It’s not a Lamborghini it’s a Volkswagen…

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When it comes to cars, things used to be simple. Most brands were known for a certain type of car.

For example, Mercedes produced luxury limousine cars, Porsche produced sports cars, Toyota produced mid range cars and Land Rover made 4×4 off road cars.

But that was a while ago and things have changed dramatically within the car industry.

The famous Maserati sports car brand for example is working on the Maserati Kubang and as the photo shows it’s clearly not a low slung sports car.

It’s a 4×4 off-roader and whilst there’s a good chance that the only time it will actually go off road is when the owner parks on the pavement it’s definitely more 4×4 than sportscar.

So why the introduction of the new product? (For those of you studying the various strategy papers then why the product development in Ansoff’s Matrix?)

Well it seems that they are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Porsche whose off road Cayenne model has proved to be a best seller.

As well as introducing new types of cars the car industry has also seen a number of major conglomerates appear with some serious car brands within them.

When people used to talk about Volkswagen for example they were generally referring to the ubiquitous VW golf but the Volkswagen Group is now home to far more cars than VW cars.

The VW Group with its headquarters in Germany is the largest carmaker in Europe and nearly one in four new cars bought in Europe are VW Group cars.

So does this mean that 25% of the new cars have VW badges on them?

Far from it in fact as the following car brands are all part of the Volkswagen Group:

Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Scania, SEAT, Skoda and of course Volkswagen.

So all of the above car makes are in fact part of the VW group.

Now if you’re an executive working for the VW Group and were offered a company car which one would you choose.

Now let me think.

Bugatti or Lamborghini. Which one would I go for…

These boots are made for walking, or should that be, these boots are made for getting off quickly?

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Students of the “people papers” within the various professional exams should be aware of the joint responsibility for “health & safety” within an organization.

In other words, a number of legal systems around the world place the responsibility for health and safety on both the employer AND the employee.

Employers have various obligations such as providing safe equipment to use. For example, they should undertake regular electrical checking of any IT equipment that is used.

Employees’ duties include being responsible for their own health and safety and not acting in a manner that may endanger a colleague.

A product from Levi Strauss, the famous jeans and clothing company has a nice link to health & safety.

One of the styles of boots sold by Levis are based on the shoes that were worn by Californian railway workers in the 1800s. Their design is such that they are easy to get off. This enabled any railway worker that got his foot stuck in the tracks as a train was speeding towards him to get his boot off quickly so as to avoid being hit by the fast approaching train.

An early example of health & safety at work!

I wonder though how many people that buy these boots at the Levi’s stores work on the railways? Either way, it’s always nice to be able to easily kick off your boots after a hard day of chatting to friends!

Have a break. Have a fish and chip flavoured chocolate bar…

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Nestlé’s Kit Kat is one of the world’s best selling chocolate bars.

It is estimated that over 400 Kit Kat fingers are consumed every second worldwide and every 5 minutes enough Kit Kat fingers are produced to out stack the Eiffel Tower.

Whilst most people associate Kit Kat with its red wrapper alongside the classic wafer and chocolate taste, Nestlé actually segment the market rather nicely in a number of countries. They produce a range of flavours which are only available in certain countries according to local tastes. In simple terms they are dividing the market (segmenting) and then adjusting the marketing mix accordingly.

In Japan for example, Nestlé recently launched 19 new flavours. These flavours reflect the food specialities of certain districts and are only sold in these specific districts.

For example, you can buy a yubari melon flavour Kit Kat in the Hokkaido district, a strawberry cheesecake flavour in the Yokohama district and a cherry flavour one in the Yamagata district.

Different flavours are available in other countries (segments). For example, peanut butter flavour can be bought in Canada.

Now, originating from Scotland where my favourite dish was crispy cod and chips my obvious question to Nestlé is:

“When will a fish and chip flavoured Kit Kat be released in Scotland?”

I feel it’s only a matter of time so if any marketing executives from Nestlé are reading this then over to you…

You get a safe hotel and a great bed. The towels and TV will cost you extra but what about the toilet paper?

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The Tune Hotel chain has just opened up its first hotel in the UK. The chain already has 7 hotels in Malaysia and 2 in Indonesia and they claim they offer 5 star beds at 1 star prices.

Their policy is to offer the essentials that people look for in a hotel such as safety, cleanliness and comfortable beds whilst at the same time removing a number of “extras” that some customers don’t necessarily want.

With rooms starting at £35 it certainly offers great value for London hotels. It wouldn’t suit everyone’s taste though as some of the things that people take for granted at a hotel are not included in the standard price.

There are a number of optional extras that guests can purchase. A towel for example can be provided for £1.50 per stay whilst the use of a hairdryer will set you back £2. If you want to watch TV you’ll need to pay £3 a day.

If you’re the type of person that likes to take your own towel to a hotel or is relaxed about whether or not you wash then you could end up with a very cheap room.

Whilst this hotel wouldn’t be everyone’s “cup of tea” (incidentally there are no coffee or tea making facilities in the rooms) there will certainly be a market for people that only want a clean and safe hotel room to sleep in and are not bothered about the extras.

In the past we’ve blogged about the BMI Weymouth hospital that was adopting a differentiation approach to business. With Tunes Hotels adopting a hospitality industry equivalent to the low cost airline models of Easy Jet and Ryan Air, this is a great example of either a cost leadership approach or Bowman’s no-frills strategy.

Guests can rest assured though that toilet paper is included in the price and is not an optional extra.

So what made me think of the marketing mix in the shower this morning?

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I’m lucky enough to be teaching in Asia at the moment. The students are great and I’m convinced they will pass their exams (if any of them are reading this then good luck in the exam!)

shower-headI’m staying at a lovely hotel and this morning in the shower I was reminded of marketing and the 4 Ps. The shower gel that is provided by the hotel is a well known international brand and I’ve bought it myself before.

What was different about it though when comparing the product (one of the 4 Ps) as purchased by the hotel and the product when purchased by me as an individual? The aroma and texture was exactly the same whereas the packaging was different. The key difference being how the packaging was designed in terms of the ease with which the gel could be poured.

Whether it was me but the version I personally bought appeared to dispense the gel a lot quicker than the hotel version. The hotel version took a lot more effort to get the gel out.

It’s maybe my imagination but if the design of the packaging that is on the public product is in fact different then it would encourage me to use it up quickly and buy a replacement. The packaging on the version that the hotel was using however would “discourage” guests from using a lot of gel and hence save the hotel the cost of replacing the gel as quickly as with the “standard public packaging”.

I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate policy of the shower gel manufacturer but if it wasn’t then maybe they should be considering it…

It may seem obvious that auditors sell audit opinions. But that’s like saying top restaurants only sell calories.

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I was having an interesting discussion with a group of students on Friday about a previous blog entry concerning “truth and fairness”.

It’s important to remember that an auditor does not make an absolute promise of accuracy.

The existence of audit risk means that a competent auditor will occasionally issue an audit opinion that proves to be inappropriate; most frequently because an unqualified opinion has been given when a qualified opinion would have been more appropriate.

We stake our reputation as a profession on perceived failures being very rare.  This means that we need to make sure we’re using tools that are up to the task.

In order to state whether financial statements give a true and fair view, it is necessary to have a system of GAAP that adequately defines truth and fairness.  It appears that the spectacular failure of Lehman Brothers in the USA happened as a result of window dressing financial statements, but which complied with US GAAP.

In a highly globalised market for audit services, perhaps we need to more explicitly state true and fair as true and fair (EU) and true and fair (USA)?  This is attempted already within ISA 700 by stating “..true and fair view in accordance with…[insert system of GAAP]”.

However, reputational damage happens to the profession globally as a result of perceived weaknesses in one nation’s system of GAAP.

Maybe we need to amend the wording of the audit opinion to make this clearer?

Do you ever feel tired at work? If so, then maybe you should…

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…wear a tie.

Japan is famous for the long hours that some of their office workers undertake but there is now an invention that will maybe ease things a little bit for hardworking office staff.

A new tie called “Nemuri Tie” is now on sale in Japan.

Nemuri Tie means pillow tie in Japanese and if the advertising is anything to go by it will enable hard pressed office workers to grab a quick sleep at their desk.

It’s a relatively simple design in that it’s a normal looking tie but it’s got an inflatable pillow in it which can be blown up to provide a handy place to rest your head when you fancy a nap.

It can be inflated when the user is wearing it so there’s no need to keep on taking your tie off and putting it back on every time you fancy a sleep.

The Sleep Tie is currently on sale for just under £20.

It’s not clear whether the tie is stain proof for anyone that dribbles in their sleep.

Surely everybody should get this benefit at work?

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Having a motivated team in the office is key to any business. As well as a salary component, a person’s remuneration package could include other benefits such as flexible working days, health insurance and access to an executive jet.

I mentioned access to an executive jet because surely all of you have got regular access to the company jet to whisk you off to exotic places??

Bloomberg has reported on a Philadelphia lawsuit by a former pilot of the fashion giant Abercrombie & Fitch’s corporate jet.

To cut a long story short, the 55 year old former employee is claiming that he was discriminated against when he was replaced by a younger man.

As will soon become apparent, my guess is that he may well have been replaced by not only a younger man but by a better looking younger man.

It’s been reported that according to papers submitted to the court, Michael Jeffries, the chief executive of Abercrombie & Fitch insisted that models were hired to work as stewards on the plane.

These models stewards had to be clean shaven and wear a uniform of Abercrombie & Fitch polo shirts, boxer briefs, jeans and flip flops.

As well as insisting on male models being stewards it also claimed that if Jeffries, his partner Matthew or any other guest made a request they should respond by saying “no problem”.

The other thing which I personally think should be a benefit provided to all employees is that Jeffries was also able to take his 3 dogs with him on the jet and there were even detailed instructions on the seating arrangements for his dogs when they travelled with him.

So there you go. The next time you’re discussing your annual review in the office feel free to say that as well as salary, healthcare, and flexible working arrangements you want access to the company jet with male or female models of your choice employed as stewards or stewardesses on the plane.

Oh, and don’t forget to insist on jet travel for your 3 dogs…

To be on the safe side, let’s play football without a ball…

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A school in the UK where a number of top footballers went to when they were children has banned leather footballs for health and safety reasons.

Malvern Primary school in Liverpool where England and Liverpool player Steven Gerrard studied has just announced that in order to reduce the risk of injury to children whilst playing football at break-times leather footballs will be replaced by foam sponge balls.

Whilst health and safety is vitally important for both private companies and public institutions such as schools there will be a lot of people who will feel that maybe this is a step too far.

When I was a child I played football at school with a leather ball and I must admit that I never really felt overly threatened by the ball or exposed to personal danger as a result of (sometimes) being in the close vicinity of it.

Also, if I’m honest I was so bad that I would stumble over the ball whether it was leather or foam.

The argument by the school is that as there are children from the age of 4 to 11 present then there could be a risk of injury if one of the younger ones was hit by a leather ball.

There is also the other view that playing football with a foam ball will discourage children from playing and hence undertaking some form of exercise which as a result could increase the health and safety issues from obesity in children.

Looking on the bright side though, when the 2030 World Cup Finals take place with a foam ball at least England will have a chance of getting past the first round. That is of course as long as it isn’t raining during the finals in case by then they are not allowed to play in the rain.

24% of you may have to do things differently…

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According to our IT guys, over the last 3 months 24% of you that visited our website used the Mozilla Firefox web browser.

The other main browsers used were Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Apple Safari.

Personally I use the Firefox browser and am very happy with it (well, to be honest as happy with an internet browser as any normal person should be…)

However, things may be changing and there probably are some very worried people at Firefox.

Whilst nothing public has been said I’m sure the senior guys at Firefox are scratching their heads trying to find a solution to a potentially massive problem.

The problem isn’t because their browser is weak. In fact, far from it as apparently a lot of IT specialists love the Firefox browser due to its various add-ons.

No, the problem lies in the fact that it’s a single product company and there’s currently a move away from computers to Smartphones. In terms of the product lifecycle the Firefox product is arguably at the maturity stage and heading towards the decline.

In the UK the number of Smartphones now being sold is greater than the number of computers. Today’s average Smartphone is now more powerful than the typical computer found on your desk only a few years ago.

So, why is this switch to using Smartphones to access the internet a problem for Firefox?

Well, last week’s announcement by Nokia of their new Lumia 800 and the Lumia 710 Smartphones showed that they have dropped their own operating systems and will be using Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7.5 system.

This system will use the mobile version of Internet Explorer to access web pages on the move.

The other browser big boys already have their Smartphone relationships. Google’s Android system is on HTC and Samsung phones whilst Apple iPhones use the safari browser.

So, in terms of Smartphone romances there are:

HTC/Samsung + Android (Google Chrome)

Apple iPhone + Safari

Nokia + Microsoft (internet explorer)

Unfortunately for Firefox that leaves them desperately looking for the Smartphone love of their life and there aren’t too many potential partners out there looking for a date…

You can remove this barrier to entry but it may well kill you…

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Any organisation that can create a barrier to entry which prevents new competitors entering the market can, in theory, keep prices high.

Economies of scale (think Airbus or Boeing), branding (think Apple) and distribution channels (think Coke) are all excellent examples of barriers to entry but one of the toughest barriers to break through are government licenses.

If a licence is needed to operate in that industry then that is the ultimate barrier. After all, without the license the company can’t operate.

Japan is the home of sushi and as you would expect some of the top sushi restaurants can be found in Tokyo.

Sushi is fish and we all know that fish is healthy for you. It may come as a surprise then that one particular sushi delicacy in Japan could end up killing you rather quickly if it is prepared incorrectly.

Certain parts of the poisonous blowfish are considered by many to be the ultimate in sushi. It tastes gorgeous although to be honest I’ve never tried it so I’m taking somebody else’s word for this.

I’ve never tried it because I’ve never had the opportunity although even if I did have the opportunity I would have a few doubts. The reason is that as well as the edible parts of the fish, some of the organs of the fish are filled with poison called tetrododoxin which is more deadly than cyanide.

Now, if you’re eating blowfish then one thing for sure is that you want the chef to know what he or she is doing. You don’t want them making a little slip of the knife and including by mistake some of the poison as before you have a chance to say “does this fish taste a bit funny to you?” you would be on your way to a quick death.

The Japanese government have therefore heavily regulated this part of the sushi industry and there are only a handful of locations that have a licence to prepare and serve blowfish.

In October though new laws are coming into place which remove the need for a licence (or to use business strategy terminology, remove a barrier to entry).

So the good news for anyone that fancies trying some of the blowfish is that it’s likely to become a bit cheaper after October. The question though is whether price will be the key decision making factor when people are deciding to eat a meal which if prepared incorrectly could quickly kill you…

Is this segmentation or discrimination?

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The banking profession has had it pretty rough over the last few years. Whether you refer to it as the credit crunch, the liquidity crisis or the banking crisis it’s been tough for the banks and a number of banks have had to be rescued by government funds.

There’s also a lot of competition between the banks and a French based bank, Societe Generale, has attempted to win new customers by introducing an innovative product targeted at a particular segment of the market.

In simple terms segmenting the market is ….. wait for it ….. splitting it into ….. wait for it ….. segments (not the most detailed explanation in the world but hopefully it gets the point across!).

These individual segments can then be targeted using the marketing mix (the 4 Ps).

See if you can guess which segment of the market Societe General are targeting with their pink and gold coloured “Pour Elle” bank card.

First of all if you understand French then the name of the bank card may give you a few hints but if not then two of the main items within the “Product” component of the mix are:

1. Handbag theft insurance of up to Euro 200 and

2. A hotline where card holders can call out an electrician, locksmith or handyman free of charge twice a year.

Yes, the new bank card seems to be well and truly targeted towards French male accountants the female segment of the market.

A nice move by the bank but surely this is discrimination as what’s to stop a man wanting handbag insurance or being able to call out an electrician?

Well the good news for any men out there that are interested in these things then there’s no discrimination as the card is available to both men and women and in fact it’s been reported that approximately 5% of the holders of the “Pour Elle” bank card are men.

Would you have been quick enough to think of this?

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Sometimes people can be in the office and come up with a great idea. Whoever it was that came up with this idea at the Fiat office in Sweden should in my opinion get a bonus.

There are creative guys in many offices but my feeling is that what happened below was more of a “thought of on the spot” idea rather than a project that was planned weeks ahead.

The Google “Street View” website is a great site and enables people to (as the name suggests!) see the street view of many locations around the world.

The panoramic photos on the site are taken by special Google Street View cars that have roof mounted cameras on them.

Over in Scandinavia it looks like a creative individual at the Fiat offices in Sweden saw that a Google Street car was in the area and followed it before getting ahead of it and quickly stopping outside the main entrance to their rivals, Volkswagen.

Anyone who currently does a search on Google Street view for Volkswagen Sodertalje offices in Sweden will see an image of a lovely red Fiat 500 parked right outside the main entrance to the Swedish Volkswagen offices.

Brilliant! A great bit of creative thinking and guerrilla marketing by Fiat.

To be honest it’s probably pretty good for Volkswagen as well. After all, there are now no doubt more people who have seen the image of their offices in Sweden than would have been the case if a Volkswagen was parked outside instead of a shiny new red Fiat 500.

If you’re a single lady, should you get a red car?

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Despite car companies spending millions on R&D and new product launches one of the first questions people tend to ask if you say you’ve bought a new car is “what colour is it?”

Up until recently the most likely answer to that question would have been “silver”.

However, after 10 years at the top of the popularity car colour charts silver has fallen to the number 2 position.

The most popular car colour according to leading transportation coatings company, PPG Industries, is now white.

According to their figures 21% of this year’s new cars across the globe have been finished in white.

There are however some regional differences. Namely:

Asia/Pacific – silver 25%, white 23% and black 17%

Europe – black 26%, white 19% and silver 16%

North America – white 20%, silver 19% and black 18%

According to a PPG survey, more than 75% of car buyers said exterior colour was a factor in their purchase decision but as the above figures show though there doesn’t appear to be a huge variety in colours with the 3 main colours of white, black and silver dominating.

But what about the colour red though? After all, our ExP logo has a big red dot in the middle so we like the colour red.

Well, an interesting study in the European Journal of Social Psychology has identified that if a lady wants to make herself more attractive to men then she should consider wearing more red colours.

The study concludes that

“In two experiments, we investigate an analogous effect in humans, specifically, whether red on a woman’s shirt increases attraction behavior in men. In Experiment 1, men who viewed an ostensible conversation partner in a red versus a green shirt chose to ask her more intimate questions. In Experiment 2, men who viewed an ostensible interaction partner in a red versus a blue shirt chose to sit closer to her

No doubt the marketeers are already onto this so does this mean that we’ll now see car companies starting to promote red cars for single ladies?

Is it better to spend a penny or save a pound?

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Love them or hate them but low cost airlines such as Ryan Air and EasyJet are here to stay.

Since low cost airlines entered the airline industry 20 odd years ago they have shaken up the industry.

Easyjet for example now carry more passengers than any other UK airline and the Irish airline Ryanair long ago surpassed the Irish national carrier Aer Lingus in terms of revenue and passenger numbers.

These airline’s business models are classic no-frills low cost models where passengers don’t pay a lot but in return don’t get a lot.

In effect they only get the flight and they have to pay for everything else. Ryanair passengers for example that don’t print out their boarding card at home are charged the princely sum of £40 to have it printed at the airport.

There are reports though that Ryanair are considering taking the no-frills approach to a new level.

To keep the cost of training crew and maintaining spares at a minimum, Ryanair only have one type of plane – a Boeing 737-800. This model of plane has 3 toilets on board but Ryanair want to remove 2 of these toilets so that they can fit an extra 6 seats on the plane. This will then free up space for 6 more fee paying passengers.

Their existing capacity on their standard plane is 189 so removing 2 toilets will raise their passenger capacity by 3%.

Ryanair have reportedly said that the additional revenue generated by this extra passenger capacity could result in the average price of a flight ticket being reduced by £2. There would of course no doubt be extra profit for them as well from these extra passengers.

This extra revenue for them would be pretty good but if you look at it from another viewpoint there could be some uncomfortable logistical issues on board.

With 195 passengers and 6 crew all sharing the one toilet there could be a fairly long queue of people going down the aisle of the plane waiting for the toilet to be freed up.

The risk of a certain type of mid-air accident will no doubt increase although the real worry of course is if you see both pilots at the back of the queue hoping up and down with their legs crossed…

Look on the bright side. At least it smells nice…

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Have you ever dropped a cup of coffee at work? What about spilling a glass of water?

Maybe a more interesting question to ask a forklift truck driver that (currently) works for the Kerry Logistics in Australia is “have you ever dropped a container full of 462 cases of a customer’s wine that were worth £664,000 and all the bottles were smashed?”

Unfortunately for this unlucky forklift truck driver the answer is yes.

The container held 2010 Mollydooker Velvet Glove Shiraz bottles of wine produced by winemaker Sparky Marquis which sell for £122 each.

Mr Marquis told reporters that he was “gut wrenched” that the wine bottles had been smashed. The container held one third of his winery’s annual production and was destined for delivery to the United States.

There are two important business lessons to be learnt from this.

Firstly, always make sure that valuable items are insured. Sensibly the wine was insured so the winemaker won’t be out of pocket.

Secondly, there’s no harm in having a sense of humour.

Mr Marquis was quoted as saying that when the logistics company opened up the container “they said it was like a murder scene.” With a touch of classic Australian humour he added “but it smelled phenomenal”

Author Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote “Wine is bottled poetry”.

I can imagine the words that came out of the forklift driver’s mouth when the container was dropped were anything but poetry.

Can a bottle of Coke save a child’s life?

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Coca-Cola is one of the worlds’s largest companies and is certainly one of the best known global brands.

The company is good at lots of things and one thing they are extremely good at is working with their bottlers and managing the Coke distribution channel.

Coke-CSR-exampleAfter all, the distinctive Coke bottles and cans can be seen in shops in all corners of the world. They certainly can get their products to the distribution outlets.

I came across a report the other day involving an inspirational person called Simon Berry.

Simon spent some time working in Zambia as an aid worker and quickly spotted that one of the major causes of death amongst children in that area was from diarrhoea. It’s a shocking statistic but in some countries, 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from simple preventable causes such as dehydration from diarrhoea.

The sad thing is that there is a relatively cheap and easy cure for this life taking disease. A simple mix of oral rehydration salts and zinc supplements can provide the appropriate immediate nutritional and hydrating fluid that is necessary to save a child’s life.

The big problem though is that this cheap and easy cure isn’t in the remote villages that need them.

Simon and his team started looking into ways of getting the life saving medicine to the remote villages that needed them.

A fantastic solution has been identified. Namely, to produce the medicine in packets that would fit into the spaces between the bottles in the Coke crates. As a result, the medicine can be delivered alongside the Coke bottles without taking up any additional space (and hence without increasing the cost of transporting the Coke).

The photo above shows a father and his lovely daughter together with one of the specially designed anti-diarrhoea kits that fit into a Coke crate.

In my opinion this is an absolutely brilliant idea – life saving medicine being delivered via Coke’s world class distribution channel without taking any additional space up on the delivery trucks. A great partnership between the commercial sector and the Not-for-Profit sector where all parties win.

The idea is currently being piloted in Zambia and more details can be found at colalife.org.

Congratulations to all concerned for such a great project.

Surely you’re not watching that on your phone?

A few years ago Blackberry used to be the phone of choice amongst business people but the emergence of Apple’s iPhone and various Android smartphones has resulted in sales of Blackberry phones plummeting.

phones-for-accountantsEarlier this year Blackberry launched their new phone, the Z10 and this was seen to be a make or break situation for the company behind Blackberry. Before the launch of the Z10 their latest set of sales results showed a fall of 47% from a year earlier and the Z10 was hoped to stop the fall in sales.

By all accounts it’s a pretty good phone and some commentators are saying that it could even be a rival for the ubiquitous iPhone.

It seems to be doing well but yesterday news emerged of a potential flaw in the design that could lead to some embarrassing situations.

It’s a sophisticated phone and one option it has is to share details of what music you’re listening to with your contacts on your phone. This alone makes you realise how far Blackberry has moved from a pure business phone where its main use was phone calls and emails.

Now, music sharing isn’t the embarrassing bit. Not even if your music listening habits include Justin Bieber.

No, the embarrassing bit is that when the music sharing option on the new Blackberry is turned on it not only shares what music you’ve been listening to but also shares what videos you’ve been watching on your phone.

There have been reports of people being surprised at what videos their contacts have been watching on their phones with some of those videos being how can I say it but, um, adult only videos with content of an adult nature.

A lot of you reading this are qualified accountants or are studying finance so I’m sure that most videos you watch on your phone are about the latest International Financial Reporting Standards so you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Then again there are some people who would maybe argue that it’s more embarrassing to be caught watching Financial Reporting videos than watching videos of people getting friendly with each other.

Will her next murder mystery novel involve an accountant?

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She is one of the most successful authors in the world and has sold over 100 million books featuring the character Dr Kay Scarpetta. She’s earnt a lot of money from her writing and has estimated earnings from her writing career of £300 million.

Patricia-CornwellIn the 4 years to 2009 alone she earned more than $40 million but when she checked her records from her accountants that were looking after her affairs, the famous author Patricia Cornwell found that her fortune was reduced to just $13 million.

As a result of this discovery the author sued her advisors Anchin, Block and Anchin, a New York accounting company for negligence and breach of contract.

Amongst other things she argued that her accountants had borrowed millions of dollars in her name without telling her, that money from the sale of one of her Ferraris was unaccounted for and she had had to unnecessarily pay taxes of $200,000 on the purchase of a private helicopter.

Perhaps the most important claim by the unhappy author was that the negligence caused by the accountants was so distracting that it caused her to miss a deadline for writing one of her books. This missed deadline cost her $15 million in non-recoverable advances and commissions.

One of the fundamental principles of codes of conducts for accountants around the world is “professional competence and due care” and although I haven’t followed this case in detail it does seem that the accounting company involved hasn’t followed this principle particularly well.

Ms Cornwell’s case against her former advisers reached a conclusion this week in Boston over in America and the judge presiding over the case agreed with the author and she was awarded $51 million for breach of contract and negligence.

After the drama of this court case I wonder whether we’ll see one of Patricia Cornwell’s future murder mystery novels involve the victims being accountants that lost a lot of money for one of their clients…

Forget your Gucci handbag, you’ll just be scratching the surface…

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We all know that the pharmaceuticals industry is big business.

The industry is facing considerable challenges however, with a large proportion of the “blockbuster” drugs due to come off patent in the next few years.

risk-exampleDrug companies are all too aware that they might well need a big breakthrough soon in order to sustain their historical levels of shareholder return.

A lesser known threat to the industry, and more direct threat to us individually, is the rapid growth in fake prescription drugs.  Patents protect a patent holder against a legitimate business from copying their product.  It’s not much use against criminality.

Fake Gucci handbags may be an annoyance to Gucci, but nobody dies when they are purchased.  Fake drugs can be sufficiently dissimilar to the real product to allow diseases to build up resistance to the genuine drug.  An overdose may be fatal in the short-term; an under-dose may be fatal in the longer-term.

So there’s a significant incentive for all concerned to maintain integrity in the production and logistics chain that gets the genuine drugs to those in need.  Countries where prescription drug usage is culturally common and poorer countries are probably most at risk.

A Ghanaian company, mPedigree, has come up with an ingenious and simple solution.  Working in conjunction with bona fide drugs manufacturers, it assigns a code to each packet of pills.  This is then added to the box, in the form of a scratch card.

When customers buy the product, they scratch off the scratchcard style covering on the box and then send a free text message / sms with that code.  If the product’s codes are genuine, a text message is immediately sent back to verify their authenticity.  If not, the customer knows that they have just been sold a potentially dangerous dud.

Of course, there will be risks to this process, such as criminal elements infiltrating the process of allocating codes, but this is a smaller risk to contain than the wider risk of fake drugs, but this is a process that an auditor could even give an assurance opinion on.

Given the worldwide very high penetration of mobile phones and the cheapness of text messages, this is a fascinating solution to a big problem.  Maybe in future it could be refined to also warn if drugs are genuine but beyond their sell by date (time expired drugs can also become dangerously lacking in efficacy).

What a wonderful, simple idea.

What does your car number plate tell us about you?

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The US state of California has a lot going for it.

car-advertisingIt has some of the most scenic coastline to be found anywhere in the world, some great wine and with Hollywood and Silicon Valley it  has a wealth of artistic and creative minds.

What it also has however is a budget deficit of around $20 billion.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former actor and now the Governor of California certainly has a challenge on his hands to reduce the deficit.

One idea that is being discussed though is in my opinion really rather clever and introduces us to a potentially new form of advertising medium.

The State is considering introducing digital adverts onto car number plates. The idea is that the digital plates would look like normal plates when the car is moving but after it has been stopped for more than a few seconds at traffic lights or in a traffic jam the device would switch from showing the car registration number on the plate to showing a digital advert.

When stationary the registration number would still be shown but would be smaller and the advert would take the dominant position.

In effect, the car would become a mobile billboard with significant advertising revenue being generated for the state. Advertising Agencies in California are no doubt licking their lips in anticipation at the opportunities that this would offer in terms of creativity.

Whilst on the subject of creative adverts involving vehicles I think that the following advert for Copenhagen Zoo that appeared on a bus in the Danish capital will take some beating.

For those of you with a nervous disposition rest assured that it’s only art work on the outside and not a 100 metre long Boa Constrictor taking on a bus.

What’s in a pair of shoes? Quite a bit if it’s a Jimmy Choo shoe but…

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With celebrity clients such as Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham, Jimmy Choo is one of the most famous shoe brands in the world.

It is a real success story having been started 14 years ago by Tamara Mellon, a former editor at Vogue magazine, with a loan from her father of £150,000. There are now reports that it could be sold for up to £500 million.

Ms. Mellon started the business after meeting a shoe maker called Jimmy Choo during her time with Vogue. Mr Choo used to make a small number of handmade shoes which the magazine used for photo shoots. Ms. Mellon saw the potential in scaling up the business and 14 years later there are now over 100 stores around the world with prices for some shoes being well in excess of £1,000.

So, why has the business been so successful?

Whilst design and quality are obviously key features, the brand arguably took off when famous celebrities such as Julia Roberts and Beyonce started wearing them.

But it’s not just shoes that they sell. They have also expanded into items such as handbags, sunglasses and scarves.  In business speak this is referred to as “brand extension”.

A further example of brand extension is also in the pipeline for Jimmy Choo. Last year they signed a licence agreement with Inter Parfums for producing and distributing perfume under the Jimmy Choo brand.

Another well known footwear manufacturer is Cat®. They are renowned for producing tough, hard wearing “work boot style” footwear.

The brand itself came about as a brand extension of Caterpillar® Inc, the construction and mining equipment manufacturer.

The key thing that needs to be present for brand extension to be successful is the “fit”.

Glamorous Jimmy Choo shoes work well with fashionable sunglasses and high quality perfumes whilst the “toughness” of Caterpillar® Inc equipment works equally well with rugged work boot style footwear.

Will we see Jimmy Choo expanding their brand into mining equipment? Somehow, I don’t think so.

If you wear a fluorescent jacket at work you’re not necessarily an engineer.

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Health and safety procedures can be vital for safeguarding workers.

If you happen to be driving by the town of Els Alamus near Barcelona in Spain though don’t automatically assume that the workers in the road wearing the yellow vests are repairing the highway.

Women wearing very little clothing and standing by the roadside on the outskirts of major towns and cities are a common sight in Spain. There are an estimated 300,000 women working in the country as prostitutes.

Sex workers in the town of Els Alamus though have recently faced a significant number of fines.

Surprisingly, these fines were not for the prostitution itself as this is currently legal in Spain.

Instead, they were fined for breaching a 2004 law which states that workers on major highways must wear high visibility clothing. A classic health and safety policy which helps protect road workers and drivers from harm.

Not to be outdone by the legislation the sex workers have simply decided to wear fluorescent vests when looking for their customers.

Looking on the bright side for these ladies, the wearing of bright yellow vests not only enables them to satisfy health and safety rules but it also makes it easier for the reported one in four Spanish men who have paid for sex to spot them.

When is a foot not a foot?

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Fast food is big business but for Subway, the world’s largest restaurant chain with 38,000 restaurants in 100 countries, something isn’t quite big enough.

Subway is famous for their “Footlong” sandwiches whose name implies should be a foot long (12 inches / 30 cm).

Their “Footlong” has been the backbone of their advertising for a number of years and any company’s advertising should be accurate and shouldn’t be misleading.

Well up step Australian Subway customer Matt Corby who purchased a Footlong and measured it before eating it. He then took a photo and posted it on Subway’s Facebook page with the request “subway pls respond”.

The photo is shown above and as can clearly be seen the Footlong isn’t in fact a foot but is 1 inch short at 11 inches.

Was this evidence that Subway had been deliberately misleading their customers by calling it a Footlong when it should have been called an “11 inch long”?

Does the extra inch matter?

Well, things took off quickly on Facebook and there were soon more than 100,000 likes and over 5,000 comments to Matt’s post. The shock discovery that the Footlong was an inch short of bread soon spread around the world.

Subway quickly supplied the following statement to the Chicago Tribune newspaper:

“We have redoubled our efforts to ensure consistency and correct length in every sandwich we serve. Our commitment remains steadfast to ensure that every Subway Footlong sandwich is 12 inches at each location worldwide.”

Is this going to be a good enough solution to the problem of the missing inch of bread?

Unfortunately for Subway within hours a number of lawsuits were filed in America in connection with the missing inch.

One of the lawsuits filed by Mr Buren from Chicago for example is claiming that the Footlong sandwich product is false advertising and as a result he is suing the company for $5 million.

Now, I’m an accountant and not a lawyer but if he’s successful the $5 million will buy an awful lot of 1 inch pieces of bread…

Should Ernst & Young have done this?

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I think truth and honesty in business are vital.

I can therefore say in all truthfulness and honesty that I think Ernst & Young is a great company.

They have some tremendous people working for them and the students I’ve met over the years have all been fantastic.

If I’m really honest and truthful though I have to say that in my opinion there is a bit of a question mark over some of the performances in the video below.

The video was apparently taken at an EY recruitment day event and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think that EY did a good job on the song-writing side of things and whether the employees that joined in with the singing, hand clapping and swaying with such rhythmic precision should stick to doing consulting and client work.

Now to be fair it has to be said that the recruitment event where the EY song was filmed was held 12 years ago so things have no doubt changed since then with the recruitment techniques used. It’s not clear though whether there was a slump in people applying for positions with EY 11 years ago.

Now, all of you that have just had a great weekend and are reading this in the office on a Monday morning, join together and start singing “Oh Happy Days, Oh Happy Days…”

What have James Bond and accountants got in common?

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James Bond – fast cars, fast women and saving the world. It’s all in a day’s work for 007.

A lot of the readers of this blog are accountants and as accountants we all know from personal experience that driving fast cars, entertaining fast women and saving the world can be a very tiring business.

So, what better way to unwind at the end of the day than with a drink of Mr Bond’s famous “shaken, not stirred” vodka martini?

Mr Bond has been drinking his vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred) since the Dr No film was released 50 years ago.

Anyone that goes to see the latest Bond movie Skyfall that was released last week though won’t see him drinking the famous “007 drink” but instead will see him drinking a nice cool Heineken beer.

We’ve highlighted before how good Heineken are at guerrilla marketing and the latest Bond movie is a great example of product placement.

Product placement is where a company’s products are “placed” into films and TV shows. They aren’t explicitly advertised but rather it’s a more discrete promotion where people “subconsciously” see the product.

Heineken no doubt paid a significant amount of money to have their product in the hands of the legendary spy and I have to say that it works well.

After all, a quick meeting in the office today amongst the male members of the team came to the conclusion that the photo above of bond girl Berenice Marlohe holding a bottle of Heineken beer was one of the finest examples of post-modern contemporary photographic artwork.

One final thing though and now that you’ve driven your fast car, entertained a fast woman and saved the world today, before you settle down tonight in front of the TV with your slippers and you reach for your Heineken beer, remember that a bottle of beer doesn’t react well to being shaken or stirred…

Is this the best or worst resignation letter ever?

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Here’s an interesting question. If you resign from your job, what should your resignation letter look like?

Should it be simple, brief and straight to the point or should it be sent to the whole office and include various accusations about your boss including a certain, how shall we say it but, adult liaison in a meeting room with a colleague?

Well if your name is Kieran Allen then the second option appears to be the correct answer.

Mr Allen used to work for MEC, one of the leading media agencies in London. Yesterday he resigned and his resignation letter contains some pretty juicy accusations.

Now whilst this isn’t the first resignation letter that contains some juicy accusations it is the first resignation letter with juicy accusations that has gone viral on the Internet and as a result has been seen by millions around the world.

To avoid a knock at the door from some lawyers, I’ll keep the manager’s name anonymous (although if anyone wants to see the full letter then a simple search on the Internet will reveal it!) but Mr Allen claimed that he left MEC after 2 1/2 years of “loyal service” because of the treatment he received from his manager.

Mr Allen claimed he was forced to take time off work due to stress after being overloaded with work by the manager and he claimed the manager made him feel like a complete outsider on his return.

We’ve all been overloaded with work at some stage or other so this is initial claim isn’t that exciting.

The more interesting accusations though were when he claimed in his letter that the manager “regularly made sexist and other bigoted remarks” and “took a female colleague out for a drink on the day he interviewed her, then took her back to the MEC offices that night and had sexual relations with her in the meeting room on the 3rd floor”.

Mr Allen then went on to say that all of these allegations were “common knowledge throughout the team”.

Some people will applaud Mr Allen for his resignation letter whilst others (no doubt including his manager) will say that he should have kept his issues to himself.

Either way there are some serious lessons to be learnt from all of this. For example, it’s probably advisable to make sure you knock on the door of the meeting room on the 3rd floor at MEC before opening it…

Should this former Deloitte accountant become a doctor?

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One of the key attributes of finance and business people should be ethical behaviour. Note that I say “should be” as not everyone seems to agree with this approach.

Former Deloitte UK employee Nahied Kabir seems to have a slightly different view of what is acceptable in terms of ethical behavior.

Here’s a quick multiple choice question for you to see how ethical you are compared to Mr. Kabir.

Question – You’re struggling a bit with your professional exams and your employer’s policy is that if you don’t pass your exam within 2 attempts you’ll lose your job. Do you:

a) Focus your efforts on passing your exams. Or,

b) Focus your efforts on forging two doctor’s certificate.

Now, in my opinion (and hopefully in your opinion as well!) the correct answer is (b) (a).

Alas for former Deloitte employee Mr. Kabir he chose option (b).

In summary, Mr. Kabir failed an exam twice and at a meeting to discuss terminating his employment contract with Deloitte he produced a forged doctor’s note.

Deloitte let him sit the exam again and he passed this time. He then had a further 3 exams to sit and you guessed it he failed all 3.

At the next meeting to discuss things with Deloitte he claimed that he failed due to the ill health of his mother. He then produced a second forged doctor’s note from another doctor claiming his mother was suffering from ill health.

Proving that as well as being a pretty rubbish accountant he was also pretty bad at forging letters, the forged letter from the second doctor was exactly the same as the forged letter from the first doctor with the exception of only 4 words!

It’s probably no surprise to you that Mr. Kabir is now no longer working with Deloitte and the accounting body he was sitting his exams with (ICAEW) have published their report on the disciplinary action they took against him.

Again, it’s probably no surprise that he was “declared unfit to become a member of ICAEW”.

There’s no news yet whether Mr. Kabir is planning a successful career as a bank note forger…

Would you prefer to read it or watch it?

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Marie Claire is one of the leading women’s magazines in the world. It was first published 75 years ago in France and now has various editions around the world.

Although I must admit that I haven’t read a copy in detail I’m told by some of the ladies in the office that it’s a good mix of fashion, beauty and health.

Next month’s issue though is going to have something which has never been seen before in a UK women’s magazine.

Now, I’m not talking about a woman’s magazine writing about the latest football results or the new Range Rover car that has just been released. No, instead I’m talking about a pretty innovative advert.

On pages 34 and 35 of next month’s magazine there will be a 45 second video advert. Yes, that’s right – a 45 second video will be embedded into the pages of the magazine so that when the relevant pages are opened the video will start to play.

Very impressive.

The video advert is produced using technology by US company Americhip and will be for a perfume by luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana and reportedly will feature two models posing near a coastal scene.

There’s a constant challenge for advertisers to identify eye catching adverts and this video advert embedded within the magazine will certainly be eye catching.

It will also no doubt be very expensive and the cost of including the video advert has not been disclosed. Interestingly the company that will be paying for the advert is Proctor & Gamble as they are the company that produces the perfume under license from Dolce & Gabbana.

Oh and before you all rush out to buy the magazine it’s worth checking that your copy includes the advert as due to cost reasons not all copies will have the advert in it. If you are lucky enough to get hold of a copy with the video in then it will no doubt be a good read or should I say a good watch.

Tennis star’s balls fall out of his shorts…

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Adidas and Puma are two of the top sportswear brands in the world.

Interestingly though they were actually started by two brothers.

In the 1920s in Germany, brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler set up a shoe making business but soon fell out with each other and went their separate ways.

Adolf (Adi) Dassler kept the original company but renamed it Adidas (named after his first name and part of his surname) whilst Rudolf left and set up Puma.

Since the split there has been intense rivalry between the two companies and over the years there have been some famous examples of both of them trying to outdo the other in terms of publicity.

For example, back in the 1970s at the start of the 1970 World Cup final, arguably the world’s best ever footballer famously stopped the referee with a last minute request to tie his shoelaces just before the kickoff. The result was that millions of TV viewers saw Pele tie up his Puma football boots.

An early example of “guerrilla marketing” and priceless publicity for Puma.

More recently there was some rather unusual publicity for Adidas.

At the recent Wimbledon tennis Championship in London, the unlucky losing finalist Andy Murray had a few problems with his shorts.

Adidas pay a significant sum to Murray to sponsor him and in return he wears Adidas tennis gear, including Adidas shorts.

In his Wimbledon match against fellow Adidas sponsored tennis player Marcos Baghdatis, he lost two points after a tennis ball fell out of his Adidas shorts mid-point (Murray puts one tennis ball in his pocket whilst taking his first serve in case he needs to take a second serve).

Luckily for Murray he went on to win his match against Baghdatis but for Adidas it could have been an embarrassing problem had he lost because of the design of their shorts.

Adidas reportedly said that the error in the depth of the pockets was due to the shorts being handmade.

There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity and to be honest this has probably turned out ok for Adidas.

More people are probably now aware that Adidas sponsor Murray and they will no doubt change the design of the pockets so there’s no danger of the public seeing one of Murray’s balls popping out of his shorts in the future.

Are you strong enough to buy this?

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Now let me think. Drinking lots of beer and running as hard as you can into a metal vending machine. What could possibly go wrong?

In today’s competitive business environment it’s normally the case that companies want to make it as easy as possible for their customers to buy their products.

Over in Argentina though a beer company has taken an unusual (but in my opinion a brilliant) approach to selling beer.

In fact, if you’re talking in strategic exam business terminology, an unusual approach to the outbound logistics found within Michael Porter’s value chain.

Salta beer has designed a vending machine for all the rugby fans out there.

In order to get your can of beer dispensed from the vending machine you put your money in and then you have to body slam into the vending machine as hard as you can.

The nice twist to this is that there is a meter on the vending machine which is similar to the “hammer strength tests” that used to be found at old carnivals and fairgrounds. In other words, the beer will only be dispensed if you can run into the machine with a hard enough force and reach the “strength meter”.

It’s been designed to appeal to rugby fans who are used to seeing rugby players tackling their opponents.

The machine can be seen in action below and the next time you are sat down in a quiet Argentinean bar enjoying a relaxed drink lookout for the big guy behind you taking a long run-up and heading with his shoulder down towards the vending machine…

Which is more important to you – the first or last bag?

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It never ceases to amaze me. You’re at an airport, you check-in and then wave goodbye to your luggage. When you arrive at your destination you expect your luggage to arrive on the luggage carousel at the same time you.

I met an old friend last week who was telling me about a situation he faced a few years ago when working on a project at an airport.

The aim of the project was to improve the business process of unloading the bags from the plane and getting them onto the luggage carousel.

This is something we take for granted but the logistics involved are not always that simple and passengers can quickly get frustrated if they don’t get their luggage within a few minutes.

One of the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) in place to measure the efficiency of the process was the time it took to get the first piece of luggage from the plane to the luggage carousel.

Now whilst this may sound like a sensible KPI, it was also used to determine the bonus that the luggage handlers would get (the quicker the luggage was delivered the higher the bonus).

Unfortunately for the management of the airport it was also open to abuse.

It may seem obvious now but what was happening was that the baggage handlers were getting the fittest member of their team to literally grab a bag from the hold of the plane and run to the carousel so that the time between landing and the “first luggage on the carousel” was minimal.

Meanwhile, all of the remaining pieces of luggage would be unloaded at a much slower pace.

The end result was happy baggage handlers but unhappy passengers!

Needless to say management soon identified this and the KPI was changed so that it was now the time taken to unload the last bag rather than the first bag that was important.

Would Michael Porter sleep in this bed?

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Michael Porter is arguably the world’s most famous management theorist. His theories such as the 5 forces model and Value Chain Analysis are key parts of the syllabus for several ACCA and CIMA papers.

His generic strategy approach of “differentiation” and “cost leadership” has been around for a number of years and whilst there is a clear argument that a significant proportion of companies are nowadays trying to combine both approaches by aiming to differentiate the product or service whilst at the same time focusing on cost reduction, there is one particular segment of the hotel market that almost certainly has to differentiate to survive.

The boutique hotel segment inherently struggles to compete with the big national and international chains of hotels on the cost leadership approach (these bigger hotel chains will have significant economies of scale for example).

Instead, they will need to be “different” in terms of for example location or “friendliness”.

When it comes to differentiation, the aptly named Jumbo Stay Hotel will be hard to beat for people that are keen on airlines.

Located on a disused runway at Stockholm Arlanda airport, the Hotel is in fact an old Jumbo jet that that has been converted into a luxury hotel. The Jumbo Jet hotel has 27 bedrooms with 76 beds but the best room has to be cockpit which has now been made into a luxury suite with panoramic views of the airport.

The upper deck of the plane which used to house business class passengers is now a cafe serving fresh food and drinks.

We’ve blogged before about Ryan Air’s cost leadership approach to their flights and it’s nice to see a differentiation approach to another part of the airline industry.

Is this the new face of Ernst & Young?

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I guess we’ve all done it at some time or another.

We’ve woken up one morning and due to too much work (or too much drink…) you look in the mirror and think “oh dear” (or some similar but slightly stronger words).

Well step forward Mr Ed Moyse and Mr Ross Harper who when they looked in the mirror recently saw the Ernst & Young logo staring back at them.

Now this wasn’t a drunken night out at an EY party that went wrong. No, it was a deliberate move.

The two entrepreneurial university students were thinking of ways to reduce the student debt that they had built up when they came up with the idea of using their faces as mobile advertising screens.

They set up their website – buymyface.com – and are selling their “advertising board” faces for one year.

One of their first clients was EY who paid them to display the EY logo on their faces during a skiing trip to the Alps so that EY could advertise to potential new recruits.

The idea seems to have caught on and according to their website as of today they have raised £34,000 from selling their unusual advertising boards.

Their going rate for a day’s advertising on their faces has also increased since they started their business.  They are now charging £600 for a day’s advertising.

EY seem to be so impressed with them that they have now become the main sponsor of the website.

Does this mean that at some stage in the future your accountants “uniform” of dark suit and white shirt will be accompanied by the corporate logo painted on your face?

Not the best way to start a presentation…

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The IT guys I’ve met in my career have all been very nice people. Admittedly they all seem to be slightly mad and do tend to talk in a strange language with lots of mentions of “coding this and coding that”.

To be fair though they all probably think I’m slightly mad when I talk to fellow finance people in my strange language about “SOCI this and SOFP that”.

If you talk to your IT colleagues though one thing that they tend to take very seriously is the level of security.

Now whilst there are lots of higher level security precautions present such as firewalls and anti-virus programmes there are also some more simple precautions that you should take.

Memory sticks (or USB or flash drives as they are sometime known) can all contain confidential documents and most memory sticks are not password protected.

It pays to double check what’s on the memory stick you’re carrying around with you in case it contains confidential documents and you lose it.

In a similar vein it’s always worth checking what other files are on your flash drive if you’re about to make a presentation.

Unfortunately for Father Martin McVeigh, a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland, he didn’t check what other files were on the flash drive he was going to use when he recently did a presentation to some parents of children at a local primary school.

According to media reports, whilst loading up his presentation for the parents, Father McVeigh inadvertently showed a slideshow of indecent pornographic images onto a screen.

The x-rated slideshow was on the memory stick that Father McVeigh had put into the computer to load up his intended presentation.

Father McVeigh was understandably a bit shocked at seeing the naked pictures on the screen (although to be fair probably not as shocked as the parents in the audience were) and according to the BBC website he was “visibly shaken” and “bolted out of the room”.

He later stated that he didn’t know how the images got onto the memory stick.

And the morale of the story?

Well, I guess that IT security is not just the higher level technical areas but also the more simple areas such as making sure you know what else is on your memory stick…

Is the internet more important to you than being with your partner?

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With the start of a new year it’s often a time when people start thinking about new beginnings and even changing their job.

So what would you look for in a new job and what things are important for you?

An interesting study by Cisco shows that it’s not just salary that is important and for the younger generation that have been brought up with tech gadgets like Smartphones and social media sites such as Facebook there are certain things that are more important than extra cash in your pay packet.

Cisco’s Connected World Technology Report surveyed nearly 3,000 young professionals and college students aged from 18 to 30 in 14 countries and there were some interesting findings for any companies that are looking at the remuneration package that they should be offering new recruits.

The study identified that 33% of “college students and young employees under the age of 30 said that they would prioritize social media freedom, device flexibility, and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer, indicating that the expectations and priorities of the next generation of the world’s workforce are not solely tied to money”.

So money isn’t everything in a remuneration package and in fact 45% of young employees said “they would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access, and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility”.

Whilst the report identified changes which could impact on staff recruitment there were also some more “personal findings”.

It found for example that 33% believed the “Internet is a fundamental resource for the human race – as important as air, water, food and shelter”.

Now, call me old fashioned but whilst the internet certainly is important, I personally feel the long term impact is slightly different when comparing your internet going down for two hours with for example your air supply being turned off for 2 hours.

In terms of the future of the human race there was also a slightly concerning finding where it was identified that “40% of college students aged 18 to 23 thought the internet was more important to them than dating or going out with friends”.

Is it better to be loyal or disloyal?

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We’ve all heard of the big coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee and with their growth over recent years it’s become more and more difficult for the smaller independent coffee shops to compete.

Over in Singapore though a novel approach to competing with these “coffee shop big boys” has just been introduced.

Lots of businesses have a “loyalty card” programme whereby people earn various points each time they spend money with a company. They can then use these points to buy various items with the company.

The giant Tesco supermarket chain for example has one of the largest loyalty card schemes in the UK whereby “Tesco points” can be used to purchase Tesco products. Most international airlines also have loyalty programmes such as Sky team and Star Alliance where the points earned can be exchanged for free flights.

Antic Studios, a creative agency in Singapore has just come up with a new concept and it’s a “disloyalty card”.

The aim is to help a group of 8 smaller independent coffee shops in Singapore develop.

The idea is that an individual picks up a disloyalty card at one of the independent coffee shops. If they then visit the other 7 independent shops they get their card stamped and can then return to the original coffee shop to claim their free drink.

It’s a novel way of smaller companies who are in effect in competition with each other joining together to create awareness of themselves and encouraging people to try them out instead of staying with the big guys.

Smaller competitors working together to create stronger competition against the big coffee chains – a nice idea and well worth discussing over a cup of coffee.

Paper or plastic – which is best?

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Money makes the world go around but does it matter if it’s paper or plastic money?

A few years ago if you looked in your wallet or purse you would probably have seen paper banknotes. Dollars, Euros, pound sterling and other currencies had paper notes of various denominations.

Today though there are 23 countries around the world that use plastic banknotes instead of paper notes.

Canada recently joined the list of plastic note countries and has just launched a plastic $100 note.

Why the switch to plastic notes though as after all the world has managed with paper notes for plenty of time. There are a few reasons for the switch.

Durability is perhaps the major one. The usable life of plastic banknotes for example can be up to 2.5 times longer than the traditional paper note.

There are also better security features on the plastic notes. Sophisticated holograms on plastic banknotes make it more difficult for counterfeit notes to be made.

So with all these benefits why don’t more countries use plastic notes?

On the downside of things, whilst the useful life is longer the initial upfront cost of production can be quite a bit higher with more complex banknote production facilities required.

Some people have also said that plastic notes are more slippery and therefore more difficult to count large amounts of money. To me though this wouldn’t necessarily be a major problem if the large amounts of banknotes that were being counted were mine!

Whichever way you look at it the chances are that over the next few years more and more notes will be plastic rather than paper and for any of you that have pulled a pair of trousers out of the washing machine and found a soggy broken paper banknote in the pocket this can only be a good thing.

The Big 4 don’t appear to be happy about this…

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We blogged earlier this year about Michel Barnier, the EU internal market commissioner announcing plans to issue new laws which would dramatically impact the “Big 4” (namely Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC.)

Well, these changes have now got a bit closer as the draft law has just been released.

In an attempt to reduce conflict of interest and to introduce more competition into the industry the main proposal of the draft law includes the requirement for the Big 4 firms to separate their auditing and consulting divisions in the EU.

This is a pretty big issue as in simple terms if the law becomes final it could prevent the Big 4 “audit firms” from providing any non audit related services such as consulting, providing tax advice or running training courses.

This could see a major restructuring of the audit profession.

Other provisions in the draft law include banks being banned from insisting that a company uses a Big 4 firm if they are to be lent money by the bank (at the moment a number of banks make it a requirement for a company to be audited by a Big 4 firm before they will release significant loans.)

There is also a proposed requirement for audit firms to be rotated every 6 to 12 years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the Big 4 are reported to be against any changes to the current rules (after all as the saying goes, “how many turkeys would vote for Christmas?”).

I’m pretty sure though that the “mid tier group” of auditing firms that are below the Big 4 in terms of size such as BDO, Grant Thornton and Mazars would maybe take a different view to the Big 4 and be in favour of Mr Barnier’s views as this could open up a number of opportunities for them.

Before everyone that works at a Big 4 company starts rushing to rearrange the office furniture though it’s worth noting that the law at the moment is only draft and the EU states and the European Parliament have to provide the final sign off before the law becomes a reality.

Will passing your ACCA or CIMA exams make you slimmer?

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According to a report released yesterday by Eurostat, if you’re in the UK and you’re speaking to a woman then there is a 24% chance that she is obese (or to use less technical terminology, she is very fat).

At the other end of the “fat scale” are ladies from Romania who have the privilege of being the “slimmest nation” in the EU with only 7% of Romanian ladies being classified as obese.

So nearly 1 in 4 ladies in the UK are obese. From an environmental analysis point of view this increase in the number of fat people over recent years is a classic movement in the “Social” part of PESTEL analysis.

As well as having serious implications for the health of those individuals that are overweight the movement towards “fat nations” can have serious implications for businesses over the medium to long term.

In the private sector, Airlines for example will need to invest in bigger seats and spend more on fuel costs to move all this heavier weight around the world.

The public sector will also be impacted with for example hospitals needing to have stronger and bigger beds.

One interesting thing I noticed within the Eurostat report though was the following statement:

The share of obese persons also varies according to the educational level. For women, the pattern is again clear: the proportion of women who are obese falls as the educational level rises in all Member States.

Wow – this is interesting as surely it means that the cleverer you are, the less likely you are to be fat?

So does this means that all your hard work spent improving your educational levels by studying for ACCA and CIMA not only helps your career but also reduces your chances of being obese??

This must be an additional incentive for studying and it also provides a great excuse for any gentlemen that are reading this.

After all, if your wife or girlfriend happens to catch you looking at a slim lady then all you have to say is that you were simply “admiring her intellectual ability”…

So are they top or bottom of the league?

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In most industries if a company had revenue of £153m and a wage bill of £174m there would be serious questions asked.

Manchester City are the current leaders of the Premier league in the UK and they have just released their annual financial results.

The figures show that as well as being top of the league in terms of football they are also bottom of the league in terms of their financial results.

Their income was £153m and their expenses £348m. The resulting loss of £195m is the largest loss ever reported in English football history.

A loss of £195m on sales of £153m would have alarm bells ringing for most companies but Manchester City have got wealthy investors.

Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi has so far invested over £460m on players since 2008 and has plenty of cash to invest.

The European footballing body Uefa though have introduced “Financial Fair Play rules” which come into full effect in 2013-14 and require clubs to break even over three years.

The reason for this is that Uefa are keen to prevent football becoming a rich man’s toy and these new rules will prevent wealthy backers from simply throwing money at a team to make it successful without caring about the loss that arises.

After all, if you’ve got a personal wealth of several billion then what does the odd hundred million here and there matter?

Manchester City have stated that they are confident that they will achieve a break even position over a 3 year time period and one of their recently announced revenue streams is a lucrative 10 year sponsorship deal worth £400m with Etihad Airways.

Press reports though have pointed out that Etihad Airways is based in Abu Dhabi, the home of Sheikh Mansour who is a member of the emirate’s ruling Al-Nahyan family and questions have been asked as to whether the £400m sponsorship deal was higher than would normally have been the case and was simply undertaken at an inflated price to artificially reduce the loss to get to the required breakeven point.

As a lifelong supporter of Bristol City (struggling in the division below the Premier League) I sometimes question whether it’s good for the sport of football if only a handful of clubs get huge amounts of money pumped into them.

It’s worth noting however that I would of course quickly change my mind should a wealthy backer invest in Bristol City…

ACCA exam tips released today but don’t do what this person did…

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There’s a saying that studying for professional exams is a marathon and not a sprint.

In other words, it’s a long hard journey to reach the exam finish line and not just a quick sprint to exam glory. Anyone that has qualified as an accountant will fully appreciate that it’s hard work and certainly feels more like a marathon than a sprint!

So qualifying as an accountant can be compared to a marathon race although one thing for sure is that you shouldn’t adopt the approach that Mr Rob Sloan took when he recently ran the Kielder Marathon in the UK.

Mr Sloan was 20 miles through the 26 mile race when he decided to give up because he was feeling tired. He then got on a bus and headed home.

As luck would have it though his bus home went near the finish line and he jumped off just before the finish line. He then hid behind some trees and came back to the course when he thought no one was looking and then sprinted to 3rd place.

Mr Sloan was awarded the medal for 3rd place but luckily for the honest runners in the race, his cheating was eventually found out and he was disqualified from the race and is now facing a ban from his running club.

It’s only the examiners that know for sure what’s in the December 2011 ACCA exams but we’ve put together a list of subject areas that we’d personally make sure we knew pretty well in the run up to the exams.

We launched our Facebook page yesterday and the December 2011 ACCA exam tips can be found at www.facebook.com/theexpgroup

We’ve also added to our free ACCA and CIMA courses by launching free online training courses on Facebook towards ACCA’s Foundations in Accountancy (FIA) qualifications and these courses can also be found at www.facebook.com/theexpgroup

Good luck to those of you that are studying for the exams and I hope the final sprint goes well and you’re not forced to “get on the bus” half way through…

I don’t think your customers are as loyal as this one…

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A lot of companies seem to mistakenly focus most of their effort on getting new clients rather than looking after their existing ones.

Some companies are so concerned with getting new clients that they forget about their existing clients and they end up winning one new client but losing two existing ones.

The benefits of having loyal customers who undertake repeat purchases can be substantial.

I’m not sure though that many companies will have as loyal a customer as Mr Thomas Stuker.

Mr Stuker is a sales consultant and has made nearly 6,000 flights with United Airlines.

To put that into perspective he’s accumulated 10 million air miles with them and has flown the equivalent of 400 times around the world.

To say he is a frequent flyer is stating the obvious and from the airline’s point of view, assuming an average cost of $300 per flight that’s a nice $1.8 million dollars revenue as a result of his flights.

Now United Airlines understandably appreciate his custom and when he reached the 10 million mile landmark the airline announced that they were going to name one of their planes after him and award him free upgrades for life.

Anyone who flies a lot will appreciate that you can accumulate “airmiles” with airlines as part of their loyalty programmes.

United Airlines are part of the Star Alliance mileage programme so Mr Stuker will no doubt be excitedly looking forward to some free flights for him and his family as a result of the 10 million miles he’s accumulated.

Then again, after flying the equivalent of 400 times around the world with his job he may well prefer to take his next holiday at home…

Was this as easy as 1,2,… (now what was the next one)?

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There’s a well known technique in public speaking of batching topics in groups of three.

The general idea is that it helps with the flow of the presentation and it’s easier for the audience to remember.

Unfortunately for US presidential hopeful Rick Perry, three topics were one too many when he spoke last night at the live presidential nomination debate for the US Republican candidate.

The speakers at the debate were all candidates to lead the Republican Party in next year’s US Presidential election against President Obama.

Mr Perry was in the process of listing the three US government departments he would abolish if he was elected president when he forgot what the third one would be.

His exact words were:

“I will tell you: It’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone: Commerce, Education and the….. what’s the third one there? Let’s see….. OK. So Commerce, Education and the…..the third agency of government I would…..I would do away with the Education, the….. Commerce and…..let’s see….. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Now, we all make mistakes at one stage or another when speaking in public so is this really something for Mr Perry to worry about?

After all, the debates are only seen as one of the key deciders in whether somebody will win the nomination or not and they were only seen live on primetime TV across America. The press and TV in American are also only talking about it all the time.

Now, any of you studying professional exams will appreciate that two out of three is 66.67% and I’m sure that if you got 67% in your exams you’d see that as a success.

A potential future president of America only being able to remember 2 out of 3 of his proposed policies though probably isn’t so good.

The video of Mr Perry’s performance can be found here and get ready to cringe with embarrassment.

Which companies do you think are most likely to bribe?

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Here’s a quick question for you:

Companies from which of the following countries are most likely to bribe when doing business abroad?

Is it China, Netherlands, Russia or Switzerland?

My feeling is that a lot of you will probably be able to guess the correct answer but in case you’re struggling to identify which ones are most likely to make illegal payments then according to a survey of 3,000 business executives undertaken by Transparency International, companies from Russia and China are the most likely to pay bribes when doing business abroad.

Transparency International Chair, Huguette Labelle said “It is clear that bribery remains a routine business practice for too many companies and runs throughout their business dealings, not just those with public officials. And companies that fail to prevent bribery in their supply chains run the risk of being prosecuted for the actions of employees and business partners.”

At the other end of the honesty scale are companies from the Netherlands and Switzerland. Companies from these two countries were found to be the most ethical when it came to bribes, or rather not making bribes.

It’s not just the countries that the companies are from that can have an impact on the likelihood of bribing but also the industry sector that they are working in.

Bribery was most likely to happen when public sector works and construction contracts were involved.

Agriculture was reported as being the least likely industry to find bribes.

So in summary, the purchases of unmarked brown envelopes which would fit a wad of cash in are likely to be significantly higher by a Russian construction company than a Dutch agricultural company.

Surely this is the best “out of office notification” ever?

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I recently visited Cardiff for a few days of work. Cardiff is the capital of Wales and one thing you notice as soon as you enter Wales is that the road signs are written in both English and Welsh.

This reminded me of a production error which was reported a while ago which to me must rank as one of the funniest results of an out of office notification.

If used properly the out of office notification is a great tool as it lets the sender of the message know if you’re away for a while and who to contact in your absence.

The error here though involved Swansea Council in Wales who required a road sign saying:

“No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only”

They emailed their in-house translation service with a request for a translation of this phrase into Welsh and a reply came back with:

“Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu”

They then produced the sign with both the English and Welsh text on it and put it in the required place by the side of the road.

It was a while later that some Welsh speakers noticed the road sign and it turned out that instead of telling drivers of heavy goods vehicles that they couldn’t drive down that particular road the Welsh text on the road sign actually said:

“I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”

Is this a children’s fairy tale or an adult horror story?

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Forget about the Eurozone crisis that is currently dominating the news and instead, here’s a nice bedtime story to tell your children…

So children, are you feeling tired and ready for your story?

Once upon a time, in a land far far away there was a man called Gordon Reece (or Mr G.Reece).

Now Mr G.Reece was enjoying himself in the sunshine when suddenly everyone in the world started feeling happy and some wealthy friends and banks offered to lend him as much money as he wanted.

Mr G.Reece shielded his eyes from the sun and shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t believe it but he gladly accepted the loans and with all that money he decided to treat himself.

He bought some houses, cars and a new Sony Playstation.

He even employed a couple of people to help him keep his house and garden tidy.

Things were going well but suddenly people around the world started becoming unhappy and didn’t buy as many things as they used to.

Mr G.Reece suddenly realised he had spent all of the money he had borrowed and didn’t have any money left to pay the interest on the loans.

He had an idea though. He could surely just go to another bank and get a new loan so that he could pay the interest.

Alas for Mr. G.Reece the banks didn’t want to lend him any more money as they knew he couldn’t afford to pay them back.

He then had another idea. To reduce his outgoings he would get rid of one of his employees and pay the other one a lower salary.

His employees were so upset that they messed up his house and garden and told him that they would carry on messing up his house and garden until he reinstated the job and the previous salary.

He then suddenly remembered his wealthy friends that had lent him money (a Mr F.Rance and Mrs G.Ermany). He gave them a call, explained the situation and they kindly agreed to write off some of the debt he owed them and also gave him a bit of cash to help him through the next few weeks.

His interest payments were now lower which was good but he was still struggling to pay the interest and the wages of his employees.

He decided that maybe this time he should actually go and visit his wealthy friends Mr F.Rance and Mrs G.Ermany and persuade them to write off even more of the debt and maybe give him some more money.

He jumped on a plane and headed to see them. He was feeling fairly positive when he arrived to meet his wealthy friends but then his face suddenly dropped.

There, heading to see the wealthy friends were none other than Mr P.Ortugal, Mrs S.Pain and Mr I.Taly. Three of his poorer friends who were also hoping to be given some money.

The problem though is that the wealthy friends don’t have enough money to give to all of the poor friends.

So children, what can they do?

Well, it’s time to go to sleep now kids and the story will be continued another night so sleep well, sweet dreams and don’t have any nightmares…

We’ve got some good news for you. We’ve just found 55 billion euros…

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Sometimes things go missing. You search high and low and if you are lucky enough to find them again then you can be pretty happy.

Germany though has just found something that it didn’t even know was missing.

It’s not as though it’s simply some keys that have dropped down the back of the sofa. No, Germany has just found €55 billion.

This is a pretty significant amount and the “find” came about due to spotting an accounting error.

In October last year, FMS Wertmanagement was created when toxic loans and securities with a face value of nearly €175 billion were transferred to it from HRE bank which was nationalised in 2009.

In other words, a so called “bad bank” was created out of the insolvent parts of HRE bank whereby the bad parts (the toxic debts) of the HRE bank were moved to a separate bank (FMS Wertmanagement).

Moving the toxic debt to the “bad bank” meant that what stayed in the nationalised HRE bank was non toxic and the nationalised HRE bank became solvent. This would in thoery help ensure that HRE bank would make a full recovery.

The German Finance Ministry today announced that there had been a double booking of debt and that staff had inadvertently subtracted funds when they should have added them.

The end result is that the reversal of this accounting error means that German debt, as a percentage of GDP reduces from 83.7% to 81.1% – i.e. debt has fallen by 2.6 percentage points.

So, in summary some good news for the German economy.

I should also mention that if the person that made the initial accounting error is by any chance reading this then we do run a wide variety of training programmes including our introduction to finance range of courses…

It’s just not tennis to leave your phone on at work is it?

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We’ve all been there. Sat in a meeting when suddenly somebody’s mobile phone starts ringing and there’s a mad rush by that person to grab the ringing phone and turn it off.

It’s often the case that the person with the “cheesiest” ring tone is the one that forgets to put their phone on silent.

When the phone rings there’s usually a mumbled apology along with a slightly embarrassed look but then the meeting carries on.

Whilst half the people at the meeting may well be thinking something along the lines of “what an idiot”, the meeting will normally continue with the ring tone soon becoming a distant memory.

There are certain jobs though where it really isn’t advisable to take your phone with you to work. For example, I’m not sure that a surgeon or classical musician should really have their phone with them when they’re working.

The video below shoes an interesting situation when top tennis player Caroline Wozniacki is about to serve against her opponent, the French tennis player Alize Kornet.

As a professional tennis player you need to remain focussed and concentrated at all times. Miss Wozniacki’s concentration though is broken by the ring tone of a phone belonging to none other than her opponent…

It doesn’t make a good photo if you’re fired does it?

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30 years ago he joined the British subsidiary of Olympus, the Japanese camera and optical giant, as a salesman. He slowly worked his way up through the ranks of the company until last month he became the first western CEO of the Olympus group.

Unfortunately for Mr Michael Woodford his new position lasted for only 2 weeks before he was fired from his position as CEO and according to media reports was told by the Olympus board to “get a bus to the airport”.

A western CEO of a Japanese company is extremely rare and a CEO being fired after only 2 weeks is probably even rarer.

According to the Olympus board, Mr Woodford was fired for “causing problems for decision-making”.

Mr Woodford didn’t hold back from giving his version of the story and he claimed that he was fired for in effect being a high level “whistle blower”.

After his appointment as CEO he started asking questions about payments Olympus had made to financial advisers for Olympus’s acquisition of Gyrus, a British medical equipment company, for $2bn.

The interesting thing was that advisory fees of nearly $700m were paid to a Cayman Islands registered company called AXAM whose owners were not identified by Olympus.

The really interesting thing though was that the advisory fees paid were equal to nearly 33% of the total acquisition price. This figure of 33% seems a tad high when compared to the industry average for such acquisitions of between 1% and 5%.

The really, really interesting thing though was that AXAM disappeared from the trade register 3 months after receiving their final payment from Olympus.

Now, I’m not a detective but there are some fairly chunky corporate governance issues in this one and a payment of $700m to an “anonymous” Cayman Islands company which has since disappeared probably does warrant a bit of a debate to say the least.

Mr Woodford won’t be involved in those debates though as his position as CEO was abruptly ended after 2 weeks.

The Olympus share price fell nearly 50% in the days immediately after the announcements.

Olympus has denied any wrongdoing.