Monthly Archives: January 2014

John Gapper

Are we seeing the emergence of a grand alliance between Google and Samsung for Android mobile devices, similar to the Microsoft-Intel alliance for Windows personal computers? It looks like that from events this week:

On Monday, Google and Samsung announced a long-term patent licensing deal. That will give the two sides access to each other’s patented technology and allow Samsung to concentrate on its legal battle with Apple. 

Tom Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, made a terrible mistake by comparing criticism of rich Americans – the “1 per cent” – to the Kristallnacht attack on Jews in Germany in 1938. Mr Perkins, co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, has since apologised.

Emma Jacobs

Following the recent news that some investment banks had decided to make working conditions more palatable for junior employees, one former intern emailed the FT a poem he wrote last summer while completing a stint at a bank.

The Commute

On rings the cow bell,
Bringing cattle to their shed
Buy sell, buy sell
Work, work, work until you’re dead.

 

Andrew Hill

Paul Flowers: tests put the board off the scent

The idea that Paul Flowers – the disgraced former chairman of the UK’s Co-operative Bank – might have got the job largely because he aced a set of psychometric tests is, on the face of it, astonishing. As we now know, the Methodist minister had little previous banking experience and is being investigated for allegedly buying illegal drugs.

But unfortunately it is increasingly easy for executives to allow the apparent certainty of test data to overrule more subtle and more serious concerns visible to mere human beings. 

When Ellen Kullman, chief executive of DuPont, asked a contract worker on the production line making Kevlar, the fibre used in bulletproof vests, what he was doing, she got an unexpected response: “We’re saving lives.”

Thousands of chief executives, politicians, leaders of non-governmental organisations and media folk are once again assembled in Davos for their annual debates on how to improve the world. It is a worthy affair, with “stakeholders” discussing how best to combine business with societal good, like an ersatz global parliament.

In the dreary annals of presentations about corporate values, ABN Amro chairman Gerrit Zalm’s recent performance for the bank’s annual cabaret as his brothel-keeping “sister” Priscilla will take some beating.

Andrew Hill

Global business and political leaders like to talk about the long term, but persistently focus on what’s in front of their faces. That is one conclusion you can draw from the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2014 report, for nearly 10 years the doomy trailer to the main feature next week in Davos.

The pressing preoccupations of business, government, academic, non-governmental leaders – the “risks” that combine “high impact and high likelihood” – are: extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, water crises, severe income disparity, high unemployment, and fiscal crises in key economies. But if I were a bookmaker, I would have long since closed the betting on whether these events will occur – because almost all of them already have.

Well-spotted: the biggest and most likely "risks" are in the top right (source: WEF)

  

For years, getting a job at a Wall Street bank, a Magic Circle law firm or a blue-chip management consultancy was a route to a very rewarding career in return for an awful lot of work. Lately, the bargain has lost some of its appeal to the best and the brightest.

Andrew Hill

Windows 8: unfairly maligned (Bloomberg)

Windows 8 – which runs on the family computer I bought last year – is growing on me. Maybe I should not let its roots go too deep, though. Unconfirmed blog chatter claims that Microsoft plans to move on from the tile-based, touchscreen operating system and plant Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) as early as next year. 

Andrew Hill

Credit Suisse is the latest investment bank to issue an edict aimed at protecting the work-life balance of its junior employees – and it is getting roasted for it by bankers themselves.

Bloomberg reported (and the bank confirmed) that Jim Amine, global head of investment banking, had decreed in a memo that “analysts and associates in the US investment banking division should be out of the office from 6 pm Friday until 10am Sunday unless they’re working on an active deal”.

So ordered. Except that commanding your ambitious junior employees to limit their workload – Bank of America, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs have taken similar action – is quite likely to be useless, if not counter-productive. To change working practices requires a profound cultural shift, and judging from the reaction to the latest news that is not likely to happen soon. 

John Gapper

Charter Communications’ hostile bid for Time Warner Cable, on the heels of Suntory’s agreed $16bn acquisition of Beam Inc, puts me in mind of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind:

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe

Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!

And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Like romantic poets, M&A bankers and lawyers are always trying to stir up activity, talking hopefully of their belief that deal-making is about to blossom. Perhaps there is some evidence that something is indeed stirring after the winter of recession.

 

When L’Oréal said last week it would stop selling Garnier products in China, many outsiders assumed the French cosmetics group was joining a wholesale retreat by big western brands, led by Revlon of the US, which last month closed all its operations in mainland China, eliminating 1,100 jobs, including those of 940 beauty advisers. It all looked pretty ugly.

John Gapper

Ah, well. It was nice while it lasted for BP. Having gained one legal victory from appeals court judges in Louisiana in its battle to contain compensation for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, it has lost a broader case.

This round in BP’s effort to overturn the class action settlement it originally agreed – on the grounds that it has turned out to compensate many people and businesses that were not actually damaged by the spill – was thrown out by the Fifth Circuit on Friday.

The judges’ ruling (by a two-to-one majority) was simple enough. 

Ravi Mattu

Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat (AP)

Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.

But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.

In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs.