Monthly Archives: January 2009

Stefan Stern

Oh dear. Bloomberg is reporting that Siemens, the German industrial giant, is about to dispense with the services of management consultants as a cost-cutting measure. It will be favouring home-grown solutions for the time being.

Corporate belt-tightening is in this year. Even Davos man has restrained himself a bit this week. Perhaps, on reading the news, some of the consultants currently on the Swiss slopes will choose to extend their stay a little.

Adam Jones

I’ve said before how much I enjoy Freek Vermeulen’s corporate strategy blog, Random Rantings. The London Business School associate professor is a rising star and his pithy observations are both accessible and authoritative.

So when I was planning a podcast on how the crisis in capitalism is being taught in MBA classrooms, I went straight to the Dutchman and he filled me in on the ways in which he is encouraging students to avoid the idiocy that caused today’s chaos.

Whether they take heed is another matter, of course.

The podcast also includes a discussion with Della Bradshaw, the FT’s business education editor, about its 2009 ranking of MBA programmes. You can listen here or subscribe via iTunes.

Stefan Stern

Leadership teams are facing up to the ghastly trading conditions of 2009. It is horrible out there. To ensure survival, unpopular measures may be required. Do you have the stomach for them?

Tough decisions on headcount can provoke the traditional cry: “The bastards have gone and sacked me!” Sometimes the abusive language is justified. Often it is not. The fact that cuts are necessary will be little consolation. Getting canned feels deeply personal to the victim of the decision. But the chances are it will have been made on an impersonal and indeed almost arbitrary basis.

I would not expect readers of this column to waste an ounce of sympathy on the fate of a few journalists. But listen to the words of Peter Williams, finance director of the Daily Mail and General Trust, a leading British newspaper group, describing the recent sale of its famous London title, the Evening Standard.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Stefan Stern

Please take a look at the first part (of four) in the FT’s new Mastering Management series, “Managing in a Downturn”. You will find lots of stimulating new material in there.

In particular, I recommend Donald Sull’s article “Seizing the upside of a downturn”. Don is professor of management practice at London Business School (LBS), as well as its director of executive education. (He was also an amateur boxer in his youth, not so long ago.)

Don argues that managers need to show resilience, courage and agility at a time like this – like a good boxer, in fact. But imagination is necessary too. There are opportunties out there, even now. You just have to have the nerve and ability to go for them.

At a breakfast meeting at LBS this week Don was in terrific form. He was disparaging about some of the inflated claims made by some private equity players in recent years. “Some people have mistaken luck and cheap debt for commercial genius,” he said. He seemed pretty confident they were about to be found out.

“A lot of CEOs drive with only one foot – the gas [accelerator] or the brake,” he added. “That’s why the ride can be a bit jerky.” We need to be able to do both to make the ride a bit smoother, he said. Work on costs and revenues at the same time. Not so dramatic, Don said. But a much more effective way of creating lasting value.

Adam Jones

It’s a disconcerting feeling. The reassuring noises your bosses used to make about your project have stopped.

You struggle to decode the silence: does it mean that the whole thing will be shut down or is it just that head office has other preoccupations right now?

The horrible deterioration in economic conditions in many countries means that there is no shortage of managers in this situation today. On their behalf, I asked Colin Gautrey, an executive coach and author, for advice.

He recommends following four strategies that mix scenario planning, intelligence gathering and networking. It beats waiting passively for the axe to fall.

You can watch the video here.

Stefan Stern

The night before an important German oral exam I asked my father – whose first language was German – whether he had time to have a bit of a warm-up, practice chat with me. Without putting his newspaper down, he replied: “You haven’t really got anything to say in English, so what’s the point in speaking German?”

I am not settling any old scores here. It was a good line and essentially accurate. The truth is I don’t think I had a proper conversation with my father about anything serious until I was about 18 years old. The good conversations came later.

It wasn’t that he was away from home a lot when I was young. He was usually there, in the corner, reading his paper. But for normal Freudian reasons most of my attention was focused on my mother until my late teenage years.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Adam Jones

  • “Executive coaching isn’t therapy,” says executive coach Ed Batista, before declaring that Gestalt therapy actually provides rather a good framework for resolving workplace issues;
  • Don’t greet the guy sitting by the door first — 10 pages of advice from Harvard Business School on how to negotiate in China;
  • How the brain makes us fall into line with others — and how marketers can cash in on that hard-wiring;
  • Tips for keeping staff in emerging markets with high inflation (pay rises need to be more frequent that once a year, for a start);
  • The rules of movie marketing.

Adam Jones

A new FT Management podcast has just been published, featuring Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide To Thriving At Work.

Tammy, a perceptive blogger as well as author, wrote the book as a form of career advice for Generation Y, which she loosely defines as those born between 1980 and 1995.

However, I wanted to ask her how older bosses should approach the task of managing these younger workers. How do you recruit and retain the most talented “Ys”? And are they really as impatient as their critics make out?

Tammy prefers to call them “immediate” rather than “impatient”. On the plus side, they have a suppleness and adaptability that can make their seniors look rigid and over-scheduled.

Yet she says they can be naïvely ignorant of the unwritten rules that govern most workplaces:

The Ys often just simply don’t get how business in done within corporations… they don’t really understand how things happen.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Stefan Stern

“The history of the world is but the biography of great men,” said Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century writer. The business world feels much the same way about the supreme importance of the leader. Chief executives are scrutinised endlessly, the work done by their colleagues much less so. Big mistake.

Steve Jobs is unwell. This fact has created great anxiety for Apple’s customers and shareholders. Could the company survive his departure? The question is being asked in all seriousness.

Mr Jobs attempted to calm nerves by issuing a statement ahead of last week’s Macworld conference in San Francisco, giving an explanation for his non-attendance this year. He was suffering, he explained in a brief open letter, from a hormonal imbalance that was causing him to lose weight rather dramatically. He had been successfully diagnosed and would be better soon. Unfortunately, this statement, while it may have cleared up the medical uncertainty, did nothing to puncture the cult of personality that surrounds the Apple boss. If anything, it gave it another boost.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Stefan Stern

The blogosphere is already bursting with agonised comment about Prince Harry’s unwise and unpleasant remarks, captured on video, which he made as a Sandhurst cadet in 2006. The management blog is not about to add to the extensive ongoing chatter on racism, real and imagined.

But there’s something else about this episode that the British army will, I think, find quite upsetting. And that is the highly informal briefing technique used by the Prince as he speaks to his comrades in the film.

I’ve been down to Sandhurst (near Camberley in Surrey) to watch the cadets in action. They are not trained to talk like this, casually, with a pen in the mouth. Officers should speak with clarity and brevity. They should make sure their instructions have been understood – and not just bark the words “any questions?” as quickly as possible in a way designed to deter further questioning.

I have no doubt that Prince Harry has become a serious and professional young officer, especially after seeing active service in Afghanistan. But this short video clip will cause him and the army profound embarrassment.

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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