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.
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.
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?”
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
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.
Pale, male and stale: what's next for the boardroom?
As boards gradually move towards better balance by gender, what is the next frontier?
Alan Mak, a 30-year-old non-executive director of Havas Worldwide (UK), thinks boards should make it a priority to take on more young directors. He and I have gone head-to-head on the issue in print and we took the debate onto Twitter on Thursday to test the mood. Read more
What puzzles me about Sports Direct’s campaign to pay founder Mike Ashley a bonus – which finally succeeded on Wednesday, despite shareholder opposition – is that it focuses City attention on the weak spots in the sports retailer’s make-up: its governance and its dependence on Mr Ashley himself. Read more
When I sat down with colleagues this year to review a “longlist” of applicants for the Financial Times’ editorial trainee scheme, we agreed on one thing: any of the 50 candidates left in the running would be a worthy recruit. Yet following months of due diligence by FT staff, including writing tests and, for some, interviews, 48 were bound to receive a rejection letter.
The Innovator’s Dilemma was published in 1997, so when The New Yorker last week printed a detailed dissection of disruptive innovation, the idea at the heart of Clayton Christensen’s book, my first reaction was: what took critics so long?
Clayton Christensen (Peter Foley/Bloomberg)
Clay Christensen is a gentle man, of devout Mormon faith, prone to sentimentality and beloved by many – not least for his lessons to students on how to find fulfilment, which he turned into an unexpected bestseller, How Will You Measure Your Life?
But the avuncular Harvard Business School star is hot under the collar about this week’s New Yorker attack on the book (The Innovator’s Dilemma) and theory (disruptive innovation) for which he is best known.
What seems to have made him particularly angry is the fact that the author, Jill Lepore, who is also a Harvard academic, did not drop by to chat to him about her detailed allegations that his theory does not stand up. Read more
Isis infographic detailing attacks by type (Institute for the Study of War)
Chilling though it is to read how the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) records its military and terrorist successes in a sort of company report, it is hardly surprising.
Isis, for all its brutality, is an organisation. Organisations need managing, and – in the words of management writer Peter Drucker – “what gets measured, gets managed”.
The Institute for the Study of War, the US-based group that analysed the Isis annual reports, actually headlined its briefing “Isis Annual Reports Reveal a Metrics-Driven Military Command”.
As interpreted by the institute, Isis’s metrics serve a similar purpose to those of a company. Read more
Since the financial crisis, the only politically palatable response to corporate malfeasance has been to add more pages to the rule book. Last week, for example, George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, said he would make manipulation of foreign exchange and other benchmarks a criminal offence.
Outsiders have been marvelling at the uncanny skills of robots for decades. In 1978, commentators on the FT’s “Technical Page” were wowed by a machine called Puma (“programmable universal manipulator for assembly”) that had the “dexterity and accuracy [to] insert lamps into automobile instrument panels”. These days, Puma would look about as nimble as a first world war tank. My colleague Tanya Powley writes in the last of the FT’s series on robots at work that a Danish company has developed a machine that “can pack millions of eggs without crushing them”, while lightweight collaborative robots work alongside humans.
Missing, though, from most accounts of how automation will transform the workplace is a similar sense of wonder at the dexterity of managers as they adapt their human skills to the demands of the sophisticated machinery around them. Read more
Welcome to the World Cup in Brazil, brought to you by Fifa, a corporate governance disaster that is also one of the most successful multinational enterprises on earth.
Spanish Crown Prince Felipe Photo: Reuters
A couple of royal handovers and a papal resignation and suddenly abdication – which used to have a near uniformly negative connotation – is all the rage. Read more