Business

Emma Jacobs

Wobbling among the Elsa princess outfits and the dinosaur models at the Toy Fair in London’s Olympia exhibition centre this week was a four-foot, buildable robot, the $399 Meccanoid G15 KS.

With its big saucer-shaped eyes and moveable limbs, the toy has revived interest in its maker: Meccano, which was created by the British toy maker, Frank Hornby, a century ago.

Spin Master, the Canadian company that bought Meccano in 2013, hopes it will be essential kit for parents hoping to get their child interested in building and engineering.

It is very much in the spirit of the “maker movement” — an enthusiasm for manufacturing and making things, helped in part by the rise of 3D printing. Read more

John Gapper

  © Charlie Bibby

It was a kinder, gentler and more strategic Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, who took to the stage at the DLD technology conference in Munich on Sunday to offer the mayors of European cities a “new partnership” with the ride-hailing network, rather than a bitter legal and regulatory battle. Read more

There comes a time in most people’s lives, usually very late in the lives of self-made billionaires, when they settle their affairs and divide up their assets to put everything in order for the family. It has the added benefit for business moguls of pleasing the shareholders.

William Agush, founder of Shuttersong (Bryce Vickmark)

In the popular imagination, technology entrepreneurs are scientific whizzkids barely out of college. The reality is a little different, according to research from Endeavor Insight, a US-based non-profit organisation that supports entrepreneurs.

The most successful founders of technology companies, it found, were steady mid-career specialists with a significant amount of industry experience.

Using data from social media sites including LinkedIn and interviews with 700 technology business founders in New York, Endeavor found that the average age a founder started their company was 31. More than a quarter were over 35 when their company was established.

Youth, it discovered, had no bearing on success. Using earlier research by the Harvard Business Review, Endeavor compared technology entrepreneurs’ ages and obvious measures of success – such as company headcount – and found age was irrelevant. Read more

Goldman Sachs caused a bit of a stir this week by issuing an analysts’ report suggesting JPMorgan Chase might want to break itself up. I believe in the independence of investment bank research as much as the next person, but it is hard not to notice that the major beneficiary of such a step would be Goldman Sachs.

As 2014 drew to a close, I became one of the last baby boomers to turn 50. Or possibly, I became one of the first Generation Xers to reach that milestone. Depending where you draw the line, either I am about to enjoy the fruits of half a century of increasing affluence and entitlement, having climbed to the top of the hierarchy I help sustain; or I am entering a period of resentment about my smug elders’ lockhold on the best jobs and homes and the damage they have inflicted on the environment and humankind

A job vacancy has caught Sir Alcon Copisarow’s eye. The Institute of Directors has been advertising for a new chair, who “commands respect and inspires confidence”, can “articulate the case for British business” and is “comfortable operating and influencing at the highest levels of government and the business community”.

Hello, my name is Andrew. I’m the customer service associate dealing with your inquiry today. I’m sorry to hear about the problem with the online order that your true love sent to you.

Charlotte Hogg, chief operating officer of the Bank of England, gives career advice to London school pupils

Being seated inside the hallowed court room of the Bank of England was the last place 14-year-old school pupil Rachel Natoajeva thought she would end up when she signed up for an event to meet “inspirational women”.

“You can’t see someone from Lewisham coming here,” she explains, as oil paintings of be-wigged former governors stare down upon us from the walls. One of 120 school girls from London state schools aged between 13 and 17 selected to attend a “speed networking” event at the Bank with City career women, surprisingly few said they wanted to be bankers or work in finance. They came here, one girl explains, to meet “women who are successful”. Read more

“Trying to forecast oil demand, supply and price in today’s market is like trying to paint the wings of an aeroplane in flight. Even if one succeeds in covering the subject, it’s unlikely to be a tidy job.

Ana Botín has wasted little time since becoming chairman of Banco Santander in September, last week appointing a new chief executive. Like Abigail Johnson, installed as chief executive of Fidelity in October, she worked hard for her job, but it is inescapable that both are members of founding families. For women lacking a birthright, the route to the top in financial services is tough.

Even by the exotic standards of train delay excuses, the reason for my commuter service’s late arrival one day last week was unusual: “Swan on the line.” But it got me thinking, Nassim Nicholas Taleb-style, about the hidden business risks posed by the humble commute to work.

The price of oil keeps on falling; the shale gas boom has reduced the price of natural gas in the US to a third of that in France; Germany has appealed to Sweden for its support in expanding two coal mines; and the EU’s effort to switch to clean energy is troubled. For companies wondering where to locate, the world has turned upside down.

Watson, the IBM supercomputer named after the company’s visionary founder, is probably best known for pummelling formidable human contestants on the US quiz show Jeopardy! Watson’s spectacular performance showed off its ability to master natural language, one of the thorniest challenges in computing.

But that was nearly four years ago and IBM’s showcase cognitive computing system is no longer playing games. The supercomputer, now sleeker and faster, is being put to myriad clever uses, from treating cancer to providing sophisticated advisory services for banks.

One obvious question that arises from this is, will systems like Watson put a lot of people out of work?

This was posed to Brad Becker, chief design officer for IBM, in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, the journal of the business school of the same name. Read more

Lucy Kellaway

Twitter's Anthony Noto (Getty)

On Monday, Anthony Noto, the CFO of Twitter got into a shocking muddle and sent what was meant to be a direct message as a tweet to all his followers.

It said “I think we should buy them. He is on your schedule for Dec 15 or 16 — we will need to sell him. i have a plan.” Chaos ensued. The tweet was swiftly removed – but not before everyone got terrifically excited about it. Lots of people are now trying to work out which company it is that Twitter is so keen to buy. Other pieces are saying that the balls-up by the CFO is proof that Twitter’s technology is too clunky, and that explains why it isn’t growing as fast as it might.

Maybe; what interests me about the blunder is something else. Something far more cheering. Read more

If you have ever attended an innovation conference, you will be familiar with consultants’ graphs that show how, say, the second half of the 21st century will belong to African millennials relentlessly networking via wearable mobile devices. But what has struck me recently is not so much the extraordinary potential of the future, but the extent to which innovators draw on ingredients from the present and the past.

© Tim Moore/Alamy

If you thought that where you worked, how much cash you made, or how well qualified you were was the main reason you were content – or otherwise – at work, think again.

A new study has found that the most powerful predictor of a worker’s job satisfaction is their boss’s ability to do their – that is the worker’s – job themselves.

The study, by academics from Warwick University, the University of Wisconsin and Cass Business School, part of City University, looked at three decades of data on job satisfaction among 35,000 employees across the UK and the US. They examined responses to a series of questions such as “Could your supervisor do your job if you were away?”

They found that the perceived competence of bosses was more significant than a host of other factors, including workers’ education levels, the industry they worked in, the money they earned or their gender. Read more

Gary Hamel still talks and writes with the passion of a revolutionary. In a recent blogpost, the management writer played with his own theory of the “core competencies” of companies, conceived with the late CK Prahalad, by pointing out their core incompetencies of inertia, incrementalism and insipidity.

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