Business

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.

After software engineering and financial engineering comes linguistic engineering. Google this week raised its market capitalisation by $25bn by shuffling around some executive jobs and changing its name to Alphabet. Who knew that swapping your tiles in a game of corporate Scrabble was worth so much?

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.

About a decade ago, Bobby Kotick, chief executive of the video games company Activision Blizzard, flew to Kyoto to visit Nintendo. He was shown to a room with a television on which was displayed an image of a pond with bubbles floating to the surface. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president, handed him a games controller called a wand and guided his hand to cast a virtual fishing line.

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?

Everywhere one ventures in cities, skyscrapers are being built or planned. Even Paris is getting one. The French capital last week backed plans for a 180-metre high triangular tower by Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland, its first in four decades.

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.

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.

When the smartest, if not the most literate, guys in the room see “an opportunity to leverage our competencies in technology and risk management to capture this opportunity at accretive returns”, beware. Goldman Sachs plans to launch what was once called a bank, then a peer-to-peer lending platform, and now a “marketplace lender”.

As if the luxury goods industry were not already in a fragile mood, Johann Rupert, chairman of Richemont, owner of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, gave it more to worry about this week. He warned of the damage it faces from growing wealth inequality, and resentment among the have-nots of those who flaunt luxury watches and jewellery.

If the worst happens, there is one comfort: this is the best time in history to contract cancer. You stand a better chance than ever before of being cured or of living a longer life after less unpleasant treatment. There is a possible side-effect to consider, though: financial ruin.

“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.)

Coming to San Francisco for the first time in a few years brings home how much it has been transformed. Whatever you call what is happening — a boom, a bubble or a flood of money into what was known as new technology before the “new” became redundant — has augmented the city’s reality.

When a group of wealthy investors compete with each other to buy an asset, surely they have a clear idea of its financial value? Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s, who on Monday night auctioned Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger” (Version O) to an anonymous buyer for $179.4m, thinks they do.

Scottish nationalism figured prominently in the campaign for Thursday’s UK general election. But the first true act of independence could be a move by HSBC, a bank that has never been happy in London, back to Hong Kong. The Scots expatriate clan that founded and still heads HSBC is losing patience — a virtue it never possessed in abundance — with being taxed, ringfenced and unappreciated.

Berkshire Hathaway shareholders came out in record numbers to mark the golden anniversary of Warren Buffett’s control of the company but the celebratory atmosphere did not stop some tough questions being put. Mr Buffett was prompted to full-throated defence of partner 3G’s management practices. in a reminder that, for his folksy charm and liberal values, Mr Buffett remains a capitalist through and through..

 

This has not been a salutary week for European corporate governance. At Volkswagen in Germany and at Industrivärden in Sweden, a system intended to encourage stability and long-term growth has instead created self-indulgence.

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.

Deutsche Bank is the last heavyweight contender. While the other European investment banks — Barclays, UBS and Credit Suisse among them — retreat to retail and private banking amid investor discontent and a regulatory squeeze, it is doing the opposite. It wants to become more like Goldman Sachs, not less.