Monthly Archives: August 2009

Emma Jacobs

In today’s Business Life Luke Johnson and six other entrepreneurs reveal how their early part-time jobs affected their business decisions. Talking to the entrepreneurs led me to reflect on how young people’s attitudes to work are shaped by their Saturday and summer jobs. My early experience in work taught me some invaluable lessons – chiefly, get on with it, deliver on time and to spec.

At 15, after finishing my GCSEs, I got my first proper summer job at a clothes retailer on Oxford Street.

Stefan Stern

It doesn’t cost much to keep in touch. Not that high-flying graduates will want to keep in touch with BT next year. No point giving them a call. The company has just announced that it will be suspending its graduate recruitment scheme in 2010. BT blamed “current economic environment and headcount pressures” for the decision. “At the present time, there is no timeline for re-entry,” the company added. In English, I think this means that it is closed until further notice.

What a terrible mistake. Until recently, BT was recruiting 130 graduates a year on this scheme. Nearly 5,000 young people applied for a place last year. But now the company has deliberately cut itself off from the next wave of bright young things. At least they won’t have to bother recording one of those sincere voicemail messages for callers who cannot get through – “your call is important to us” – since that is clearly the opposite of the truth in this case.

What happens to organisations that do not refresh themselves regularly with a new intake of people? They die. They run out of ideas. They keep making the same old mistakes. How well do BT’s top managers know and understand the important under-30s age-group, in which telephony and multimedia in all its modern forms plays such a huge role? Will BT have a better or a worse grasp of the under-30s market by forcibly excluding its brightest and best from its building? You don’t have to be a high-flying graduate to know the answer to that one.

Stefan Stern

Gentlemen, some of our tanks are missing. And so are some of our rifles. Not all the night-vision goggles are where we thought they were. And the cupboard containing the laptops is looking a little bare.

Welcome to the fraught world of the UK defence ministry’s wobbly procurement and supply chain management. A leaked draft report into the MoD’s purchasing methods has revealed “endemic” failures, inefficiency and incompetence. And this after the National Audit Office had refused to sign off on the MoD’s annual accounts this summer, as it did not believe that the existence of £6.6bn ($10.8bn, €7.6bn) of claimed assets had been properly verified.

The MoD has rejected the allegation that assets have disappeared into thin air. They were “never physically lost”, the department said. This is a line of argument that may be familiar from many readers’ home lives. The car keys/passports/remote control may not be physically lost. It’s just that you don’t know precisely where they are at the moment.

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

Stefan Stern

All this angry shouting about healthcare reform must be really bad for people’s blood pressure. But it is no joking matter. “Health is wealth”, as they say. Nothing could be more serious.

In the heat of the debate taking place in the US, little light is being shed on what really matters: outcomes. But while the funding of healthcare is not a matter for this column, the management of it is. And it turns out that the task of introducing better healthcare for all is fundamentally a management challenge.

The Brits know this better than anybody. The UK’s National Health Service was founded, in the face of bitter opposition, more than 60 years ago. It has been a vast, living experiment, and a monument to managerialism, good and bad.

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

Stefan Stern

Few people write more brilliantly about sport than my colleague Simon Kuper. So to my great surprise I find myself compelled to blog in response to his recent column for the paper on the irrelevance of managers.

“In English football now, managers could probably be replaced by stuffed teddy bears without their club’s league position changing,” he wrote last week. “As there isn’t much he can actually do, the key thing is that he looks the part.”

This is wonderfully sarcastic, but surely wrong. The huge display of grief and affection at the recent death of Sir Bobby Robson was greater than anything that would have been merited by even the best-loved teddy bear. There must have been more to him than a warm smile and a friendly demeanour.

I agree with Simon to this extent. The television coverage of football matches does create an inflated sense of the importance of the manager. One camera remains fixed on the dug-out throughout the game, capturing every managerial reaction to the passage of play.

But the theatrical displays of anger, joy, disbelief, tension and so on are really just showbiz. You don’t win football matches at the side of the pitch. The players are doing the real work, winning or losing games by their efforts. But back in the dressing room, on the team bus and on the training ground, managers can exert an important influence.

Stefan Stern

What should the priorities for business be as the economic recovery takes hold? It is already clear what sort of recovery some people are looking forward to.

“Investment banking is back,” purred an analyst on the BBC last week. And how. Some remarkable profit figures have been announced in recent days, which will be followed in due course by some remarkable bonus payments. Meanwhile, stock markets seem to be pricing in a pretty vigorous recovery, carrying on where they had temporarily left off.

But how can this be? The thesaurus had been exhausted over the past couple of years as commentators ran out of words with which to describe the financial crisis. And behind all the hyperbolical language lay an obvious implication: “business as usual” was not going to be a sensible or an adequate approach as companies started to rebuild.

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

Ravi Mattu

I can’t claim to know the answer – is it really knowable? – but there certainly seem to be divergent views on the issue.

New research suggests more women on the board can improve governance but has a negative effect on profitability. In the words of Daniel Ferreira of the London School of Economics, one of the report’s authors: “This is a complicated picture.”

That may well qualify for understatement of the day but a few of recent pieces highlight just how complicated – and current – the issue is.

In today’s Lombard column, Andrew Hill points out that the authors are not coming out against female directors but do “warn that about forcing the issue with quotas, Norwegian-style, and then expecting automatic improvements in performance”.

A few weeks ago, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, a consultant and co-author of a book called Why Women Mean Business, wrote: “There is a convincing business case for designing organisations that attract and retain women to the top.” Further, she argued, “having a greater proportion of women in decision-making roles improves business performance and profitability”.

A few weeks later, our own Lucy Kellaway, who also happens to be a non-executive director, took a different view, describing the so-called “asset-to-oestrogen” ratio as total twaddle”.

Who’s right? Comments welcome.

Stefan Stern

When it comes to battling with the competition, where do you draw the line? Is all fair in love, war and business?

The key text for believers in ruthless competition is probably Hardball: Are you playing to play or playing to win?written five years ago by Boston Consulting Group’s George Stalk and his ex-BCG colleague Rob Lachenauer.

For these two, a hardball approach means “creating discomfort for others and tolerating it in yourself”. Not that you should consider doing anything illegal – of course not. But there is a moral and legal grey area (a “caution zone”) which, the authors argue, is “rich in possibility”. A smart leader will recognise where to draw a “bright line” in this zone. He or she “lets everybody know when they’re getting close to it, and takes corrective action as soon as anyone steps over it”.

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

Ravi Mattu

Two weeks ago, in a small church hall in north London, my three-year-old son picked up his Transformers lunchbox, said goodbye to a few of his friends and gave an end-of-term cuddle to the women who work at the nursery he attends four mornings a week. It was the end of term and summer holidays beckoned.

Our nursery isn’t especially fancy. The hall is a little worse for wear. The toys are not particularly new. Unlike some of the other nurseries in the neighbourhood, it doesn’t do organic food, it doesn’t have guinea pigs for the children to take care of or a vegetable patch where they can grow carrots. Come to think of it, it doesn’t have much outdoor space at all. Occasionally, the children go to the playground in a rather grim council estate nearby and I have persuaded myself that the bratty kids who once pelted me with water-filled balloons from the same playground have moved to another town.

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

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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Lucy Kellaway writes a column on Mondays on work , poking fun at management fads and jargon and celebrating the ups and downs of office life. She is also the FT's Agony Aunt.

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Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a column in the Financial Times. In the online edition of her Dear Lucy 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too.

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