Business

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?”

The longest line at the Farnborough International Airshow this week was for a model aircraft. In the absence of the F-35 Lightning, the colossally expensive and accident-prone stealth fighter that was scheduled to be the show’s highlight before an engine failed on a test aircraft, Lockheed Martin brought a replica.

John Gapper

Rupert Murdoch is not exactly putting his money where his mouth is with 21st Century Fox’s unsolicited $80bn offer for Time Warner. By offering non-voting Fox shares as part of the cash-and-stock bid he has made clear that he will not risk his voting grip on his family-controlled company. 

Andrew Hill

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. 

John Gapper

It always pays to scrutinise the small print in grand pronouncements about the future, especially those about the BBC. So I listened intently this morning to Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, as he set out his plans for more competition in UK television and radio production.

Lord Hall was at City University in London to explain the BBC’s offer to allow independent producers and commercial companies to produce more of its output, in return for letting the BBC’s production arm make programmes for others. 

Andrew Hill

The FCA: not to blame for social media caution (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Some British banks have a long way to go with social media. At a conference on Wednesday morning, one institution admitted its tweets were vetted by no fewer than eight different departments before they were sent.

The financial sector’s attitude to social media regulation seems to be a mix of fear and loathing. On a show of hands, only a couple of delegates at the Social Media Leadership Forum, where I was a speaker, revealed they were not scared about using social media, even though most believe it is a great opportunity. In part, this is because companies are waiting for guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority, first promised for early 2014, that the FCA says is now due later this summer. Even after this extended wait, the proposals will be subject to consultation before they are finalised. Meanwhile, other sectors’ social media strategies are evolving at web-speed. 

John Gapper

The problems erupting over Google’s implementation of the EU’s new “right to be forgotten” rule were predictable. And I say that because I, among many others, predicted them in May after the European Court of Justice delivered its ruling:

A line will soon form to knock out revealing photographs, bits of tawdry gossip, legal orders, past convictions and anything that anyone finds an embarrassment. Before long, people’s search results will start to resemble official biographies, recording only the facts that they want other people to know, and not the remainder of reality . . . 

There is an argument that the latest Facebook scandal is a lot of fuss about nothing. A week-long psychological experiment on 690,000 users in 2012 that did no damage and had a barely noticeable effect hardly registers on the scale of research abuses over the years.

John Gapper

Oliver Chris and Billie Piper in Great Britain. Photo: Johan Persson

Having written about the obsolescence of the Fleet Street tabloids in my column last week, I was intrigued to attend a dress rehearsal on Saturday of Great Britain, the new Richard Bean farce about phone hacking and corruption in the British establishment.

The play, which opened on Monday night at the National Theatre, has received mostly positive (with some negative) reviews but I found it disappointing, for reasons related to the column.

One difficulty was expressed by my wife, who leaned across halfway through the first half and whispered: “When is this set?” That was a good question, for it appeared to be taking place at various times in the past three decades. 

John Gapper

Given that financial crises are caused by herd-like behaviour by banks, it is hard to know whether to be encouraged or dismayed by the latest mass shift – away from investment banking and toward retail and commercial banking.

The Bank for International Settlements annual report, published today, finds that one-third of banks that entered the financial crisis in 2007 as wholesale-funded or trading institutions switched to retail banking by 2012 (19 out of the 54 in its sample). 

John Gapper

The global system for taxing multinational companies is broken, but no country wants to alter it too radically for fear of making it worse. That was my impression after hearing international tax experts gathered in Oxford this week to discuss reform.

Reform of corporate taxation has been thrust onto the political agenda in Europe and by controversy over the tax policies of companies such as Google and Starbucks. The ease with which they can shift intellectual property and royalty payments to low tax regimes has outraged politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

The attempt by Pfizer to turn itself into a UK company for tax purposes by acquiring AstraZeneca has also drawn attention to the use of “tax inversion” by US companies. They want to use the cash piles held overseas to make acquisitions that allow them to change corporate nationality and reduce their taxes.

But while most countries agree that the system of global taxation in place since the 1920s is flawed, there was no consensus at the conference held by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation on how to fix it. Instead, most prefer to play defence. 

John Gapper

The New York attorney-general’s complaint against Barclays over the way it ran its dark pool seems to contain clear evidence of institutional investors being misled about the amount of “toxic liquidity” provided by high-frequency traders.

More broadly, however, it raises the question of how the original purpose of dark pools – to allow institutions to make block trades away from public markets where they would move the price – was subverted by investment banks. 

It was fitting that when Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World, was overcome with emotion at the Old Bailey on Tuesday, having been acquitted of charges related to phone hacking, she was helped by the court matron. Only a tabloid case would feature a figure so reminiscent of old British institutions such as boarding schools and cottage hospitals.

Emma Jacobs

Luis Suarez, right, and Giorgio Chiellini after clashing during their World Cup match. Photo: Reuters

If you bit someone at work – as Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez appeared to on Tuesday night – would you get sacked? It seems likely. 

Andrew Hill

Clayton Christensen (Peter Foley/Bloomberg)

Clay Christensen is a gentle man, of devout Mormon faith, prone to sentimentality and beloved by many – not least for his lessons to students on how to find fulfilment, which he turned into an unexpected bestseller, How Will You Measure Your Life?

But the avuncular Harvard Business School star is hot under the collar about this week’s New Yorker attack on the book (The Innovator’s Dilemma) and theory (disruptive innovation) for which he is best known.

What seems to have made him particularly angry is the fact that the author, Jill Lepore, who is also a Harvard academic, did not drop by to chat to him about her detailed allegations that his theory does not stand up.