Berkshire Hathaway shareholders came out in record numbers to mark the golden anniversary of Warren Buffett’s control of the company but the celebratory atmosphere did not stop some tough questions being put. Mr Buffett was prompted to full-throated defence of partner 3G’s management practices. in a reminder that, for his folksy charm and liberal values, Mr Buffett remains a capitalist through and through..
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Remember those days when long-haul flights were sometimes only a half, or even a third full? The joy of sprawling out across four seats in economy for the original “flat bed” experience?
Airlines’ use of technology to manage their flights more efficiently has largely killed that 20th-century pleasure. I’ve struggled to count more than a handful of empty seats on most of the flights I’ve been on in recent years.
Now “big data” seems to be on the cusp of streamlining many other workplaces in a similar fashion — with consequences for workers that go far beyond a mere bad night’s sleep.
The latest edition of Harper’s magazine picks up on the growth of labour scheduling software in business, which, by matching shifts to demand more accurately, is helping to make sure businesses are not overstaffed. If only it stopped there. Read more
The price of oil keeps on falling; the shale gas boom has reduced the price of natural gas in the US to a third of that in France; Germany has appealed to Sweden for its support in expanding two coal mines; and the EU’s effort to switch to clean energy is troubled. For companies wondering where to locate, the world has turned upside down.
Twitter's Anthony Noto (Getty)
On Monday, Anthony Noto, the CFO of Twitter got into a shocking muddle and sent what was meant to be a direct message as a tweet to all his followers.
It said “I think we should buy them. He is on your schedule for Dec 15 or 16 — we will need to sell him. i have a plan.” Chaos ensued. The tweet was swiftly removed – but not before everyone got terrifically excited about it. Lots of people are now trying to work out which company it is that Twitter is so keen to buy. Other pieces are saying that the balls-up by the CFO is proof that Twitter’s technology is too clunky, and that explains why it isn’t growing as fast as it might.
Maybe; what interests me about the blunder is something else. Something far more cheering. Read more
The next Machine Age will not just augur job losses and the transformation of some professions. The future could be a lot worse. It may also let loose an army of needy robots.
This week, the MIT Technology Review described a new generation of Cobots – collaborative robots – made by a team under Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. These are autonomous intelligent mobile robots capable of performing service tasks and interacting with humans.
The robot is as polite as Star Wars’ C-3PO but there the similarities end. It has no arms and no legs. In fact, the article describes it as “a laptop and a cluster of sensors sitting atop a wheeled bar-stool”.
Unfailingly civil; it also turns out to be demanding of its human co-workers’ attention. Prof Veloso maintains that it is hard to program a robot to decode conversation but it can understand simple instructions. Therefore, when it has run out of tasks it will nag the nearest human. If that does not work, it will send out an office-wide email asking for assistance. Read more
My first reaction to the $73bn bid from 21st Century Fox for Time Warner, which this week settled in for a prolonged fight as Time Warner blocked Fox from mounting a rapid assault on its board of directors, was to ask: what problem is Rupert Murdoch trying to solve?
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
The other day, a business in New York mailed a dollar cheque to me across the Atlantic. It was a pretty thing – multicoloured, with an anti-fraud foil hologram – and I admired it for a while before putting it into another envelope and posting it back to a friend in New York to walk up the block and deposit. After a round trip of 7,000 miles, it reached my account three weeks late.
The global system for taxing multinational companies is broken, but no country wants to alter it too radically for fear of making it worse. That was my impression after hearing international tax experts gathered in Oxford this week to discuss reform.
Reform of corporate taxation has been thrust onto the political agenda in Europe and by controversy over the tax policies of companies such as Google and Starbucks. The ease with which they can shift intellectual property and royalty payments to low tax regimes has outraged politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
The attempt by Pfizer to turn itself into a UK company for tax purposes by acquiring AstraZeneca has also drawn attention to the use of “tax inversion” by US companies. They want to use the cash piles held overseas to make acquisitions that allow them to change corporate nationality and reduce their taxes.
But while most countries agree that the system of global taxation in place since the 1920s is flawed, there was no consensus at the conference held by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation on how to fix it. Instead, most prefer to play defence. Read more
Is it worth uprooting family to move to a new city for a job? Peter Cappelli, a management professor at Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, is not convinced.
Assessing the broad decline in internal migration that the US has suffered in recent years, Prof Cappelli argues that the trend for people to stay put may well reflect the fact that so many jobs are transient these days. Read more
It’s the Woodstock of Capitalism, the investors’ Super Bowl, the Lollapalooza of lolly…
Tens of thousands of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders converged on Omaha, Nebraska, for the $300bn conglomerate’s annual meeting and the chance to hear in person from its legendary founder, Warren Buffett (and his droll sidekick Charlie Munger).
Stephen Foley, the FT’s US investment correspondent was there, too, to capture the wit, wisdom and sometimes wackiness on display. Read more
Oral haptics – more simply known as “mouthfeel” – is one of the food industry’s subtler (or murkier) arts. New research gives an intriguing glimpse into how snackmakers can use it to manipulate grazing customers: for better or for worse.
A group of people were offered either a hard or soft version of the same chocolate and asked to estimate how many calories it contained. They erroneously assumed that the hard version had fewer calories, when the energy content in each of the treats was actually the same. Read more
Suddenly, after a prolonged drought, fresh money is pouring into US digital news. The strange thing is where it is going.
What is Goldman Sachs up to? The bank has been behaving strangely this week. When Michael Lewis unveiled his book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt , in which he alleged the equity market is “rigged” by high-frequency traders, the bank discreetly lent him support. Then it emerged that Goldman is leaving the New York Stock Exchange floor, selling Spear, Leeds & Kellogg, a broker it bought for $6.5bn in 2000.
Free business school case study in every box (Dreamstime)
Altering prices is a delicate art. When Pixar was a hardware maker in the 1980s, for instance, it realised it was charging too much for its computers. Yet a price cut failed to dispel its reputation for hawking excessively pricey kit. “The first impression stuck,” recalls Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull in his informative new book, Creativity, Inc.
But this does not mean that it is impossible to raise or lower prices successfully. The decision by Amazon to increase the price of its Prime delivery service in the US last month could be a case in point.
Pricing strategy consultant Rafi Mohammed has praised the way Amazon went about increasing the annual Prime charge from $79 to $99. Read more
Leo Strine – comforter of the corporate executive? (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Has shareholder democracy in the US gone too far? The very idea seems risible to Europe-based corporate governance advocates, myself included, who have watched American investor rights advance in a good direction, but at a snail’s pace. But those making the case now for limiting investor powers have a strong, prominent, and eloquent ally in Leo Strine, Delaware’s chief justice. His latest Columbia Law Review article, ostensibly arguing for a pragmatic version of investor democracy, is a must-read. Read more
If you can avoid it, never get into a position where Sergio Marchionne can force you to play poker. That applies literally, as Fiat executives who fly on its (rented) corporate jet know, and metaphorically, as other companies have discovered in the past decade.
Usually limited to geeky product launches such as iPhones or high-street fashion collaborations, such as H&M’s tie-up with Karl Lagerfeld, the cronut queuers are inspired by similar motivations.
There are bonders who come to meet people who share their cake interests. And then there is the trophy value of being caught in the media and buzz. Even a humble cronut has bragging rights attached to it: “All day I waited for the flaky donut confection,” queuers will tell their children one day. Read more
Sales of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four have risen since Edward Snowden revealed how the National Security Agency of the US gains access to telephone records and data from technology companies. So far, if people do not exactly love Big Brother, they are prepared to accept some invasion of their privacy in return for security.