The plummeting value of the US dollar has helped Atlanta to emerge as a particularly desirable location in which to hold conferences and training sessions. The city has burst into the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list of top ten destinations for business travel, occupying 6th position. Three other US cities make the list. Here is the top ten in full (the ranking relates to December 2007 and is based on cost and environmental issues such as infrastructure and culture):
A wise colleague once said: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you have probably failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation.”
How bad are market conditions today? Should we be panicking or is it time to keep a cool head when all about you have lost the plot?
I cannot answer these questions for you. But we should, I think, be guided by the sobriety and realism of the words quoted above. Even if some economists have predicted all seven of the last three recessions, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong this time.
Continue reading “Kipling’s wise words”
Sir Stuart Rose, chief executive of British retailer Marks & Spencer, faces a new corporate governance kerfuffle, following the controversial plan to make him executive chairman. He has a tiny stake in Lucky Voice, a karaoke bar group backed by Martha Lane Fox, a dot-com entrepreneur who is an independent non-executive director of M&S.
Britain’s corporate governance code requires companies to offer an explanation to investors if an independent director has a significant business link to another director. To keep the mood light – this isn’t about any wrong-doing, after all - I suggest that any such explanation should take the form of a karaoke evening in one of Lucky Voice’s private rooms.
Ms Lane Fox would begin by singing Independent Women Part One by Destiny’s Child to remind M&S shareholders that she is a wealthy person – “I buy my own diamonds, I buy my own rings” - who doesn’t need Sir Stuart’s backing to satisfy her material needs.
Shareholders would then seek to emphasise the point that companies must not just do the right thing but also be seen to do the right thing, through a rendition of It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) by Fun Boy Three and Bananarama.
Sir Stuart would at this point launch into Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley, before upping the stakes with a burst of the Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The latter ultimatum would provoke an instant response, with the investors assuring him that We Can Work It Out, and then deciding to Let It Be.
Feel free to suggest any other appropriate songs below.
Thirty years ago, a French business legend was peering into the abyss. Once classed as one of the world’s richest men, Marcel Boussac was known as King Cotton, ruler of an eponymous textiles empire that included the Dior haute couture house, which he founded. But in April 1978, the heavily indebted Boussac group was on the verge of collapse. Its autocratic but paternalistic owner, then 89 years old, had failed to respond to a surge in cheap imports from developing countries, and had also been left vulnerable by the rise of synthetic fibres. Could Mr Boussac ward off bankruptcy with yet another attempt at restructuring?
Since my post last week on the dilemma facing corporate sponsors of this year’s Beijing Olympics, John Quelch, the eminent Harvard Business School marketing professor, has weighed in on the issue with an article published on the Harvard Business website. Notably, he says marketers are waiting to see if there will be more unrest in Tibet before finalising spending plans for Olympics-related advertising:
Marketers are not overcommitting funds to Olympics-related brand advertising and promotions and the normal Olympics year advertising boost may be less than expected. Instead of long-term preset media advertising buys, many companies are planning short-term promotional bursts that they can activate as late as July and August if all appears to be in place for a successful, trouble-free Games.
Otherwise, he says Lenovo, the Chinese PC maker that is a first-time global sponsor of the games, has much more at stake than veteran backers such as Visa. Long-time Western sponsors may be pragmatically two-faced, he predicts, putting forward one message for the Chinese market that will tap into the country’s pride at hosting the games, and another, more neutral message for the rest of the world. To my untrained eye, that doesn’t necessarily look like a shift in strategy, just a reflection of the fact that sponsors might have different goals in different markets.
Have you noticed anyone in your team displaying any of the symptoms in this checklist lately: increased energy, activity and restlessness; excessively “high”, euphoric mood; extreme irritability; distractibility, or inability to concentrate well? Or how about unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers; poor judgment; increased sexual drive; abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol and sleeping medications; provocative, intrusive or aggressive behaviour; denial that anything is wrong; or spending sprees (source: www.medicinenet.com)?
Most of my colleagues have managed at least one of these in the past few weeks. Happily, no one I know has clocked up too many. That would be worrying, because these are apparently the signs that someone is suffering from a bipolar disorder, or what used to be called manic depression.
This is serious but under-discussed stuff. Mental health is the last taboo. But secrecy could be unhealthy too. And suppressing or ignoring concerns about the state of our psyches is probably not healthy either.
Continue reading “A kind of madness”
An association with the Olympics used to be something that companies boasted about. Following protests by campaigners critical of China’s behaviour in Tibet and Sudan, exposure to this year’s games has the potential to be a public relations millstone, however.
In today’s FT, for instance, Neville Isdell, the chairman and chief executive of Coca-Cola, lays out his defence of the soft drink maker’s involvement in the Beijing Olympics. Without addressing the recent unrest in Tibet, he says Coke has for two years been “actively engaged” in Darfur, the war-torn province of Sudan.
China has been criticised for its ties to the Sudanese government, whose forces and allied militia have been held responsible for killings and other atrocities in Darfur. Mr Isdell claims it is wrong – and fruitless – to extend that criticism to those seeking to profit from the Beijing games. “Criticism of Olympic sponsors from well-intentioned people will not stop the violence in Darfur,” he declares, preferring to highlight Coke’s work in backing clean water projects in Sudan.
Professors at Wharton have been analysing the dilemma facing Olympic sponsors on the business school’s website. Witold Henisz, a professor who studies political risk management, says:
Corporations that want to sponsor the Games have to navigate the political undercurrents… but they can only do something that will not offend China. That’s a very delicate balance to strike, and it requires enormous diplomatic skill.
The new McKinsey Quarterly has an excellent interview with Brad Bird, the Oscar-winning Pixar director responsible for The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Among other things, Mr Bird describes how he persuaded Pixar’s animators to strike a balance between perfectionism and expediency.
There are purists in computer graphics who are brilliant but don’t have the urgency about budgets and scheduling that responsible filmmakers do. I had to shake the purist out of them—essentially frighten them into realizing I was ready to use quick and dirty “cheats” to get something on screen if they took too long to achieve it in the computer.
He describes the value of having what he calls “black sheep” in a team: frustrated but committed individuals who want to do things differently but haven’t had the chance to prove their theories. He also praises Pixar for offering staff optional classes that foster a well-rounded workforce.
If you work in lighting but you want to learn how to animate, there’s a class to show you animation. There are classes in story structure, in Photoshop, even in Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system.
His peeves include “passive-aggressive people… who don’t show their colours in the group but then get behind the scenes and peck away”.
Earlier this month, I asked readers for their experiences of professional networking websites. Having used these responses to shape my questioning of bosses at LinkedIn and Xing, two huge players in this field, I’ve come to the conclusion that such sites can benefit users in two major ways – as long as they avoid two big pitfalls.
Below is a summary of these pros and cons, with input from Lars Hinrichs, the founder and chief executive of Xing, and Kevin Eyres, the European managing director of LinkedIn (as Mr Eyres is based in London, I was also able to conduct a 9-minute audio interview with him). It’s a long post but please bear with me!
Matthew was one of my favourite colleagues. In the slightly drab office where I used to work, the arrival of young Matt at the corner of my desk usually meant the chance to relax for a moment with a frivolous comment or laconic quip.
Matt didn’t really care, you see, and there was no obvious reason why he should have. A graduate, he spent a large part of the day fetching packages from the post room and filing papers. He was underemployed. We should have seen it coming, I suppose, but one day he wasn’t there any more. Finished at 23, gone to find something better to do.
Continue reading Y’s and wherefores of a multi-generational workplace