Monthly Archives: October 2009

Ravi Mattu

Dave Carroll, the Canadian folk singer who accused United Airlines of breaking his guitar, wrote a song about it that became a huge viral success on YouTube (the biggest hit of his career) and brought lots of shame on to the airline, is at loggerheads with the company again.

Since the incident, Carroll has tried to avoid flying the airline but while en route to deliver a speech to a group of customer service executives in Denver, they lost his luggage.

It seems a curious way to deal with a customer and manage your reputation. I would have thought that after the first case, they would have put an asterisk next to Carroll’s name so that if he ever flew with them again, they would bend over backwards to ensure that he was treated well. Maybe they should have offered him free flights for life?

All companies will have the occasional bad experience with a customer. The key thing is how they deal with it. I wrote a few days ago on the case of a worker on the London Underground who resigned after being filmed ranting at a passenger. It looked liked the company handled the story well. As for United, I can’t imagine alienating a customer for a second time, after he has generated a lot of negative publicity for your brand, is a great idea.

Ravi Mattu

Earlier this evening, the winner of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award was given to Liaquat Ahamed for Lords of Finance, his history of how central bankers’ mistakes led to the Great Depression.

As it happens, I shared a table at the ceremony with Mr Ahamed and his publishers – and managed to keep from revealing the winner to any of my dinner companions.

The book bowled over the judges – but did it bowl you over, too? Do you agree with decision or do you think one of the other shortlisted titles were superior?

Have your say in the comments section or vote on the awards homepage.

You can also see video from the event at the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and find extra information about the winner and the awards.

Ravi Mattu

A few weeks ago, the most popular story on was on Dyson’s new bladeless fan. I have to admit, I couldn’t quite figure out why so many readers were looking at it, but who am I to go against the grain?

I did wonder if it had anything to do with the following Dyson has among consumers and this video suggests I may have been on to something. Emma and Molly are two fans of the fan and have created a video showing just how this impressive device works. I especially like the Brazilian music overlaying the clip. What was that I said in a previous post about the changing nature of consumer engagement?

Of course, this could be nothing more than a clever marketing ploy and for all I know these could be Dyson employees or the wife and child of the guy who designed it. Whatever the case, I wonder if it will generate as much attention as our original story.

Stefan Stern

Do take a quick look at our regular Judgment Call feature from Wednesday’s paper. It’s a particularly good one, even if we say so ourselves.

We have sharp contributions from four distinguished commentators: Harvard Business School’s Rakesh Khurana, Rotman’s Roger Martin, Kai Peters from Ashridge and Jim O’Toole from the University of Denver.

We have asked them how good a job business schools are doing in providing an ethical education to their students. Their overall verdict: probably not good enough.

But I am over-simplifying their answers, which are worth reading in full.

Luke Johnson

F Scott Fitzgerald said: “There are no second acts in American lives.” An awful lot of entrepreneurs, investors and executives must hope he was talking nonsense.

The past 18 months have seen many reputations ravaged, plenty of high-profile sackings and a lot of business failures. I am afraid that in this digital world, such blemishes are recorded for all time.

Not many of us will emerge entirely unscathed from the battering of this downturn – a great deal of mistakes of different sorts have been exposed. So we should all maintain an optimistic belief that the world is more forgiving than is commonly supposed.

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

Stefan Stern

Is strategy dead? Chief strategy officers will deny it. Some strategy consultants may reject the idea, too. But, right now, markets are unpredictable. The economic outlook is uncertain. The world has changed. If old-style strategy formulation is not exactly dead, then it is hardly in the best of health.

For months, many leadership teams have had only one strategic goal in mind: survival. Grander visions have been filed away or forgotten. This hedgehog-style approach – roll up into a ball and wait until things are less scary – may keep a company alive temporarily, but does little to prepare it for the future.

Analysis by Boston Consulting Group suggests that corporate hibernation only works if recessions are short, if the outside world goes back to the way it was before, and if all your competitors are equally inactive, tucked up for the economic winter. In 2009, not one of these conditions applies.

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

Ravi Mattu

An extraordinary video has emerged of a London Underground worker who was filmed yelling at an elderly passenger (non-UK readers will not be able to see the video but it might be available elsewhere online). The employee has since resigned.

The incident happened on the day after Transport for London announced a price rise, which couldn’t have been great timing. That aside, it is interesting how quickly this story got out and how the instinctive reaction of a fellow passenger was to film the whole event, presumably on his mobile phone.

The quick dissemination of the message goes to the heart of all sorts of questions on the way we work: if you have a public-facing position, don’t expect that you can get away with anything because someone might be watching (though, London Underground are well covered with closed circuit television cameras – one assumes that if his bosses had seen him on their own footage, they would have been less than pleased but a colleague apparently “laughed and walked away” ); consumers/the public see themselves as more than mere clients – they are stakeholders, and the passenger who took the video claims that part of his motivation was the fact that it had happened on the day after the price increase.

Ravi Mattu

England football manager Fabio Capello has had a remarkably successful career in Italy, Spain and now as manager of England (ok, he hasn’t won anything yet, but they have qualified for the World Cup). Sports analogies are used too often in the world of management speak (even for a sportsfan like me) but according to an article in the Guardian about his presentation at the Global Sports Summit in London, Capello reveals a couple of interesting truths.

First, he says that when he took over England the quality of the players was very high in training but not in matches.

“I understood everything when they played Switzerland in the first match, the same players who played well in training played with fear, with no confidence, and I said this is a big problem of the mind,” he said. “Step by step, game after game, we have improved a lot.”

Ravi Mattu

The US Chamber of Commerce is still in a bit of trouble – I wrote about the problems of the US Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago. Now the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki questions some of the organisation’s claims on how many companies it represents. He says it could have misrepresented or “lied” about numbers of members

Ravi Mattu

Canada’s WestJet airline doesn’t have a business class or premium economy, but it’s come up with another idea to give its passengers a bit more space, save on fuel consumption and avoid having to buy new planes for longer flights – charge people a bit extra to keep the middle seat vacant. According to Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice-president of corporate culture and communications, one motivation is to deal with the “question of real estate” when it comes to the armrest between seats.

I will confess, I didn’t realise this was such a problem but stranger business ideas have worked in the past, so I’ll happily eat my hat if this becomes a huge success.

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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