Monthly Archives: May 2008

Adam Jones

Japan is seen as a tough place for foreign women to work. Yet new research suggests that female expatriates posted there may actually have an advantage over their male counterparts in sales and marketing.

Yin Tongyao tells how Chery became China’s leading car exporter by accident. McKinsey Quarterly has further background on the global ambitions of China’s companies too.

Elsewhere, executives are being urged to treat their poor middle managers better. Ambitious middle managers might like to know that if they covet the chief executive’s job, they should be a company lifer and a chief financial officer first.

Freek Vermeulen favours spurious reorganisations that serve no logical purpose but which nonetheless break down barriers between employees.

BV Krishnamurthy is railing against the new Bangalore International Airport, declaring: “A city that prides itself on being the Silicon City of India deserves better.”

Stefan Stern

There is a story in the British press today – already partially denied – that the prime minister Gordon Brown has taken to cold-calling voters in response to letters or e-mails they have sent him at No.10 Downing Street.

Already lying low in the opinion polls, the PM has set himself up for further ridicule by taking this step – if the story is true, of course. It could all look a little bit desperate. And it would take him a long time to get round to every single voter who might be harbouring doubts about his abilities as a leader at the moment.

Whatever the truth of the story, it does not seem to me such a crazy idea. Allan Leighton, the much-admired business leader and former Asda chief executive, has been known to turn up at Royal Mail sorting offices at dawn to greet his employees (he has been chairman of the Royal Mail since 2002). This creates a “Scarlet Pimpernel” effect, he says. Rumours spread about where he has been sighted, and where he might pop up next. He got several bangs for his early morning buck.

Gordon Brown is right to try new ways of getting through to people. The “word of mouth” effect can be powerful. And, goodness knows, there are few enough people in Britain with a good word to say about him right now.

Adam Jones

Ben Heineman was one of the most powerful lawyers in the corporate world when he was GE’s general counsel. It was a role he played for the best part of two decades under Jack Welch and then Jeff Immelt. Now a senior fellow at Harvard’s law and government schools, he has written a book called High Performance with High Integrity, outlining his vision of how companies can be both profitable and ethical.

In this 16-minute podcast, he says a company’s top in-house lawyer must be a partner to the CEO but also a guardian of the organisation’s integrity and reputation (that goes for the chief financial officer too). He tells of his method for presenting his legal recommendations – and his analysis of legal grey areas – to Messrs Welch and Immelt. He suggests that company boards meet regularly with the general counsel and the chief financial officer without the CEO being present in order to reinforce independence. He even lets me drag him into a discussion about private investigators and Michael Clayton, the movie that featured a memorably immoral general counsel played by Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar for her performance.

You can listen to our conversation by clicking here. You can also click here for ways of subscribing to this and other Management Blog podcasts through iTunes or other podcast software. I’d also recommend a profile of Brackett Denniston, the man who succeeded Mr Heineman as GE general counsel, that was published in the FT in 2005. And here’s another FT story from the same year about GE’s attempts to encourage staff to report wrongdoing.

Adam Jones

Bit of an experiment today. I’ve asked two groups of MBA students – one from London Business School, the other from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business – to discuss a case study that I’ve put together. It examines Cains Beer, a Liverpool-based brewer that has aspirations of graduating from being a regional brand to a national brand.

The idea is that the students watch a 5-minute video and read an article outlining this particular example of a textbook marketing challenge (both are contained in the second half of this post). Between 5.45pm and 7.15pm London time today, they will then publish their analysis of the situation in the comments section of this post, creating a rolling online debate.

My hope is that it will help anyone contemplating doing an MBA to get an insight into how business school students dissect such case studies. For the MBA students themselves, it’s a chance to interact with peers at another school. Finally, it may also yield some useful tips for the Dusanj brothers, the entrepreneurs who own Cains, or for other business people facing the same marketing challenge. That’s the theory anyway!

Stefan Stern

Hard-pressed brand manager, come on down! And welcome to tonight’s fun-packed episode of The Price is Right. You will be joined on stage by your fellow contestants: anxious investor, frazzled supplier, ruthless deep-discounter, ball-breaking grocer and credit-crunched customer. Your boss will be watching at home. This could be one hell of a show.

Or perhaps not. At times like these, with no one knowing quite what is about to happen to consumer demand, getting the price right is harder than ever. What will the market tolerate? And how can you set prices with any confidence when your own costs may be about to soar, or tumble?

Nine years ago, The Economist reported on the dramatic fall in the price of oil, and the arrival of the $10 barrel. But worse was to come, it said: “$10 might actually be too optimistic. We may be heading for $5.” Now a barrel of oil would cost you around $135.

Continue reading “Focus on value or pay the price”

Adam Jones

Fans of Lucy Kellaway might want to check out the most recent episode of her BBC Radio Four show, broadcast last Friday. In it, she argues that jobs are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, although some trades – including journalism - involve a form of craftsmanship that can endow those long days in the workplace with some intrinsic significance.

But she goes on to argue that managers and business leaders are excluded from this comfort:

No jobs that involve managing or leading are crafts, which is one of the things that makes it so particularly hard for managers to find meaning in what they do…What managers are mainly trying to do is to get other people to do things that they don’t want to. To work harder, for a start. Their other primary function is to carry the can, and to get blamed for all sorts of things that probably aren’t their fault. Not only are they creating little meaning for themselves, they get blamed for destroying meaning for people below them.

She isn’t without sympathy for managers, however, it is just that they so often make a hash of the task of running things efficiently.

 

Stefan Stern

As the rain poured down on Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium a few nights ago, one man in particular would have been forgiven for failing to notice how inclement the weather had turned.

Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson – Fergie – had just seen his Manchester United team win the European Cup for the third time, the second time under his leadership. In spite of countless other prizes and achievements in over thirty years of football management, it was this week’s win that has finally assured Sir Alex of greatness.

And yet it could have all been so different. In 1990, three years into his time as manager of Man Utd, his team faced a tricky FA Cup match against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. A late winner by the young Mark Robins – a player who in the end was rather neglected by Fergie and who left the club not long after – saved his bacon that day. The Red Devils had won nothing under Ferguson till that point, and had he lost that day most people felt he was for the chop.

And now look at him: knighted, respected (if not universally loved), feared by opponents and by many on his own side too. No-one wants the famous “hairdryer” treatment, when Fergie gets up close and personal and lets you know exactly what he thought of your performance.

But as a manager of men he is unequalled. His teams display resilience, fighting spirit, and flair. The most talented players want to work with him. And these are not poorly paid people. “How do you make a millionaire sweat?”, another top football manager, Sir Bobby Robson, once asked. Fergie shows you how.

In spite of the knighthood, the prizes, and having reached 66 years of age, Fergie goes on and on. Why? He is addicted, people say. But his personal values give him an inner strength too. His large house in leafy Cheshire, in the north west of England, is called “Fairfields”, after the Glasgow shipyards where his parents worked. He’ll be up again bright and early tomorrow morning, planning next season’s campaign.

Adam Jones

During his most recent annual shareholder jamboree in Omaha, Warren Buffett criticised business schools for being too focused on arcane subjects such as options pricing. But what, in his opinion, should MBA students be learning? Two very basic skills, it emerges.

The world’s richest man was this afternoon at IMD, the Swiss business school, as part of a rapid tour of Europe, in which he is trying to tempt families in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Italy into selling their businesses to Berkshire Hathaway, the investment vehicle he runs.

The press conference held in Lausanne in his honour was illuminated by his usual wit but yielded precious little in the way of news, as journalists from various European countries tried in vain to get him to name possible targets in their home markets.

Mr Buffett was, however, prepared to put flesh on the bones of his recent criticism of business schools, arguing that, as well as teaching the basics of how to value companies and understand markets, they should include classes in basic written and spoken communication.

Stefan Stern

You might think, with the growing threat of recession and with the constant arrival of new competitors, that businesses would be trying to improve their customer service at the moment. You might think that – if you are as naive as I was until a few days ago when I was exposed to the full blast of contemptuous customer neglect 2008-style.

Was it my fault that I was making a last-minute purchase of a portable DVD player when I probably should have researched the product range online first? Yes, it was. But as it turned out nothing could have been too little trouble for the sullen and uninterested staff I had to deal with at my local electricals giant.

The tone was set by the store manager. He spent most of his time averting his gaze from customers or telling them that they would have to join another queue when they had already spent a long time waiting for the privilege to be given this disappointing information.

Continue reading ‘When service comes with a snarl instead of a smile’

Adam Jones

Two new pieces of research suggest that managers with experience of multiple foreign postings are unusually valuable. After studying various multinationals, McKinsey says companies should move “talent” regularly between countries and divisions. Senior managers at the companies they studied had made 1.5 cross-border moves on average. At the best-performing businesses, however, the norm was to have had two such switches. Meanwhile, an academic paper in American Psychologist claims to have proved that working abroad can make you a more creative person.

As someone who has worked abroad twice, I like these findings, which massage my ego in all the right places. But there is a little piece of me that resists the idea that the mere fact of having lived in a foreign country can make you more talented or effective. It makes me think of my first term at university, with all those dreadful people who had just spent a year travelling in Asia, and who felt superior to everyone else as a consequence.



About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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