Management

Mary Barra is a lifer, born and bred to do the job she now holds. But as General Motors’ chief executive pointed out in an interview last week at the World Economic Forum, few young Americans now anticipate spending their lives in the warm embrace of a single employer, as she has.

Chief executives project an air of certainty but their real state of mind must be constant doubt

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.

If you have room left in your 2015 diary, then volunteer. If you feel overwhelmed by work — the main reason UK citizens claim they cannot devote time to a good cause — then volunteer. It will teach you something you can use to improve as a manager and as an employee.

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”.

Andrew Hill

Pope Francis Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

I suppose if you are the pontiff, you don’t have to leaven your Christmas greeting with false bonhomie, but the Pope has not pulled his punches by inviting his Vatican team to reflect on a catalogue of 15 ills or diseases he has diagnosed. They all seem to be highly relevant to executives. Here’s the full list of 15 and my brief gloss for CEOs*: Read more

Andrew Hill

Police officersAny restructuring of the 43 police forces of England and Wales would require political will. But such a reform would also be a vast management exercise.

In proposing the creation of nine new regional “super forces”, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of the Metropolitan Police, is addressing two of the knottiest issues in modern organisational management: how to reconcile central control with local accountability, and whether to get there through structural changes or to rely instead on collaboration. 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.

Andrew Hill

Surprisingly, Cho Hyun-ah has a few supporters, if comments on a Financial Times story about her resignation are anything to go by. The daughter of the Korean Air chairman quit as vice-president of the national carrier on Tuesday after insisting her flight should return to the terminal to remove the chief flight attendant – following a breach of nut-service etiquette. Read more

If I have ever written “C-suite” unironically, let me apologise. The more I come across it, the more I dislike it.

The idea of a “suite” is disturbing enough. Reeking of bathrooms and bad hotels, it appears to have nothing to do with the typical open-plan workplace. It is the C-part that really worries me, however, not because it may give occupants of the suite delusions of seniority, but because it may give them delusions of control.

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.

Andrew Hill

Harriet Green, ex-chief executive of Thomas Cook, certainly broke through the glass ceiling on her way up to the top of corporate Britain. But was her abrupt departure from the travel group this week further evidence of the existence of a “glass cliff”, off which female CEOs are often said to plummet? Read more

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

© 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.

Grayson Perry, the transvestite artist, took aim last month at “default man”: the cabal of white, middle-class, heterosexual, middle-aged males who run the British establishment.

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

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

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