I am sitting in a packed conference room, somewhere in the heart of London’s financial centre, in an office I have sworn not to identify. It is quiet for a midweek lunchtime. In fact, it is silent. Along with the ex-chairman of a blue-chip company, a handful of executives and board members, a former senior central banker, a Buddhist software engineer, a Benedictine monk and 60 others, I am meditating. Or trying to.
Researching my latest column about the management benefits of mindfulness and meditation, I came across a priceless FT article from 1957. Headlined “Keeping Managers Healthy”, it warns about the “effects of stress and strain on top-level executives” and concludes, gravely, that a number of executives “break the most important rule of all – which is not to ‘keep in touch’ with the company while ostensibly on holiday”.
The article contains this cut-out-and-keep list of 10 “do’s and dont’s”, distilled in part from “what one oil company advises its men [sic]“: Read more
Lesson Two: ensure your predecessor is dead or distant (photo: Getty)
Good morning and welcome to the new Harvard MBA module on sports management. I’m assistant professor David Moyes. Read more
To the news that General Electric’s board of directors has been meeting in solemn conclave to debate whether its chief executives should serve a 20-year term, the natural response is: which egomaniac came up with that idea?
I use a Firefox browser. The opinions of the people who built the technology, or who run Mozilla, the organisation behind it, should make no difference to my experience as a user. Mozilla agrees. Its guidelines state that when people hold views contrary to its inclusion and diversity standards, other Mozillians – as they insist on calling themselves – “should treat this as a private matter” as long as those views are not brought to work, or aired via Firefox.
PwC/Booz's new 'amper-brand'…
Cesare Mainardi, chief executive of Booz & Company, has a ready explanation for the consultancy’s rebranding as “Strategy&”, now Booz’s takeover by PwC is complete:
It invites a discussion about what we’re about and what we’re thinking and how we can help our clients transform.
True enough. Unfortunately, the initial discussion of the new “amper-brand” – pronounced “strategy and” – is likely to start with “What were they thinking?”. People still remember PwC’s ill-fated attempt to rename its consulting arm as “Monday” in 2002, a misstep that had plenty of critics humming the Boomtown Rats’ hit “I don’t like Mondays”. (Luckily for the professional services firm, roughly by Tuesday, IBM had bought the consulting business and PwC never had to live with the consequences.) Read more
Free business school case study in every box (Dreamstime)
Altering prices is a delicate art. When Pixar was a hardware maker in the 1980s, for instance, it realised it was charging too much for its computers. Yet a price cut failed to dispel its reputation for hawking excessively pricey kit. “The first impression stuck,” recalls Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull in his informative new book, Creativity, Inc.
But this does not mean that it is impossible to raise or lower prices successfully. The decision by Amazon to increase the price of its Prime delivery service in the US last month could be a case in point.
Pricing strategy consultant Rafi Mohammed has praised the way Amazon went about increasing the annual Prime charge from $79 to $99. Read more
Leonardo Del Vecchio and Rupert Murdoch have plenty in common. The chairman of Luxottica, the eyewear group, and the chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox were born in the 1930s. Both are billionaire patriarchs of family businesses they largely built themselves but now share with outside investors. Both have six children from different relationships, and both have wrestled with the question of succession.
General Motors and Malaysia Airlines are both in trouble but one is giving a lesson in how to handle a fatal crisis while the other is offering a masterclass in how not to. There is a glaring contrast in the behaviour, and ability to cope with public criticism, of Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, and Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines – although Ms Barra has a simpler task.
My first reaction to the latest news of changes at the top of the Murdoch empire was: did the shrink get involved?
Succession planning at family businesses is often full of unlikely twists and shrieking. After the phone-hacking scandal broke over Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers in 2011, Vanity Fair claimed that the Murdoch siblings had discussed succession with a “family counsellor”, partly in an attempt to smooth the process. Read more
If you had asked board directors at the beginning of last week which of two situations – the stand-off between Russia and Ukraine in Crimea, and the forthcoming British Budget – was politically riskier, they would have chosen the first. But for a few insurers involved in the lucrative business of offering annuities to pensioners, Britain turned out to be the more perilous place after George Osborne, the UK chancellor, astounded them by announcing reforms that could cut the size of that market by 90 per cent.
Once upon a time, a worried manager realised staff were ignoring his instructions. He paid a handsome fee to sages and soothsayers, who advised him to use a compelling tale to season the facts and figures he wanted his team to digest. And so, business storytelling was born and spread throughout the land.
Delivering a TED talk has been a passport to fame for an elite band of academics. According to an FT book review at the weekend, one who is well placed to make that step up is Nicholas Epley, a behavioural science professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Prof Epley’s recently published book Mindwise looks at how difficult it is to understand what others are thinking. In the FT review, Julian Baggini commends him for rejecting the “folk wisdom” that suggests this can be overcome by merely trying to place yourself in the other person’s shoes.
A TED talk for Prof Epley would be “well-merited”, the review concludes, albeit after exhibiting a certain amount of exasperation with the “smart thinking” publishing genre to which Mindwise belongs.
FT readers don’t need to wait for a TED talk though. Back in 2008, Prof Epley delivered a series of three excellent video lectures for us covering bias in decision making, how to read colleagues’ minds (or at least try to) and how to motivate staff. Read more
Unless Euan Sutherland’s resignation letter is published in full, the context of his claim that the Co-operative Group, where he is chief executive, is “ungovernable” will remain unclear. But it is a strange declaration for any professional manager to make: cats are ungovernable; humans, however cussed and contrary, generally do respond to direction. How they are directed is another matter.
The Co-op is a strange beast, as the saga over Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers’ appointment and eventual disgrace revealed. But I think Mr Sutherland has been doing a decent job of taming it. He took some flak last month for appearing to ask Co-op members – and the general public – how the group should be run, rather than setting his own strategy. I read this, however, as a clever combination of an advertising campaign, an opinion poll, and a response to those insiders who disliked his management style. Read more
At 78, Carl Icahn shows little sign of retiring, or of becoming more polite. After finally prodding Forest Labs into a $25bn takeover by Actavis, he renewed his attack on eBay this week, accusing John Donahoe, its chief executive, of being “completely asleep or, even worse, either naive or wilfully blind”.