PwC, a Bishop and a thief…

What do you do if you work for PwC and you’re due to be promoted to a partner in October?

Well, if you’re Max Livingstone-Learmonth the answer is to catch a suspected handbag thief.

Now, this in itself is admirable but Mr Livingstone-Learmonth did it in style as he was actually dressed as a bishop.

“A future partner of PwC dressed as a bishop?” I hear you ask.

Although it may sound strange that he was dressed as a bishop, he was in fact in fancy dress as he was part of a charity world record attempt for the longest non-stop relay.

He was running as part of the I Move London Relay. This involved 2,500 runners taking it in turns to carry a relay baton over a combined distance of 4,000 miles by running 10km and 5km loops continuously over 30 days and nights in central London.

Mr Livingstone-Learmonth was part of the team of runners and according to London’s Evening Standard newspaper, he saw a woman chasing a man who had reportedly taken her bag. He then sprinted 100 metres to her rescue and caught up with the thief keeping him pinned to the wall until the police arrived.

He told the newspaper that “I’m not religious but it does feel a bit like divine intervention that I was there”.

He went on to explain that “A guy shouted, ‘stop that man’, and it was just pure instinct to run after him. I caught up to him and pinned him to a wall with my crosier.”

“I said, ‘It’s not your day if you’ve been run down by a bishop’,” he added.

So, well done to the future partner but one thing is even more impressive – during the struggle he kept hold of the relay baton. If he had dropped it the Guinness World Record attempt would have been jeopardised as it would not have been a complete relay.

Nice work Mr Livingstone-Learmonth.

Apple is bigger than these countries…

The latest quarterly results of Apple have just been released and they are pretty impressive.

The tech giant’s revenue increased by 17% when compared to the corresponding quarter last year. It was a new record of $53.3bn.

Profit was also up by nearly a third to $11.5bn.

Interestingly, the number of units they sold was below expectations but they sold more of their higher value phones (i.e. the iPhone X) than anticipated so their profits beat analysts’ expectations (an interesting example of a sales mix variance for those of you who like your variances).

These are pretty big figures and even more impressive when you think that they are only the quarterly results.

The stock market reacted favourably and their share price has risen. This has resulted in a significant market capitalisation for the company.

At the time of writing this, their market capitalisation (or in simple terms, their valuation) is above $1 trillion and they are the first company to reach such an impressive valuation.

$1 trillion is a big figure and writing it out in full makes it seem even bigger – $1,000,000,000,000 – but it got me thinking about how the valuation of Apple compares to the GDP of individual countries.

In simple terms, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the value of all goods and services a country makes in a time period.

The World Bank have released the 2017 annual rankings of over 200 economies and the 30 largest countries on the list are shown below.

As you can see, Apple’s valuation is only beaten by the GDP of 16 countries. All the other countries have a smaller GDP than the value of Apple.

1 United States – $19,390bn
2 China – $12,237bn
3 Japan – $4,872bn
4 Germany – $3,677bn
5 United Kingdom – $2,622bn
6 India – $2,597bn
7 France – $2,582bn
8 Brazil – $2,055bn
9 Italy – $1,934bn
10 Canada – $1,653bn
11 Russian – $1,577bn
12 Korea, Rep. – $1,530bn
13 Australia – $1,323bn
14 Spain – $1,311bn
15 Mexico – $1,149bn
16 Indonesia – $1,015bn

APPLE – $1,000bn

17 Turkey – $851bn
18 Netherlands – $826bn
19 Saudi Arabia – $683bn
20 Switzerland – $678bn
21 Argentina – $637bn
22 Sweden – $538bn
23 Poland – $524bn
24 Belgium – $492bn
25 Thailand – $455bn
26 Iran – $439bn
27 Austria – $416bn
28 Norway – $398bn
29 UAE – $382bn
30 Nigeria – $375bn

In case other companies are looking on jealously that Apple have a valuation higher than most countries, they could always set their sights on beating the GDP of number 200 on the World Bank rankings – Tuvalu in the South Pacific has a GDP of $40 million.

Put the kettle on (or maybe not?)

Tea and coffee have been around for a long, long time. Many a person has grabbed a strong coffee to keep them going over a long day in the office or a long night studying.

Coffee is said to originate from East Africa where legend has it that a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder by the name of Starbucks Kaldi noticed that after his goats had ate some coffee beans they started bouncing around like teenagers at the local disco.

This started the journey of coffee and associated caffeine hits so loved by students around the world.

Tea however is often seen as a healthier option but the tea industry is facing several challenges at the moment. In particular, the 16 to 34 age group in the UK are changing their drinking habits.

Only 1 in 6 people in this age group now drink 5 or more cups of tea a day.

People in the 55 to 64 age group on the other hand drink twice as much tea.

And the reason for the reduction in drinking tea amongst the younger population?

A number of reasons have been put forward. These include the fact that the younger generation feel that black tea could stain their teeth. It is also felt to be unhealthy given the amount of caffeine black tea contains.

It’s not all bad news for the tea industry though as the younger generation are drinking more green teas and fruit teas. Green tea is claimed to enhance brain function and sales are up by 39% over the last two years.

The increase in green tea sales though has failed to stop the fall in overall tea sales as the combined market in tea was down 5%.

Maybe the famous quote “Keep calm and drink tea” should be changed to say “Keep calm and drink green tea”…

Gentlemen, you’ve got 55 seconds to beat your best…

One of life’s great mysteries for men when they are at a bar or club is why women always seem to go to the ladies “powder room” in groups.

There could soon be an equally mysterious occurrence that women will puzzle over and that is why men will soon disappear to the “gents” together during a social evening out.

Well, it won’t be to adjust their makeup or to catch up on the local gossip.

No, if UK company Captive Media has anything to do with it the visits to the toilet by men could soon be a great marketing opportunity.

It’s been estimated that on a night out a man spends on average 55 seconds relieving himself each time he visits the urinals in the gents (if you ever saw a person with a clipboard and a stopwatch behind you at the urinals now you know why…)

In the eyes of Captive Media this represents a great advertising opportunity as rather than staring blankly at the wall in front of you (or telling the person with the clipboard and stopwatch to go away) they have developed a urinal-based games console which allows men to, how can we say it but aim and shoot at targets with their “stream”.

The games are mixed with adverts and include for example a downhill skiing game which is controlled by your “stream”.

It remains to be seen what products will be advertised in this way but one thing for sure ladies is that if your boyfriend or husband returns from the gents whilst you’re out together on a social evening and he says that he’s just beaten his personal best then you know what it refers to.

Was this an Innocent transaction by Coke?

“Smoothie drinks” have become very fashionable over recent years.

Smoothies are drinks made out of crushed fruit and are seen as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks such as Coke or Pepsi.

Perhaps the most famous smoothie manufacturer in the UK is Innocent Smoothies. The business was set up in 1999 by three friends who famously gave up their jobs to start the business after they invested £500 on fruit and turned it into smoothies and sold them at a music festival. The business has grown since then and been a true success story.

The brand has a “quirky, playful” image as well as promoting itself to be ethically aware (it donates 10% of its profits to charity).

So, what has Coca-Cola got to do with all of this?

Porter’s 5 Forces strategy model is well known to students of professional exams.

If a 5 forces analysis is done on for example the traditional Coca-Cola carbonated drink then a substitute product would be a smoothie. There is a general trend in a lot of countries towards healthier living and the threat of a substitute product such as a smoothie could be seen as a threat.

In 2009 Coca-Cola bought an 18% stake in Innocent for £30 million and then in the following year increased its shareholding to 58% for a reported £65 million. They then increased their shareholding to over 90% for an undisclosed sum. From a Porter’s 5 forces point of view this is a good move as it means that one of the substitute products is now within the Coke family.

There has been a fair amount of discussion since the aquisition about whether Innocent is still the ethical likeable  “under dog” that it was given that it is now part of one of the biggest companies in the world.

One thing is for sure though and whilst it was certainly an Innocent transaction it was also definitely a well thought out strategic acquisition.

Room for improvement at the Big 4…

Oh dear. It certainly wasn’t a great performance by the Big 4 when it came to their annual inspections by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in the UK.

The quality of the audits performed had decreased and for KPMG in particular, according to the FRC “there has been an unacceptable deterioration in quality”.

The FRC is an independent body who check the quality of the audits undertaken by the 8 largest firms in the UK. Think of it as “auditing the auditors”.

They rate the quality of the audits undertaken using the following scale:

• Good (category 1)
• Limited improvements required (category 2A)
• Improvements required (category 2B)
• Significant improvements required (category 3)

Overall results from the most recent FRC inspections during 2017/18 show that 72% of audits required no more than limited improvements (compared to 78% in 2016/17). Or to put it another way, 28% of the audits reviewed required improvements (category 2B) or significant improvements (category 3).

For KPMG though things were particularly bad. When the FRC looked at their audits within the FTSE 350 (the largest 350 companies on the London stock exchange), they found that 50% required MORE than just limited improvements (compared to 35% in the previous year).

If you take a step back then this really isn’t very good is it. If you went to a restaurant where 50% of the meals served required more than limited improvements you’d be unlikely to go back to that restaurant again and I’m sure that restaurant wouldn’t be in business for much longer.

KPMG are going to face increased scrutiny by the FRC in the next round of inspections. 25% more KPMG audits will be examined over the 2018/19 cycle of work and the implementation of their Audit Quality Plan will be closely monitored.

So what went wrong?

The FRC noted that there were a number of factors. These included a failure to challenge management and show appropriate scepticism across their audits.

Stephen Haddrill, CEO of the FRC, said “At a time when public trust in business and in audit is in the spotlight, the Big 4 must improve the quality of their audits and do so quickly. They must address urgently several factors that are vital to audit, including the level of challenge and scepticism by auditors, in particular in their bank audits. We also expect improvements in group audits and in the audit of pension balances. Firms must strenuously renew their efforts to improve audit quality to meet the legitimate expectation of investors and other stakeholders.”

Whilst the level of quality found within the Big 4 audits fell, the performance of the mid tier companies improved. The FRC inspections on BDO, GT, Mazars and Moore Stephens showed general improvements in the quality of inspected audits.

The FRC’s Audit Quality Review is explained in more detail here and if you’re interested in reading the reports on the individual firms they can be found on the following links:

BDO LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Deloitte LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Ernst & Young LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Grant Thornton LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

KPMG LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Mazars LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Moore Stephens LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

PwC LLP Public Reporting 2017/18 (PDF)

Missing faces at the World Cup.

The World Cup is well underway and whilst football fans around the world are enjoying a feast of top football there are a number of “missing faces”.

By “missing faces” I’m not referring to players who aren’t at the World Cup but instead I’m referring to some top global companies.

Johnson & Johnson, Sony, Continental and Castrol were leading sponsors of the World Cup but decided not to renew their contracts when the corruption scandal at FIFA (the governing body of the various football associations around the world and the body that organises the World Cup) hit the headlines a few years ago.

The money that FIFA gets from sponsorship is significant. It’s believed that a 4-year top tier sponsorship costs in the region of $150 million.

Previously, Johnson & Johnson, Sony, Continental and Castrol had no doubt spent that type of money in the expectation that it raised their profile and increased their sales

Their hope was that football fans around the world would be watching the games and then be exposed to, for example, the Sony brand and as a result somewhere down the line would end up buying a new Sony television or other electrical product from Sony.

The new sponsors for the current World Cup are a bit different though. They include major state backed companies such as Gazprom (Russia’s oil giant), Qatar Airways and Wanda (the Chinese conglomerate).

Wanda calls itself the world’s biggest property developer and Gazprom has a virtual monopoly.

It’s difficult to see how their sales would receive a boost from the World Cup exposure.

It’s not just sales though that are in the mind of sponsors. With the World Cup being held in Russia there’s an obvious link to sponsorship. Qatar are hosting the next finals in 2022 and the presence of Wanda will help increase the exposure of football in China where it’s been reported that President Xi has ambitions to make China a great footballing nation.

Either way, I’m sure the supporters of the team that ends up winning the World Cup won’t really care too much over who sponsors the World Cup – It’s the winning the tournament that counts as far as they are concerned…

Don’t put your foot in it…

If you look at the finance side of running a bar then things should (in theory) be quite simple. Revenue is what your customers pay for the drinks they buy and the main expenses are the amount you pay to the brewery for the beer, staff wages and property costs.

Over in Belgium though some bars are facing a unique problem which is causing unwanted expenses but it looks though that they are coming up with some ingenious solutions.

Belgium is famous for its beers. Monks from local Abbeys started brewing different types of beer in the 12th century and nowadays some of the bars in tourist areas in Brussels and Bruges stock several hundred different types of beers.

Each of these beers has their own particular glass which it is served in. These glasses come in all shapes and sizes and are nice looking objects.

Unfortunately for the bar owners they are also very collectable in the eyes of certain tourists. As a result, lots of these glasses go missing as tourists take them for a souvenir.

This can involve a significant number of glasses. Tens of thousands of glasses a year are stolen in Belgium and replacing these glasses represents a significant cost.

Some of the bars are coming up with innovative ideas to stop the thefts.

The Bruges Beerwall café had 4,000 glasses taken in one year and has now introduced security alarms which are attached to each glass. If a glass is taken past the scanner at the door an alarm sounds.

A slightly less hi-tech solution to the problem (but arguably as effective) can be found at the Dulle Griet bar in the Belgium town of Ghent.

The bar stocks over 500 different types of beers and has some very attractive glasses in which these are served. If you want to have a drink though you have to hand over some security to make sure you don’t steal the glass.

The security is a shoe.

And not just any shoe but one of the shoes you are wearing. You hand it over and it is put in a basket which is then pulled up to the ceiling so that you can have a drink knowing that your “security shoe” is safe in the basket.

A great idea by the bar to keep the thefts of their glasses to a minimum and it has proved so successful that it has now become a bit of a tourist attraction with people popping in to look at the basket and have a drink.

One thought does spring to mind though and with 500 tasty beers on the menu I wonder how many customers have had one too many drinks and woke up in the morning with different shoes on each foot….

Grab your goat and let’s go…

Creativity and innovation in any organisation should always be welcome and whilst technology is often at the forefront of innovation it is sometimes the really simple ideas that can create benefits.

Unfortunately, in this particular situation it didn’t quite go according to plan.

The initial idea was good. Officials in charge of the 1,200 acre Minto-Brown Island Park in Oregon in America were concerned that several invasive plants were taking over the park and killing off a number of the native flora including maple and hazelnut trees.

The solution put forward was to create a crack team of 75 goats who would eat the invasive plants such as the Armenian blackberry and the English Ivy which would then mean that the native flora would thrive.

75 goats were duly obtained from a company called Yoder Goat Rentals (as an interesting aside I wonder how many of you were aware that you could rent a team of goats. I certainly wasn’t.)

The goats got down to work but 6 weeks later the project was cancelled.

There were a number of issues.

Firstly, the goats were fairly relaxed about what they ate. In terms of the invasive Armenian blackberry for example they decided to eat the tasty blackberry leaves but left the prickly bramble. This resulted in the plant carrying on growing.

Secondly, they didn’t show any distinction between the (tasty) maple and hazelnut trees which they were supposed to be helping and the invasive plants.

Thirdly, the total cost of the 6-week pilot programme was $20,719 which was nearly 5 times the $4,245 cost for a normal parks maintenance man supported by a prison inmate work crew.

Finally, according to a report to the city council the goats “had a barnyard aroma”.

In summary, a nice try but it didn’t quite work. Still, as any successful business person will surely agree, you don’t progress unless you try. Better luck next time and at least the goats had a nice 6-week holiday in a lovely park…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…