Monthly Archives: September 2006

Welcoming Economonitor

Felix Salmon, who has written an absorbing personal weblog for years, has just launched Economonitor for Roubini Global Economics (already the home of the excellent Brad Setser). At the moment, Felix is maintaining a blistering pace of postings on international economic issues. A new essential source.

The blogs on RGE are free, but to click through for further details you need a (very high-priced) subscription.

Ford worry

A perplexing detail in the Financial Times’s analysis of the problems new CEO Alan Mulally faces at Ford (subscribers only): “The first design task for Mr Mulally may be to rework his quirky signature which incorporates a head-on view of an aircraft with a smiley face.”

I guess the headhunters in this case didn’t do any handwriting analysis.

The lost HP way

I shouldn’t be surprised at the behavior of any large corporation, I suppose, but it’s very sad to read about the reprehensible spying done at the behest of HP’s board.

HP was my introduction to Silicon Valley. In 1987 I was editor of Management Today, Britain’s leading business magazine (and known to some naysayers as Management Toady), and HP flew me over to interview then-CEO John Young and to learn about the HP Way. This was pre-Web, pre-dotcom, pre-Silicon Valley hype, at least internationally. And the trip was totally eye-opening for me. As an introduction to the vibrancy and excitement of the Bay Area technology world it was wonderful. In very small ways, that visit nearly 20 years ago paved the way for my move to California last year.

I subsequently was able to meet Bill (always first names: Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard) and many years later interviewed lauded/reviled (choose one) Carly Fiorina. So HP is a big part of my impressions of the tech industry.

What now? The company is doing well under newish CEO Mark Hurd. But the board is beyond hope. Surely chair Patricia Dunn must resign. That seems a minimum for righting a board culture that has clearly gone desperately wrong.

An aside. It’s a pity the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story and is at the center of it, can’t be linked because of its subscription paywall. Its reporters are way, way out ahead of the others in coverage. But yesterday’s front page splash (well, the Journal doesn’t really splash, but you know what I mean) was cheapened by this reference to Dunn: “She grew up in Las Vegas, where her father was entertainment director at various casinos and her mother had been a showgirl.” What does that have to do with anything? I wouldn’t have thought that such acute class consciousness was part of the Journal’s ethos.

Daftest acquisition idea ever?

The Financial Times’s Lex column is usually a redoubt of good sense and unsentimental steeliness in regard to corporate performance.

But something went badly awry on the Lex team today. Here’s the suggestion (subscribers only): since share buybacks haven’t revived Microsoft’s shares, why doesn’t the Redmond behemoth buy Yahoo? It would narrow Google’s lead in search, transform Microsoft’s trailing portal and bring in advertising expertise. Yes, there would be regulatory concerns and execution risk, but… yadda, yadda, yadda.

Leave aside the generally dismal record on big acquisitions in most industries. If there were ever a formula for finally sucking life and innovation out of a good chunk of the technology industry, this would be it. I know Yahoo has lagged Google in the last couple of years in new ideas, but the continued competition between the two has been wholly good for us humble users. The last thing the world needs is even greater big company sclerosis.

Worst dictators

Curiously, two people have published lists of the world’s worst dictators this week. The New Statesman, a left-wing British weekly, offers up its top ten while David Wallechinsky provides his top 20. There are some unsurprising congruences: Kim Jong-il, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Hu Jintao, King Abdullah, Saparmurat Niyazov and Teodoro Obiang Nguema make both top tens.

But it’s the names missing from the New Statesman that I find surprising. No Mugabe, no al-Bashir of Sudan, no Than Shwe of Burma. Castro rolls in at number 15 in Wallechinsky’s list, but only gets a glancing mention in a sidebar on corruption in the New Statesman. These kinds of lists are clearly subjective and are really a frothy journalistic approach to a serious issue, but I suspect there are still people around the Statesman who feel a bit soft about Mugabe, given his role in toppling the odious Ian Smith regime. And for a lot of the political spectrum in Britain (not just the far left), Castro is admired for his anti-Americanism however screwed up and repressive his government may be.

And the Statesman’s seeming reluctance to include dictatorships of the “left” clearly had them struggling to fill out their list. Number nine is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai whose principal sins seem to be allowing a thriving commercial culture in the emirate. And number 10 is bizarrely Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, who died a month ago and hasn’t been in charge of the country for 17 years.