“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.)
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
Oral haptics – more simply known as “mouthfeel” – is one of the food industry’s subtler (or murkier) arts. New research gives an intriguing glimpse into how snackmakers can use it to manipulate grazing customers: for better or for worse.
A group of people were offered either a hard or soft version of the same chocolate and asked to estimate how many calories it contained. They erroneously assumed that the hard version had fewer calories, when the energy content in each of the treats was actually the same. Read more
The world has a new banana behemoth. While investors will be preoccupied with the earnings per share implications of Monday’s merger between Chiquita and Fyffes, the deal is important for banana eaters and growers too. Here are three key questions about the merger.
1. How big is the banana market and is this new company going to dominate it? Read more
When L’Oréal said last week it would stop selling Garnier products in China, many outsiders assumed the French cosmetics group was joining a wholesale retreat by big western brands, led by Revlon of the US, which last month closed all its operations in mainland China, eliminating 1,100 jobs, including those of 940 beauty advisers. It all looked pretty ugly.
In the middle of the western world’s annual holiday shopping spree – which runs from the day after Thanksgiving to the end of the January sales – even hardened shoppers may occasionally feel exploited.
Many economists – including the FT’s Chris Giles – feel the anti-consumption mood is “profoundly wrong”. Business academic Linda Scott, whom I interviewed for the FT’s “Thinking Big” series of videos on radical ideas, goes a step further: she believes the consumer free market has the potential to unleash vast benefits, particularly for women in developing countries – as consumers, investors, donors and workers. Read more
Remember the scene in Pretty Woman when snooty assistants in a designer clothes shop refuse to serve Julia Roberts because of her – ahem – unorthodox attire, thereby depriving themselves of an enormous commission, funded by Richard Gere’s credit card? New academic research suggests that the luxury goods industry has learnt its lesson. Read more
Two years ago, I awarded Angela Ahrendts a prize. The chief executive of Burberry, I thought, should be honoured for her tireless services to business jargon.
And so I made her my winner for Outstanding Services to Bunkum in recognition of the most baffling paragraph ever written by a CEO in an annual report. In her statement in the 2011 report she wrote the immortal words: Read more
I blame Wayne Gretzky.
Ever since the world’s greatest ice hockey player said a tearful good-bye to playing in Canada way back in 1988, his fellow Canadians have been smarting at the rules of big business.
Then, it was Gretzky’s move from snowy and quiet Edmonton to showy and glitzy Los Angeles. Now, 25 years later, the woes of BlackBerry, our one-time technological champion, have led some to wonder if national pride is again at stake. The putative bid by Toronto-based Fairfax Financial to take the company private has only added to the concern, with many analysts and investors unconvinced of the business case. Read more
In saying AG Lafley is “uniquely qualified” to lead Procter & Gamble – again – Jim McNerney, the board’s presiding director, somewhat understates the case.
Not only was Mr Lafley one of P&G’s most successful ever leaders between 2000 and 2009, he has literally written the book on how he achieved the corporate turnround – Playing to Win, co-authored by Roger Martin and published this year. But the record of chief executives who return to the top job is mixed: while there are benefits to bringing back the former CEO, there are pitfalls too. Read more
It is easy to forget. Most of us work in buildings where safety can largely be taken for granted, and fire drills are annoying disruptions in which a security official seizes the chance to talk loudly and repeatedly on the public address system, stopping us from doing any work.
The post-Christmas come down is a depressing time for a lot of people. For many retailers it is the final straw, when they have to admit that even the December shopping binge has failed to provide enough cash to keep the business trading legally.
As a result, insolvency practitioners and shrewd business journalists will be watching like hawks this week for filings at Companies House, when those in dire straits need to admit that they are planning to call in the receivers or look for a fire sale buyer. Read more
One principle underpins Walt Disney Parks and Resorts: the product is not Mickey Mouse, castles, rollercoaster rides or parades; it is the whole “guest experience”.
The return of the “soap opera” with a digital twist – thanks to multi-million pound deals struck by Unilever with Viacom and News Corp – is a further indication that there really is nothing new in marketing.
As I wrote recently, in relation to the spat between BrewDog, a Scottish independent brewer, and the beverage giant Diageo, the tools of communication and promotion may change, but the underlying challenges and responses are the same as they ever were. Read more
With scent and skincare giant Coty’s $10bn bid approach for Avon Products, the descendants of Johannes Benckiser have put Bart Becht straight back to work.
Lady Gaga’s first perfume 'Monster', made in conjunction with Coty, is due to be released this year. Image by AFP/Getty
Mr Becht stepped down last summer as a highly acclaimed (and paid) chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, the listed household goods and personal care group in which private family company Joh A Benckiser has a 15 per cent stake. By November, with the applause of Reckitt’s investors still ringing in his ears, he had stepped in to chair another Benckiser holding – unlisted Coty, the biggest fragrance company in the world, with perfume brands from Calvin Klein to Lady Gaga’s forthcoming ‘Monster’.
For all the soft-focus marketing of Coty’s products, Mr Becht’s “Dear Andrea” letter to his Avon counterpart Andrea Jung is as direct as the sales pitch for his former employer’s popular Cillit Bang grime-cleaner. The Dutchman writes:
We were surprised and disappointed that Avon’s Board of Directors has no interest in a discussion to explore our acquisition proposal…. We do not understand how your Board’s unwillingness to discuss our proposal can serve the best interests of Avon’s shareholders.
Rakesh Kapoor has been in charge of Reckitt Benckiser for less than a year but already he’s changed the world. Or, more accurately, he’s changed Reckitt’s view of the world, by merging its European and North American operations into one Amsterdam-based unit, and splitting the rest of the world into two reporting areas.
Like three ugly sisters, the new operations are called Ena, Rumea (Russia, Middle East, Africa) and Lapac (Latin America and Asia-Pacific). Stefan Wagstyl has pointed out on the FT beyondbrics blog that the clear message is that “emerging markets matter” for the multinational consumer goods group.
Reckitt’s change is more than a laborious redrafting of the corporate organigram. Pankaj Ghemawat wrote in World 3.0 that General Motors’ decision to make many of its non-US, non-European operations report to China was “a basic realignment of power”. The impact of Reckitt’s move to aim resources more directly at growing markets could be just as profound. Read more