Corporate culture

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

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.

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?

Ravi Mattu

Last week, Jason Hirschhorn and Mike Jones, the new co-chief executives of MySpace, gave their first interview since taking over from Owen Van Natta. They are the second duo to gain some prominence in recent weeks. Last month, SAP, the technology company, announced its own double-headed form by appointing co-chief executives to replace a single one.

Schumpeter, the management columnist at The Economist, made the point that last week that such a model works much better in technology companies where there is a definable split between the innovation and technology functions and the sales and marketing role.

Today’s Judgment Call, the SAP heads, an academic and a PR guru all weigh in on how it can be made to work – and how it can easily go awry.

Ravi Mattu

If Canada’s gold medal in ice hockey wasn’t enough to convince you of the country’s love of the sport, an Ontario company has taken it to another level. IT Weapons has installed a hockey rink in their office as a way both to satiate the bosses’ love of the game but also as a way to attract and retain talent.

According to Jason MacBean, the company’s chief architect: “One of our biggest challenges is retaining young, smart people, and young, smart people need a blend between their personal lives and work. The people we want to attract are people who will appreciate this,”

Ravi Mattu

John Lewis, the UK department store that also owns supermarket chain Waitrose, has reported annual pre-tax profits of £306.6m. I wouldn’t normally write about profit margins on this blog but John Lewis is unusual in that it is a high street brand that has done relatively well in the downturn despite being a relatively pricey option.

John Lewis is notable because its employees own the company, and partly because of that, the customer service is miles better than many of its competitors. These employees will share £151m bonus. More than that, as my colleague Michael Skapinker wrote earlier this year, it has made this ownership model work where others such as United Airlines have failed.

Ravi Mattu

Fascinating portrait of the wives of Lehman Brothers executives. They were part of a moral code that apparently flowed through the company and were a key part of the way the place worked.

Lucy Kellaway

Last month, Sir Martin Sorrell was interviewed on and was asked variously about the world economy, China and the future of the media. As I watched the video of this successful businessman earnestly holding forth, another, more urgent question formed in my mind. Poking out from under the sleeve of his elegant charcoal suit and crisp white double cuff was a tatty piece of pale blue string, knotted with its ends dangling.

I reached for my BlackBerry and fired off the following message to him: “Much enjoyed your interview … Just wondered: what was that blue thing on your wrist?”

In a trice the reply came back. “Relic of my new year in Bahia,” he said. He explained that he had made three wishes for each of the three knots and that only when the string dropped off would they come true.

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

Stefan Stern

So, the replacement CEO at General Motors, Fritz Henderson, has himself now been ousted. If we all purchased new vehicles as often as GM has replaced CEOs in recent months the auto industry would have a lot less to worry about.

Continuity and change: this is the trade-off which leaders have to manage. Clearly at the moment GM needs more of the latter than the former. But we risk over-emphasising the impact a single leader can have. Change has to be brought about by the leadership team and by senior management generally. It is not just down to one person. Knifing a CEO gives us a story to gossip about but does not change the fundamental challenge at the company.

After Mr Henderson’s decision to sell GM’s Opel subsidiary was reversed by his board he was probably doomed. But his fellow board members would be mistaken in believing that they will rapidly make things better by putting a new person in at the top. The challenge remains the same. Difficult decisions still have to be made. There are no quick personnel-related fixes available.

Paradoxically, bringing about successful change means understanding the value of continuity.

Lucy Kellaway

Traditional management is over. The internet has killed command and control. Now that everyone can analyse and ridicule their chief executive’s every move almost before they’ve made it, it has become impossible to order people about.

This view is put forward by Carol Bartz, the new head of Yahoo, in The Economist’s “The World in 2010”. It sounds pacey and plausible and for a second I was lulled into thinking that perhaps the “Niagara of information” really has changed management for ever. But then I looked around me. I saw lots of people at desks calmly doing what they were paid to do: working.

Command and control is not over and won’t ever be. Bosses are still bosses. If mine tells me to do something, I’m inclined to get up off my bottom and do it. If Bartz’s employees don’t get off their bottoms when she tells them to, there is a problem – and it has nothing to do with the internet.

The remainder of this 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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