Monthly Archives: March 2014

John Gapper

General Motors CEO Mary Barra

General Motors’ widening of the recalls of US cars and trucks for safety and other defects is a challenge for Mary Barra, its new chief executive, as she prepares to testify to Congress this week. Read more

John Gapper

Satya Nadella’s unveiling of Office for the iPad is a significant moment for Microsoft, and his leadership of the company. I wonder if it will also be an incentive to improve the product itself?

I write this because Word in particular still strikes me as a product that is too big to fail. The network effect of so many companies using it makes individuals follow suit but it is bloated and irritatingly full of bugs. Read more

General Motors and Malaysia Airlines are both in trouble but one is giving a lesson in how to handle a fatal crisis while the other is offering a masterclass in how not to. There is a glaring contrast in the behaviour, and ability to cope with public criticism, of Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, and Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines – although Ms Barra has a simpler task.

Andrew Hill

My first reaction to the latest news of changes at the top of the Murdoch empire was: did the shrink get involved?

Succession planning at family businesses is often full of unlikely twists and shrieking. After the phone-hacking scandal broke over Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers in 2011, Vanity Fair claimed that the Murdoch siblings had discussed succession with a “family counsellor”, partly in an attempt to smooth the process. Read more

Andrew Hill

Leo Strine – comforter of the corporate executive? (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Has shareholder democracy in the US gone too far? The very idea seems risible to Europe-based corporate governance advocates, myself included, who have watched American investor rights advance in a good direction, but at a snail’s pace. But those making the case now for limiting investor powers have a strong, prominent, and eloquent ally in Leo Strine, Delaware’s chief justice. His latest Columbia Law Review article, ostensibly arguing for a pragmatic version of investor democracy, is a must-read. Read more

If you had asked board directors at the beginning of last week which of two situations – the stand-off between Russia and Ukraine in Crimea, and the forthcoming British Budget – was politically riskier, they would have chosen the first. But for a few insurers involved in the lucrative business of offering annuities to pensioners, Britain turned out to be the more perilous place after George Osborne, the UK chancellor, astounded them by announcing reforms that could cut the size of that market by 90 per cent.

Emma Jacobs

Marian Robinson with Barack and Malia Obama

Michelle Obama’s secret weapon for this week’s China trip has been unveiled: she is taking her mother Marian Robinson along, as well as her two daughters. Dubbed “grandma diplomacy“, it is seen as a way of charming the Chinese, who place greater emphasis on tight family bonds than their American counterparts. Read more

Andrew Hill

Two images stand out from the 30% Club’s latest report into why relatively few women make it to the highest echelons of UK companies.

Both illustrate that the main problem with gender imbalance lies in the executive committee and below – the so-called “talent pipeline”. A man starting his career at a FTSE 100 company is 4.5 times more likely to reach the executive committee than a women, the research says. This is how far short big UK companies fall:

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Once upon a time, a worried manager realised staff were ignoring his instructions. He paid a handsome fee to sages and soothsayers, who advised him to use a compelling tale to season the facts and figures he wanted his team to digest. And so, business storytelling was born and spread throughout the land.

Newsweek’s flawed attempt to expose a 64-year-old Californian called Dorian Nakamoto as Bitcoin’s mysterious inventor has come at an opportune moment for exponents of the cryptographic currency. It has distracted from a crisis of trust caused by the failure of Mt Gox, the Tokyo Bitcoin exchange.

Pets at Home’s IPO prospectus opens a window into the lucrative world of Britain’s cats and dogs. The company, which went public on Wednesday, has a 12 per cent share of the £5.4bn pet care market and there are some fascinating nuggets in its 261-page document. Here are six of the best.

 

1. What recession? Britain’s pets haven’t been tightening their collars.

Living standards in the UK have fallen to their lowest in a decade (a fact not unrelated to Poundland’s successful IPO on Wednesday) but the country’s pets appear to be better off than ever. Read more

Adam Jones

Delivering a TED talk has been a passport to fame for an elite band of academics. According to an FT book review at the weekend, one who is well placed to make that step up is Nicholas Epley, a behavioural science professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Prof Epley’s recently published book Mindwise looks at how difficult it is to understand what others are thinking. In the FT review, Julian Baggini commends him for rejecting the “folk wisdom” that suggests this can be overcome by merely trying to place yourself in the other person’s shoes.

A TED talk for Prof Epley would be “well-merited”, the review concludes, albeit after exhibiting a certain amount of exasperation with the “smart thinking” publishing genre to which Mindwise belongs.

FT readers don’t need to wait for a TED talk though. Back in 2008, Prof Epley delivered a series of three excellent video lectures for us covering bias in decision making, how to read colleagues’ minds (or at least try to) and how to motivate staff. Read more

Andrew Hill

Unless Euan Sutherland’s resignation letter is published in full, the context of his claim that the Co-operative Group, where he is chief executive, is “ungovernable” will remain unclear. But it is a strange declaration for any professional manager to make: cats are ungovernable; humans, however cussed and contrary, generally do respond to direction. How they are directed is another matter.

The Co-op is a strange beast, as the saga over Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers’ appointment and eventual disgrace revealed. But I think Mr Sutherland has been doing a decent job of taming it. He took some flak last month for appearing to ask Co-op members – and the general public – how the group should be run, rather than setting his own strategy. I read this, however, as a clever combination of an advertising campaign, an opinion poll, and a response to those insiders who disliked his management style. Read more

Denigrate, imitate, eliminate are the three steps that incumbents typically take to see off challengers using an unconventional business model. But there is a fourth – regulate.

The world has a new banana behemoth. While investors will be preoccupied with the earnings per share implications of Monday’s merger between Chiquita and Fyffes, the deal is important for banana eaters and growers too. Here are three key questions about the merger.

1. How big is the banana market and is this new company going to dominate it? Read more