Starbucks

John Gapper

The global system for taxing multinational companies is broken, but no country wants to alter it too radically for fear of making it worse. That was my impression after hearing international tax experts gathered in Oxford this week to discuss reform.

Reform of corporate taxation has been thrust onto the political agenda in Europe and by controversy over the tax policies of companies such as Google and Starbucks. The ease with which they can shift intellectual property and royalty payments to low tax regimes has outraged politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

The attempt by Pfizer to turn itself into a UK company for tax purposes by acquiring AstraZeneca has also drawn attention to the use of “tax inversion” by US companies. They want to use the cash piles held overseas to make acquisitions that allow them to change corporate nationality and reduce their taxes.

But while most countries agree that the system of global taxation in place since the 1920s is flawed, there was no consensus at the conference held by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation on how to fix it. Instead, most prefer to play defence. Read more

Andrew Hill

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

Andrew Hill

Coffee chain to open in Vietnam. Getty Images

Much is being made of Starbucks’ plan to open an outlet in Ho Chi Minh City in February – “taking on Vietnam’s coffee culture”, as the FT headline has it.

In fact, Starbucks is a little behind schedule – it intended to open in Vietnam in 2012 – and, in any case, I wonder if the significance of the move is not in the headline but in the small print, where the Seattle-based group makes its now familiar commitment to “work closely with local farming communities”. Read more

John Gapper

I’m intrigued by McDonald’s move in Europe to replace some cashiers by introducing touchscreens on which customers can order their own food because it is a practice that could be introduced more widely in retail outlets and restaurants.

My reaction stems from having noticed that I prefer to use self-scanning machines at a local supermarket rather than go to the aisle where items are scanned by a cashier. I find it generally quicker and easier to scan them for myself. Read more

John Gapper

Larry Page returns to work at Google today as its chief executive, although he never went away in the first place, having spent a decade as “president of products” and part of the triumvirate that ran the company.

Still, with Eric Schmidt moving up to becoming “executive chairman” – usually an ambiguous term that means “the old chief executive who is not yet willing to relinquish the reins fully” – Mr Page appears to be back in charge of the company he co-founded with Sergey Brin.

The question is whether his return will reinvigorate Google to prevent it being knocked off its perch as the leading internet company by Facebook or others. Its search engine is still leader but search itself is increasingly under pressure. Read more