If you were surprised when a senior Microsoft executive took the stage at Apple’s latest product launch last week, you need to brace yourself for more of the same. The spread of digital platforms, the ease with which collaborative networks can form, and the willingness of employees to work across newly porous corporate borders mean there will be more pacts between old rivals — and they will bring problems as well as benefits.
Coming to San Francisco for the first time in a few years brings home how much it has been transformed. Whatever you call what is happening — a boom, a bubble or a flood of money into what was known as new technology before the “new” became redundant — has augmented the city’s reality.
By stepping into the furore over Indiana’s religious freedom law, in defence of gay rights, Tim Cook is boldly taking Apple where companies have been wary about going before. But he is not the only US business leader advocating for a deeply-held personal belief — so have Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com on the same issue, and Howard Schultz of Starbucks on racial discrimination and violence.
Steve Jobs’ acolytes say Becoming Steve Jobs paints a more fitting picture of the Apple founder than Walter Isaacson’s “authorised” 2011 life. Most neutral readers who plough through another 435 pages of Jobsiana, will neither know nor care. But the battle of the bios will have been worth it if it sounds the death-knell for the worst of all management memes: the leadership lesson listicle.
Whenever chief executives babble about “ecosystems” — as they often do — I picture one of those school biology diagrams of a pond: bacteria at the bottom, algae floating on top, and maybe a stickleback or two darting about below the surface.
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
The worst-kept secret is out: Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, is gay.
“For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation,” he wrote in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek. “Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky. Read more
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.
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.”
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
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.
For students of perverse incentives created by tax, it is a bonanza week. Apple has raised $12bn in bonds to buy back shares, despite having $130bn sitting in cash overseas, and Pfizer wants to turn itself into a UK-domiciled company by acquiring AstraZeneca for £60bn.
Satya Nadella’s unveiling of Office for the iPad is a significant moment for Microsoft, and his leadership of the company. I wonder if it will also be an incentive to improve the product itself?
I write this because Word in particular still strikes me as a product that is too big to fail. The network effect of so many companies using it makes individuals follow suit but it is bloated and irritatingly full of bugs. Read more
The possibility that a senior Amazon executive may find his name on a range of “non-medicated toilet preparations” has considerably brightened my week. Not that I have anything against Amazon. But Lush, the British handmade cosmetics company, does.
Nadella channelling Zuckerberg (photo: Microsoft)
Executive biographies keep a low profile on most company websites. Not so at Microsoft, which has been showing off its new chief executive, Satya Nadella, on a special microsite of the kind usually used to hawk things that consumers can actually buy. This is unlikely to persuade anyone to buy a PC or a Surface tablet. What, then, is the point?
Visitors see a list of Mr Nadella’s qualifications (Education: BS, MSCS, MBA; Hobbies: poetry). A video shows the new CEO answering questions such as “Why do you think Microsoft is going to be successful?”, which gives you an idea of how useful he might be in a boardroom. The blurb strikes an aspirational tone: “Nadella wanted to complete his master’s degree and take the Microsoft job. He did both.” Read more
Thousands of chief executives, politicians, leaders of non-governmental organisations and media folk are once again assembled in Davos for their annual debates on how to improve the world. It is a worthy affair, with “stakeholders” discussing how best to combine business with societal good, like an ersatz global parliament.
If a destination’s desirability is measured by the number of maps that claim to lead you to it, innovation is the corporate world’s Taj Mahal. Among the manuals on sale is an Innovator’s Guide, a Cookbook, a Toolkit, a Path, a Way, a Handbook and a Manifesto.
To tour the Burberry flagship store on London’s Regent Street – with its beautifully stacked clothes, its “magic mirrors” that illuminate with runway images, its signs in Arabic for Gulf tourists and its “VVIP” room on the top floor – is to enter as sweet a world as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Two years ago, I awarded Angela Ahrendts a prize. The chief executive of Burberry, I thought, should be honoured for her tireless services to business jargon.
And so I made her my winner for Outstanding Services to Bunkum in recognition of the most baffling paragraph ever written by a CEO in an annual report. In her statement in the 2011 report she wrote the immortal words: Read more
The appointment of Angela Ahrendts, chief executive of Burberry, to manage Apple’s retail operations is intriguing in many ways. One footnote is that she gets upgraded to a triple-A executive – her name and title will be alliterative.
In response to my pointing this out on Twitter, my colleague Andrew Hill argued that Ms Ahrendts has corporate rivals in alliteration: Read more