Manufacturing

In the dreary annals of presentations about corporate values, ABN Amro chairman Gerrit Zalm’s recent performance for the bank’s annual cabaret as his brothel-keeping “sister” Priscilla will take some beating.

Eiji Toyoda was the man who taught the world’s production workers Japanese. If you know kaizen means continuous improvement, and use kanban inventory tags to eliminate muda, or waste, then Toyoda, who died recently, was your sensei.

Even by China’s standards, Wuhan Iron & Steel is enormous. As we drive along the four-lane highway beside the 22 square-kilometre site – with its eight blast furnaces, hot and cold rolling mills, port on the Yangtze River and Red Steel City workers’ town where 300,000 people live – the scale of Mao Zedong’s favourite steelworks is staggering.

Andrew Hill

French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg told: "How stupid do you think we are?" Getty Images

French Socialists and American chief executives make awkward bedfellows at the best of times. Just how awkward is evident from the extraordinary letter Maurice “Morry” M. Taylor – nicknamed “The Grizz” for his uncompromising negotiating style – sent to Arnaud Montebourg, France’s industry minister.

“How stupid do you think we are?” was Mr Taylor’s response to Mr Montebourg’s attempt to find out if Titan, the tyremaker Mr Taylor heads, would take over part of Goodyear’s factory in Amiens. Earlier efforts by Goodyear to forge a deal with Titan foundered on union opposition, which has not endeared French workers to the Titan CEO, who claims they “get paid high wages but work only three hours”. Read more

Andrew Hill

TNT headquarters, Hoofddorp. Getty Images

Unless you’re an avid reader of Dutch newspapers you may have missed the mini-drama playing out behind the long-running UPS attempt to take over TNT Express, which ended on Monday when Brussels said it would block the deal.

At the height of the discussions with the European Commission last September, Marie-Christine Lombard, TNT Express’s chief executive, resigned abruptly. She went on to join competitor Geodis, a French express and logistics group, in the same role. Read more

Andrew Hill

Cerberus plans to sell its stake in gunmaker. Getty Images

The 12th and most difficult labour of Hercules was to vanquish Cerberus, the three-headed hound guarding the gates of the Underworld – without using weapons.

How appropriate, then, that California State Teachers’ Retirement System (Calstrs) has disarmed Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm, so quickly and comprehensively. On Tuesday, Cerberus said it would sell its stake in Freedom Group, manufacturer of one of the weapons used in last week’s Sandy Hook school shooting.

There are obvious reasons why Calstrs, which was reviewing its investment in Cerberus, moved so fast. In fact, it seems somewhat extraordinary that it had not previously noticed and severed the indirect link between its beneficiaries’ retirement funds and gun manufacturers. It is also arguable whether divestment by Cerberus – presumably to another, less sensitive buyer – will achieve real policy change. But it is a start. Read more

Like a man with a broken umbrella trying to hail a cab in a downpour, the maker of the famous black London taxi is clinging to its last shreds of hope. Last week Manganese Bronze announced it was no longer a going concern and intended to appoint administrators.

Andrew Hill

Add another episode to the saga of the overworked modern chief executive: Akzo Nobel announced on Tuesday that Ton Büchner, appointed to the Dutch company only in April, will take a “leave of absence” having been “diagnosed with temporary fatigue“.

It is all reminiscent of Lloyds Banking Group’s decision to give António Horta-Osório, the UK company’s chief executive, a rest last November, to get over insomnia and exhaustion. The Portuguese CEO has since recovered – sufficiently to trounce the FT’s banking editor at tennis a couple of months ago. Read more