If you are a business leader and you yearn to spearhead reforms to British bureaucracy, you have until the end of next week to apply to be the first chief executive of the UK civil service. So far, recruiting the requisite heavy-hitter is proving a struggle.
Most chief executives think of themselves as rational. Certainly, in the world of closely scrutinised listed companies, it would be unwise for corporate leaders to project any other image.
But, as Manfred Kets de Vries of Insead business school puts it in a new working paper, written with colleague Alicia Cheak, “our everyday lives consist of webs of constantly shifting and irrational forces that underlie seemingly ‘rational’ behaviours and choices – and life in organisations is no exception”. To lead successfully, he suggests, requires a “psychodynamic approach” that seeks to understand the hidden factors motivating teams.
As this month’s centenary of the outbreak of the first world war drew nearer, historians jousted over what the world would have looked like if the bullet Gavrilo Princip aimed at Archduke Franz Ferdinand had missed, or if Britain had not leapt to Belgium’s defence.
Fred Goodwin, disgraced former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, was notorious for what were nicknamed “morning beatings”, where he focused rage and ridicule on his lieutenants. According to Shredded , Ian Fraser’s new book, the senior team would play Hangman while waiting for the meetings to start, “to see who might be ‘strung up’ next”. Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers was known for his short temper and intimidating style. The wrath of Robert Maxwell, the late media tycoon, was epic.
In the 1970s you could buy a hippy-ish poster of a bird flying towards a lurid sunset, with the maxim: “If you love something, set it free: if it comes back to you, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.” I assumed the slogan had expired along with a taste for joss sticks and tie-dye T-shirts. I am amazed to find it has instead become a formal human resources policy.
Shortly after Philip Clarke made his surprising – and, it turns out, prescient –admission at a conference in March that his days as Tesco chief executive were probably numbered, the boss of another blue-chip British company asked me, worriedly: “Does it sometimes take two CEOs to turn a company round?”
There is no longer much call for poetry at Microsoft’s devices division, the bulk of which consists of Nokia’s old handset business.
Stephen Elop, former Nokia chief executive, now heads the Microsoft unit and on Thursday had the task of announcing 12,500 job cuts (out of 18,000 in total). The axe will fall on many former Nokians who remember the flights of fancy in Mr Elop’s 2011 “burning platform” memo, in which he urged them to make a leap into the unknown to help turn the company around:
Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, famously said there was “a special place in hell” for women who don’t help other women. But new research suggests that women leaders – and managers from ethnic minorities – will also be damned if they go out of their way to advance people who look like them.
A paper to be presented at next month’s Academy of Management annual meeting says women and non-white leaders who value diversity – and show it through their actions – are “systematically penalised with lower performance ratings” by their bosses. By contrast, valuing diversity earns white men higher ratings for both warmth and performance. The net effect, however, is that the “glass ceiling” is reinforced.
When the lucrative business of advising on mergers and acquisitions was in the doldrums, consultants spread the idea that crisis management was “the new M&A”. They wielded news stories such as BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Rolls-Royce’s disintegrating Qantas engine, and Toyota’s jammed accelerator pedals to frighten clients into contracts aimed at helping them cope with such disasters.
While waiting in a big Manhattan hospital about 15 years ago, I glimpsed the chairman of one of the world’s biggest banks in a consulting room. I never found out why he was there. If he was ill, his employer never said and the man is now enjoying a long and apparently healthy retirement.
Pale, male and stale: what's next for the boardroom?
As boards gradually move towards better balance by gender, what is the next frontier?
Alan Mak, a 30-year-old non-executive director of Havas Worldwide (UK), thinks boards should make it a priority to take on more young directors. He and I have gone head-to-head on the issue in print and we took the debate onto Twitter on Thursday to test the mood.
What puzzles me about Sports Direct’s campaign to pay founder Mike Ashley a bonus – which finally succeeded on Wednesday, despite shareholder opposition – is that it focuses City attention on the weak spots in the sports retailer’s make-up: its governance and its dependence on Mr Ashley himself.
When I sat down with colleagues this year to review a “longlist” of applicants for the Financial Times’ editorial trainee scheme, we agreed on one thing: any of the 50 candidates left in the running would be a worthy recruit. Yet following months of due diligence by FT staff, including writing tests and, for some, interviews, 48 were bound to receive a rejection letter.
The Innovator’s Dilemma was published in 1997, so when The New Yorker last week printed a detailed dissection of disruptive innovation, the idea at the heart of Clayton Christensen’s book, my first reaction was: what took critics so long?