Business school: Tata leadership saga and lifelong learning

If you are an outgoing company leader, what message would you send to your successor?
Natarajan Chandrasekaran, newly appointed chairman of Tata Group, arrives at his head office in Mumbai © EPA

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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 any feedback about FT Business school, please email bschool@ft.com.

Andrew Hill's challenge

For my column this week, I've revisited my notes from a visit to Mumbai last year, to work out what the crisis at the top of Tata means for Indian business. Shortly after I flew back to the UK, Cyrus Mistry was dismissed as chairman of Tata Sons, the "promoter" company that oversees a network of businesses, from Tata Consultancy Services to Jaguar Land Rover. The dismissal occurred after clashing with his predecessor Ratan Tata, who retains enormous influence and (at least according to the Mistry camp) had continued to interfere in the running of the group.

Founders and long-serving chief executives have a habit of clinging on. That can create friction, but sometimes their advice may be valuable to their successor. So this week's challenge is to imagine you are the outgoing head of a large company. Write a message to your successor that sums up how you intend to interact with him or her once the handover is complete. There are no right or wrong answers, but please keep your missive to one or two sentences to bschool@ft.com.

Talking of knowing when to step down, last week's challenge was to outline a lesson from the leadership experience of a politician. Burak M drew a number of parallels from the career of John Key, who resigned as prime minister of New Zealand in December, saying it was "the right time to go". Burak wrote: "It's always refreshing to see leaders at their pinnacle calling it a day when their heart is no longer in it and they wish to clear the way for the new generation of leaders. Unfortunately, this is rare ... with many heads of government and global corporations feeling the need to hang on until they are forced out."

In further reading this week, take a look at new research from Stanford that shows, according to one of the authors, that "Schumpeter was right after all" about "creative destruction" — the Austrian-born economist's idea that innovative companies overtake and ultimately drive out their less innovative competitors, constantly renewing economic growth. The study suggests that innovation, despite its destructive impact on less inventive businesses, does indeed increase the overall size of the economy.

Professor's picks

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

Aneel Keswani, reader in finance at UK's Cass Business School, suggests three recent articles he discussed with his MSc asset management students on trends across different fund management sectors:

US university endowment woes put spotlight on hedge fundsGiven their top historical performance, fund managers in other fund management sectors have tried to learn from the investment approach of the large US university endowments. According to this article, one strategy that has worked in the past is for endowments to heavily invest in alternatives. However recently this strategy has come unstuck as the performance of alternatives in particular hedge funds has led to most endowments making losses over the last year.

Hedge fund fees take a trim This article highlights that the now mature hedge fund sector is witnessing falls in fees and currently two thirds of hedge funds are offering discounts to the traditional '2 and 20' fee. This has been prompted by poor fund performance, competition from passive funds offering hedge-fund-like returns and by pushback on fees from institutional investors who are the new main clients of hedge funds. 
 
Exchange traded funds taking over the marketsWhile the growth of exchange traded funds has enabled investors to get cheaper beta or market exposure, this piece makes the point that it may have increased systemic risk, reduced scope for diversification due to tighter security correlations and reduced market efficiency.

Jonathan Moules' business school news

People across the industrialised world are living longer, with South Koreans set to become the first people with an average life expectancy higher than 90, according to research by London’s Imperial College and the World Health Organisation. One of the consequences is going to be that people are more likely to have multiple careers before reaching retirement, implying a greater need for lifelong learning.

Miranda Green looks at this issue from the perspective of business school graduates, asking whether longer working lives mean endless career coaching for alumni.

Connected to this debate, Lucy Kellaway uses her column to ask why the death of a friend or family member can prompt people to make a dramatic career change. Lucy speaks from personal experience about this issue after losing her father last year.

Extra reading

Pharmaceutical companies have been pushing to improve their productivity. Read a report by McKinsey about the six opportunities to maximise efficiency and cost for the pharma sector, ranging from digital transformation to extreme makeover.

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.

Compiled by Wai Kwen Chan

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