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.
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
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.
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
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
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
No matter how good Total’s preparations, the death of its chief executive Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash late on Monday will have plunged the senior ranks of the French oil group into an emotional, logistical and governance nightmare.
When boards discuss succession planning, they often talk about it in jocular-morbid terms, typically debating “what happens if the CEO is run over by a bus?”. But when such sudden deaths occur, it often exposes just how poorly they have prepared for this type of emergency.
The US-based Conference Board, in a useful note for directors issued last year, pointed out that while three-quarters of S&P 500 companies surveyed in 2011 had succession plans in place, only 83 per cent of those had put in place an emergency succession component. Given that between 7 and 15 US public companies are hit by the sudden death of their chief executive in any given year, the group suggested the fact that a third of large companies had not considered emergency succession was simply not good enough. Read more
Drones are a useful tool for delivering flags to football pitches, as Albania’s supporters demonstrated on Tuesday night during their national team’s match against Serbia, but they remain an extreme option for same-day parcel delivery. Click-and-collect is the mundane but potentially disruptive approach favoured in the UK – an approach that Amazon, predictably, is about to take to the next level.
When Bill McDermott addressed SAP America’s annual sales meeting for the first time as their boss in 2003, the audience “reeked of doubt”. But he aimed “to plough through their doubt with my agenda and with certainty . . . At no point in my career have I been so intent, or felt such urgency, to change people’s minds, and their behaviours.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella © Getty Images
What was Satya Nadella thinking? On Thursday, the Microsoft chief executive made a monumental gaffe on the topic of women’s pay. Not asking for a pay increase, he said, was “good karma” and might be “one of the additional superpowers” for women. In the long term, “it’ll come back because someone’s going to know that that’s the kind of person I can trust,” he said. As the Twitter storm pointed out: karma does not pay the bills. Women have traditionally suffered under the illusion that being conscientious, likeable and patient is the key to getting a salary hike, only to see their mal e peers swagger into the corner office and demand to be paid their worth (and sometimes more than they are worth). His advice is contrary to that of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she wroteof her idiocy of being patient. Read more
Codejam-filled Doughnut – GCHQ head office in Cheltenham (Crown Copyright)
GCHQ – the UK government electronic eavesdropping agency – could be the most innovative employer in Britain. But short of a management-obsessed successor to Edward Snowden daring to leak its org charts, it would normally be hard for anyone to find out.
Its press officers will not reveal their last names, its automated welcome message warns that calls “may be recorded for lawful purposes” (immediately reminding callers of the grey area between lawful and unlawful phone-tapping), and it will say only that it employs roughly 5,000 staff. GCHQ is, however, said to be building a happier workplace for those staff. In fact, its innovative change programme has won a prize. Read more
If I were the new chief executive of Tesco and had just learnt my profits were overstated by £250m, that the regulator was investigating and that I had lost the confidence of the world’s best-known investor, my first instinct would be to nail my accountants, shareholder-relations staff and PR people to their desks until they had sorted it out. I would not be urging them to don a smock or a hairnet and head for the front line.
Je m'excuse: Andy Street © Bloomberg
France is economically doomed and no place for an entrepreneur. “Nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it.” If this is what Andy Street is like at a public engagement, just imagine how dreary he’d be on a home counties golf course. It’s like being bashed around the head with a ringbinder full of Economist back issues.
Piqued by a bad Eurostar journey, the managing director of the leading UK retailer John Lewis morphed into John Bull at an awards event for start-ups in London on Wednesday. Such events can have an aphrodisiac effect on middle-aged executives running staid businesses. But what has John Lewis done recently to give it the right to appropriate the rock star smugness exhibited by many modern entrepreneurs? Read more
Most people can identify their top priority at work. Generally, it will be the part of the job that is most productive for their employer: for a merger and acquisitions banker, it could be landing a big deal for a client; for a lorry driver, the punctual delivery of an important consignment; for a hospital doctor or nurse, giving vital treatment to a patient.
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
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