Posts in category Business


ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Political dating sites are hot

Looking for a bit of Trumpy pumpy

AFTER Donald Trump was elected president, Maple Match, an online dating app which connects Canadians and Americans, was inundated with people signing up. The app promised to make it easy for Americans to find a Canadian partner to save them from the “unfathomable horror” of a Trump presidency. Joe Goldman, the app’s Texas-based founder, says it has taken on the perceived ethos of Canada: welcoming, open and tolerant. “We’re building bridges when people are talking about building walls and our users like that.”

TrumpSingles.com is forging connections, too. Its founder, David Goss, wants to make it easier for Trump supporters to find each other. The site’s earliest users were in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia, which are Democratic strongholds. Now its users are in every state. They are also signing up from abroad, including in Britain and in Russia. Mr Goss and his team personally approve each of the site’s 26,000 users to weed out trolls. The site was able to increase its monthly fee from $4.95 to $19.95 in December following Mr Trump’s election victory. It enjoyed a…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

How to build a nuclear-power plant

THE Barakah nuclear-power plant under construction in Abu Dhabi will never attract the attention that the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in neighbouring Dubai does, but it is an engineering feat nonetheless. It is using three times as much concrete as the world’s tallest building, and six times the amount of steel. Remarkably, its first reactor may start producing energy in the first half of this year—on schedule and (its South Korean developers insist) on budget. That would be a towering achievement.

In much of the world, building a nuclear-power plant looks like a terrible business prospect. Two recent additions to the world’s nuclear fleet, in Argentina and America, took 33 and 44 years to erect. Of 55 plants under construction, the Global Nuclear Power database reckons almost two-thirds are behind schedule (see chart). The delays lift costs, and make nuclear less competitive with other sources of electricity, such as gas, coal and renewables.

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Why American bosses have become giddy, last-minute fans of Donald Trump

IN AN effort to understand their new reality, many American bosses have been studying “The Art of the Deal”. Donald Trump’s autobiography, published in 1987, begins by describing his working week, which mainly consists of frequent calls with his stockbroker, sitting in his office as other businesspeople pay him lavish tribute, and drinking tomato juice for lunch.

If Mr Trump’s routine is anything like the same today, he must be delighted. The broker has good news: the S&P 500 index has returned 6% since his election and on January 25th the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 20,000 for the first time. There have been chief executives-a-plenty lavishing praise on him both in public and in private. Their devotion seems extraordinary. Before the vote, many of the same C-suiters lambasted him as a menace to capitalism and much else.

One theory is that executives are simply terrified of Mr Trump. But many are supportive of him in private, too. They offer two explanations: that they can’t help but respond to his personal charm offensive to big business, and that they are persuaded that there is some substance there. Consider the…Continue reading

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BusinessBusiness and financeIncoming

McDonald’s is going for healthier fare and greater digitisation

IN A newly released film, “The Founder”, the character of Ray Kroc promises that the startup he had taken over from the McDonald brothers “can be the new American church”. Portrayed by Michael Keaton as a turbo-charged egomaniac whose scruples diminish as his success increases, Kroc understood the power of branding, the advantages of franchising and the attraction of speed in food retailing. McDonald’s is now one of the country’s biggest food chains, with more than 14,200 outlets.

The domestic market is still its most important one, despite the firm’s massive global presence. When it reported this week that global sales had dropped by only 5% in the fourth quarter, the number beat expectations. News of a drop in sales in America of just 1.3% was received more gloomily. Hopes had risen because of the previous six consecutive quarters of domestic growth. At the end of 2015 and in early 2016 the chain had reaped the rewards of introducing the popular all-day breakfast in America. A year or so later, Egg McMuffins and sausage biscuits have shed some of their allure.

Still, Steve Easterbrook, the firm’s British boss, who took over…Continue reading

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Lee Jae-yong dodges arrest on charges of bribery

THE deal which did most to secure Lee Jae-yong’s control over South Korea’s biggest conglomerate threatened this week to ruin him. On January 16th special prosecutors accused Mr Lee, the only son of Samsung’s chairman, Lee Kun-hee, of bribery, embezzlement and perjury. But three days later a court rejected a request to arrest him, as a suspect in an investigation into a vast influence-peddling case that led last month to the South Korean president’s impeachment. It saw “no reasonable grounds” to detain him while prosecutors pursue their probe.

For now, the result is a victory for Samsung. Prosecutors had accused Mr Lee of paying 43bn won ($36m) into sports and cultural organisations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a former confidante of Park Geun-hye, the president: the biggest-ever sum in a South Korean bribery charge. In return for that grant, they allege, Samsung secured government support for a controversial $8bn merger of two affiliates—Cheil Industries, the group’s de facto holding company, and Samsung C&T, its construction arm—in July 2015. That support, they say, came from a vote cast by the state-run National Pension Service…Continue reading

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A big fine for Rolls-Royce is not its only worry

FOR those who still associate Rolls-Royce with its past as a posh carmaker, its home on a scruffy industrial estate comes as a shock. Yet it is there the engine-maker assembles the Trent XWB, the second-biggest commercial jet engine in the world. Some components are made to a tolerance of 50 microns—the width of a human hair. The job of running the firm is a bit messier.

On January 16th, in a deal with American, British and Brazilian regulators, Rolls agreed to cough up £671m ($809m) to settle allegations that it had in the past secured sales with bribery. The fine is the largest-ever imposed by Britain on a firm for criminal conduct. But given the wrongdoing the deferred prosecution agreement outlines, the firm got off lightly (the co-operation of the company’s more recent management helped). It admitted a dozen counts of corruption and bribery in seven countries, spanning decades. This included giving officials money, hotel stays and even a luxury Rolls-Royce car to secure engine sales. Rolls has since cut its use of the freewheeling third-party consultants who got the company in trouble, and promises better oversight of all staff. If it errs…Continue reading

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A merger is the latest sign of Big Tobacco’s resilience

BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO (BAT) announced on January 17th a final deal to buy Reynolds American for $49bn. BAT already owns 42% of Reynolds; buying the rest of it will create the world’s largest listed tobacco company by sales and profits. It will peddle brands such as Dunhill, Camel and Newport. The casual observer might imagine the deal to be a frantic bid to revive an ailing industry. On the contrary. Cigarettes may kill you, but the big companies that make them are rather healthy.

That is despite a decline in smoking rates. In 2015 just over a fifth of adults smoked, estimates the World Health Organisation, down from almost a quarter ten years earlier. This drop hardly helps companies, but it isn’t ruinous either.

Smoking is still popular in certain spots. More than three-quarters of men light up in Indonesia, for example. The habit is becoming more common among men in Africa and the eastern…Continue reading

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Businesses can and will adapt to the age of populism

AS THEY slid down the streets of Davos this week, many executives will have felt a question gnawing in their guts. Who matters most: shareholders or the people? Around the world a revolt seems under way. A growing cohort—perhaps a majority—of citizens want corporations to be cuddlier, invest more at home, pay higher taxes and wages and employ more people, and are voting for politicians who say they will make all that happen. Yet according to law and convention in most rich countries, firms are run in the interest of shareholders, who usually want companies to use every legal means to maximise their profits.

Naive executives fear that they cannot reconcile these two impulses. Should they fire staff, trim costs and expand abroad—and face the wrath of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, the disgust of their children and the risk that they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes? Or do they bend to popular opinion and allow profits to fall, inviting the danger that, in the run up to their 2018 annual general meeting, a fund manager from, say, Fidelity or Capital will topple them for underperformance?

Wiser executives…Continue reading

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Two big European makers of eyewear agree to merge

GIANT, cross-border mergers in Europe have been rare in recent years. Deals fail to happen even when mid-sized companies—such as family-owned and run specialist manufacturers in northern Italy or the Mittelstand in Germany—have the chance to gain global heft. For that blame founding owner-managers, many of whom are reluctant to lose control of treasured companies. Blame too an artisanal culture, particularly in southern Europe, in which firms’ owners say they are content to remain small and relatively obscure. Occasionally, too, nationalist politicians block efforts by perfidious foreigners to snaffle prized local brands.

Now, though, one of the largest-ever mergers in Europe actually looks set to go ahead. Luxottica, an Italian maker of fancy specs that was founded in 1961—it owns brands such as Ray Ban and Oakley—is to merge with Essilor, a spiffy French producer of lenses. The joint entity is set to combine Italian style with deft French engineering. The deal is supposed to be completed by the end of the year, creating a new entity with a market value of €46bn ($49bn), 140,000 staff and annual revenues of €15bn. It will be…Continue reading

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BusinessBusiness and finance

American regulators accuse Fiat Chrysler of emissions cheating

FOR each of the past three years, Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) 3 litre V6 turbodiesel has made it to a list of the industry’s top ten engines compiled by Ward’s, a distinguished American car-industry trade publication. Its place on the shortlist for 2017 must now be in doubt. On January 12th America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using illegal software in conjunction with the engines. This, it says, allowed 104,000 vehicles—mostly Dodge pickups and some Jeeps, fitted with the 3 litre V6 turbodiesel—to exceed legal limits of toxic emissions.

The news sent the firm’s shares plummeting by 17%, before recovering somewhat. Nervous investors feared a repeat of the huge penalty imposed on Germany’s Volkswagen (VW) for cheating American emissions laws. A day earlier VW had agreed to pay a criminal fine of $4.3bn for selling around 500,000 cars fitted with so-called “defeat devices” that are designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) under test conditions. With the latest sum included, its final bill…Continue reading

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A controversial transaction sits at the heart of Liberty Media’s takeover of Formula One

ON JANUARY 17th shareholders of Liberty Media Corporation, an American firm controlled by John Malone, a billionaire, are expected to approve a transaction that many hail as the sports deal of the decade. In September 2016 Liberty agreed to buy the Formula One (F1) motor-racing franchise from CVC, a private-equity group, for $8bn. F1, which generates annual revenue of $1.8bn, is now central to Liberty’s global plans: in a sign of the importance he attaches to the deal, Mr Malone has installed Chase Carey, a former president of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, as F1 chairman. The main Liberty subsidiary is to be renamed Formula One Group.

The deal has lots of attractions. For F1 it offers a potential solution to the problem of who will take over from Bernie Ecclestone, its 86-year-old impresario. There was no credible succession plan for the man whose wheeling and dealing has long held together the sport and its fractious collection of racing teams. With Mr Carey leading the search, there could be.

As for Liberty, F1 offers the sort of live, exclusive content it needs to lock in audiences that are peeling off to on-demand streaming…Continue reading

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Africa’s largest iron-ore deposit has tainted all who have touched it

Now everyone sees red

ON THE flanks of the Simandou mountains in south-eastern Guinea live remote colonies of West African chimpanzees. They alone should be grinning over the fate of those who have sought to turn their tropical habitat into Africa’s biggest iron-ore mine. No one else is laughing. Rarely has such a group of billionaires, hedge-fund barons, mining firms, government officials and go-betweens been snagged in such a woeful saga.

In theory, the prospect of digging up 2bn tonnes of ore from a country that is among the poorest on Earth should be encouraging, if corruption is kept in check. The government of Alpha Condé promised to do so upon taking office in 2010. But in reality the line between paying go-betweens to help win concessions and lining officials’ pockets is so blurry that it can cause mining firms endless trouble.

In recent months the plotline has shifted. During the past half-decade the businessman painted as the saga’s pantomime villain has been Beny Steinmetz, a globe-trotting Israeli diamond merchant, worth billions, whose lurid battles over Simandou with Rio Tinto, one of the…Continue reading

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A handful of startups are launching ride-hailing for children

“HELICOPTER parent” may sound like an insult, but given the chance, most parents would probably opt for the help of a chopper to zoom little ones between school, football practice and piano lessons. Getting children where they need to go is a huge hassle and expense, especially in homes where both parents work. Hailing rides through firms like Uber and Lyft has made life more convenient for adults. But drivers are not supposed to pick up unaccompanied minors (although some are known to bend the rules).

Youngsters represent a fresh-faced opportunity. Ride-hailing for kids could be a market worth at least $50bn in America, hopes Ritu Narayan, the founder of Zum, one of the startups pursuing the prize. These services are similar to Uber’s, except they allow parents to schedule rides for their children in advance. Children are given a code word to ensure they find the right driver, and parents receive alerts about the pick-up and ride, including the car’s speed. These services promise more rigorous background checks, fingerprinting and training than typical ride-hailing companies.

Annette Yolas, who works in sales at AT&T, a wireless…Continue reading

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A rush to patent the blockchain is a sign of the technology’s promise

FOR fans of bitcoin, a digital currency, the year got off to a volatile start. On January 5th one bitcoin changed hands for nearly $1,150—almost as much as the record set three years ago. It has since dropped by 33%. Elsewhere in the land of monetary bits, things move more slowly but trouble is brewing: a potential patent war looms over the blockchain, a distributed ledger that authenticates and records every bitcoin transaction.

Heated fights over intellectual property are nothing new in promising technology markets. But given that the blockchain is expected to shake up everything from the way precious diamonds are safeguarded to the way shares are traded, the legal fights could be especially fierce.

On the face of it, the blockchain does not lend itself easily to staking out intellectual-property claims. Bitcoin’s creator, known only by his pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, published a paper about his invention, coded the first implementation and then disappeared—meaning that the core of the technology is now part of the public domain and only important additions and variations could be patented. And the blockchain’s components are widely known. In America court decisions as well as a new law on the granting of patents make it difficult to claim ownership for such financial innovations.

This hasn’t stopped firms from trying to get patent…Continue reading

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BusinessBusiness and financeIncoming

Adidas’s high-tech factory brings production back to Germany

Impossible is nothing

BEHIND closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany, which has maintained its manufacturing base through innovative engineering. What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers and other sports shoes—an $80bn-a-year industry that has been offshored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. By bringing production home, this factory is out to reinvent an industry.

The Speedfactory, as the Ansbach plant is called, belongs to Adidas, a giant German sports-goods firm, and is being built with Oechsler Motion, a local firm that makes manufacturing equipment. Production is due to begin in mid-2017, slowly at first and then ramping up to 500,000 pairs of trainers a year. Adidas is constructing a second Speedfactory near Atlanta for the American market. If all goes well, they will spring up elsewhere, too.

The numbers are tiny for a company that makes some 300m pairs of sports shoes each year. Yet…Continue reading

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The three Rs behind global banks’ recovery

IN THE Bible, seven years of feast were followed by seven years of famine. For banks there have been ten lean years. Subprime-loan defaults started to rise in February 2007, causing a near-collapse of the industry in America and Europe. Next came bail-outs from governments, then years of grovelling before regulators, mass firings of staff and quarter after quarter of poor results that left banks’ shareholders disappointed. Now, a decade later, the moneylenders are quietly wondering if 2017 is the year in which their industry turns a corner.

Over the past six months the FTSE index of global bank shares has leapt by 24%. American banks have led the way, with the value of Bank of America rising by 67%, and that of JPMorgan Chase by 39%. In Europe BNP Paribas’ market value has risen by 52%. In Japan shares in the lumbering Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group—the rich world’s biggest bank by assets—have behaved like those of a frisky internet startup; they are up by 57%. Predictions about global banks’ future returns on equity have stopped falling, note analysts at UBS, a Swiss bank. Some of the biggest casualties of the financial crisis are even…Continue reading

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Ford Motors courts Donald Trump by scrapping a planned plant in Mexico

IT WAS in the spring of 2016 that Donald Trump singled out Ford Motors, calling its plans to build a plant in Mexico an “absolute disgrace” and promising it would not happen on his watch. Back then, it seemed remarkable that the candidate thought he could boss around a firm of Ford’s stature. On January 3rd Ford cancelled its $1.6bn project in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí and said it would instead invest $700m into an existing plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, to build electric and autonomous cars.

Ford’s manoeuvre seems more wheel-spin than U-turn. Mr Trump’s strong-arming of corporate America is real enough, and the carmaker will have gained much favour with the president-elect. But its decision can be explained largely in operational terms. The original plan was for the new Mexican plant to build chiefly Focus cars—small passenger vehicles for which demand has fallen, thanks to America’s love affair with SUVs, crossovers and pick-up trucks and to low petrol prices. The decision to scrap the new plant looks far more like Ford reducing its exposure to the small-car game in North America than reducing its footprint in Mexico, says George…Continue reading

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Toshiba admits to a ruinous overpayment for an American nuclear firm

Ritual contrition

THE probe in 2015 into one of Japan’s largest-ever accounting scandals, at Toshiba, an electronics and nuclear-power conglomerate that has been the epitome of the country’s engineering prowess, concluded that number-fiddling at the firm was “systemic”. It was found to have padded profits by ¥152bn ($1.3bn) between 2008 and 2014. Its boss, and half of the board’s 16 members, resigned; regulators imposed upon it a record fine of $60m.

Now its deal-making nous is in doubt too. In December 2015—the very same month that it forecast hundreds of billions of yen in losses for the financial year then under way, as it struggled to recover from the scandal—Toshiba’s American arm, Westinghouse Electric, bought a nuclear-construction firm, CB&I Stone & Webster. One year on, on December 27th, Toshiba announced that cost overruns at that new unit could lead to several billions of dollars in charges against profits.

Its shares fell by 42% in a three-day stretch as investors dumped them, fearing a write-down that could wipe out its shareholders’ equity, which in late September stood at…Continue reading

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Nestlé looks for ways to boost stale growth as consumers snub unhealthy food

LARGE food companies have long been among the world’s most solid, with reassuringly consistent returns even in hard times. None would seem steadier than Nestlé, based in the Swiss town of Vevey, on a lake near snowy peaks. For its 150th anniversary in 2016 it opened a new museum filled with corporate heirlooms: the first written notes about a new product called milk chocolate, laid out in black cursive; an old tin of Nescafé, used by soldiers as a stimulant in the second world war; and an early can of Henri Nestlé’s infant formula, which in 1867 saved the life of a premature baby.

It has come a long way since then. It sold goods worth nearly $90bn in 189 countries in 2015. Of the 30,000 cups of coffee sipped around the world each second, Nestlé estimates, one-fifth are cups of Nescafé. But the industry it presides over is in upheaval. On January 1st a new chief executive, Ulf Mark Schneider (pictured), took over. He is the first outsider to get the top job since 1922, and his background—running a health-care firm, not selling chocolate bars or frozen pizza—suggests the main source of worry for the business.

More and more…Continue reading

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A new industry has sprung up selling “indoor-location” services to retailers

“LOOK up there,” says Edward Armishaw of Walkbase, a Finnish retail-analytics firm, as he points to a small white box above a column clad in mirrors. The sensor—and over a hundred others like it hidden around this department store in London’s Oxford Street—tracks the footsteps of customers through the pings their smartphones emit in search of a Wi-Fi network. Quite unaware, a shopper in a silver puffa jacket ambles past and over to the fitting room. Whether she moves to the till will be logged by Walkbase and its client.

Think of it as footfall 2.0. For many years shops used rudimentary “break-beam” systems—lasers stretched across their entrances—to count people in and out. Only recently have they begun to follow customers inside their buildings, says Nick Pompa of ShopperTrak, an American firm whose work with 2,100 clients worldwide, including malls in Las Vegas and in Liverpool, makes it a giant in the area.

Tracking technologies are ingenious. Some flash out a code to smartphone cameras by means of LED lighting; others, such as IndoorAtlas, a startup with headquarters in California and Finland, monitor how devices disrupt a store’s geomagnetic field. With smartphone ownership rising, the market for tracking phones indoors could grow fivefold between now and 2021, to a total of $23bn, says Research and Markets, a market-research…Continue reading

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Our Schumpeter columnist pens a dark farewell

IT WAS in 1942 that Joseph Schumpeter published his only bestseller, “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”. The book was popular for good reason. It was a tour de force of economics, history and sociology. It coined memorable phrases such as “creative destruction”. But it was a notably dark book. At a time when people were looking for hope during the life-and-death struggle with Nazism, Schumpeter offered only gloom. “Can capitalism survive?” he asked. “No, I do not think it can.”

This column was inspired by the young Schumpeter’s vision of the businessperson as hero—the Übermensch who dreams up a new world and brings it into being through force of intellect and will. On its debut in September 2009, we argued that Schumpeter was a perfect icon for a business column because, unlike other economists, he focused on business leaders rather than abstract forces and factors. But as Schumpeter grew older, his vision darkened. He became increasingly preoccupied not with heroism but with bureaucratisation, and not with change but with decay. The same is true of the outgoing author of this column.

It would be…Continue reading

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The Christmas spending bump flattens

The holiday season’s hold on Americans is getting weaker. In 1994, according to the Census Bureau, retailers earned $82bn (in 2015 dollars) more in sales during November and December than they would have without the seasonal effect of the holidays. That worked out at $310 per person. In 2015 seasonal sales during these months were just $76bn, or $240 per person. The decline in seasonal shopping is steepest in December. For that, blame three things. The growth of e-commerce has made it easier for people to shop for seasonal gifts whenever they want. Gift cards under the Christmas tree push purchases into January. And millennial shoppers are having an impact on sales: they tend to prefer experiences to yet more stuff.

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In Japan, a new kind of business school is retraining jaded salarymen

THE Institute of Social Human Capital in Tokyo is an unusual sort of business-training school. Those who attend it (two-thirds are men) have mostly quit or taken redundancy packages from big Japanese firms, and are trying to start again. Shedding the habits of a lifetime begins by breaking down barriers: former salarymen laugh nervously as they share a bento-box lunch with strangers, blindfolded (the idea is that they must use their other four senses to communicate).

The way to prepare them for a second career is to get them interacting as individuals, not as corporate workers or business partners, says Matsuhiko Ozawa, a director of the Institute, which specialises in this sort of course. In a country that sets great store by formal introductions, the students have not even exchanged business cards. Names, titles and personal information are banned (the ex-salarymen use made-up names) to avoid reproducing the old office hierarchies that exist outside the classroom. “We start from scratch and help these people find themselves again,” says Mr Ozawa.

For years, the salarymen rode a career escalator that rewarded them less for skills than…Continue reading

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Indian business prepares to tap into Aadhaar, a state-owned fingerprint-identification system

THERE are two ways to sign up to Jio, a new and irresistibly priced mobile-telephony service which Mukesh Ambani, the boss of Reliance Industries, a conglomerate, launched in September 2016 and which is luring tens of millions of new customers each month. One way requires a wad of documents, multiple signatures and plenty of patience, since Jio takes days or weeks to go through “know-your-customer” procedures. The second way is magically simple: the person rests a finger on an inch-wide scanner, and if the print matches the identity the customer is claiming, Jio downloads the information it needs from the Indian authorities and activates the phone line within minutes.

Jio is tapping a database called Aadhaar, after the Hindi word for “foundation”. It is a cloud-based ID system that holds the details of over a billion Indians. The government’s purpose in setting it up in 2009 was to help the state correctly direct welfare payments to those entitled to them. By early 2017 all Indian adults should have provided their fingerprints, iris scans, name, birth date, address and gender in return for a single, crucial, 12-digit number.

In the public…Continue reading

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France’s corporate raider, Vincent Bolloré, makes a bid for Italy’s biggest broadcaster

NO BOSS in French business can match Vincent Bolloré for swagger and aggression. Variously described by the press in France as a stubborn Breton, a ruthless profiteer and a smiling killer, the 64-year-old corporate raider has acquired interests in media, transport, advertising, telecoms and more, scattered across Europe and Africa. Opinion at home is divided between those who say his methods are too brutal and others who welcome his effect on an often dozy business world.

This week it was the turn of Italian newspapers to rant against the French “pirate” and “mercenary”. On December 13th the news came that France’s Vivendi, a media firm in which Mr Bolloré’s company, Bolloré Group, owns 20% (he effectively controls it) was racing to buy up shares in Mediaset, Italy’s biggest TV-broadcaster. Things moved swiftly. By the next day Vivendi had a 20% stake in Mediaset, up from 3% two days earlier. The Italian firm claims a hostile takeover attempt—the smiling killer’s speciality—is under way.

Mr Bolloré has long aimed at winning a share of Mediaset. Earlier this year, Vivendi had agreed a plan with Mediaset in which…Continue reading

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Alphabet’s Google is searching for its next hit

Deflated hopes

“JUDGE a man by his questions, rather than his answers,” Voltaire advised. Google has become one of the most successful firms in history by heeding that advice. It evaluates the intention of web-surfers’ queries and returns relevant advertising alongside search results. But for years there has been a lingering question about Google: can it create a new, highly profitable unit to rival its search business?

Not yet. In the past five years, Alphabet, formed as a holding company for Google and other disparate projects in October 2015, has spent $46bn on research and development (see chart). Much has gone to so-called “moonshot” projects, such as self-driving cars, smart contact lenses and internet delivered via balloons. Its British artificial-intelligence unit, DeepMind, also falls into the category of other projects. Since the start of 2015, these bets have together recorded a loss of $6bn.

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In Germany mature workers are answering to young supervisors

Who’s the daddy?

“IF THEY resented me they didn’t talk to me about it,” says a young German manager at a media firm in Frankfurt. Still, he says it was noticeable that when a subordinate 20 years older than him thanked him for buying lunch he had to swallow twice before adding the word “boss”.

Older workers sometimes begrudge being managed by a callow colleague. Precocious youngsters, too, can feel awkward about bossing their elders around. But in Germany a shortage of skilled workers means that such situations are becoming ever more common.

The country’s population is projected to shrink. Among rich-world countries, only in six nations including Japan and Greece are populations expected to decrease faster. As more Germans retire, fewer youngsters are entering the workforce to replace them. As a share of the working population the number of 15-to-24-year-olds has fallen by ten percentage points since the 1980s, says the German Federal Employment Agency. Firms competing to retain young talent are tempted to promote them earlier as a result. A paper by professors at the University of Cambridge and WHU, a…Continue reading

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