If you were surprised when a senior Microsoft executive took the stage at Apple’s latest product launch last week, you need to brace yourself for more of the same. The spread of digital platforms, the ease with which collaborative networks can form, and the willingness of employees to work across newly porous corporate borders mean there will be more pacts between old rivals — and they will bring problems as well as benefits.
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When General Electric bid for Honeywell in 2000, it was Jack Welch’s last “swing for the fences”. The GE chief executive handwrote the $43bn offer faxed to his Honeywell counterpart. He delayed his retirement to see through the takeover. He went alone in June 2001 to the last meeting in Brussels with Mario Monti, then European competition commissioner.
Leading a team is hard. Now try leading one in hot, humid, cramped conditions, with knives, fire and blunt instruments to hand, and a daily imperative to make a perfect product to order, again and again, for impatient customers waiting next door. Now do it without losing your temper.
Explaining the unboxing of Alphabet, Google’s new parent, Larry Page, its chief executive, said appointing someone else to run the search company “frees up time for me to continue to scale our aspirations”.
Netflix’s new family leave policy — unlimited paid time off for parents in the first year after a child’s birth or adoption — is great. But it would be even better if the video streaming company could now ensure its founder and chief executive Reed Hastings has a child and spends 12 months out of the office caring for his newborn.
The causes and consequences of the long-running inflation of profits by Toshiba reflect some uniquely Japanese cultural norms. So, inevitably, did the 2011 scandal at Olympus , where successive leaders covered up accounting manipulation.
Imagine a business with a base of middle-class customers in the richest nations, a fervent new following in the world’s fastest-growing Asian economies, loyal corporate backers, and a new global television showcase, championed by personable young stars. Are you in?
Habitual lateness, mild abuse of the corporate credit card, a little grousing by outgoing employees about low pay or overwork: the day to day dysfunctions of many large businesses. But could these be warning signals of a coming collapse in corporate culture or an imminent scandal? If so, how should companies detect and act on them?
Within seconds of the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on June 28, people who had been watching the live stream of the launch took to social media with a familiar line.
When Deutsche Bank named John Cryan as its new chief executive three weeks ago, the commentary had an insidious subtext. He has “an enormous brain”, one friend told the FT. “Very thoughtful,” said a former colleague. Ominously for Mr Cryan, these comments echoed those made about Vikram Pandit when he unexpectedly stepped down as Citigroup’s CEO in 2012. He was “too cerebral”, said critics of the Citi boss.
My first — and probably still my favourite — factory visit was to London Rubber Company’s Durex condom plant in Chingford, London. Mind you, the sight of a latex sheath being test-inflated to a metre or more in length does tend to stick in the memory.
Frederick Winslow Taylor is the ghost in the room at debates about new ways of monitoring staff. As the pioneer of “scientific management”, he was the man with a clipboard and stopwatch timing factory workers at the turn of the last century.
I blame Sebastian Junger. The success of The Perfect Storm, the journalist’s 1997 book about a doomed fishing boat gave embattled corporate titans the perfect metaphor for what went wrong on their watch.
“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.