7. May 2017
Source: The Economist: Schumpeter
A confidential memorandum of warning to its senior faculty
YOU will all be aware that a book has just been published about our institution, Harvard Business School (HBS). Entitled “The Golden Passport”, by Duff McDonald, it makes a number of unflattering claims about the school’s ethics and its purpose. While often unbalanced, it is likely to galvanise hostility to HBS both inside Harvard University, of which we are a part, and among the public. This memorandum, circulated only to the most senior faculty members, assesses HBS’s strategic position.
Our school has been among the country’s most influential institutions since its foundation in 1908. Our forebears helped build America’s economy in the early 20th century and helped win the second world war. HBS educates less than 1% of American MBA students but case studies written by our faculty are used at business schools around the world. Our alumni fill the corridors of elite firms such as McKinsey. Many bosses of big American companies studied here. Even in Silicon Valley, where we are relatively weak, about a tenth of “unicorns”—private startups worth over $1bn—have one of our tribe as a founder. Read the rest of this entry »
17. June 2016
Source: The Economist: Schumpeter
Chief finance officers are amassing a worrying amount of power
THE days of imperial CEOs have long gone. Today’s chief executives do their best to contain their egos and, instead, project a modest image. They talk about “servant leadership” and make a point of cultivating their “stakeholders”. Many bosses leave the limelight to company founders and big-name investors. And yet a new authority figure has emerged within companies, much less exuberant than old-fashioned autocratic CEOs but just as determined to amass power: the imperial CFO.
Chief financial officers barely existed 50 years ago: company accounts were administered by mysterious people called “comptrollers”. Today, CFOs are at the heart of all the world’s big firms. They are the only corporate officers other than the boss who are able to monitor every corner of an organisation. They are the only executive other than the chief who is feared by everybody: a “no” from the CFO means that your precious project is dead. Russell Reynolds, a search firm, calls them “co-pilots”. At one high-profile company, Twitter, the CFO, Anthony Noto, is arguably doing most of the piloting. Read the rest of this entry »
11. October 2015
Source: Fortune january 2015, Ram Charan
Get ready for the most sweeping business change since the Industrial Revolution.
The single greatest instrument of change in today’s business world, and the one that is creating major uncertainties for an ever-growing universe of companies, is the advancement of mathematical algorithms and their related sophisticated software. Never before has so much artificial mental power been available to so many—power to deconstruct and predict patterns and changes in everything from consumer behavior to the maintenance requirements and operating lifetimes of industrial machinery. In combination with other technological factors—including broadband mobility, sensors, and vastly increased data-crunching capacity—algorithms are dramatically changing both the structure of the global economy and the nature of business.
Though still in its infancy, the use of algorithms has already become an engine of creative destruction in the business world, fracturing time-tested business models and implementing dazzling new ones. The effects are most visible so far in retailing, creating new and highly interactive relationships between businesses and their customers, and making it possible for giant corporations to deal with customers as individuals. At Macy’s, for instance, algorithmic technology is helping fuse the online and the in-store experience, enabling a shopper to compare clothes online, try something on at the store, order it online, and return it in person. Algorithms help determine whether to pull inventory from a fulfillment center or a nearby store, while location-based technologies let companies target offers to specific consumers while they are shopping in stores. Read the rest of this entry »
23. August 2015
The harsh workplace that a New York Times story recently described plaguing Amazon represents an old-fashioned business model that will almost certainly disappear soon.
This week, a New York Times profile of Amazon’s treatment of employees has provoked a debate about the future of the workplace.
The article claims that Amazon’s professional employees are well paid and work on world-changing projects, but are pushed to the breaking point in a survival-of-the-fittest climate where they tend to burn out and leave quickly.
Readers, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, say they are appalled by the anecdotes of insensitivity in the Times report. But the controversy has raised the possibility that the underlying business model portrayed in the article is legitimate or perhaps inevitable. The Times article quotes an ex-Amazon employee who says CEO Jeff Bezos has envisioned a “new workplace: fluid but tough, with employees staying only a short time and employers demanding the maximum.” Read the rest of this entry »
18. April 2015
Source: The Economist
Subject: Management theory: Survival of the fittest
THE MODERN THEORY of the firm is the theory of the public company: obsessed with questions such as transaction costs but blind to questions of transmitting wealth to future generations. In numerical terms, this emphasis on the public company is clearly a mistake. Its triumph is limited to the Anglo-Saxon world. The economies of most of the rest of the world—developed as well as emerging—continue to be dominated by family-focused businesses that control a wide range of companies, not just individual firms.
It is also out of date. Talk of the triumph of the Anglo-American public company might have made sense in the post-war era when the British empire still had a glow and the American Century was in full swing (though family companies continued to flourish in both countries). It makes far less sense in an increasingly integrated Europe and in rapidly emerging markets. The world’s fastest-growing region, Asia, is dominated by powerful business houses run by families. Though some of these could no doubt benefit from more focus, a significant number are Schumpeterian entrepreneurs destined for success, thanks to a rare combination of risk-taking and long-termism. Read the rest of this entry »