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
A new account of “the fall of BlackBerry” in Canada’s Globe and Mail sheds light on the torment of the country’s once-mighty technology champion with some new revelations of internal rifts and missed opportunities. Four stand out for me. Read more
There is more than one way to lead in the smartphone industry, and China is at work on all of them.
No longer content to copy foreign products. China is developing brands to compete with Apple and Samsung. Xiaomi is known as its answer to Apple, and Huawei and ZTE, the equipment companies, have moved into handsets. Read more
Howard Wilkinson, former manager of Leeds United, knows about pressure: “No offence to captains of industry but even a FTSE 100 chairman can postpone a board meeting. A manager can’t postpone a football match and every match is a shareholder meeting, [sometimes] in front of 88,000 people.”
Many years back, an American friend who was visiting London from New York remarked on the odd way in which people were walking around with blocks of plastic held to their ears. “Why don’t they just use normal phones?” she asked.
What is the Finnish for “I told you so”? That is how plenty of Finns – including a large number of ex-Nokians, swept out in successive restructurings since Stephen Elop took charge of Nokia in 2010 – will greet news that Microsoft is to buy the mobile company’s handset and services business.
It won’t make any difference to them that Nokia has an increasingly important telecoms equipment business, NSN, which guarantees a future to the rump of the company. Since the radical strategy shift of the mid-1990s, when the timber-to-tyres conglomerate refocused on its fledgling telecoms operation, Nokia has been identified with home-grown phones. But a second coming under Finnish ownership for the country’s best-known consumer brand turned out to be impossible: its future will now be dictated from Redmond not Espoo.
This outcome, or a version of it, was already in the air in early 2011 when I visited Nokia’s headquarters to look at the challenges facing Mr Elop. His decision to leap from a “burning platform”, as he called it, into the arms of Microsoft as software partner for its smartphones certainly ruled out other options, such as using Google’s Android or a home-grown operating system. But a full takeover of the phones business by the US company was not inevitable.
Four elements have conspired to make it happen. Read more