Management

Emma Jacobs

Sir Richard Branson’s “non-policy” on holidays is the latest attempt by a company to tackle the “work-life balance” conundrum. The news that he is allowing 170 staff in his head office to take holiday whenever they like, without seeking prior permission, so long as it does not damage the business has been greeted with great enthusiasm by commenters on his blog.

One summed up the Branson cheerleading: “As always, leading the way for Generation Y. I hope someday, before my time is done – that most can enjoy more freedom through work, not enslaved by hours and limits but set free to make a difference whilst living out some dreams. Good start to this movement Richard.” Read more

Andrew Hill

On paper, a good idea: the 50th anniversary edition and its 50-year-old ancestor.

Dominic Barton, McKinsey’s global managing director, says he and his colleagues agreed unanimously that the 50th anniversary edition of the McKinsey Quarterly, just out, should “look forward rather than back”.

But if the consultancy’s claims for the influence of its publication are credible (Mr Barton writes that the Quarterly has helped “set the senior-management agenda” for the past half century), it is worth revisiting that first 1964 edition. It offers a few clues, not only about management trends, but about the future of consulting itself.

The first edition came clearly badged as “a review of top-management problems, published to keep our worldwide consulting staff informed on topics of common professional concern” (my emphasis). In other words, it was at first an internal newsletter. According to McKinsey, an alternative suggested title was the resolutely clunky “Practice Development Quarterly”, but it rapidly became a calling card for “the Firm” and until the 1990s, it was mostly distributed to clients by individual partners along with a personal covering letter. Read more

For all the easy talk about the need to repair dysfunctional cultures, it is still one of the hardest management challenges. But even by the thankless Sisyphean standard of such culture-change programmes, the National Football League is beginning at the foot of the hill.

Andrew Hill

Leonardo Del Vecchio: out with the new, in with the old? (Photo: Paolo Bona)

I’m annoyed with Leonardo Del Vecchio, founder of Luxottica, the sunglasses and spectacles-maker. By retaking the executive reins at 79, he has undermined a recent column in which I contrasted his enlightened approach with the benighted version of family ownership and management practised by Rupert Murdoch. Worse, his decision looks like a step back for the company itself.

Mr Del Vecchio apparently has no intention of installing any of his offspring as chief executive, now the well-respected Andrea Guerra has stepped down. That is good. But when you give yourself the title of executive chairman and you own two thirds of the company, it is hard to say that you have kept the operational and shareholder aspects of your business separate, which I still consider to be the best model. As I wrote in March, “maintaining both ownership and management of a large family business more often than not leads downhill into further confusion, uncertainty and internecine conflict”. Read more

If you are a business leader and you yearn to spearhead reforms to British bureaucracy, you have until the end of next week to apply to be the first chief executive of the UK civil service. So far, recruiting the requisite heavy-hitter is proving a struggle.

If you are a business leader and you yearn to spearhead reforms to British bureaucracy, you have until the end of next week to apply to be the first chief executive of the UK civil service. So far, recruiting the requisite heavy-hitter is proving a struggle.

Andrew Hill

Most chief executives think of themselves as rational. Certainly, in the world of closely scrutinised listed companies, it would be unwise for corporate leaders to project any other image.

But, as Manfred Kets de Vries of Insead business school puts it in a new working paper, written with colleague Alicia Cheak, “our everyday lives consist of webs of constantly shifting and irrational forces that underlie seemingly ‘rational’ behaviours and choices – and life in organisations is no exception”. To lead successfully, he suggests, requires a “psychodynamic approach” that seeks to understand the hidden factors motivating teams. Read more

Fred Goodwin, disgraced former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, was notorious for what were nicknamed “morning beatings”, where he focused rage and ridicule on his lieutenants. According to Shredded , Ian Fraser’s new book, the senior team would play Hangman while waiting for the meetings to start, “to see who might be ‘strung up’ next”. Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers was known for his short temper and intimidating style. The wrath of Robert Maxwell, the late media tycoon, was epic.

Emma Jacobs

Justin Timberlake, pop star and actor, is not typically seen as shedding light on societal divisions. Yet the character he played in a film, In Time, a few years ago, was on to something. Set in a dystopian future, where time is currency, the US has been split into “time zones” based on personal wealth. Timberlake’s character, Will Salas, handsome yet poor, tries to bring down the system.
A new study by the University of California, Berkeley, has found that although time is objectively identical for everyone, time perception is subjective. The authors’ key message is that the more powerful you are, the more time you feel you have. In fact, the authors write, “powerful individuals believe they have control over outcomes that they could not possibly control, such as the outcome of a die roll”.

 Read more

In the 1970s you could buy a hippy-ish poster of a bird flying towards a lurid sunset, with the maxim: “If you love something, set it free: if it comes back to you, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.” I assumed the slogan had expired along with a taste for joss sticks and tie-dye T-shirts. I am amazed to find it has instead become a formal human resources policy.

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?”

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. Read more

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. Read more

When the lucrative business of advising on mergers and acquisitions was in the doldrums, consultants spread the idea that crisis management was “the new M&A”. They wielded news stories such as BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Rolls-Royce’s disintegrating Qantas engine, and Toyota’s jammed accelerator pedals to frighten clients into contracts aimed at helping them cope with such disasters.

While waiting in a big Manhattan hospital about 15 years ago, I glimpsed the chairman of one of the world’s biggest banks in a consulting room. I never found out why he was there. If he was ill, his employer never said and the man is now enjoying a long and apparently healthy retirement.