Casablanca', AP Photo, Files)

If corporate headquarters always have a symbolic as well as an organisational function then EADS’ arrangements symbolised the political complexity of the pan-European aerospace and defence company.

The group’s website lists three “head offices” – in Paris, Munich and Madrid – and one “headquarters”, in Amsterdam. But since an April reorganisation, the group has referred to Toulouse, where chief executive Tom Enders and the important Airbus business are based, as its “single operational headquarters”. That should have been a clue to staff elsewhere that their future might not be so stable. If you’re not operational, you are probably an overhead. So it has proved: EADS is poised to close the Paris office, next to the Bois de Boulogne.