JANESVILLE, WI - DECEMBER 23: A worker gives the thumbs up as he walks to his vehicle as he and the remaining workers of the Janesville General Motors assembly plant leave after their final production line duties December 23, 2008 in Janesville, Wisconsin. After more then 85 years of vehicle production, the Janesville plant closed after sending off its last Chevrolet and GMC SUVs, leaving more than 1200 employees with out jobs. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
A Janesville worker leaves the closing General Motors assembly plant after final production line duties in December 2008 © Getty

Welcome to the FT Business school newsletter, a weekly serving of management wisdom, reading recommendations and business-related challenges. FT subscribers can sign up here to receive the newsletter by email every Monday. If you have feedback about FT Business school, please email bschool@ft.com.

Andrew Hill's challenge

The FT's management editor sets a weekly test of your business, strategy and management skills.

Job retraining is one of the few policies that all politicians can agree to fund, but its efficacy is mixed. For example workers laid off after General Motors closed its factory in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 2008 flocked to "reskilling" programmes at the local technical college. But reporter Amy Goldstein (whose book Janesville last week won the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award) found that those who went back to school were less likely to get a job after retraining than those who did not. If they did find a job, they earned less than those who had not retrained.

What's lacking is a better alternative, so this week's challenge is to suggest a way of mitigating the effects of corporate restructuring. It could be a top-down policy, or a bottom-up support network, or something different. Send your ideas to bschool@ft.com — and, as usual, please keep them concise.

Fahad Islam (not his real name) offered a drastic, tongue-in-cheek solution to the problem of refreshing stale boards, which was last week's challenge. He calls it Russian egg roulette: "Put five hard-boiled eggs and one raw egg in a box. At the end of each year, the board have to pick an egg and smash it on their head, and whoever gets the raw egg leaves." Boards seeking faster turnover, he adds, could include more raw — or even rotten — eggs.

Further reading: travelling in the US last week, I caught up with Patrick Radden Keefe's New Yorker article about the Sackler family, whose wealth — and high-profile philanthropy — is founded in part on the success of OxyContin, the painkiller blamed for fuelling the US opioid addiction epidemic. It's a fascinating and overdue examination of what the author calls "the moral arithmetic" of their business and philanthropic interests.

Professor's picks

Every week a business school professor or academic recommends useful FT articles.

Andrew Stephen, associate dean of research and L’Oréal professor of marketing at the University of Oxford's Saïd Business School, selects:

Returns become new front in Walmart-Amazon battle Walmart’s new returns policy is a great example of its ongoing transformation into an omnichannel retailer. It is a smart combination of bricks and mortar and online retail, which never should be seen as competing channels but often end up that way. Walmart is taking advantage of its massive physical retail presence (an estimated 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a store) to enhance the online customer experience and, critically, reduce purchase anxiety by making returns quick, easy and convenient. Walmart’s stores are an advantage in their battle against Amazon for retail dominance, if stores are used smartly.

Swiss watchmakers upbeat on surge in high-end sales The article on Deloitte’s annual report on the watch industry is a useful reminder for marketers of the myriad of factors that can affect product sales. Of particular importance highlighted here is how macro factors, such as exchange rate fluctuations and events such as terror attacks, can affect demand in different markets. It also provides a great example of industry disruption, in this case the rise of smartwatches. Well-known brands such as TAG Heuer and Montblanc are trying to counter this, through the blending of smart technology into some of their traditional luxury watches.

Jonathan Moules' business school news

The most important objective for most MBA students, apart from passing their exams, is to find a rewarding job once they have graduated.

This week my colleague Lauren Leatherby assesses the activities of Microsoft, which along with Amazon has become one of the biggest MBA hirers on many campuses.

The broadening in the range of companies hiring MBA graduates is good news for those currently completing their studies. The biggest challenge now is working out whether you are the right fit for the industry you would like to move into.

Ask the academics

Got a question for leading business school experts? Send it to bschool@ft.com and we will publish the best replies in future newsletters.

Test your knowledge

How good is your grasp of the news? Test your reading of last week's top stories with the FirstFT quiz.

Edited by Wai Kwen Chan — bschool@ft.com

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