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Each year, the well-known UK newspaper The Sunday Times chooses a Business Person of the Year. Last month, it announced the first ever woman winner: Moya Greene.
Moya Greene is the Canadian-born business woman who became the Chief Executive Officer of Royal Mail plc in 2010. She took over a 500-year old state-run company which was not profitable in its core business, despite dealing with an average of 58 million items per day. Unlike privately-owned delivery services, the Royal Mail must deliver post to anywhere in the country, no matter how far, for a fixed cost.
Greene’s achievement in speeding up the process of modernisation paved the way for the government to privatise the company. The Royal Mail was finally floated on the stock exchange last October, making Moya Greene one of just four female FTSE 100 chief executives. Her achievement in overseeing this historical privatisation makes her a worthy winner of the Sunday Times award.
Greene was previously the chief executive of Canada Post, the equivalent of the Royal Mail in Canada. She has a strong track record in strategic planning and negotiating. She has been described as ‘inspiring awe’; relentless; and very effective – someone who can ‘get the job done’.
What does the future hold for the post service? We know that sending letters continues to decline. Nevertheless, sending parcels boomed over Christmas. The hope is that online shopping will continue to grow, and so too will the number of people sending parcels.
Questions you may wish to ask your students:
How efficient is the postal service in your own country?
Who would you nominate as ‘Business Person of the Year’? Why?
What qualities do you admire in a CEO?
Websites you and your students may wish to explore:
Earlier this month, the social media site Twitter was floated on the New York Stock Exchange. On the first day of trading, the share price instantly soared. Shares were initially offered at $26 each, but as they went on sale the share price shot up to around $45. The company at the end of that first day was valued at $30 billion.
Twitter founder and director Evan Williams became a paper billionaire; other directors became millionaires instantly. This IPO (Initial public offering) was hugely different to the last big flotation of a technology company – Facebook. On that day last year, the share price only rose slightly.
Twitter was created in 2006. It has come a long way since Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet: “Just setting up my twttr”. There are now over 230 million active users of Twitter. An incredible 500 million tweets are sent every day. While a tweet still only contains 140 characters, users can now attach links to websites and videos.
Opinions on the significance Twitter are split. For many, it has become an essential ‘social barometer’ of what’s happening right now. Others view it as a complete waste of time, with users clogging the ‘Twitterverse’ with such mundane tweets as “I’m making a pizza”. Whatever your view, ‘tweets’ are rarely out of the news: the latest celebrity tweets; angry tweets; libellous tweets.
One amazing paradox is the fact that Twitter does not yet make a profit. There is a lot of speculation going on as to how exactly the company will generate revenue. It is expected that it will increase sales through advertising, like Google – but just how many adverts will users tolerate?
This IPO is expected to start a new wave of flotations. However, speculators and financial analysts who remember the dot.com bubble bursting continue to ask the question: do technology companies have any real worth and value?
Questions you may ask your students:
Do you use Twitter? If so, why? If not, why not?
If you use Twitter, who do you follow?
Would you invest in tech shares? Why / why not?
Useful sites for you and your students to explore:
Last week’s announcement that the chief executive of Burberry plc, Angela Ahrendts, will leave the famous luxury goods firm next year to join technology giant Apple sent shock waves throughout the city.
Burberry is one of the UK’s most famous fashion brands; the Burberry trench coat is iconic.
In her time at the top, Ahrendts re-positioned Burberry as a high fashion brand. In 2012, she became the highest paid CEO in the FTSE 100, with reported earnings of £16.9 million. This was the first time a woman had topped the table.
Among the company milestones under her leadership was the use of ten-year old Romeo Beckham, son of Victoria and David Beckham, in a famous ad from last year. Harry Potter star Emma Watson and the Duchess of Cambridge have been photographed in unmistakeable Burberry coats.
Ahrendts is certainly no stranger to technology. Burberry has over 16 million ‘likes’ on Facebook, making it the most the most popular luxury brand on the site. Burberry’s fashion shows are now live-streamed, and its customers browse the fashion collections on iPads. It seems fitting, therefore, that she is due to move to Apple, to become the senior vice president for retail and online.
What about her successor at Burberry? Some investors are nervous about her replacement-in-waiting, Burberry’s chief creative officer Christopher Bailey. Bailey is well-known in the world of fashion as an innovative designer; he’s been described as a genius. The question is now whether he will be able to combine his creative role with that of a hard-headed businessman, capable of taking over as CEO.
Are we to believe then, that the company has a clear strategy? It certainly has a powerful brand. It remains to be seen what the future holds.
Useful sites for you and your students to explore
Questions you might like to ask your students
Do you buy / have you bought any Burberry clothes?
Do CEO’s justify their high salary levels?
In your view, can a creative genius also become a CEO?
How easy or difficult is it to be a ‘woman at the top’ in your local business environment?
Earlier this month, Europe’s largest library opened in Birmingham, UK. Will it become a model for 21st century public libraries?
The library aims to inspire. Part of its mission statement is to “transform lives through learning, knowledge and culture.” Hence the ten floors, the banks of computers, the shelves of CD audio and DVDs alongside those filled with books. Even the architecture has attracted attention, with its eco-friendly design.
But….is the venture out of touch with today’s readers?
Across the Atlantic, the first digital-only library in the US is set to open later this year, in Bexar County, Texas. Known as BiblioTech, one aim of this digital-only library will be to provide access to e-books for those spread across “large, sparsely-populated areas”. Bexar County has never had a public library, or even a bookshop. .
For a ‘tech’ project, BiblioTech is actually ‘low-cost’. It will have 100 e-readers. Although these can be borrowed, the main idea is that users can actually access the 10,000 digital books in the library from their own homes. Will the new library benefit people living remotely?
The acronym ‘BYOD’ (a ‘buzz term’ in both education and the business world) stands for ‘Bring your own device’. Users are invited to come to the library with an iPad, Android tablet, KindleFire, Nook e-reader…well, the list of devices gets longer by the day! BiblioTech is modelled on Apple’s iTunes store.
This new library will work in partnership with local schools and run digital literacy courses.
But for many people, the ‘bookless library’ is a contradiction in terms. While some elite schools give every child an iPad, the school library still contains real books! Who knows what our childrens’ children will be reading, and how. As ever, the future is still a matter of speculation.
Questions to ask your students:Libraries_final with logo
When was the last time you visited a public library?
Do you have an e-book reader?
What do you see as the future of libraries in your own city?
Websites to explore:
Earlier this month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is based in Paris, announced plans to crack down on tax avoidance schemes by large multi-nationals. The 15-point plan aims to stop companies artificially moving profits from one country to another, in order to reduce their tax.
The report by the OECD says that global tax rules are out of date. They were created in a pre-Internet age, and were originally designed to ensure that a company does not pay tax in two different countries at the same time. Maybe that was fine once upon a time, but in the age of on-line business, companies today operate in many countries. They use the current laws, it is claimed, to pay tax in no countries at all!
If the plans go ahead, they will be the first ever internationally co-ordinated attempt to reform the global taxation system.
So, what’s the problem? A company with huge sales in one country can avoid paying tax there, simply by ‘routing’ sales through an artificially created base in, say, Dublin or Luxembourg. The idea behind the proposed reforms is that a company should pay tax in the country where the economic activity takes place.
At this time of austerity, public opinion has been quick to criticise the tax practices of several companies in the digital age. 2013 has seen the ‘naming and shaming’ of multi-nationals: Google, Amazon, Apple and Starbucks are regularly under the spotlight.
But have such firms actually done anything wrong? Spokesmen point out that no laws have been broken. Everything they do is perfectly legal. It is a company’s duty, they argue, to minimise their tax bills in order to increase profits for their shareholders.
I wonder. Is it really fair that multi-nationals avoid paying tax by using these perfectly legal methods? Should we close such tax ‘loopholes’?
Questions to ask your students:
What do you think about the tax-avoidance strategies used by many multi-national companies?
Should international tax-laws be changed in the age of the Internet?
Websites to explore:
Earlier this month, the Department of Health launched a new labelling system for food. The on-the-packet label grades food as red, amber or green– the colours displayed by traffic lights. Foods with 'green' indicators are healthier than those with 'red' ones. The system shows how much fat, salt and sugar is in each product, and it is claimed, allows shoppers to compare products directly against one another. But will it really make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices about the foods they eat?
The launch comes after years of debate about food-labelling between companies, supermarkets, the government, health associations and consumer groups. Customers, it was found, are confused when more than one scheme is used.
Now, all the major UK supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons) have agreed to use the label on their products. Companies such as Mars UK, Nestle UK and PepsiCo UK will join in.
The UK has high levels of diet-related diseases, such as heart disease. 61% of the adult population in England is overweight or obese – one of the highest figures for developed countries.
Consumer and health groups including ‘Which?’ and the British Heart Foundation welcomed the scheme, believing that more food companies will reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat in popular products.
At the moment, just over 60% of foods will be covered by the new system. The system is voluntary. Not everyone has joined. Many major food and drink companies (Coca-Cola, United Biscuits, Kellogg’s, Unilever, and Cadburys) prefer the pan European Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) labelling. The GDA system, they say, gives consumers the information they need to make informed choices about the food they eat.
Many farmers see the traffic-light labelling as simplistic. For example, giving a ‘red light’ on cheese means that they are seen in the same category as junk food, even though it contains a number of nutrients.
The new system is welcomed by many as clear and helpful, and criticised by others. Whether it will help in making a healthier nation, only time will tell.
To discuss with your students:
What kind of food-labelling system is used in your country?
Do you read the labels when you buy food?
Would a system like the only proposed have any impact on your choice of food products?
Do food-labelling systems help consumers make healthier choices?
Websites to explore:
Earlier this month, San Francisco hosted Google’s annual development conference, which showcases the company’s innovations. This year, there was one big talking point: Google Glass.
Google Glass is probably the world’s most hyped product, and it hasn’t even been launched yet. The product is expected to actually retail next year.
What is ‘Google Glass’? They are no ordinary glasses. The frames house a tiny computer which projects information from the Internet, such as emails, text messages and search results. The information is displayed on a tiny crystal screen suspended just above the user’s right eye.
The computer responds to voice commands. Say ‘take a picture’ to take a photograph. You can record short amounts of video. There is even a function which translates your voice: “Say ‘half a kilo’ in Chinese.”
The device has been tested by two thousand early adopters. They paid about $1,500 for the devices.
Needless to say, the press at the conference were keen to speak to anyone wearing Google Glass. Many users were enthusiastic. One wearer saw the voice recognition aspect as a benefit: “you don’t have to reach for your Smartphone to answer messages”.
Another wearer was more cautious, saying these are early days. Indeed, Facebook and EBay have announced they will be making apps for Glass. Clearly, there’s more to come. Some of it sounds like science fiction, from face recognition software to product price comparisons as you are about to buy something.
Google Glass has kicked off a privacy debate. One café in Seattle made headlines by already banning customers from wearing these glasses. US casinos are talking about a similar ban. Some US states are considering making it illegal to wear the glasses while driving. Fears centre around the fact that you could film or photograph things and people unnoticed.
Google are not alone in shaping the future. Other companies are working on wearable technology. New technology always raises new issues. It looks like social ‘etiquette’ - when to wear these glasses - and ‘privacy’ will be the big areas of discussion.
Things to talk about with your students:
Useful sites to explore:
The UK newspaper the Sunday Times has just published its twenty-fifth Rich List. How things have changed in the last 25 years!
The Queen topped the first ever list of Britain’s wealthiest individuals, way back in 1985. The individuals on the list in those days tended to have inherited their wealth. Today, the entries include a huge number of self-made millionaires. And the Queen stands at number 268.
The big news is that Lakshmi Mittal has lost the top spot after eight years in a row. The Indian steel magnate slipped to fourth position, leaving a Russian oligarch at number one, Alisher Usamonov. Said to be valued at over £13 million, Usmanov owns a stake in Arsenal football club. His Russian business empire includes the country’s biggest producer of iron ore, Metalloinvest.
Mittal; Usamonov; Roman Abramovitch at number three – there is a decidedly international feel about the list. Unlike the list 25 years ago, many people made their fortunes outside Britain. London, it seems, has become the ‘city of choice’ for the super-rich.
Another fascinating change is the number of younger millionaires. The singer Adele is the richest young musician on the list. The Internet entrepreneur Nick D’Aloisio is a new entry. The 17-year old sold his Summly app (which summarises news stories for mobile devices) to Yahoo for $30 million.
Despite the hype which accompanies the publication of the Rich List, the idea of journalists calculating wealth list is flawed. It can only be based on what is public knowledge. The rest is guesswork. Even if you know the value of someone’s house, you cannot know the value of the contents. Some wealth consists of money borrowed against tangible assets.
Twitter (#RichList) is full of tweets bemoaning the fact that the rich get rich and the poor get poorer. Maybe we can take some comfort in the fact that philanthropy is on the rise, with more of the rich giving away parts of their fortune to good causes.
Questions you can explore with your students:
Do you think the number of rich people is increasing or decreasing in your country?
Are there more entrepreneurs today than 25 years ago?
If you owned a fortune, would you give any of it away to good causes? If so, which ones and why?
Here are some sites you and your students may find interesting:
Travel group announces more job cuts
Earlier this month, Thomas Cook, the world's oldest travel company, announced that it will cut 2,500 jobs in the UK. 200 stores are set to close. The announcement comes as no surprise, given the recent woes in the travel and tourism sector.
There are a good number of reasons for the imminent closures: the difficult trading environment; higher fuel costs; the global economic downturn. The company itself has debts estimated at £788 million.
However, for me, this announcement has a lot to do with the rise of the internet. It's a long time since I went into a high street shop and booked a holiday. Nowadays, I just do it online. I can book a cheap flight, a hotel and custom-make my own holiday. I don't need to use a travel agency.
Times have certainly changed since the company was founded in 1841. Initially, company growth was spectacular. In 1855, Cook organized tours to Europe; in 1865, the business was expanded to include the States. By 1888, the company had offices around the world, including Australia and New Zealand.
The company famously got into difficulties in 2011, with the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa badly affecting tours to Egypt and Tunisia.
In May last year, the company appointed Harriet Green as their new chief executive. She arrived with a “respectable” track record of turning businesses around, despite being new to the tourism sector.
It's no surprise that Thomas Cook has created a digital advisory board. Rival tour operators have been quicker to invest in the internet. But is this too late to save the travel firm?
Is there still a place for high street travel agencies? Maybe, for specialist holidays, such as safaris or an adventure package. But there's no denying that's it's a very different world from just 20 years ago.
Areas to discuss with your students:
Do you think Thomas Cook will survive?
How do you book your holidays: using a travel agency or independently, on the Internet?
How would you describe tourism in your country: buoyant or in difficulties?
Sites you may wish to visit:
Earlier this month, the social media website Pinterest began talks with potential investors. Over the last year, the site has attracted growing interest. I decided to find out why.
Pinterest is a free, photo-sharing website. It allows users to ‘pin’ images of objects of interest on virtual ‘pin-boards’, organized by theme. These could be your own photos, or stunning images from the web.
Pinterest started two years ago, and now has around 48 million users. This number is ten times higher than last year! One reason for this impressive growth is the app, allowing users to share their inspirational photos anywhere, anytime, through Smartphones and tablets.
It is reported that the company could be valued at a staggering £1.6 billion. What’s surprising is that at first glance, like many social networking ventures, it is not immediately clear how income is generated. What’s not surprising is that the company is currently investigating an advertising model as a way of ‘monetising’ in the future. This certainly works for Google!
Why would Pinterest be of interest to potential investors? The site boosts traffic to other websites. ‘Home decor’ is one of the most popular themes. People share their favourite designs, and this generates interest from ‘followers’. In the ‘Food and drink’ theme, one recipe site says it gets many more referrals from Pinterest than from social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
Many believe businesses need to be active on social media websites, and that their online presence should not be just driven by advertising. Rather, they should be connecting with customers: re-tweeting a customer’s tweet which mentions your product or service; asking customers what they think about a future decision. The Starbuck's community, for example, votes on ideas which may well be then implemented.
It seems Pinterest has joined the list of social media websites which companies need to keep their eye on.
Questions you can ask your students:
Has anyone joined Pinterest? If so, what do they think about this site?
Which social media websites do students use? (Facbook, Twitter, Linked In etc). What are the benefits?
Do you agree that “businesses need to be active on social media websites”? What does your own company do on such sites?
Do you have any further examples of how social networking has benefitted businesses?
Website to investigate: