Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ravi Mattu

Ok, I like lists and Time’s 100 most influential people is a great one. But for all its strengths (Steve Jobs, Dominique Strauss-Kahn) and weaknesses (Glenn Beck as a leader? Simon Cowell as an artist?), I especially found a comment at the bottom of Bob Geldof’s paean to Tidjane Thiam, chief executive of Prudential, revealing about the power of business (and possibly the cynicism with which the west views African politicians):

Tidjane was once a minister in his home nation, Côte d’Ivoire, and he told me that when he was a high-ranking African politician, those with power and influence in the West didn’t want to hear what he had to say — but that once he joined the private sector, his opinion became sought out. Now bigwigs can’t get enough of him, and rightly so.

I wrote about the remarkable rise of Thiam last year.

Ravi Mattu

Earlier this week, a law was passed in Santa Clara, California which forbade the inclusion of toys in any meals that did not meet certain health standards for children.

It’s a pretty extraordinary step in the land of freedom and all that but apparently Silicon Valley has been at the forefront of the US’s healthy eating revolution, having previously forced food chains to display the caloric intake of their meals.

Somehow I imagine McDonald’s won’t be quaking in their boots. Presumably the packaging and advertising can still be emblazoned with Disney characters and getting the attention of a consumer is probably more significant in the long term than the toy that goes along with it.

Ravi Mattu

Alan Yentob, the BBC’s creative director, has today defended his right to fly business class by claiming that he can’t really do his job without it.

According to a report in The Guardian, here’s how he described a recent trip:

“When I went to New York I immediately when I arrived I went to give a talk to an organisation,” he told a Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference in central London today. “I was filming in the afternoon [for his BBC1 arts show Imagine] and I then returned within about 24 hours back to London back to work straight away. Do you think I should have travelled economy? I wouldn’t have been capable of doing the job.

“I try to limit the number of times that I go. I am not capable of doing all those things at once. That’s all I can say.”

Much is written about executive perks and how top management is supposedly shameless when it comes to claiming them. Much of it is quite right – especially in this climate – but I sometimes wonder if the discussion hasn’t gone too far in the opposite extreme.

Ravi Mattu

Interesting essay on why PowerPoint is a poor decision-making tool for the US Armed Forces. Does anyone like PowerPoint out there?

Hat tip: The Browser

Ravi Mattu

Have you heard the story about the voiceover actor for Geico, the insurance company, who left a dodgy voicemail on the machine of a Tea Party group and then got fired when the voicemail was released on the internet?

Well, in the latest chapter of the PR battle, the voiceover actor Lance Baxter, aka D.C. Douglas, released this video compilation of the messages from angry Tea Party activists left on his answering machine, which his dulcet tones introducing the package.

It’s all rather curious and funny but, more important, it points to two interesting trends.

Stefan Stern

News broke over the weekend that the chief executive of the UK restaurant chain Little Chef has left the company. A few months ago I wrote about my less than joyful experience of eating at a recently revamped Little Chef outlet. There’s no need to rehearse the whole story again here. In summary: the company had hired the Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal to advise them on updating and improving their menu. A TV camera crew had recorded this work and produced a rather upbeat and feel-good programme about a miraculous turnround at the company.

I was sceptical, especially after a somewhat disappointing meal at the flagship restaurant. I concluded my column by saying that the company would not be able to hide the truth from customers for long.

A couple of weeks ago I had another frankly horrendous meal at a Little Chef (do I ever learn? No I do not.) This branch was only another 40 miles or so up the road from the flagship one. They served me possibly the worst scrambled egg I have ever paid money for.

Now we learn that the CEO is out. Is the company’s heart really in this Hestonisation process? Does it have the competence to pull it off?

Stefan Stern

We are now roughly half-way through the British general election campaign. The country will vote on Thursday May 6. What was expected only a few weeks ago to be a fairly tame and predictable event has become much more exciting, on account of an innovation in British politics – televised debates between the three main party leaders.

The second of three debates took place last night. A commonplace in other mature democracies, the blockbuster election confrontation has finally arrived in the UK. It has upset the party planners and strategists, and overturned expectations.

So far so healthy. This is supposed to be a democracy, after all. But something is not quite right.

Ravi Mattu

Today’s news that Google has released a list of governments that seek to censor its servcies or request personal information on users feels like the latest step in the company’s effort to rebuild a reputation that has had some sticky moments in recent weeks and months.

The company’s corporate motto – “Do no evil” – has been used by some as an ethical stick with which to beat it as it moved into China and agreed to self-censor its searches. And its disastrous launch of Buzz, its social networking service, met with much resistance from its community of users and, more recently, privacy regulators.

It was all a bit surprising. In the past few decades, few companies have demonstrated (shaped?) a better understanding of the changing nature of consumer behaviour than Google. So, what happened?

Stefan Stern

This cover story in the latest issue of Business Week, on changing times at General Electric, is well worth a read. I am a Jeff Immelt fan. He takes a lot of hits on behalf of CEOs everywhere, being one of the most famous corporate bosses in the world. But I know he doesn’t let it get to him, because I’ve heard him say so – “To hell with it!” is his attitude. He is not going to let the media define him.

Being CEO of GE is one of the hardest jobs in the world. But Immelt is candid, straight, thoughtful and, I think, pretty effective. We should not be writing him off just yet.

Stefan Stern

Some readers may be beginning to tire just a little of the tales of heroism some of us (me included) are inflicting on colleagues as we explain how, in defiance of volcanic ash and transport woes, we have managed to get back in to the office.

(Thanks for asking: stranded in Milan, I got a sleeper from Verona to Paris - grazie mille Fiorella Passoni of Edelman’s Milan office – and then found a suddenly available seat on the last Eurostar out of Paris last night.)

I finally got home at midnight, three days later than planned. Not nice, certainly, but not quite the nightmare others have suffered. I only had me to worry about. I managed to fit in a couple of decent meals too.

The more interesting point here is that thousands of us have been undergoing a practical exercise in crisis management. The familiar, steady-state world has been interrupted. We have been plunged into confusion. How have we coped?

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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