Lucy Kellaway

Composing an email

Bcc: useful, but dangerous  © Ian Dagnall/Alamy

To bcc, or not to bcc? Is it OK to send out “blind carbon copies” of emails, so that the person to whom they are addressed has no idea that other people are reading them too?

According to Debrett’s Guide to British Etiquette it is not OK. It is sneaky. Blind copying, says the arbiter of manners for the past two centuries, should be used “discerningly as it is deceptive to the primary recipient”.

Instead, Debretts suggests that if you want A to see the email you’ve just written to B, but don’t want B to know that A is reading it too, you forward the email to A with a short note explaining why it is confidential.

This is a rotten solution. First, it takes longer. Second, to forward a private email strikes me as every bit as sneaky as sending a blind copy. Read more

John Gapper

There is something peculiarly impressive about the video below of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, talking in Mandarin to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. If nothing else, it shows a dedication to the country’s customs that very few foreign business leaders can match.

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Forty years ago, when Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the US Federal Reserve, was an economist at Harvard University, she was interested in the film Five Easy Pieces. She noted the scene in which a diner waitress refuses to bring Jack Nicholson’s character an omelette with coffee and wheat toast because it serves omelettes with cottage fries and rolls. “I know what it comes with, but it’s not what I want,” he retorts.

Andrew Hill

The implications, opportunities and challenges of increased longevity are beginning to dawn on many companies, as our Silver Economy series is revealing. But here is one that I don’t believe chief executives have yet focused on: the increased risk that your predecessor, and possibly his predecessor’s predecessor, will still be around to snipe at your strategy. Read more

Andrew Hill

No matter how good Total’s preparations, the death of its chief executive Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash late on Monday will have plunged the senior ranks of the French oil group into an emotional, logistical and governance nightmare.

When boards discuss succession planning, they often talk about it in jocular-morbid terms, typically debating “what happens if the CEO is run over by a bus?”. But when such sudden deaths occur, it often exposes just how poorly they have prepared for this type of emergency.

The US-based Conference Board, in a useful note for directors issued last year, pointed out that while three-quarters of S&P 500 companies surveyed in 2011 had succession plans in place, only 83 per cent of those had put in place an emergency succession component. Given that between 7 and 15 US public companies are hit by the sudden death of their chief executive in any given year, the group suggested the fact that a third of large companies had not considered emergency succession was simply not good enough. Read more

If you are wondering where your transformational merger is going wrong, you may want to look in the toilets. After Lenovo bought IBM’s personal computer business in 2005, the Chinese company replaced traditional squat toilets in its Beijing headquarters with western-style sit-down bowls to put non-Chinese colleagues and customers at ease.

Technology has its eyes on banking. Apple is expected this week to launch Apple Pay, its touchless payment system for iPhones; venture capital funds are pouring money into “fintech” start-ups; and Marc Andreessen, the technology entrepreneur, talks of “a chance to rebuild the system. Financial transactions are just numbers; it’s just information.”

Andrew Hill

Drones are a useful tool for delivering flags to football pitches, as Albania’s supporters demonstrated on Tuesday night during their national team’s match against Serbia, but they remain an extreme option for same-day parcel delivery. Click-and-collect is the mundane but potentially disruptive approach favoured in the UK – an approach that Amazon, predictably, is about to take to the next level.

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Emma Jacobs

Corporate perks are tricky. One employee’s free healthy meal at Google’s canteen is another’s misery – yet another reason never to leave the office.

And so what to make of Facebook’s and Apple’s offer to employees that they will cover the cost of freezing their eggs? Read more

When Bill McDermott addressed SAP America’s annual sales meeting for the first time as their boss in 2003, the audience “reeked of doubt”. But he aimed “to plough through their doubt with my agenda and with certainty . . . At no point in my career have I been so intent, or felt such urgency, to change people’s minds, and their behaviours.”

John Gapper

Mark Carney

Mark Carney   © Photo by Chris Watt – WPA Pool /Getty Images

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, would not win a popularity contest among directors of banks at the moment. Yet he and the Bank are taking a stance on individual responsibility that most people think is long overdue. Read more

Emma Jacobs

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella © Getty Images

What was Satya Nadella thinking? On Thursday, the Microsoft chief executive made a monumental gaffe on the topic of women’s pay. Not asking for a pay increase, he said, was “good karma” and might be “one of the additional superpowers” for women. In the long term, “it’ll come back because someone’s going to know that that’s the kind of person I can trust,” he said. As the Twitter storm pointed out: karma does not pay the bills. Women have traditionally suffered under the illusion that being conscientious, likeable and patient is the key to getting a salary hike, only to see their mal e peers swagger into the corner office and demand to be paid their worth (and sometimes more than they are worth). His advice is contrary to that of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she wroteof her idiocy of being patient. Read more

Star fund managers are very valuable people, but not as valuable as they think they are. In a world of precise calculations and spotting the arbitrage opportunities between prices, this is one gap they fail to notice.

Andrew Hill

 

Codejam-filled Doughnut – GCHQ head office in Cheltenham (Crown Copyright)

GCHQ – the UK government electronic eavesdropping agency – could be the most innovative employer in Britain. But short of a management-obsessed successor to Edward Snowden daring to leak its org charts, it would normally be hard for anyone to find out.

Its press officers will not reveal their last names, its automated welcome message warns that calls “may be recorded for lawful purposes” (immediately reminding callers of the grey area between lawful and unlawful phone-tapping), and it will say only that it employs roughly 5,000 staff. GCHQ is, however, said to be building a happier workplace for those staff. In fact, its innovative change programme has won a prize. Read more

If I were the new chief executive of Tesco and had just learnt my profits were overstated by £250m, that the regulator was investigating and that I had lost the confidence of the world’s best-known investor, my first instinct would be to nail my accountants, shareholder-relations staff and PR people to their desks until they had sorted it out. I would not be urging them to don a smock or a hairnet and head for the front line.

John Gapper

It is just about possible to regard Meg Whitman’s decision to split Hewlett-Packard in two as consistent. Her first move when appointed three years ago was to keep the whole thing together but now may simply be a better time to attempt a separation than the rushed effort by Léo Apotheker, her predecessor.

All the same, despite the greater discipline and focus that Ms Whitman has brought to HP since Mr Apotheker’s unhappy period at the helm, the underlying logic was relentless. HP is no longer the technology growth stock it once was so all roads tend to lead to corporate re-engineering. Read more

Adam Jones

Je m'excuse: Andy Street  © Bloomberg

France is economically doomed and no place for an entrepreneur. “Nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it.” If this is what Andy Street is like at a public engagement, just imagine how dreary he’d be on a home counties golf course. It’s like being bashed around the head with a ringbinder full of Economist back issues.

Piqued by a bad Eurostar journey, the managing director of the leading UK retailer John Lewis morphed into John Bull at an awards event for start-ups in London on Wednesday. Such events can have an aphrodisiac effect on middle-aged executives running staid businesses. But what has John Lewis done recently to give it the right to appropriate the rock star smugness exhibited by many modern entrepreneurs? Read more

Every so often, a company announces that it is considering its “strategic options” for one of its businesses, which means that it wants to ditch it as soon as possible. This would be a good time for technology companies to consider their strategic options for their global tax arrangements.

Andrew Hill

If I ever rise to become chief executive of anything and I’m looking for yes-men to people my boardroom table, I shall make sure I employ a bunch of merger and acquisition bankers.

At the end of every quarter, to coincide with the publication of M&A rankings that they yearn to top (while professing indifference), these bankers boast about the fullness of their pipelines, the strong prospect for strategic deals, and, implicitly, the promise of more fees. As the illustration below shows, their outlook is at its rosiest-tinted just before a downturn.

In spring 2001, for instance, as deal volume plummeted, the esteemed Simon Robey, then co-head of M&A at Morgan Stanley, pointed out that “the fundamentals of the business have not changed, so when markets stabilise, we should see announcements of deals that are currently in the pipeline”. A truism, of course, but deals did not recover their 2000 peak until 2006. (A partial hall of shame of retrospectively regrettable M&A banker quotes appears at the bottom of this post.)

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Most people can identify their top priority at work. Generally, it will be the part of the job that is most productive for their employer: for a merger and acquisitions banker, it could be landing a big deal for a client; for a lorry driver, the punctual delivery of an important consignment; for a hospital doctor or nurse, giving vital treatment to a patient.