Business

After the spectacular chaos of the last time that regulators and governments scrambled to rescue banks in the US and Europe, they have hammered out a plan for the next time. It is better than the absence of one in 2008 but who knows if it will work?

Emma Jacobs

Image: Dreamstime

The next Machine Age will not just augur job losses and the transformation of some professions. The future could be a lot worse. It may also let loose an army of needy robots.

This week, the MIT Technology Review described a new generation of Cobots – collaborative robots – made by a team under Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. These are autonomous intelligent mobile robots capable of performing service tasks and interacting with humans.

The robot is as polite as Star Wars’ C-3PO but there the similarities end. It has no arms and no legs. In fact, the article describes it as “a laptop and a cluster of sensors sitting atop a wheeled bar-stool”.

Unfailingly civil; it also turns out to be demanding of its human co-workers’ attention. Prof Veloso maintains that it is hard to program a robot to decode conversation but it can understand simple instructions. Therefore, when it has run out of tasks it will nag the nearest human. If that does not work, it will send out an office-wide email asking for assistance. Read more

Andrew Hill

Karl Lagerfeld (Getty Images)

I have spent more than a third of my professional career living and working abroad, so you would expect me to lap up research that suggests foreign experience increases creativity. But as companies find it ever more expensive to send managers on expatriate assignments – and rightly choose to hire and train skilled executives locally – they will have to look to other methods to encourage innovative thinking. Read more

John Gapper

Traditionally, one thing upon which the British could rely was that they never heard anything about, or from, the security services, apart from in James Bond films. That has changed. First, Sir John Sawers, the new head of MI6, has Lunch with the FT and now Robert Hannigan, left, the new head of GCHQ, has written an op-ed for the paper.

Apart from indicating that the FT has become the communications channel of choice for British spies, it shows that the security services have decided that it is no longer enough to fight in the shadows. They have to get their message across loudly, in parliament and in public. Read more

Emma Jacobs

The worst-kept secret is out: Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, is gay.

“For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation,” he wrote in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek. “Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky. Read more

John Gapper

There is something peculiarly impressive about the video below of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, talking in Mandarin to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. If nothing else, it shows a dedication to the country’s customs that very few foreign business leaders can match.

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Andrew Hill

The implications, opportunities and challenges of increased longevity are beginning to dawn on many companies, as our Silver Economy series is revealing. But here is one that I don’t believe chief executives have yet focused on: the increased risk that your predecessor, and possibly his predecessor’s predecessor, will still be around to snipe at your strategy. Read more

Andrew Hill

No matter how good Total’s preparations, the death of its chief executive Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash late on Monday will have plunged the senior ranks of the French oil group into an emotional, logistical and governance nightmare.

When boards discuss succession planning, they often talk about it in jocular-morbid terms, typically debating “what happens if the CEO is run over by a bus?”. But when such sudden deaths occur, it often exposes just how poorly they have prepared for this type of emergency.

The US-based Conference Board, in a useful note for directors issued last year, pointed out that while three-quarters of S&P 500 companies surveyed in 2011 had succession plans in place, only 83 per cent of those had put in place an emergency succession component. Given that between 7 and 15 US public companies are hit by the sudden death of their chief executive in any given year, the group suggested the fact that a third of large companies had not considered emergency succession was simply not good enough. Read more

If you are wondering where your transformational merger is going wrong, you may want to look in the toilets. After Lenovo bought IBM’s personal computer business in 2005, the Chinese company replaced traditional squat toilets in its Beijing headquarters with western-style sit-down bowls to put non-Chinese colleagues and customers at ease.

Andrew Hill

Drones are a useful tool for delivering flags to football pitches, as Albania’s supporters demonstrated on Tuesday night during their national team’s match against Serbia, but they remain an extreme option for same-day parcel delivery. Click-and-collect is the mundane but potentially disruptive approach favoured in the UK – an approach that Amazon, predictably, is about to take to the next level.

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Emma Jacobs

Corporate perks are tricky. One employee’s free healthy meal at Google’s canteen is another’s misery – yet another reason never to leave the office.

And so what to make of Facebook’s and Apple’s offer to employees that they will cover the cost of freezing their eggs? Read more

John Gapper

Mark Carney

Mark Carney   © Photo by Chris Watt – WPA Pool /Getty Images

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, would not win a popularity contest among directors of banks at the moment. Yet he and the Bank are taking a stance on individual responsibility that most people think is long overdue. Read more

Emma Jacobs

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella © Getty Images

What was Satya Nadella thinking? On Thursday, the Microsoft chief executive made a monumental gaffe on the topic of women’s pay. Not asking for a pay increase, he said, was “good karma” and might be “one of the additional superpowers” for women. In the long term, “it’ll come back because someone’s going to know that that’s the kind of person I can trust,” he said. As the Twitter storm pointed out: karma does not pay the bills. Women have traditionally suffered under the illusion that being conscientious, likeable and patient is the key to getting a salary hike, only to see their mal e peers swagger into the corner office and demand to be paid their worth (and sometimes more than they are worth). His advice is contrary to that of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she wroteof her idiocy of being patient. Read more

Star fund managers are very valuable people, but not as valuable as they think they are. In a world of precise calculations and spotting the arbitrage opportunities between prices, this is one gap they fail to notice.

John Gapper

It is just about possible to regard Meg Whitman’s decision to split Hewlett-Packard in two as consistent. Her first move when appointed three years ago was to keep the whole thing together but now may simply be a better time to attempt a separation than the rushed effort by Léo Apotheker, her predecessor.

All the same, despite the greater discipline and focus that Ms Whitman has brought to HP since Mr Apotheker’s unhappy period at the helm, the underlying logic was relentless. HP is no longer the technology growth stock it once was so all roads tend to lead to corporate re-engineering. Read more

Adam Jones

Je m'excuse: Andy Street  © Bloomberg

France is economically doomed and no place for an entrepreneur. “Nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it.” If this is what Andy Street is like at a public engagement, just imagine how dreary he’d be on a home counties golf course. It’s like being bashed around the head with a ringbinder full of Economist back issues.

Piqued by a bad Eurostar journey, the managing director of the leading UK retailer John Lewis morphed into John Bull at an awards event for start-ups in London on Wednesday. Such events can have an aphrodisiac effect on middle-aged executives running staid businesses. But what has John Lewis done recently to give it the right to appropriate the rock star smugness exhibited by many modern entrepreneurs? Read more

Emma Jacobs

Sir Richard Branson’s “non-policy” on holidays is the latest attempt by a company to tackle the “work-life balance” conundrum. The news that he is allowing 170 staff in his head office to take holiday whenever they like, without seeking prior permission, so long as it does not damage the business has been greeted with great enthusiasm by commenters on his blog.

One summed up the Branson cheerleading: “As always, leading the way for Generation Y. I hope someday, before my time is done – that most can enjoy more freedom through work, not enslaved by hours and limits but set free to make a difference whilst living out some dreams. Good start to this movement Richard.” Read more

Emma Jacobs

  © Bryce Vickmark

“Professional narcissism” is to be avoided, warned Steven Pinker this week to an audience of business executives. In other words, writing in jargon, brandishing your expertise and thereby making it impenetrable to the general reader. The latest book from the Harvard psychologist and linguist, The Sense of Style is all about language and stylish writing.
Business, he said, is a “target rich area” when it comes to ridiculing the use of language. Although he pointed out that the rarefied world of academia is no better. Read more

Two predictions: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, out this week, will be a bestseller; How Google Works will be rapidly forgotten. In fact, its publication may turn out to mark the peak of popular excitement about, interest in, and support for, almost everything Google touches.

On Thursday, Scotland may set out on the bumpy path to independence from the rest of the UK. Its banking system is likely to work only if it is braver and more far-sighted than Alex Salmond, the Scottish National party leader, during the campaign.