Leadership

Ravi Mattu

My very smart and funny colleague Lucy Kellaway has just released a novel about love in the office, called In Office Hours, published by Penguin. If you like reading Lucy’s columns (on work, on office problems and as ‘Martin Lukes’) – and I haven’t met a single reader who has anything but enthusiastic things to say about her – then you really should buy this book. It’s a roaring read.

It will not be published in the US until next year but you can buy it at Amazon’s UK site.

Ravi Mattu

The Phoenix Suns, the NBA basketball team in the midst of the playoffs, played last night’s game in jerseys that changed their name from The Suns to “Los Suns” in protest against the state of Arizona’s new immigration law.

It’s a pretty radical step for a mom-and-pop brand but it may have worked: they won the game against the San Antonio Spurs (who would have altered their uniforms if they had had enough time to) to take a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series.

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

Tim Armstrong, CEO of Aol, has got himself into a bit of bother with his staff. Last Tuesday, at a breakfast meeting with Wolf Olins, he criticised his company’s efforts covering the SxSW festival in Austin and, in particular, the quality of work of his staff.

Apparently, he quickly backtracked – not by renouncing what he said but by declaring in an open meeting with staff that he should have made the point directly to them instead of to an external company. He stood by his assertion that the company’s work was not up to snuff.

Was this the right move?

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

Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay who is now running for the Republican nomination for governor of California, is having problems with the press. It still amazes me that senior figures in business and, now politics, can’t figure out how to deal with the media. But then, I suppose I would say that, wouldn’t I.

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

This is extraordinary and surely a first. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz announced his resignation on Twitter – in the form, no less of a haiku.

Stefan Stern

A rare event in the business world last week: everyone seemed to agree about something. When Procter & Gamble’s former chief executive, A.G. Lafley, announced he would be retiring as its chairman in the new year, there was universal acclaim for his work at the company. Fortune magazine’s verdict was typical. “It is not overstating things to say that Lafley brought P&G into the next century,” it said.

Well done, A.G. But just to disrupt this mood of consensus for a moment, let me restate my belief that, sometimes, too much attention gets paid to individual CEOs, and not enough to the work that goes on elsewhere inside businesses. A.G. did not invent P&G’s blockbuster cleaning product Swiffer, for example, or lead on every aspect of the company’s merger with Gillette.

How important are CEOs, exactly? “The CEO is responsible for creating and leading the team that will deliver great performance,” says Morten Hansen, professor of management at the University of California at Berkeley, and also at Insead. “A CEO can have great impact by creating a strong team.”

The remainder of this article can be read here.

Stefan Stern

Do we really want boardrooms to turn into killing fields for under-pressure executives? Fritz Henderson lasted all of eight months as chief executive of General Motors before being shown the door last week. Not enough change, not fast enough, was the verdict of his unforgiving fellow directors. Would the next CEO please step forward?

It is no surprise that some boards are adopting a more muscular approach. Companies want to be ready to exploit improved trading conditions next year. But will a more abrasive boardroom encourage better decision-making? I have my doubts. Few people will worry if the cosy, country club board of the past is no more. But things may be moving too far in the opposite direction.

“One thing no one ever says to us is: ‘Oh great, we’ve got a board meeting tomorrow!’,” says Steve Wigzell, a partner at Praesta, an executive coaching firm. Some of the top teams he works with report an increased edginess, even unpleasantness, in relationships between directors.

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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Elsewhere on FT.com: Lucy Kellaway

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.

Elsewhere on FT.com: Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson writes an FT column on Wednesdays on entrepreneurship. He runs Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and is chairman of the Royal Society of Arts.

Elsewhere on FT.com: Dear Lucy

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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