In 1986, Tom Stemberg opened the first Staples superstore in Massachusetts. Stationery retailers have not stood still since. By 1990, Mr Stemberg’s disruptive bright idea had spawned dozens of lookalike office supply warehouses. “When people asked how it felt to be the father of the industry, my answer was ‘I wish I’d used a condom’,” Mr Stemberg tells me.

Andrew Hill

“Even if the truth is more complex than the headlines, re-establishing confidence in and respect for the banks will be a journey up a steep mountain.”

Stephen Green – now Lord Green – has not commented on the leak of files exposing tax-avoidance practices at HSBC’s Swiss-based private bank. But in 2009, the then chairman of HSBC put his whole philosophy of ethical business on the record in his book Good Value, sub-titled “Reflections on money, morality and an uncertain world”. The newly topical quotation above is an extract. Read more

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison: entrepreneur, plain and simple © Getty Images

Thought leaders were bad enough. Changemakers were hard to cope with. Do we still have to put up with serial entrepreneurs?

The phrase has become alarmingly common — more than 15,000 people on LinkedIn have decided that “serial entrepreneur” best describes their career path.

Admittedly, there is a certain genius in co-opting a word whose better known application to careers has been as a preface to “killer”. And these days being an entrepreneur is more fashionable than shaving off your beard while binge-watching Netflix.

But that does not excuse the phrase serial entrepreneur. Read more

Andrew Hill

Uber – arming up (Getty)

I did a double-take at Uber’s decision to fund driverless car research in partnership with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Not because I think it is a strange departure for a company whose relationship with drivers is key to its success (though if I were a young Uber driver, I wouldn’t count on the job for retirement income). It was the juxtaposition of the names Uber and Carnegie that stood out. Read more

While I flew to Barcelona last week to speak at a conference, my iPad was at breakfast at a restaurant in Cambridge. That, at least, is what I deduced from the device’s location, transmitted to me after I activated the Find My iPhone app on my mobile phone.

Emma Jacobs

LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman assesses levels of 'alpha-ness'. © Bloomberg

Everyone knows what an alpha personality is. Typically but not always a man, they dominate a group or workplace and are at the top of the pecking order, or ambitious to be so; they are assertive, often with a whiff of aggression. Read more

Mary Barra is a lifer, born and bred to do the job she now holds. But as General Motors’ chief executive pointed out in an interview last week at the World Economic Forum, few young Americans now anticipate spending their lives in the warm embrace of a single employer, as she has.

Nicolas Brusson, the founder of BlaBlaCar, the French ride-sharing start-up that in June raised $100m to expand across Europe, got the biggest laugh of the week at the DLD technology conference in Munich. Asked about operating in a “single market” with 28 sets of laws and regulations, he replied: “When you start from France, everything looks simple.”

Emma Jacobs

Wobbling among the Elsa princess outfits and the dinosaur models at the Toy Fair in London’s Olympia exhibition centre this week was a four-foot, buildable robot, the $399 Meccanoid G15 KS.

With its big saucer-shaped eyes and moveable limbs, the toy has revived interest in its maker: Meccano, which was created by the British toy maker, Frank Hornby, a century ago.

Spin Master, the Canadian company that bought Meccano in 2013, hopes it will be essential kit for parents hoping to get their child interested in building and engineering.

It is very much in the spirit of the “maker movement” — an enthusiasm for manufacturing and making things, helped in part by the rise of 3D printing. Read more

Chief executives project an air of certainty but their real state of mind must be constant doubt

John Gapper

  © Charlie Bibby

It was a kinder, gentler and more strategic Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, who took to the stage at the DLD technology conference in Munich on Sunday to offer the mayors of European cities a “new partnership” with the ride-hailing network, rather than a bitter legal and regulatory battle. Read more

There comes a time in most people’s lives, usually very late in the lives of self-made billionaires, when they settle their affairs and divide up their assets to put everything in order for the family. It has the added benefit for business moguls of pleasing the shareholders.

William Agush, founder of Shuttersong (Bryce Vickmark)

In the popular imagination, technology entrepreneurs are scientific whizzkids barely out of college. The reality is a little different, according to research from Endeavor Insight, a US-based non-profit organisation that supports entrepreneurs.

The most successful founders of technology companies, it found, were steady mid-career specialists with a significant amount of industry experience.

Using data from social media sites including LinkedIn and interviews with 700 technology business founders in New York, Endeavor found that the average age a founder started their company was 31. More than a quarter were over 35 when their company was established.

Youth, it discovered, had no bearing on success. Using earlier research by the Harvard Business Review, Endeavor compared technology entrepreneurs’ ages and obvious measures of success – such as company headcount – and found age was irrelevant. Read more

If you have room left in your 2015 diary, then volunteer. If you feel overwhelmed by work — the main reason UK citizens claim they cannot devote time to a good cause — then volunteer. It will teach you something you can use to improve as a manager and as an employee.

Goldman Sachs caused a bit of a stir this week by issuing an analysts’ report suggesting JPMorgan Chase might want to break itself up. I believe in the independence of investment bank research as much as the next person, but it is hard not to notice that the major beneficiary of such a step would be Goldman Sachs.

Andrew Hill

Mark Zuckerberg: influential librarian (AP)

The book is back. Mark Zuckerberg has unilaterally declared that 2015 will be “A Year of Books”, in which he and thousands of followers will read a nominated title every two weeks. Read more

As 2014 drew to a close, I became one of the last baby boomers to turn 50. Or possibly, I became one of the first Generation Xers to reach that milestone. Depending where you draw the line, either I am about to enjoy the fruits of half a century of increasing affluence and entitlement, having climbed to the top of the hierarchy I help sustain; or I am entering a period of resentment about my smug elders’ lockhold on the best jobs and homes and the damage they have inflicted on the environment and humankind

A job vacancy has caught Sir Alcon Copisarow’s eye. The Institute of Directors has been advertising for a new chair, who “commands respect and inspires confidence”, can “articulate the case for British business” and is “comfortable operating and influencing at the highest levels of government and the business community”.

Hello, my name is Andrew. I’m the customer service associate dealing with your inquiry today. I’m sorry to hear about the problem with the online order that your true love sent to you.

Andrew Hill

Pope Francis Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

I suppose if you are the pontiff, you don’t have to leaven your Christmas greeting with false bonhomie, but the Pope has not pulled his punches by inviting his Vatican team to reflect on a catalogue of 15 ills or diseases he has diagnosed. They all seem to be highly relevant to executives. Here’s the full list of 15 and my brief gloss for CEOs*: Read more