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?

Stefan Stern

Terribly sad news this weekend – CK Prahalad has died at the early age of 68.

There will be an obituary on www.ft.com later today (Sunday), and in the print edition tomorrow (Monday).

UPDATE: Here is the obituary of Prof Prahalad

Stefan Stern

Ten days ago the FT published my interview with Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, in which he made some strikingly robust comments on the (in his view misguided) theory that public companies should worry about creating shareholder value before anything else.

Several letters representing almost every possible point of view have since been published in the paper: derisory, technical, supportive, adulatory. My colleague Michael Skapinker offered his own wise perspective yesterday, and today we have published two more readers’ letters on the topic.

Is there anything left to say? Plenty. Yesterday my colleague Ravi Mattu and I had a fascinating conversation with Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He had some forceful observations to make on one of the key elements of the shareholder value debate: the idea that top pay should be tied to the company’s share price to align management’s interests with those of the shareholders.

Tomorrow I am heading to Milan to attend a symposium hosted by the European Academy of Business in Society (EABIS), which is titled “The future of economics and management in a post-crisis world”. Shareholder value is firmly on the agenda. I shall blog a few highlights when I get a moment to do so.

And I shall try and make some sense out of all this in my column next Tuesday (April 20).

Stefan Stern

The appalling scenes at the Smolensk air crash over the weekend have stunned European onlookers, and doubtless many more people beyond. It is far too early to know precisely what happened, although reports of unheeded warnings from Russian air traffic controllers are beginning to emerge.

Air disasters are inevitably a macabre subject. Understandably, frequent fliers find them troubling.

Daniel Goleman first pointed to the crucial management issues at the heart of air disasters many years ago in his ground-breaking work on Emotional Intelligence. Why did Australian flight crews have such an enviable safety record? Was is it because of their lack of artificial deference, and the ability even junior staff had to speak up and warn of danger? Which flight crews could be the most dangerous? The ones where macho pilots could not or would not listen to advice, or ones where rigid hierarchy, deference and emotional chilliness led to vital messages not getting through.

The bitter and tragic ironies of the Smolensk crash are painful. Leaders of the Polish government, heading to Russia to commemorate the murder of Polish officers and others during World War Two by the Soviet military at Katyn, have now died only a few miles from the scene of the original crime. It would be distasteful at this stage to speculate further on the causes of the crash. But when the evidence becomes clear so too will the all-too human factors which lay behind it.

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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