Happy anniversary — to us.
We made it. We started Long Story Short as a catch-up on the week’s biggest stories and best reads: each Friday, one of our many women journalists shares her favourite pieces from across the FT, plus a few from elsewhere. A year later we’re delighted that it’s one of our fastest-growing newsletters.
Looking forward, we’ll be featuring the occasional guest curator, giving readers a taste of the FT stories favoured by prominent women. So let us know who and what you’d like to see in the newsletter. We’d love to hear from you.
And now for my pick of the week. I’m writing from London, where the word of the week in politics is “split”, as in MPs breaking away from the opposition Labour party amid accusations of institutional anti-Semitism and confusion over the Brexit process, and joined by a gang from the governing Conservatives. It’s a bold but risky venture to occupy the centre ground. I wish them luck. Beyond British politics, there was plenty to choose from, too.
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‘Out of the blue, the factory is gone’
Honda dropped a bombshell when it announced that it was shutting down its flagship UK plant. Politicians on both sides of the Brexit divide rushed to declare themselves vindicated: Leavers concluded it had more to do with upheaval in the car industry; Remainers insisted the B-word could not be ignored. My favourite read on the week’s hottest FT story is Robin Harding’s lucid analysis. Our Tokyo bureau chief argues that, as a matter of pride, Japanese companies put up with manufacturing plants even when they are clearly headed for failure — until a tipping point is reached and suddenly the factory disappears. Here is Robin’s ominous prediction:
“Japanese companies are conservative but they move in packs. Once one takes a decision, it becomes easy for others to follow. Honda is gone. The UK should be on high alert.”
‘I’d rather sit in the boardroom than at the beach’
We’ve run superb interviews this week but one that stood out for me was Leila Abboud and Arash Massoudi’s rare sit-down with Peter Harf. He’s the 72-year-old chairman of JAB and the man who’s spent half his life increasing the wealth of Germany’s secretive billionaire Reimann family. You may not be familiar with JAB but you do know it: it’s the hyperactive dealmaking company with Pret A Manger and Keurig Dr Pepper in its portfolio. And it’s become a rival to consumer groups such as L’Oreal and Nestlé. Harf discussed his leadership style. The key? Recruiting talented executives but also knowing when to abandon those no longer serving the company’s overall mission. In his own words:
“My mantra has always been that I need to hire people who are better than me. Lions hire lions and sheep hire other sheep.”
‘He had a showman’s sense of humour’
The fashion industry lost a giant this week with the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s creative director. An artist of brilliant taste, superb talent and boundless energy, Lagerfeld was one of the world’s greatest designers. Jo Ellison, the FT’s fashion editor, wrote the obit, charting his career, his immense cultural contribution and his fascinating character. Don’t miss the detail about his cat, Choupette, “on whom he doted to an almost Marie Antoinette-ish degree”. And here’s what Jo says about his marketing genius:
“His vast, ambitious sets, such as a space launch (with rocket) . . . ensured his show was the only ticket in town.”
‘The more mystical the title, the better’
There are sometimes good reasons for unusual, even extravagant job titles. The trend, however, is towards the vague, mystical and meaningless. Anyone know of a good corporate reason to have a “chief future officer” or the purpose of a “chief thinking officer”? Probably not. And that’s why you’ll enjoy Izabella Kaminska’s searing column as much as I did. The editor of the FT’s Alphaville markets column argues that wishy-washy titles encourage wishy-washy thinking, and distract leaders and investors from reality. Here’s what else she has to say:
“Companies need to justify their otherworldly ambitions. Appointing sycophantic mystics who can tell fanciful stories about the good that can be done, if and when absolute power is achieved, is one way to do it.”
‘I don’t really like being the centre of attention’
Lunch with the FT is my weekend treat. Even more so this week because Leslie Hook had lunch with the 16-year-old Swedish climate change campaigner who’s taken the world by storm. Greta Thunberg is in her seventh month of school strike, and she’s inspired tens of thousands of young people to follow her example. Her activism has catapulted her to celebrity status so fast that she was invited to speak at the UN climate talks last year and Davos last month. She tells the FT’s environment correspondent how the state of the planet caused her depression when she was only 11:
“I thought there is no point in living if everything is so wrong and no one is honest . . . I stopped eating, and I stopped talking, and I stopped going to school.”
Other FT stories that have caught my eye this week
- The German miracle: a nation that has been a big beneficiary of globalisation is losing out now that protectionism is in fashion. Guy Chazan’s analysis is well worth a read.
- Something to worry about: a populist narrative focused on distrust of vaccination is taking a toll. Harriet Agnew reports on the background to a sixfold increase in measles outbreaks last year in France.
- Fading colours: I came across some gilets jaunes protesters on a skiing trip in France and wrote about their faltering rebellion.
- Last of the Russian bulls: what’s behind the arrest of Michael Calvey, founder of Moscow-based private equity fund manager Baring Vostok and one of the country’s last remaining American investors? Max Seddon investigates.
- “Do whatever the boss says”: Sarah Cooper on the 10 best strategies to avoid making decisions — which is what you should do if you want to climb the corporate ladder. Otherwise, you might end up with responsibility, accountability and indigestion.
Best of the rest
What I’ve been reading elsewhere
- Private Mossad for hire. A fascinating exposé of the private Israeli intelligence sector. (The New Yorker.)
- The Vatican’s secret rules for Catholic priests who have children. “There are kids everywhere,” according to the son of one priest. But in this revealing piece we learn it’s only now that the Vatican has confirmed it has general guidelines on what to do when the clergy father children. (The New York Times.)
- White-collar robots are coming for jobs. You’ve seen nothing yet. If you missed it, go back and read this article by economist Richard Baldwin on how a new, more brutal wave of automation will ravage the job market. I’ve enjoyed reading his book, The Globotics Upheaval: Globalisation, Robotics and the Future of Work. (The Wall Street Journal.)
Before you go
My podcast pick What should happen to the Isis wives? I liked this Guardian podcast, even if it’s depressing. Martin Chulov reports on his travels to the al-Hawl refugee camp, where he meets a 24-year-old American-Yemeni woman who joined Isis in Syria. With the caliphate in ruins, she now regrets her decision and wants to return home. Essential listening for anyone following the debate that’s gripping the UK over Shamima Begum (above) — a 19-year-old who left London to join Isis four years ago and now wants to return from the same camp with her newborn son.
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