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”.
Punish the unpunctual: Ben Horowitz (Getty)
Andreessen Horowitz, the Californian venture capital investor, is strict about ensuring that its staff do not keep entrepreneurs waiting.
Ben Horowitz, the firm’s rap-loving co-founder, has revealed that latecomers to its pitch meetings are fined $10 a minute. The penalty for getting caught using a smartphone or computer is $100, meanwhile.
Mr Horowitz told this week’s Startup Grind conference that the stance was a product of his own experience of building a business (he helped create Opsware, sold to HP for $1.6bn in 2007 before founding the VC firm with Marc Andreessen). Read more
The eulogies last week for Justin King, outgoing chief executive of J Sainsbury, make clear he won his crown as Britain’s most successful grocer by reconnecting with his loyal subjects – the shoppers – after years of neglect. But his abdication as chief executive of the country’s second-largest supermarket chain, after a decade in charge, is a good moment to ask whether customer loyalty really matters any more.
Following the recent news that some investment banks had decided to make working conditions more palatable for junior employees, one former intern emailed the FT a poem he wrote last summer while completing a stint at a bank.
On rings the cow bell,
Bringing cattle to their shed
Buy sell, buy sell
Work, work, work until you’re dead.
Paul Flowers: tests put the board off the scent
The idea that Paul Flowers – the disgraced former chairman of the UK’s Co-operative Bank – might have got the job largely because he aced a set of psychometric tests is, on the face of it, astonishing. As we now know, the Methodist minister had little previous banking experience and is being investigated for allegedly buying illegal drugs.
But unfortunately it is increasingly easy for executives to allow the apparent certainty of test data to overrule more subtle and more serious concerns visible to mere human beings. Read more
When Ellen Kullman, chief executive of DuPont, asked a contract worker on the production line making Kevlar, the fibre used in bulletproof vests, what he was doing, she got an unexpected response: “We’re saving lives.”
Credit Suisse is the latest investment bank to issue an edict aimed at protecting the work-life balance of its junior employees – and it is getting roasted for it by bankers themselves.
Bloomberg reported (and the bank confirmed) that Jim Amine, global head of investment banking, had decreed in a memo that “analysts and associates in the US investment banking division should be out of the office from 6 pm Friday until 10am Sunday unless they’re working on an active deal”.
So ordered. Except that commanding your ambitious junior employees to limit their workload – Bank of America, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs have taken similar action – is quite likely to be useless, if not counter-productive. To change working practices requires a profound cultural shift, and judging from the reaction to the latest news that is not likely to happen soon. Read more
Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat (AP)
Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.
But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.
In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs. Read more