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…

Liverpool win after an own goal by Adidas.

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Forget about the rivalry on the pitch between Manchester United and Liverpool. Forget about Luis Suarez refusing to shake hands with Patrice Evra at the game on Saturday.

No, the key question is who has got the biggest kit sponsorship deal in the world.

Manchester United’s kit is sponsored by Nike and until recently it was the largest kit sponsorship deal in the world. Liverpool however has just announced a new kit sponsorship deal which exceeds the Nike deal and makes it the biggest football shirt sponsorship deal in the world.

Liverpool’s kit used to be sponsored by Adidas but Adidas lost out in the new bid for sponsorship to American Sports Group Warrior Sports (who own the New Balance sports brand).

Adidas felt that Liverpool’s form over the last few years in the English Premier League hadn’t been that good and as a result didn’t bid as much for the sponsorship deal.

Warrior Sports though seem to have taken the view that Liverpool is a global brand as opposed to merely an English football club.

Liverpool FC has immense brand power overseas. Especially in Asia and the sales of their replica shirts are estimated to be nearly 900,000 a year.

There’s also an interesting observation in that their main sponsor of the shirt (as opposed to the kit supplier) is Standard Chartered.

The Standard Chartered bank isn’t present in the UK and therefore the bank’s sponsorship of the Liverpool shirt clearly isn’t aimed at the UK market but rather at the Asian, African and Middle Eastern markets where Liverpool have a strong following and Standard Chartered have a strong presence.

So, well done Warrior Sports for seeing the global appeal of the Liverpool brand.

As for Adidas, have they just kicked the ball into their own net?

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.

Does $300m mean bigger is better?

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Here’s an interesting development. MP3 players such as the iPod Nano are getting smaller and smaller but due to advances in technology the sounds that they emit are getting better and better.

Whilst music fans are appreciating the portability of the smaller MP3 players together with the flexibility of having quality music players on their phones there’s a trend at the moment of the headphones getting bigger and bigger.

It used to be bigger players and smaller headphones but now it’s the other way around.

As is often the case it’s the fashion conscious younger generation that are driving the change.

HMV, the UK chain of music shops where people used to flock to to buy the latest CDs has unsurprisingly seem a dramatic drop in sales of CDs as more and more people are now buying their music online via Apple iTunes for example.

There is some short term hope for HMV though at least in terms of their sales of headphones and it’s been reported that their sales from headphones and other technology will shortly exceed their sales of CDs and DVDs.

Now these headphones aren’t cheap. Some of the better known high end headphone brands such as Dr Dre go for in excess of £350. That’s quite a lot when you consider the iPod Nano that the headphones could be plugged into retails for less than £100.

Manufacturers have started to segment the market nicely for headphones with for example the Bob Marley Reggae inspired “House of Marley” headphone range recently being launched by Bob Marley’s son Julian.

So, what’s next on the horizon in the business world when it comes to headphones?

I mentioned one of the best known brands of headphones Dr Dre earlier and you’ve no doubt heard of HTC which offer very good Smartphones and are in competition to Apple and their iPhone.

Well, earlier this summer HTC paid $300 million for 51% of a US company called Beats Electronics. What’s the main brand that Beats Electronics has? Yep, none other than Dr Dre.

This could be quite a smart move by HTC.

They are building up their technology and design on the Smartphone side of things and by buying Dr Dre they are getting a sudden jump up in headphone technology.

Will this be the sweet sound of success for HTC?

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”…

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…