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
Steve Ballmer. Image by Getty.
No chief executive wants the company’s shares to jump sharply on the news that he or she is stepping down.
Pent-up relief, however, was the reaction to Steve Ballmer’s decision to retire as Microsoft chief executive within a year.
It has been a long time coming. Mr Ballmer has struggled mightily since becoming the boss in 2000 to keep Microsoft at the front of the computing and software industry, but has allowed it to be eclipsed by Google and Apple. Read more
Industries are in flux. Google’s driverless cars are waiting at the intersection of internal combustion and search engines. Payment companies such as M-Pesa, Stripe and PayPal are testing the locks on banks’ safe deposit boxes. Samsung, Apple and Google’s Android have put BlackBerry and Nokia on hold. If you are the chief executive of a carmaker, financial institution or mobile phone maker and you are not yet worrying about the blurred edges of what was once a clearly demarcated border between sectors, you are lost.
About a year ago I was in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, gazing down at the Golden Gate Bridge from one of Larry Ellison’s many spectacular homes. The Oracle chief executive wasn’t there – he had lent the house out for a reception. In any case, he would be the last person to apologise for enjoying the fruits of his success. But the view from technology executives’ balconies is getting stormier. After banks and bankers, could they be next to feel the sting of a populist backlash?
In saying AG Lafley is “uniquely qualified” to lead Procter & Gamble – again – Jim McNerney, the board’s presiding director, somewhat understates the case.
Not only was Mr Lafley one of P&G’s most successful ever leaders between 2000 and 2009, he has literally written the book on how he achieved the corporate turnround – Playing to Win, co-authored by Roger Martin and published this year. But the record of chief executives who return to the top job is mixed: while there are benefits to bringing back the former CEO, there are pitfalls too. Read more