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Welcome to the weekend (nearly) — and to my pick of the week’s FT stories.
FT Work & Careers writer
‘Consumer goods companies’ record on radical innovation is dire’
Young consumers are ditching the established mass-market brands they grew up with, writes Scheherazade Daneshkhu, the FT’s consumer industries editor. They breakfast on Kind cereal bars and Chobani yoghurt, use razors from Dollar Shave Club then relax over pricey Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Fever-Tree tonic. Adapting to these niche new tastes is proving a problem for the likes of Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Kraft Heinz. In 2016, the revenues of the large consumer goods companies — including products from beer to soft drinks, food and household products — grew at their slowest rate since 2009, when the recession took hold. As John Zealley of Accenture says:
Much in the same way that ‘fast fashion’ reinvented the mass clothing market, so modern consumer product groups need to reinvent the mass consumer market.
So are the multinationals up to it?
Who’s driving Comcast’s Sky offer?
London cab drivers have a reputation for chatter. It’s not unusual for a passenger to hear that some lauded TV personality, footballer or politician sat in the back only yesterday. But the driver who picked up Brian Roberts in November has earned himself a brand new boast: he gave the chief executive of Comcast, the US cable operator, cut-price advice on a potential acquisition. After a chat about the virtues of Sky — and a demonstration of the European broadcaster’s set-top box at a local shopping centre — Roberts proposed a $22.1bn bid, challenging an offer from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. The CEO was “terribly impressed” with the cabby’s industry insights:
[He] was incredibly knowledgeable about the differences between Virgin and Sky.
‘The biggest gamble Xi has taken so far’
In a terse announcement that shocked even those who have learnt to live with Xi Jinping’s bold manoeuvres, China signalled plans to abolish the two-term limit on its presidency — meaning Xi could rule for life. Tom Mitchell, the FT’s Beijing bureau chief, looks at the split between those who fear the return of strongman rule and those who welcome it. One working-class Beijing resident tells Tom that the president is an improvement on his post-Mao predecessors:
The masses support Xi. He cares about them and is strong. Deng and Jiang Zemin only cared about the rich and Hu Jintao was weak.
‘Oh, they didn’t actually measure testosterone’
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a thought experiment kept being replayed. Would Lehman Brothers have collapsed if it was Lehman Sisters? The Economist aped the argument in 2009: if there were more women in banking, we might have been saved: “Women are less risk-taking, less obsessed with money and status and generally less full of themselves than men”. It is a familiar tale of testosterone-fuelled men taking risks while women are restrained by their innate caution. Psychologist Cordelia Fine argues the assumptions it’s based on are entirely wrong, and in any case:
The best in-house antidote for bankers selling junk products and regulators bending to conflicts of interest isn’t women; it’s a dismissal slip.
Tip: managers really, really hate problems
Every week big envelopes land on my desk from publishers containing books about leadership — how to get to the top, how to act at the top, how to stay at the top. But what if you don’t aspire to the top job? After decades of unintended evidence-gathering in her roles at various rungs of the career ladder, Isabel Berwick, executive editor of the FT’s Work and Careers, has distilled her experience into just two pieces of advice. After all:
A bit of self-reflection never goes amiss, wherever we may sit in the corporate hierarchy.
What are your top tips for good subordinates? Join the conversation below Isabel’s article.
- White smoke emerged from McKinsey after the consultancy’s secretive leadership election process finally came to an end. “It’s another white, middle-aged dude.” (A former partner’s words, not mine.)
- John Gapper asks what Kering, the luxury group led by François-Henri Pinault that owns Gucci, has done right.
- Do open letters penned by academics make any difference? Sam Leith takes a look at the cases put forward by “brains” for and against Brexit.
- Is a falling fertility rate a good indicator of an impending recession?
- Bank bonus caps could do wonders for gender equality, argues Brooke Masters.
Best of the rest
- A Week Inside WeLive, the Utopian Apartment Complex That Wants to Disrupt City Living — GQ
- Escaping Twitter’s self-consciousness machine — The New Yorker
- What’s really going on in those Boston Dynamics robot videos? — Wired
Before you go
After 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month, I read “Please don’t get murdered at school today”, a McSweeney’s short story from 2016. It’s awful and beautiful.
Do you have everything? Homework? Lunch? Field trip money?
I love you.
I remember that one of the Sandy Hook parents said that they took comfort in the fact that they had seen their child off to school that morning — you know that morning — and said, “I love you.” So before their first grader was gunned down in her classroom, she knew that she was loved. I bet they all did though.
But just in case, I love you.