When is an ice cream not an ice cream?

It sounds like the start of a riddle but there’s an important underlying message. Namely, organisations should be monitoring the environment they are operating in to see if any changes could be impacting on their business.

A classic model for analysing the impact the external environment can have on an organisation is the PESTEL model. Those of you that are thinking of studying for your professional exams will possibly be thinking that it stands for Parties, Eating, Sleeping, Talking, Entertaining and Laughing but if you’ve passed your exams then you are probably more comfortable with the fact that it stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal.

Whilst all the components of this model can be important, one area which is particularly topical is the “social” component.

Within the social component one change which a lot of countries are currently seeing is people’s increased health awareness and the increase in demand for vegetarian (no meat) and vegan (no meat or dairy) food.

Ben & Jerry’s is one of the world’s leading ice cream companies and they no doubt have a very sophisticated approach to monitoring the environment. One of the more impressive things they’ve done over the last couple of years is to launch some new products which will appeal to the vegan market.

If you are a vegan, then you don’t eat meat or dairy products and whilst you are unlikely to find an ice cream made out of chicken you are extremely likely to find an ice cream made out of milk.

Ben & Jerry’s though have nicely got around this problem by launching a number of flavours of vegan ice cream.

“How can they be vegan if they are ice cream?” I hear you say.

Well, the vegan ice creams are made with almond milk as opposed to dairy milk. Now technically that means they are frozen desserts and not ice cream but I can’t see any vegan being particularly upset about that.

The non dairy range has recently expanded in the UK and Ben & Jerry’s have just launched their first coconut flavoured vegan ice cream.

It’s called “Coconutterly Caramel’d” and blends coconut-flavoured ice cream with ribbons of caramel, Fair Trade chocolate, and cookies.

“Coconut ice cream, caramel, chocolate and cookies” – I don’t know about you but just reading that description makes me feel peckish.

(Un) Happy Christmas Mr Orangutan

Advertising can have a dramatic impact on what people buy and in countries which celebrate Christmas, one of the busiest buying seasons is upon us.

It’s traditional in the run up to Christmas in the UK for the big retailers to release a major TV advert. The retailer John Lewis for example has released it’s Christmas advert staring Elton John (who reportedly received a fee of £5 million for his input).

For me though the clear winner in the Christmas adverts is the “Rang tang” advert by the supermarket chain Iceland.

The advert was originally produced by the global charity Greenpeace and highlights the destruction of the rainforest caused by the production of palm oil (palm oil is found in many everyday products ranging from food staples such as bread to cosmetics).

The companies that produce palm oil are cutting down vast amounts of trees and as a result the Orangutan apes are really suffering. In simple terms, their homes are being destroyed and they are dying as they have nowhere to live.

Iceland spent £500,000 on putting the advertising campaign together and have pledged to remove palm oil from all their own brand products.

The advert, which was voiced over by actress Emma Thompson, has run into some problems with Clearcast, the body which approves or rejects television adverts in the UK. They have ruled that it is too political and as a result it has been banned from being shown on television.

The good news for this advert though is that Clearcast don’t regulate social media and the advert has been a hit on Facebook and YouTube.

At the time of writing, the advert had been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d urge you to watch it below as it’s a great advert which raises awareness of an important global issue.

Legal issues for the Big 4

If you ask a person in the street the question “What do the Big 4 do?”, the chances are that you’ll either get a funny look back or if the person has heard of the Big 4, they will probably say something like “accounting”.

The Big 4 are made up of Deloitte, EY, KPMG and pwc and whilst historically they had a strong accounting focus, nowadays they have a much wider remit and include many more business functions than pure “accounting”.

The legal side of business is playing a bigger part now for the Big 4 and earlier this year EY in the UK purchased Riverview Law, one of the “new breed” of legal firms.

Prior to 2012, law firms in the UK in effect had to be owned by lawyers (ie most law firms were partnerships owned by partners who were lawyers). Since 2012 though the regulators have been licensing non-traditional law firms.

Riverview Law is one of these non-traditional law firms and has built a reputation of being a disrupter in the industry due to its clever use of technology to minimise its overheads and offer clients fixed fees instead of hourly rates.

Cornelius Grossman, EY’s global head of law, was quoted as saying “This acquisition underlines the position of EY as a leading disrupter of legal services. It will provide a springboard for current EY legal managed services offerings and will bolster the capabilities that we can help deliver for EY clients”.

Whilst this expansion into legal services is good news for the Big 4, it’s not so good news for the traditional legal companies. The mid-tier legal firms especially are likely to be under threat from the expansion of the Big 4’s legal offerings.

Step on it…

You probably haven’t heard of Klaus Maertens but I reckon that most of you will have seen what he started.

Klaus was a German soldier who back in 1945 had a broken foot and wanted a boot without the traditional hard sole. Together with his friend Herbert Funk, who was a mechanical engineer, he designed an air cushioned sole which led to the global footwear brand Dr Martens.

Since those early days, the product has had an up and down history. In the 1970s they were very fashionable and sales grew. By the time the early 2000s came around they were having production problems and competition from other similar brands of footwear had increased.

They nearly went out of business but a swing in fashion brought them back on track and in 2013 they were purchased by Permira, the private equity group, for £300 million.

Since then their fortunes have prospered and they recently released their latest set of financials.

Revenue has shot up by 20% to £349 million and earnings were up 14% to £50 million.

Their “Direct To Consumer” (DTC) channels are doing very well and now represent 40% of their total revenue. DTC is where the products are sold directly to the consumers and not via an intermediary such as an independent shoe shop.

Dr Marten’s store count has increased by 25 to 94 and the new stores show the global reach of the brand (9 in the UK, 7 in mainland Europe, 3 in New York and 3 in Japan).

Kenny Wilson, CEO of Dr. Martens said: “Dr. Martens has delivered another outstanding year. We are an iconic brand that does things in our own unique, disruptive way and that is unifying our consumers across the globe. The business’ investment in our DTC channels, both in terms of retail stores and E-commerce, is bearing fruit, and these will remain priority channels for us.”

All in all, Dr Martens seem to be putting their best foot forward.

This is how not to do first aid in the office.

Having people trained in the office to undertake first aid is an important health and safety feature.

Organisations can send people to health and safety training or like the organisation in the video below, can get health and safety professionals to provide on site demonstrations.

Now, whilst most demos will be educational and very professional, as the video below shows, this particular demonstration was more like a slapstick comedy film.

A volunteer was asked to pretend that he was injured but unfortunately when the health and safety “professional” came into the demonstration he accidentally knocked over a shelf which then fell onto the “pretend victim” who suddenly became the “real victim”.

Luckily for all concerned nobody was seriously injured and if you want to see a fine slapstick comedy moment demonstration of health and safety then enjoy the video below.

An awkward mistake.

Have you ever sent an email to the wrong person by mistake? What about posting something on social media which, with hindsight you’d wished you hadn’t?

We all make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world but I’ve got a feeling that Magnús Örn Hákonarson will be remembering his recent mistake for a while to come.

Magnús is in charge of his employer’s social media activities and recently what was supposed to be a private message was posted on his employer’s Facebook page.

Magnus works for The Landsbjargar’s Accident Investigation Company in Iceland and he accidentally posted an invite to a party to all the followers of the company. To add to the excitement, this wasn’t a normal party but was an invite to all the followers to take part in a bondage party with a fetish dress code.

The invitation highlighted the dress code as fetish or alternative and included information about safe words, leather masks and whips. Members of the BDSM society Magnus was a member of were able to buy the tickets for 1,000 ISK (£7) whilst non-members had to pay 3,000 ISK (£21).

As soon as he realised his mistake he removed the party invitation from the company’s Facebook page.

Whether or not his colleagues knew about his hobby is by the by. They certainly do now and the nice thing about it is that his employers realised it was a genuine mistake and have been very supportive.

Given his interest in BDSM he might have been slightly disappointed that he wasn’t punished but instead his employers issued a statement saying “There are many people with different backgrounds and interests within the volunteer group. People are engaged in all kinds of sports and hobbies and the rescue team’s board of directors will not distinguish these interests, as long as they are legal.”

All in all, nothing to beat yourself up about.

OMG – will these hit the shelves?

Procter & Gamble, or P&G as it’s commonly known, is one of the world’s largest companies and has an incredible portfolio of products including Gillette, Head & Shoulders shampoo and Pampers nappies.

The business was set up in 1837 by two gentlemen called, yes you guessed it, Mr Procter and Mr Gamble.

Since then it has grown to become a huge organisation and is now quoted on the New York stock exchange. It has annual sales in excess of $15bn.

A recent trademark application in the US though could indicate that there may well be some new brand names joining their portfolio.

They have made applications for trademarks on household and personal care products for certain “text speak”. Or to be more precise they have filed an application for terms including “LOL” (Laugh Out Loud) and “NBD” (No Big Deal).

The move seems to be an attempt to target the tech savvy millennial generation who have grown up with this tech speak.

It’s not certain yet whether we will see cleaning products called LOL and NBD as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has sought clarifications from P&G and they have until January to respond.

One other interesting term which has been included in the application is “WTF”.

Could we soon be seeing “WTF Cleaner” on supermarket shelves?

Explaining what “WTF” stands for is a bit rude to print here so if you don’t know what it means then one of the quickest ways to find out is to say “WTF” when your boss next asks you to do something.

Grant Thornton fined £4million.

Grant Thornton, the mid-tier accounting firm has been fined £4m and reprimanded by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).

So, what did they do wrong?

It was all to do with a lack of independence during audits of Nichols plc (the company that makes the soft drink Vimto) and the University of Salford.

The background to the issue involves Eric Healey. Mr Healey was a former senior partner of Grant Thornton who was engaged by them to provide services under a consultancy agreement. This in itself wasn’t a problem but what was a problem was that he joined the audit committees of both Nichols plc and the University of Salford at the same time.

The FRC highlighted that this created serious familiarity and self-interest threats which resulted in the loss of independence during eight audits over a period of four years.

Putting it another way, Grant Thornton were paying a consultant who at the same time was in a senior position within the audit committee of two clients. There were clear independence issues.

The FRC said that “The standards were breached on a number of occasions over a long period and in a significant way; given the nature of the risks posed, the breaches required the resignation of Grant Thornton as auditors of both Nichols and the University but as set out in the particulars, they did not in fact so resign but signed off on all of the audits with unqualified opinions.

The firm obtained audit fees in respect of the audits totalling approximately £560,000 in circumstances where it has admitted it should not have undertaken the relevant audit engagements and that doing so constituted misconduct.”

Grant Thornton’s fine of £4m was discounted for settlement to £3m and Mr Healey was given a 5-year ban together with a fine of £200,000 which was discounted for settlement to £150,000 (discounted for settlement in effect means that they agreed with matters and paid the fine within a set time period of time).

Grant Thornton issued a statement which said “Grant Thornton has reached a settlement agreement with our regulators on this matter, which relates to audits dating up to eight years ago. Whilst the focus of the investigation was not on our technical competence in carrying out either of these audit assignments, the matter of ethical conduct and independence is equally of critical importance in ensuring the quality of our work and it is regrettable that we fell short of the standards expected of us on this occasion.

As we have since made significant investments in our people and processes and remain committed to continuous improvement in this regard, we are confident that such a situation should not arise in the future.”

Full details of the case can be found here.

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.

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…

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…

This is shocking…

A lot of our readers are accountants or are training to be accountants. It should arguably follow therefore that you are good with figures. You are good with numbers and can manage your finances.

Not everyone though may be as good at managing their own personal finances and for any of you who may have problems controlling your spending, a new product will shortly be hitting the market which could be of interest to you.

A British company by the name of Intelligent Environments has developed a wristband that will deliver an electric shock to the wearer when they exceed pre-set spending limits.

The Pavlok wristband links to an individual’s online bank account and when a pre-set limit is exceeded a 255-volt electric charge is delivered to the wearer. The wristband is named after the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov whose research showed that the behaviour of dogs could be altered by the prospect of reward or punishment.

Submitting yourself to an electric shock to stop yourself spending money does seem a bit extreme and with a cost of £120 then the buyer may well end up having an electric shock earlier than anticipated…

EY confirm the women were real

Some of you may have heard of the website Ashley Madison.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ashley Madison, it’s a website where married people can register to meet other married people without their respective husband or wife knowing and then have an affair.

In fact, some of you may be registered members of the site (this does raise the question that if you are a registered member of Ashley Madison and are reading this business blog then at the moment you are finding business stories more interesting than having an affair so well done on that).

Ignoring the rights or wrongs of a website facilitating affairs, Ashley Madison has had an up and down ride over recent years.

Back in 2015, they were hacked. As a result the personal details of their users were leaked and there were a lot of users. When I say “a lot”, there were 32 million users.

The situation got worse for Ashley Madison though.

As well as their systems being hacked and details of who had signed up being leaked, it turned out that the vast majority of users were men and of the women who had signed up a significant proportion were Bots (i.e. a piece of software) or prostitutes.

All in all, not great selling points when trying to encourage new members.

In an attempt to build up trust (if trust is a relevant word for people looking for affairs that is…), Ashley Madison commissioned Ernst & Young to cast an eye over the membership data and see if it stood up to scrutiny.

There were some interesting results including the fact that 15,542 new members signed up each day in 2017 (that’s nearly half a million new users per month).

There were also more active women on the site than men. Globally, the ratio of active males to active females was 1 to 1.13 but there were variations on a regional basis ranging from Australia where the male to female ratio was 1 to 0.78 and Columbia where the ratio was 1 to 2.39.

Ernst & Young also reported that “The Client had used Bot programs to generate message activity with paying customers in prior years. The Bot programs were decommissioned in 2015 and our procedures related to calendar 2017 found no evidence that the use of Bot programs previously operated had been reinstated.”

So, in theory the registrations are human and there’s no danger of falling in love with a bot.

The full Ernst & Young report can be found at www.ashleymadison.com/2017report but I would be careful as if you’re viewing this on a computer at home and your husband or wife finds you’ve been visiting ashleymadison.com then there could be some difficult questions to answer.

Then again, if you start typing in the website and your web browser recognises it from a previous visit to that site then maybe…

1-0 to the Premier League

If you’re a premier league footballer it’s kind of obvious that you’re going to make a lot of money.

Deloitte, the Big 4 accounting company, prepare annual reviews of the Premier League’s finances and has just released some figures from the 2016/17 season.

In total, Premier League footballers took home £2.5bn in wages. This was the highest figure on record and showed an increase of 9% on the previous season.

The increase in wages though was quite a bit lower than the increase in the clubs’ revenue.

Total revenue increased by nearly £1bn to £4.5bn in the 2016/17 season and this was also a new record.

Although revenue increased by a higher percentage than wages, the proportion of revenue spent on wages is still pretty significant with the wage to revenue ratio being 55%.

Collective pre-tax profit was also a new record high being £0.5bn. This was almost three times the previous record of £0.2bn from back in 2013/14.

Deloitte partner Dan Jones said “As predicted last year, the Premier League’s three year broadcast deals which came into effect in the 2016/17 season helped drive revenue to record levels.

“Despite wages increasing by 9% to £2.5bn, this increase is nowhere near the level of revenue growth noted. This relative restraint from Premier League clubs reflects both the extent of their financial advantage over other leagues and the impact of domestic and European cost control measures.”

The financial success was spread across all clubs with all 20 Premier League teams making an operating profit.

Deloitte’s full report on the Premier Leagues finances will be available in June.

Nicely said Mr Musk

We’ve all been there haven’t we? Long boring meetings that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Maybe you’ve tried to give the impression of being interested in what was being said but in reality the meeting wasn’t relevant for you and your mind was wandering to other more interesting things.

Well, if you’re not a great lover of excessive meetings then you are not alone. In fact, you share the thoughts of an incredibly successful and admired business person. Namely, Elon Musk.

Mr Musk’s current business interests include Tesla and SpaceX.

In the past he founded x.com which later became PayPal. Paypal was subsequently bought by eBay for $1.5 billion.

He currently has a net worth in excess of $20 billion.

But what does he think about meetings?

In an email to his staff that was leaked to the electrek website there were a few productivity recommendations:

In the words of Mr Musk, these include:

– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

– Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.

– Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.

– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.

Nicely said Mr Musk.

Popcorn and profits

Despite the growth of online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime it seems that we are still going to the cinema to watch movies.

Cineworld is the 2nd largest cinema chain in the world with 9,500 screens in 10 countries and they have just reported their latest financial results.

Sales increased by 12% to £891 million in 2017 and profits showed a healthy jump of 23% to reach £121 million.

It’s probably stating the obvious but the success of a cinema chain is largely driven by how good the films are. Cineworld said that their 2017 box office performance had been “underpinned by a strong film slate”.

In 2017 the top 3 films they showed were Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Dunkirk. Together, these 3 films grossed £197.4m for Cineworld.

If you compare this with their top three films in 2016 (Star Wars: Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Bridget Jones’s Baby) the figure was £149.4m.

A difference of nearly £50 million.

It’s not just the ticket price that brings in revenue for them though as movie goers buy a lot of popcorn and fizzy drink on their night out.

Almost 25% of their revenue in 2017 was from refreshments and this showed an increase of 11% on the previous year as it rose to £220 million.

I guess a key question for the business is whether the blockbuster films will continue in 2018 and whether people will still be filling themselves with popcorn and coke.

The company seems positive and are expecting the strong results to continue. With films such as Solo: A Star Wars Story and Jurassic World scheduled for this year and Minecraft: The Movie and Frozen 2 due in 2019 who would bet against them.

More Change Please

Homelessness is a growing problem in a lot of countries but coffee company “Change Please” has come up with a brilliant business model that could help.

They’ve brought together the problem of homelessness with people’s love of coffee and have created a radically different coffee company that is now looking to expand around the globe.

Their whole focus is on helping people whilst at the same time providing an excellent cup of coffee to the end customer at a fair market price.

When it comes to suppliers, the coffee beans they use are from farms that support local communities. For example, one of their suppliers from Peru helps victims of domestic abuse and a supplier from Tanzania helps people injured by landmines.

Once the coffee beans arrive in the UK, the people who roast them and serve them are people who have been homeless and sleeping on the streets. They are trained as baristas and work at one of the company’s locations. They are paid the Living Wage of £10.20 per hour and are given help in terms of opening bank accounts and finding housing.

Whilst the big coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee are discussing introducing recyclable cups, Change Please has beaten them to it as all of their cups are 100% recyclable.

All profits are being invested in helping reduce the level of homelessness.

Things are going well for the organisation and they are planning on expanding the number of locations they operate from in the UK. They are also in talks to open in Australia and America with the same ethos of helping homeless people get back on their feet via a well and truly ethical cup of coffee.

They have also signed agreements with 2 big supermarkets, Sainsburys and Ocado, to stock packets of Change Please coffee beans.

It’s a common sound on the streets of cities in the UK to hear people asking if you have any “Change please”. With this fantastic business model for a coffee company, hopefully it will soon be a common sight to see the request for “Change please” replaced by coffee outlets called “Change Please”.

A clean start…

I guess a lot of us have been there – we stagger out of bed in the morning half asleep and get in the shower. Suddenly we start to have some great business ideas and wish we had a pen and piece of paper.

Now, if I’m entirely honest with you this has never happened to me and I doubt it ever will.

The thought usually going through my mind is more of wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit longer in bed rather than be in the shower getting ready for work.

It seems though that not everyone shares my lack of business enthusiasm in the shower.

Marriott hotels in the US undertook research which indicated that half of business travellers felt that their best ideas came whilst showering.

So why all this talk about showers and ideas?

Well, Marriott have turned some of their shower doors into digital notepads.

Yes, after the door steams up, guests can write their business ideas on it (or for that matter draw a rude picture of their boss if they wanted to) and then their completed creation will be emailed through to them.

In the words of Marriott, so that “their brilliance doesn’t wash away”.

I’m not convinced that I have too many moments of business brilliance in the shower but fair play to Marriott for coming up with a clever use of the shower door.

Not the most truthful CV…

Have you ever exaggerated anything in your CV? My guess is that some of you may have exaggerated a teeny weeny little bit but I doubt if any of you have taken the exaggeration to the level that David Scott did.

In fact, it was far worse than an exaggeration as Judge Peter Armstrong called it “deliberate fraud” when he jailed Mr Scott for 12 months.

Mr Scott was hired as managing director of Mech-Tool, a UK engineering company after his CV contained several qualifications which he never actually obtained.

The made up 3 degrees from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and Imperial College London.

He put on his CV that he had a first-class honours degree in petroleum engineering and claimed he wrote a prestigious academic paper (as it turned out this paper was written by an American professor who had the same name as him).

On the basis of his outstanding CV he was given the job as managing director on a salary of £120,000 a year.

So far so good for Mr Scott but things started to go downhill for him pretty quickly as he was put in charge of two new multimillion-pound contracts in Kazakhstan and his colleagues found out pretty quickly that he didn’t have a clue when it came to petrochemicals.

The company’s strategy for the contracts in Kazakhstan was prepared by (you guessed it), Mr Scott. It was a disaster for them and they suffered financially as a result.

They took legal action against him on the basis that he had committed a fraud against them due to his false CV (far from having 3 degrees he in fact had no academic qualifications).

In summary, a valuable lesson for all.

12 months in jail for Mr Scott for the fraud and a financial loss for the company as a result of not checking out his CV properly.

Oh, and when it comes to your CV I wouldn’t worry too much about where you’ve exaggerated that your interests are listening to classical music and keeping fit rather than playing around on Facebook and eating fast food…

No need to buy a stamp.

It will hardly come as a surprise to you but people aren’t sending as many postcards from holidays as they used to.

Back in 1997 about 70% of people in the UK who went on holiday sent a postcard home to family or friends. That figure has now fallen to 28%.

There are two main reasons for the reduction.

The first is the impact of the selfie generation and the increase in social media. People are posting pictures of themselves on sites such as Facebook or Instagram instead of sending a postcard. After all, why send a postcard of a generic view of the place you’re visiting when you can post a nice selfie of you on holiday on social media.

The second reason for the reduction is the change in the holiday habits of a lot of people. The rise of low cost airlines such as easyJet and Ryan Air has meant that people are taking more shorter breaks rather than an annual 2-week holiday.

If you’re on a short break of a few days why bother sending a postcard from a short break as you’ll be home before the post card arrives.

Unsurprisingly there have been some corporate casualties as a result.

J Salmon is Britain’s oldest publisher of postcards.

Actually, I should rephrase that and say that J Salmon was Britain’s oldest publisher of postcards as it recently stopped producing postcards.

The company has been run by the same family since 1800 but recently stopped producing postcards due to lack of demand.

At the moment the company is still trading and is selling diaries and calendars.

I wish them well but when you think about it, people stopped sending postcards because they could take photos on their phone and post them on social media.

The question is how many people keep their diaries and calendars on their phone?

Will diaries and calendars go the same way as postcards?

She did what for a living?

Businesses can pay significant amounts of money for celebrities to endorse their products.

For example, the American singer and actress Selena Gomez is reportedly paid USD 550,000 per post that she promotes to her 133 million Instagram followers. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballer on the other hand “only” receives USD 400,000 per promoted post to his 120 million followers.

But not everyone is happy for famous people to be associated with a product.

Charles de Cazanove is a Champagne house that was founded by Charles de Bigault de Cazanove way back in 1811.

The Cazanove brand is now owned by the GH Martel Group and they have launched their latest Champagne vintage in a promotion with Clara Morgane. The champagne is imaginatively called “Le Champagne by Clara Morgane” and sells for €50 a bottle.

So, do you know who Clara Morgan is?

If you don’t and you’re a lady then ask your husband or boyfriend if he knows who Clara Morgan is.

If he does know who she is then there is probably another question you should ask him as Ms Morgan is famous as an adult movie actress.

Although Ms Morgan now performs with her clothes on (she’s a singer), it’s not good enough for a descendant of the founder of the Cazanove brand.

Count Loic Chiroussot de Bigault de Cazanove, who apart from needing a very long business card, isn’t happy that his family’s name is being associated with an adult movie star.

He reportedly said that “I am truly shocked. It’s simply scandalous. How could anyone associate the name of my illustrious family to that of Clara Morgane? It’s inconceivable.”

Although the family sold the brand back in 1958, the Count has been reportedly getting lawyers to try to remove his family’s name from the Clara Morgane vintage.

Either way, with all this publicity I’m sure the GH Martel Group are drinking to the success…

Can you trust an accountant?

That’s an interesting question and I’m sure that along with most other professions there are people you can trust and people you can’t trust.

If I asked the question about trusting accountants to the rock band Deep Purple though I’m pretty sure what answer I’d get.

Dipak Shanker Rao looked after the accounts of Deep Purple for more than 20 years.

In fact, to be fair when I said that he “looked after” the accounts maybe I should have said that he siphoned off more than £2 million of the band’s money without their permission.

Mr Rao has admitted “borrowing” at least £2.27 million from two of the companies within the Deep Purple empire. HEC Enterprises and Deep Purple (Overseas) owned the copyright to a lot of the band’s songs but the companies went into receivership in 2016.

Out of the £2.27 million borrowed by Rao, only £477,000 has been recovered. Ian Gillan, Ian Paice and Roger Glover (members of the band) are suing Mr Rao for up to £4 million.

In the meantime, Mr Rao has been struck off as an accountant and banned from managing or controlling a company until 2028.

One of Deep Purple’s most famous songs is called “Mistreated” and I’m sure that they feel that way at the moment…

How much do Big 4 partners get paid?

KPMG UK released their results last month for their most recent accounting period and they showed a fall of 10% in pay for the KPMG partners when compared to the previous year.

Although the firm’s revenue rose by 5% to £2.2 billion, it’s profit fell to £301 million.

The firm wrote off a number of technology investments.

KPMG, like the rest of the Big 4, have invested heavily in technology companies in an attempt to stay at the forefront of technology.

Unfortunately for KPMG, not all of their investments were successful. Bill Michael, the Chairman of KPMG, highlighted one investment that hadn’t done so well – KPMG had committed £3 million to Flexeye, a tech company that analyses large amounts of data and it hadn’t proved to be the wisest investment.

Whilst profits fell, it hasn’t all been bad news for KPMG as their audit practice grew by 10%.

Back to the average pay of the KPMG partners though and although their average pay fell by 10% I’m sure that the partners will still be able to afford to buy a sandwich for lunch.

The average pay for the KPMG partners was £519,000 each.

That’s not too bad is it?

But how does it compare with the average pay from the partners of the remaining Big 4.

The most recent reported results show the following average pay per partner:

Deloitte – £865,000

EY – £677,000

pwc – £652,000

It looks like Deloitte partners will be having the more expensive sandwiches for lunch.

Go to jail for another…

It’s always best to keep on top of your tax affairs. Submit your returns on time and make sure they are completed accurately to the best of your knowledge is the best approach.

Not everyone agrees with this approach though and millionaire businessman Peter Duffield from the UK took a different approach.

As a result, he’s currently serving a 4-year jail sentence after failing to pay £1.3 million in taxes but it looks as though things may be getting worse for him.

The background to the case is that he failed to submit a single tax return for 7 years. He told investigators from the tax authorities that he wasn’t a “paperwork person”. To be honest, that isn’t a great excuse.

He was jailed for 4 years but further investigation by the tax authorities has found that he failed to declare profits on the sale of 3 properties and as a result underpaid tax.

This was a pretty significant amount of tax that was underpaid and a confiscation hearing at Central Criminal Court ordered him to pay £1,232,189 within 3 months.

The unfortunate thing for Mr Duffield is that if he doesn’t pay the additional money within 3 months then he will have to serve an extra 8 years in jail.

The even more unfortunate thing for Mr Duffield is that if he doesn’t pay the additional money within 3 months he will be jailed for 8 years and then after the additional 8 years he will still owe the money to the tax authorities.

In conclusion, it’s always best to stay on top of your tax affairs…

Does this mean Way Too Fat?

January is one of the most popular months for people looking to lose weight. New Year resolutions often revolve around getting fit or dropping a kilogram or 2.

Losing weight can be big business for companies.

Weight Watchers is one of the largest and most successful companies involved in the business of losing weight. They were founded more than 50 years ago in the living room of entrepreneur Jean Nidetch in Queens, New York and since then have grown to a huge company.

They now have over 1 million active members who attend approximately 32,000 Weight Watchers meetings around the world.

That’s a big organisation and they have just signed up a big star to help with their promotions.

The American music producer DJ Khalad is big in a number of ways.

Firstly, he is one of the largest stars on social media (he has nearly 4 million Twitter followers).

Secondly, he is large in terms that he is overweight.

DJ Khaled isn’t alone in trying to lose weight in 2018 but what makes him different is that Weight Watchers have signed him up as a social media ambassador. He will be paid an undisclosed sum to follow the new Weight Watchers Freestyle programme and will document his progress on his social media accounts.

This is obviously good news for Weight Watchers because it will be great publicity if he loses weight (we’ll ignore for now what happens if he doesn’t lose weight…).

The market also thought it was good news as the shares in Weight Watchers shot up 8% on the New York stock exchange the day his appointment was announced.

Maybe it’s best not to go out for a big meal to celebrate though…