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.
Apparently size matters in assessing business culture. The latest Populus opinion poll for the FT says 61 per cent of British voters want the party that wins the next election to be tougher on “big business”.
This result raises all sorts of questions – and not only for the political parties, which appear to be drawing up the battle-lines over how to treat business. With British elections one year away, it underlines, for example, that companies need to recalibrate their strategies to deal with political risk on the home front. It also makes me wonder how British people, let alone their elected representatives, define “big business”. Read more
EADS closes Paris: "Someday you'll understand…" ('Casablanca', AP Photo, Files)
If corporate headquarters always have a symbolic as well as an organisational function then EADS’ arrangements symbolised the political complexity of the pan-European aerospace and defence company.
The group’s website lists three “head offices” – in Paris, Munich and Madrid – and one “headquarters”, in Amsterdam. But since an April reorganisation, the group has referred to Toulouse, where chief executive Tom Enders and the important Airbus business are based, as its “single operational headquarters”. That should have been a clue to staff elsewhere that their future might not be so stable. If you’re not operational, you are probably an overhead. So it has proved: EADS is poised to close the Paris office, next to the Bois de Boulogne. Read more
A British chief executive I met this week was fretting about the UK government’s attempts to kick-start the economy with infrastructure projects. He didn’t fault the plan, but he worried about the execution, likening ministers to Biblical prophets. The only problem, he said, is that “the word of God” is not enough to make roads, bridges, power stations and broadband networks miraculously materialise. Read more
It was a gritty campaign and it brought one last pivot for Barack Obama – the candidate who once promised the voters hope and change – as he appeared in Chicago to mark his victory. Amid a soaring speech about the US, he acknowledged that his job at the White House is to find jobs for others.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Image by Getty
On the day of the US presidential election, we are witnessing a perfect antithesis of those who believe in intuition and those who trust in data. That has implications not only for political observers but for finance.
Nate Silver, the New York Times’ polling guru, who crunches the state and national polls and feeds them into a unified model that spits out a probability of who will be elected president, has Barack Obama as the 91.6 per cent favourite to win.
Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, feels something in the air: Read more
The saga of Florida’s “hanging chads”, which prolonged the disputatious US presidential race of 2000 well beyond polling day, also left corporate America hanging.
US national security concerns apart, China’s Huawei has one of the strangest governance structures of any multinational company: a “panel” of three chief executives each of whom rotates into the top executive role every six months.
On the issue of Huawei’s links with the Chinese military, the telecommunications equipment company has proved the equal of any western counterpart when it comes to using spin-doctors to push out a strong and consistent message that it has been maligned. But when it comes to the rotating CEOs, its founder, Ren Zhengfei (who is one of the trio), is remarkably frank that the arrangement is a bold experiment. “Even if we fail, we will not regret our choice because we have blazed a new trail,” he said in the most recent annual report. Read more
Asked to choose between government intervention in the delicate business of innovation and government withdrawal from the field, I always used to plump for the latter.
Anyone who reads Sir Howard Davies’s acerbic regular diary column in Management Today magazine will know that the former head of the CBI and London School of Economics is extremely well-qualified to lead an independent inquiry into UK airport capacity. He seems to spend much of his time travelling by air between international destinations – dropping in the occasional barb about the airports he passes through.
In July, he pointed out that “you need a sense of humour to fly from Venice airport. Congested? It makes Heathrow Terminal 1 look like a county cricket ground on a wet afternoon”. Last December, he recounted a bad Paris-Munich TGV experience, but added he was “instinctively pro-train, except when it is owned by Richard Branson”. Read more
“I can’t be confident about anything after learning about this cesspit” – Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England, to the House of Commons Treasury committee, July 9, 2012.
Paul Tucker’s disgust at the Libor rate-rigging scandal (echoing business secretary Vince Cable) sent me back to records of the last time a foul stench of rottenness overwhelmed the UK parliament: the “Great Stink” of 1858. In that year, the smell of raw sewage, decanted into the Thames through overburdened sewers, reached the Palace of Westminster. It prompted emergency debates on “the state of the Thames”, in which R.D. Mangles, MP, told the House of Commons (as reported by Hansard): Read more
It will be a shame if bitter and partisan debate over whether Rupert Murdoch is “a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company” obscures the more important conclusion of the UK parliament’s culture, media and sport committee on phone-hacking: that he and his son James were wilfully blind to what was going on.
Whether BSkyB, controlled by the Murdoch-owned News Corp, is a “fit and proper” owner of a broadcasting licence is a question for Ofcom, the regulator, which has now entered an “evidence-gathering” phase of its probe.
But as even the dissenting members of the committee said on Tuesday, if the “fit person” line had been omitted from the report, they would have voted unanimously to back it, including the charge that the Murdochs oversaw a culture of wilful blindness. Read more
Lord Leveson’s inquiry into the British press on Wednesday tackled one of the most pressing mysteries facing government and the media: how on earth does Rupert Murdoch ever get anything done?
If mergers of equals are risky and hostile takeovers riskier, where does expropriation rank on the scale of management disruption?
Pretty high, I would guess. So, a day after Argentinian government officials walked into YPF’s headquarters with a list of senior Spanish executives they wanted to expel and an order to renationalise most of Repsol’s majority stake, I feel for the oil company’s staff. Read more
I’m getting fed up with the UK coalition government’s ritual invocation of Victorian values or visions whenever it wishes to urge a put-upon populace to new heights.
In David Cameron’s latest speech, the prime minister calls on the spirits of Brunel, Telford and Stephenson, to inspire new infrastructure investment in the UK, from nuclear energy to new towns. He accompanies nostalgia for the Victorian era with the inevitable negative comparison with other nations’ superior efforts: the French, Dutch and Swiss have cheaper, less crowded railways than the British; the South Koreans have faster broadband; the Indians have newer nuclear power stations; and the Chinese have bigger airports. Read more