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.
Hisao Tanaka, Toshiba’s chief executive, gave a 15-second bow on Tuesday as he resigned over a $1.2bn accounting scandal. Mr Tanaka and seven other executives took responsibility for deceptions that started in 2008. Taro Aso, Japan’s finance minister, warned that this could “lose the market’s trust”.
Imagine a business with a base of middle-class customers in the richest nations, a fervent new following in the world’s fastest-growing Asian economies, loyal corporate backers, and a new global television showcase, championed by personable young stars. Are you in?
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?
The Berlin Philharmonic’s choice of Kirill Petrenko as its next chief conductor, succeeding Sir Simon Rattle, is less remarkable than the fact it made a decision at all. The 124-member orchestra, one of the world’s most democratic musical ventures, failed to do so in May despite 11 hours of debate and several ballots.
When Deutsche Bank named John Cryan as its new chief executive three weeks ago, the commentary had an insidious subtext. He has “an enormous brain”, one friend told the FT. “Very thoughtful,” said a former colleague. Ominously for Mr Cryan, these comments echoed those made about Vikram Pandit when he unexpectedly stepped down as Citigroup’s CEO in 2012. He was “too cerebral”, said critics of the Citi boss.
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.
Frederick Winslow Taylor is the ghost in the room at debates about new ways of monitoring staff. As the pioneer of “scientific management”, he was the man with a clipboard and stopwatch timing factory workers at the turn of the last century.
I blame Sebastian Junger. The success of The Perfect Storm, the journalist’s 1997 book about a doomed fishing boat gave embattled corporate titans the perfect metaphor for what went wrong on their watch.
“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.)
Sometimes a species reaches the end of its natural existence. As its numbers dwindle, disappearance becomes inevitable and the last survivors of the doomed herd become objects of curiosity and pity. This is happening to chief executives who are also chairmen — but with none of the pity.
Sky’s victory over Skype in the European court is an odd affair, provoking some predictable reactions. For a start, there is a certain irony in the first European tech start-up to build itself into a global brand being called out by a European court for it.
But when wealthy owners of brand names made out of generic and widely used words start to throw their weight around, scepticism is usually in order. What next? A freeze on Skyy Vodka? A brake on the SkyTrains used in cities from Bangkok to Vancouver? How about a trade embargo against the Isle of Skye?
Consider this, though. While confusion between Sky, the satellite television provider owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Skype, the Microsoft-owned video calling service, seems unlikely based on current habits, those habits can change – and fast.
“I have won a lot of promotions and been at Wembley and won the play-offs, [but] I think, individually, this was the biggest result.” If you follow sport at all, you get used to hyperbole. But this recent comment by Steve Evans, who manages the Rotherham United football team, stood out.
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.
If you have read a new business book, done executive training or attended a leadership summit recently, you have probably seen a slide, diagram or animation of the human brain.
By stepping into the furore over Indiana’s religious freedom law, in defence of gay rights, Tim Cook is boldly taking Apple where companies have been wary about going before. But he is not the only US business leader advocating for a deeply-held personal belief — so have Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com on the same issue, and Howard Schultz of Starbucks on racial discrimination and violence.
Self-manager: Zappos' Tony Hsieh © Zappos
When I first wrote last year about Zappos’ efforts to introduce a self-managing system called Holacracy, I said that for most companies to adopt such an approach would take “time, a leap of faith and an act of unusual self-effacement by their leaders”.
An extraordinary memo from Tony Hsieh, chief executive of the Amazon-owned online shoe retailer, has underlined just how difficult it is. In the memo, published by Quartz this week, Mr Hsieh says that in the face of potential resistance, the company is now going to take a “rip the bandaid” approach to accelerate its progress towards self-management.
Quartz reports that some of the things I predicted would be stumbling blocks — confusion about the absence of titles, defection of staff — have already affected the transition. Mr Hsieh is not giving up; indeed he’s offering severance packages to staff who are not comfortable with the new approach. The fact that a chief executive has to order a change to a system with no chief executive is only one of the apparent contradictions here.
A colleague who headed an overseas editorial bureau of the Financial Times once called me to ask my advice: did I think he should devote more time to managing the journalists in his team or to writing front page scoops?
© Henrik Sorensen/Getty
Remember those days when long-haul flights were sometimes only a half, or even a third full? The joy of sprawling out across four seats in economy for the original “flat bed” experience?
Airlines’ use of technology to manage their flights more efficiently has largely killed that 20th-century pleasure. I’ve struggled to count more than a handful of empty seats on most of the flights I’ve been on in recent years.
Now “big data” seems to be on the cusp of streamlining many other workplaces in a similar fashion — with consequences for workers that go far beyond a mere bad night’s sleep.
The latest edition of Harper’s magazine picks up on the growth of labour scheduling software in business, which, by matching shifts to demand more accurately, is helping to make sure businesses are not overstaffed. If only it stopped there. Read more
Can a man speak for women’s experiences? It is a perennial issue, leading to charges in the Twittersphere of “mansplaining”, explaining things to women that they have more expertise on themselves.
The controversy re-emerged this week, centred on Vivek Wadhwa, a lecturer at Stanford University. A blogpost by Amelia Greenhall, a tech blogger, forcefully described her anger at Mr Wadhwa having become the go-to guy for opinions on women in the tech industry.
“Many tech feminists (such as myself) like to mock Vivek Wadhwa as “The Guy Who Gets Paid to Talk About Women in Tech,” but what he does is a serious problem that hurts women in tech in tangible ways. By appointing himself the unwanted spokesman for women in tech he has kept actual, qualified women’s voices from being heard widely in the mainstream media.” Read more