Monthly Archives: February 2014

At 78, Carl Icahn shows little sign of retiring, or of becoming more polite. After finally prodding Forest Labs into a $25bn takeover by Actavis, he renewed his attack on eBay this week, accusing John Donahoe, its chief executive, of being “completely asleep or, even worse, either naive or wilfully blind”.

Andrew Hill

EE is the descendant of one of the most ridiculous brands in corporate history – Everything Everywhere, which turned out to mean Nothing Anywhere – so I feared the worst when I saw the UK digital communications group had signed a partnership with what it inevitably calls the “iconic” Wembley Stadium. Football fans already chant about “going to Wemb-er-lee”, so the brand gurus could so easily have renamed the ground “WemblEE”.

Wembley Stadium, as it will be, sEEn from the air (source: EE)

Happily, common sense and history prevailed. Fans will have to survive a blizzard of EE branding, including the illumination of Wembley’s arch in EE blue, but the press statement is clear that “the world-renowned name of the stadium will remain”. It usually does. When new names are applied to old stadiums, often either the name doesn’t stick – or the company doesn’t. Read more

Pisa stands for Programme for International Student Assessment. But judging from the reaction to the OECD rankings of educational attainment, it may as well mean Parental Index of Social Anxiety.

Andrew Hill

Pets.com's once-ubiquitous mascot (Bloomberg)

It is probably unfair to draw a parallel between Pets at Home, with its real stores, real turnover and real earnings, and Pets.com, the US pet products etailer that was one of the dotcom bust’s most notorious flameouts. But the ghost of Pets.com’s sock-puppet mascot haunts the latest plans for initial public offerings, of which Pets at Home’s flotation is the freshest. Here are the lessons: Read more

The possibility that a senior Amazon executive may find his name on a range of “non-medicated toilet preparations” has considerably brightened my week. Not that I have anything against Amazon. But Lush, the British handmade cosmetics company, does.

The Time Warner Cable office on 23rd St near Park Avenue in New York City has something of the atmosphere of a soviet post office. Clerks staff a row of desks, calling customers forward at a languorous pace. During my visit, the queue stretched out of the door.

No one was there because they wanted anything from the company. Like me, they were there to give something back. When I took out a cable plan some months earlier, the company had insisted that I use one of its modems. I had to pay an installation fee and wait at home for a technician to turn up late and attach a cable – a ceremony I could have performed perfectly well myself. Now the company had changed its tune. I could use my own modem if I wanted to. But if I kept the one it had thrust upon me, I would have to pay rental of $48 a year. (The one I already owned had cost $18 to buy outright.) Read more

Antony Jenkins’ efforts to change the culture of Barclays by cutting bankers’ pay are on hold. At its investment bank, it is paying bonuses that are 13 per cent higher to “compete in the global market for talent”. The bank’s chief executive wants to reform the pay of US and Asian investment bankers but it is beyond his contro

Adam Jones

President Business, The Lego Movie's villain (AP)

Business schools love Lego. One Wharton professor co-wrote a tribute to the Danish toymaker, arguing that it “rewrote the rules of innovation”. But has this case study taken an anti-capitalist turn?

The baddie in The Lego Movie, out this month, is called President Business, prompting excitable Fox Business TV pundits to froth about the brand being used to brainwash kids against the profit motive. Rustbelt leftie Michael Moore tweeted his approval of the film, adding fuel to the fire.

However, having seen the film last weekend, I can assure any Ayn Rand-worshipping FT readers that it is not a threat. Read more

The newest academic paper on Ben Edelman’s website is a 61-pager called “Price Coherence and Adverse Intermediation”. It is fair to say it has not attracted as much attention as the 3,500-word blogpost “The Darker Side of Blinkx” he posted on January 28. Two days later, shares in the UK-listed online video search company fell by a third.

John Gapper

Russia’s nascent crackdown on Bitcoin is misguided, in my view, but it reinforces a point that some supporters of virtual currencies tend to underestimate: governments can ban them if they choose.

That sounds like an obvious point, but some libertarian enthusiasts for Bitcoin talk as if it can challenge fiat currencies without governments and central banks being able to stop it. John McAfee, the anti-virus entrepreneur, is one of them: Read more

Nadella channelling Zuckerberg (photo: Microsoft)

Executive biographies keep a low profile on most company websites. Not so at Microsoft, which has been showing off its new chief executive, Satya Nadella, on a special microsite of the kind usually used to hawk things that consumers can actually buy. This is unlikely to persuade anyone to buy a PC or a Surface tablet. What, then, is the point?

Visitors see a list of Mr Nadella’s qualifications (Education: BS, MSCS, MBA; Hobbies: poetry). A video shows the new CEO answering questions such as “Why do you think Microsoft is going to be successful?”, which gives you an idea of how useful he might be in a boardroom. The blurb strikes an aspirational tone: “Nadella wanted to complete his master’s degree and take the Microsoft job. He did both.” Read more

John Gapper

Aston Martin recall gives an insight into the supply chains of even luxury carmakers (Bloomberg)

Aston Martin’s recall of most of the cars it has built in the past six years is damaging to the company, but even more damaging for the reputation of parts suppliers in the Pearl River Delta in China. Read more

Bitcoin is being forced to grow up fast. The arrest last week on money laundering charges of Charlie Shrem, a leading Bitcoin champion, coincided with a regulatory hearing in New York to consider what on earth it is – a virtual currency, speculative asset or a means of exchange?

Adam Jones

Punish the unpunctual: Ben Horowitz (Getty)

Andreessen Horowitz, the Californian venture capital investor, is strict about ensuring that its staff do not keep entrepreneurs waiting.

Ben Horowitz, the firm’s rap-loving co-founder, has revealed that latecomers to its pitch meetings are fined $10 a minute. The penalty for getting caught using a smartphone or computer is $100, meanwhile.

Mr Horowitz told this week’s Startup Grind conference that the stance was a product of his own experience of building a business (he helped create Opsware, sold to HP for $1.6bn in 2007 before founding the VC firm with Marc Andreessen). Read more

Andrew Hill

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has produced an opening memo to employees that is rich in repetitive rhetoric but short on substance. Here is what he really meant.

From: Satya Nadella

To: All Employees

Date: Feb. 4, 2014

Subject: RE: Satya Nadella – Microsoft’s New CEO

Today is a very humbling day for me.

“Humility” is the appropriate tone for CEOs these days, but, believe me, when I got the nod I was punching the air like Steve Ballmer on an adrenaline highRead more