Sky’s victory over Skype in the European court is an odd affair, provoking some predictable reactions. For a start, there is a certain irony in the first European tech start-up to build itself into a global brand being called out by a European court for it.
But when wealthy owners of brand names made out of generic and widely used words start to throw their weight around, scepticism is usually in order. What next? A freeze on Skyy Vodka? A brake on the SkyTrains used in cities from Bangkok to Vancouver? How about a trade embargo against the Isle of Skye?
Consider this, though. While confusion between Sky, the satellite television provider owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Skype, the Microsoft-owned video calling service, seems unlikely based on current habits, those habits can change – and fast.
Mick Davis’s departure from Glencore-Xstrata without serving a six-month transition period at the merged company is a classic dog-bites-man story. It looked inevitable even when my colleague Helen Thomas and I met him in January for an interview, but the Xstrata chief executive and cricket fan played a straight bat to questions about whether he would sit patiently in his office after what he plainly described as a takeover by Glencore. Read more
A merger between Anglo American and Xstrata falls into the “what if?” category of corporate counterfactuals. Anglo rebuffed Xstrata’s 2009 approach and the latter is now itself in the waiting room for a takeover from its largest shareholder Glencore.
But as Xstrata’s boss Mick Davis told me and Helen Thomas last week, he still feels he could have applied some merger-magic to Anglo, which on Tuesday confirmed speculation that it would write down the value of its Minas-Rio Brazilian iron ore project. Mr Davis said he had “absolutely no doubt” that he would have been able to liberate a more entrepreneurial culture at Anglo, by devolving more responsibility to operational managers, as at Xstrata. Here are his comments in full: Read more
Tom Albanese’s departure looks abrupt, but only in the sense that most outsiders had wearied of hearing calls for the Rio Tinto chief’s head. As Lex has pointed out, his resignation was long overdue.
Since the dire implications of Mr Albanese’s decision to push through the Alcan purchase at the top of the market in 2007 became clear, people had been saying his days were numbered. “I expect him to be out within 12 months,” was the rash prediction of one unnamed investor in 2009. Read more
Anglo American’s Cynthia Carroll would quite justifiably like to be assessed for her performance as a chief executive, not as a female chief executive. The same goes for two other prominent chief executives of UK companies who have announced their departure this month: Marjorie Scardino at Pearson (which owns the FT) and Kate Swann at WH Smith.
But the continued scarcity of female CEOs worldwide, the fact that two of this trio will be replaced by men (Ms Carroll’s successor has yet to be named), and the coincidence with a heated debate about gender quotas in European Union boardrooms make this a legitimate theme.
Specifically, it draws attention to the only element of the gender quota debate that pro-quota and anti-quota camps agree on (apart from the ultimate objective of achieving greater balance): that it is more important to fill the pipeline of female executives than it is to stock the board with female non-executives. Read more
Xstrata’s novel decision to allow its investors to uncouple their vote on whether to approve retention payments from their vote on whether to back a merger offer from Glencore is fascinating.
But it seems to me that Glencore and Xstrata are polling the wrong people. If it is true, as Xstrata chairman Sir John Bond and the non-executive directors say, that “without the ability to retain key Xstrata managers to run the combined group’s mining operations… the value proposition of the combined entity is at risk”, shareholders are still short of a piece of vital information. Read more
Richard Lambert’s piece on Vallares and the reputation arbitrage that the £1.3bn investment vehicle is pulling off by listing on the FTSE 100 is well worth reading. It raises serious questions about how London financiers are exploiting index funds.
As Sir Richard, a former editor of the FT, points out, Tony Hayward and Nat Rothschild are pulling a neat trick by promising investors they can release the “trapped value” of commodity groups in far-flung countries with murky corporate governance:
You unlock this value by putting a respectable board of directors on top of the notepaper, by appointing managers with a strong following in financial markets, by pledging to follow all relevant corporate governance codes and by listing the shares on the London Stock Exchange, preferably on a scale that gets them into the FTSE 100 index. Suddenly investors who might previously have run a mile are queuing up to buy.
Much has been made of the independence or otherwise of Glencore’s non-executive directors and of the inappropriate and unhelpful remarks of its chairman, Simon Murray, about women in the boardroom (there are none in Glencore’s*).
But I wonder how strong a challenge even the most independent directors can mount to hardened executives who are steeped in the Glencore corporate culture. Read more
Sir John Parker’s arrival as chairman of Anglo American in 2009 may well have changed the miner’s destiny. He steadied the ship, stood in the way of a potential bid from rival Xstrata, and threw his weight behind chief executive Cynthia Carroll, who was under intense pressure. All this looks like evidence of the Northern Irishman’s legendary toughness. Except Sir John himself says he’s not tough.
In my latest Turning Points interview, he describes himself rather differently – as a believer in discipline (learnt on the family farm where he was brought up) prepared to be tough only where necessary. Read more