“The managers have much pleasure in stating that the immense numbers who have travelled under their arrangements have been conducted in perfect safety — indeed in the history of the Midland Lines, no accident, attended with personal injury, has ever happened to an Excursion Train. In conducting the extraordinary traffic of this Great Occasion, the first object is to ensure safety, and that object has hitherto been most happily achieved.” (Thomas Cook poster for an 1851 trip to the Great Exhibition.)
Sometimes a species reaches the end of its natural existence. As its numbers dwindle, disappearance becomes inevitable and the last survivors of the doomed herd become objects of curiosity and pity. This is happening to chief executives who are also chairmen — but with none of the pity.
Sky’s victory over Skype in the European court is an odd affair, provoking some predictable reactions. For a start, there is a certain irony in the first European tech start-up to build itself into a global brand being called out by a European court for it.
But when wealthy owners of brand names made out of generic and widely used words start to throw their weight around, scepticism is usually in order. What next? A freeze on Skyy Vodka? A brake on the SkyTrains used in cities from Bangkok to Vancouver? How about a trade embargo against the Isle of Skye?
Consider this, though. While confusion between Sky, the satellite television provider owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Skype, the Microsoft-owned video calling service, seems unlikely based on current habits, those habits can change – and fast.
“I have won a lot of promotions and been at Wembley and won the play-offs, [but] I think, individually, this was the biggest result.” If you follow sport at all, you get used to hyperbole. But this recent comment by Steve Evans, who manages the Rotherham United football team, stood out.
When it comes to management challenges, fish fingers and circuses are at opposite extremes: one product is the acme of industrialised food processing, the other the ultimate expression of human creativity and energy. Somehow, private equity has found room for both: last week, Permira agreed to sell Iglo, which makes Birds Eye fish fingers in Europe, after nine years running the frozen foods company, while another buyout group, TPG Capital, led a deal to gain control of Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil.
Entrepreneurs tend to see regulation as the enemy of innovation and progress.
But while it is true that watchdogs can struggle to keep pace with fast-changing markets and to comprehend technology companies’ novel ways of working, it is hardly surprising they sometimes resort to random barking.
If you have read a new business book, done executive training or attended a leadership summit recently, you have probably seen a slide, diagram or animation of the human brain.
Steve Jobs’ acolytes say Becoming Steve Jobs paints a more fitting picture of the Apple founder than Walter Isaacson’s “authorised” 2011 life. Most neutral readers who plough through another 435 pages of Jobsiana, will neither know nor care. But the battle of the bios will have been worth it if it sounds the death-knell for the worst of all management memes: the leadership lesson listicle.
Self-manager: Zappos' Tony Hsieh © Zappos
When I first wrote last year about Zappos’ efforts to introduce a self-managing system called Holacracy, I said that for most companies to adopt such an approach would take “time, a leap of faith and an act of unusual self-effacement by their leaders”.
An extraordinary memo from Tony Hsieh, chief executive of the Amazon-owned online shoe retailer, has underlined just how difficult it is. In the memo, published by Quartz this week, Mr Hsieh says that in the face of potential resistance, the company is now going to take a “rip the bandaid” approach to accelerate its progress towards self-management.
Quartz reports that some of the things I predicted would be stumbling blocks — confusion about the absence of titles, defection of staff — have already affected the transition. Mr Hsieh is not giving up; indeed he’s offering severance packages to staff who are not comfortable with the new approach. The fact that a chief executive has to order a change to a system with no chief executive is only one of the apparent contradictions here.
“To become a bigger company, we need to try something new”, Yamaha Motor’s chief executive Hiroyuki Yanagi told the FT recently. The novelty in question is a two-seater “city car”, cleaner and more fuel-efficient than existing vehicles, that the motorcycle manufacturer could launch in 2019.
Whenever chief executives babble about “ecosystems” — as they often do — I picture one of those school biology diagrams of a pond: bacteria at the bottom, algae floating on top, and maybe a stickleback or two darting about below the surface.
It’s reasonably well-known that WPP stands for Wire & Plastic Products, the wire basket manufacturer that Sir Martin Sorrell chose 30 years ago as a vehicle for his plan to build a global advertising and marketing business. Wire & Plastic Products, operating from an industrial estate in Hythe, Kent, is still part of the group.
Wire & Plastic Products’ pre-history is a little more obscure. In researching my recent FT Magazine profile of WPP’s chief executive, I dug out the FT advertisement for the flotation of the original company in April 1971. Read more
After Etsy revealed its plans to go public on March 4, discussion forums for sellers using the online craft marketplace ignited with a mixture of those two great stock market emotions: fear and greed.
A colleague who headed an overseas editorial bureau of the Financial Times once called me to ask my advice: did I think he should devote more time to managing the journalists in his team or to writing front page scoops?
I am angry with Stephen Green. I am angry in part because HSBC’s former chairman (now Lord Green) presided over a financial institution where, it turns out, oversight was so distant that large-scale tax avoidance schemes could be peddled by a Swiss subsidiary, in breach of, at the very least, the spirit, if not the letter, of good banking.
In 1986, Tom Stemberg opened the first Staples superstore in Massachusetts. Stationery retailers have not stood still since. By 1990, Mr Stemberg’s disruptive bright idea had spawned dozens of lookalike office supply warehouses. “When people asked how it felt to be the father of the industry, my answer was ‘I wish I’d used a condom’,” Mr Stemberg tells me.
“Even if the truth is more complex than the headlines, re-establishing confidence in and respect for the banks will be a journey up a steep mountain.”
Stephen Green – now Lord Green – has not commented on the leak of files exposing tax-avoidance practices at HSBC’s Swiss-based private bank. But in 2009, the then chairman of HSBC put his whole philosophy of ethical business on the record in his book Good Value, sub-titled “Reflections on money, morality and an uncertain world”. The newly topical quotation above is an extract. Read more
Uber – arming up (Getty)
I did a double-take at Uber’s decision to fund driverless car research in partnership with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Not because I think it is a strange departure for a company whose relationship with drivers is key to its success (though if I were a young Uber driver, I wouldn’t count on the job for retirement income). It was the juxtaposition of the names Uber and Carnegie that stood out. Read more
Mary Barra is a lifer, born and bred to do the job she now holds. But as General Motors’ chief executive pointed out in an interview last week at the World Economic Forum, few young Americans now anticipate spending their lives in the warm embrace of a single employer, as she has.