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Would you stand for this?

Do you work in an office? Do you sit down at your desk most of the working day?

If you do, then it may be a good idea to ensure you stand up and move around a bit during the day.

Recent research has estimated that 1 in 9 deaths can be blamed on sitting down for at least 6 hours a day.

Let’s pause for a moment as that’s a shocking figure!

In the UK alone that would equate to thousands of people dying every year due to lack of movement and the cost to the National Health Service is estimated at £700 million annually.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimated that 17% of diabetes, 5% of heart disease and 8% of lung cancer cases could be avoided with less sitting.

Leonie Heron from Queen’s University Belfast was the lead author of the study and said “You need to put your body under a little bit of stress to maintain a healthy heart and whole system”.

She went on to say that “It suggests that it is bad for our health how our working lives are structured for a lot of people. You can attenuate that risk by being more active in your leisure time, but it’s something employers can look at. Maybe they should be providing opportunities for employees to be active during the day, perhaps making sure people move every hour…or providing opportunities during lunch and coffee breaks.”

My guess is that a lot of you do sit down for at least 6 hours a day working at your computer. It’s probably a good idea therefore to remind yourself to get up and move a bit when you can as it will be good for your health.

Unless, that is of course, you’re getting up to walk out of the office to have a cigarette…

Splash out on a new purchase

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA often comes up with innovative advertising ideas. One of those was when they ran a magazine advert that offered a discount on a baby’s crib to pregnant mothers.

Now, whilst in itself there’s nothing unusual about offering promotions to certain segments of the market, what is unusual is how the promotion is claimed.

The magazine advert ran in an issue of the Swedish lifestyle magazine Amelia, and the full-page advert read: “Peeing on this ad might change your life.”

Yes, there was a patch on the magazine which was an actual pregnancy test. If you peed on it and were pregnant then a discount code would be revealed which would provide you with a discount on the IKEA crib.

A couple of points spring to mind.

Making sure you’ve finished reading the magazine before trying to reveal the discount code is one of them and also an online order would probably be better than taking in the “code voucher” to your nearest IKEA store is the second.

Having said that you have to admire the ad agency behind the novel idea.

Akestam Holst were the ad agency that came up with the idea and they told adweek that “In order to make the interactive functions of this ad work in reality, we had to make several technical advancements. The pregnancy test strip was used as a starting point, which relies on antibodies that bind to the pregnancy hormone hCG, resulting in a color change. For scaling up of this technique and adopting it to the physical format of a printed ad, Mercene Labs has used their experience in development of surface active materials for microfluidics and medical diagnostics. Careful selection of materials, together with a controlled capillary flow have been crucial for the success of this project. Technical advancements made during the work with this campaign have the potential to improve medical diagnostics.”

So all in all, a very unusual advert and whilst some people thought it was a hoax, it is true and the pregnancy test (and discount code) both work.

In summary, it is true and it is not taking the ….

(Let’s just say it’s not taking the mick).

Superman helps hackers.

It’s a sign of the times that hackers are constantly on the lookout for weaknesses in people’s computer security systems.

Individuals can go a long way to making things more difficult for the hackers by ensuring they have up to date anti-virus software in place and that their passwords are good passwords.

But what is a good password?

Before answering that, let’s look at some bad passwords.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released a report on some of the most hacked passwords. They analysed hacked accounts where details were being sold by hackers.

In one year alone an astonishing 23 million people around the world with the password “123456” were hacked.

You should really hang your head in shame if your password is 123456 as it’s very easy to hack into.

OK, what about the name of your favourite football team as your password. Would that provide you with more protection?

Alas not as football team names are very common passwords.

Roughly 280,000 accounts were breached in a year with the password “Liverpool”. 

“Chelsea” and “Man-Utd” passwords were breached 216,000 and 59,000 times respectively.

Using the names of your favourite music artist also isn’t a good idea.

The most popular passwords using the names of music artists are “blink182” and “50cent” (these are probably popular as they satisfy the need to have letters and numbers in a password).

If you’re a fan of superheroes then avoid Superman, which was the most common superhero inspired password.

So, onto good passwords.

According to Ian Levy, the Technical Director of NCSC, “Using hard to guess passwords is a strong first step and we recommend combining three random but memorable words. Be creative and use words memorable to you, so people can’t guess your password.”

There you go.

As easy as 123 or should that be, as easy as “123456”…

I’ll stick to that…

New product innovation is vital for lots of organisations. Sometimes though the idea for a new product can come from unusual places.

VELCRO is a type of hook and loop fastener which we’ve all seen. It has that characteristic “rasping” sound when you pull it apart and will stick back together with the minimum of fuss. It’s commonly used in clothing and shoes to replace buttons, zips and laces.

So, who came up with the idea?

George de Mestral was a Swiss engineer and in 1941 he got the inspiration for VELCRO whilst out with his dog in the Alps.

He noticed that as his dog ran past Burdock plants, the burrs of the plant (a tiny seed covered in hundreds of microscopic ‘hooks’) would catch onto his dog’s fur.

That was his “eureka moment” and he spent the next 10 years investigating how he could get “hooks” like those found on the plant to engage with the “loops” found on materials.

The key thing was to be able to secure it together but then pull it apart (and then keep on repeating this without it breaking!)

Luckily, he had friends in the weaving industry who helped him work on prototypes and the end result was that in 1955 he filed his first patent for the hook and loop fasteners.

He also needed a distinctive name to go with his invention and he came up with VELCRO.

VELCRO is in fact a combination of the French words “velour” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook). VELCRO therefore in effect means “hooked velvet”.

Since it’s launch it has gone on to become one of the most used items in clothing and all of this came about as a result of a man walking with his dog in 1941.

Does your corporate logo cover a continent?

112 years ago Theodor Tobler and Emil Baumann invented the chocolate bar Toblerone. The name is a play on the names “Tobler” and “Torrone”, the Italian word for honey and almond nougat.

It is one of the most recognizable brands in the world and anyone that has travelled through a major airport will almost certainly have seen the famous chocolate bar produced by Kraft Foods for sale in one of the duty free outlets.

One of the most important aspects of a successful brand is the logo.

The Toblerone logo is well known but do you see an animal hidden inside it?

Toblerone originated in Bern, Switzerland – a city whose name is rumored to mean, “City of bears”. Look at the logo again closely and you will find a bear facing to the right and stood on its hind legs.

Although I’m biased I love the ExP logo. According to the designers it is fresh, sharp, simple and easy to remember. Also, the “ExP Man” in the middle emphasises the people aspect of the business.

It’s great but there is another logo which I think is extremely clever.

If you look at the Yoga Australia Logo what do you see?

At first glance the logo may look like a simple picture of a woman doing her yoga exercise but if you look at it carefully the body posture is creating the Australia Map.

A great design and thankfully I didn’t pose for it as the map would have looked like a crumpled mess.

Exams for sale….

One of the five fundamental ethical principles is Integrity.

Being straightforward and honest is a vital characteristic of being a professional accountant.

Most people who are studying for their professional exams have one thing on their mind. Namely, to pass their exams but four students who were studying for their ACCA exams had other things on their minds and at the same time, were not the brightest individuals out there.

What they planned to do was to register for some Computer Based Exams (CBEs) and then whilst sitting the exams they would use their mobile phones to take photos of the computer screen showing the questions. They would then sell these photos with the questions on them via the internet.

The four individuals involved, Chen Yiyun, Hiujiao Ru, Zehui Gong and Ziying Wang decided to sell the questions on Taobao Marketplace, a Chinese shopping website.

They no doubt thought that this was an extremely clever way of making some money. What could possibly go wrong by taking photos of the questions and then selling them online?

One of the other fundamental ethical principles is that of Professional Competence.

Now, if these individuals had even a minuscule amount of Professional Competence, they would have reviewed the photos before selling them.

Alas for them they didn’t review them.

If they had reviewed them, they would have seen at the top of the computer screen in the photos their ACCA student registration number and the exam centre.

ACCA were made aware of the questions being for sale and made a test purchase on the Taobao Marketplace. Given the student registration numbers were on the screen, they didn’t need a team of top detectives to identify the individuals involved.

Unsurprisingly, the four individuals are now ex-students of ACCA having been found guilty of misconduct and they were ordered to pay costs ranging from £3,500 to £7,000.

Some spicy people to follow…

There are over 300 million twitter accounts and more than 500 million tweets are sent per day. That’s an impressive figure that works out at over 5,000 tweets per second.

It can be a useful tool for companies. They can use it to engage with their customers and potential customers by way of branding and promotional activities. They can also use it as a form of a helpdesk or customer support. The Dutch airline KLM for example uses Twitter and Facebook to enable customers to contact them and get a reply within an hour.

Most companies will use Twitter to promote items or get their message out but Twitter user @edgette22 has identified a secret the fast food giant KFC has been keeping within their Twitter account.

KFC is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain (as measured by sales) after McDonald’s, with nearly 20,000 locations globally in over 100 countries.

They also have over a million Twitter followers.

But they only follow 11 people.

And the 11 people they follow are a strange mix.

KFC follows:

Geri Halliwell, Mel B, Emma Bunton, Mel C and Victoria Beckham (in other words the 5 ladies who made up the Spice Girls).

They also follow Herb Scribner, Herb J. Wesson Jr, Herb Waters, Herb Dean, Herb Sendek and Herb Alpert.

Or to put it another way, KFC follow five Spice Girls and 6 Herbs.

Five spices and six herbs?

That sounds familiar as the secret recipe for KFC chicken is 11 herbs and spices.

Either the social media department of KFC were having a quiet day and decided to play a few games or it was a deliberate move to get people talking about KFC when their followers were noticed.

Either way, congratulations are due to whoever was behind the idea.

Is this real or not?

That’s the question some Manchester City supporters may be asking themselves soon.

We’re not talking about their performance on the football pitch but rather their move into Facebook’s metaverse.

The metaverse is an imagined digital world that people can explore as avatars. Facebook are leading this new technology, and they’re aiming for “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you”.

On the football side of things Manchester City are currently top of the Premium League but they are also taking the lead in developing activities in the metaverse with the club recently announcing plans to build a football stadium inside the metaverse.

With the help of virtual reality experts at Sony, Manchester City are hoping to create a world where fans can come together and support their team in ways never before possible.

The plan is that supporters will be able to experience the Eithad Stadium without visiting it in person. They will be able to view a game in real time via their virtual avatar and be able to interact with the people around them.

This could be a game-changer for sports fans around the world who previously would never have been able to visit the real stadium in Manchester but there are also benefits for the club.

“The whole point we could imagine of having a metaverse is you can recreate a game, you could watch the game live, you’re part of the action in a different way through different angles and you can fill the stadium as much as you want because it’s unlimited, it’s completely virtual,” Nuria Tarre, City Football Group’s chief marketing and fan engagement officer was reported as saying to the i-newspaper.

Whilst purist football supporters may not be in favour of virtual stadiums there are benefits to supporters who may not be able to get to the real stadium as well as potentially significant financial benefits for clubs.

Anyone fancy a virtual kick around?

Enjoy the freeze…

Working from home has become a fact of life for a lot of people due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Synonymous with working from home are the video conferencing facilities such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.

The growth in use of these technologies has been phenomenal. Back in December 2019 for example there were on average 10 million daily meeting participants on zoom. Fast forward to today and the daily averages are around 300 million.

The technologies have been incredibly useful for keeping teams together and maintaining working practices but with back-to-back zoom meetings sometimes going on for hours some people are suffering from “zoom fatigue”.

There’s also the issue of what happens if you are desperate for a cup of coffee or a call of nature during a particularly long and boring meeting?

It’s pretty obvious on the screen if you try and sneak out for a couple of minutes and taking your laptop with you to the kitchen or toilet is best avoided.

Enter freezingcam.com which as the name suggests enables you to simply click a button on screen and your webcam will freeze and give the impression that you are having internet connection issues.

After quickly popping out of the room to do whatever you wanted to do, you can get back to your desk, click the unfreeze button and lo and behold you are back at the meeting and everyone thinks you were having internet issues rather than looking for those chocolate digestive biscuits in the kitchen…

A nice snappy idea…

The Carlsberg Group is one of the oldest brewing groups in the world. They were established way back in 1847 and their portfolio of products include Tuborg, Baltika and of course, Carlsberg.

They sell a lot of beer and their products are sold in more than 150 markets.

The “6 pack” is synonymous with beer and no, I’m not talking about the 6 pack on the beer drinkers abs. Rather, I’m talking about the 6 pack of beer that people can buy from shops.

One unfortunate problem with the 6 pack is that the cans are held together with a plastic wrapping. With so many 6 packs being sold around the world that means a lot of plastic is used.

People are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental damage that plastic is doing and Carlsberg have come up with a pretty innovative solution to reducing plastic on their 6 packs.

They have introduced what they call a “snap pack”.

In the snap pack the cans of beer are held together by glue rather than plastic wrapping. The cans of beer can be “snapped off”.

This saves a significant amount of plastic – according to Carlsberg this equates to reducing plastic waste by more than 1,200 tonnes a year. That’s a huge amount and is the equivalent of 60 million plastic bags.

Bo Oksnebjerg, Secretary General in WWF Denmark, was quoted as saying “Our wildlife is drowning in plastic – and the problem is unfortunately growing considerably. We therefore need to act now. We need less plastic to end up in nature. That is why we consider it huge progress that Carlsberg is now launching solutions that significantly reduce the amount of plastic in its packaging. With these new solutions, Carlsberg has taken the first big steps on the journey towards a more clean and green future.”

Nice work Carlsberg and I’ll drink to that. Or should I say, I’ll snap one off and drink to that…

Is this worth smiling for?

Are you happy when you spend money? I guess the answer depends on what you’re spending the money on but over in China, KFC have technology which enables a person to pay for their KFC meal with a smile.

Yes, a smile.

Nothing else is needed – no bank card, no phone app. Just a smile.

That’s a pretty advanced system and involves facial recognition technology.

Customers who want to get their dose of fast food at the KFC branch in Hangzhou can leave their cash and cards behind and instead smile at a scanner, press confirm and then hey presto you’ve paid for your meal without moving your hands and you will soon be tucking into your Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Payment is taken from a cash account which has been linked to the person’s face.

China has some of the most advanced facial scanning technology in the world. Collecting images of the public doesn’t need any consent in China and the technology is likely to spread.

For example, it’s been reported that students in several universities in China are now registering by scanning their faces and lecturers will soon be able to track the facial expressions of students to see how well they are following the lectures.

It may be advisable for these students to master the act of hiding those yawns during a boring lecture and instead start to practice for the KFC they’re planning to get after the lecture…

Would you do this with your job?

If a company outsources jobs, in some situations it can be seen as good business practice but if an individual outsources his own job then what is that seen as?

Outsourcing is where a company gets another organisation to undertake a job or business function that would have previously been completed in-house. This is often done for cost saving reasons and an illustration of outsourcing would for example be getting another organisation to maintain your payroll.

A while ago there was the first example I’d heard of an individual outsourcing his own job.

Verison is one of the leading telecoms companies in the US and their security team provided details of a case study where an employee by the name of “Bob” who was a top developer had actually outsourced his own job to China without his employers knowing about it.

In other words, he had received his salary from his employers but had personally paid for somebody else to do his job at a cheaper rate without his employer knowing about it!

He was paid in excess of USD 100,000 for his job and yet he was paying a Chinese consulting firm less than 20% of that to do the job for him.

According to Verison a typical day for Bob was:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos (!!)
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home

Despite not actually doing any of the work himself his performance reviews were excellent and he had been regarded as the best developer in the building.

So, in summary – he was paid a pretty good salary and all he did was play around on the internet.

All his real work was outsourced by him to a Chinese company. He paid them whilst his employer paid him 5 times the amount that he had paid the Chinese company.

Bob lost his job but it does raise an interesting debate as when a company outsources it’s seen as a clever move but when an individual outsources their own job they end up losing that job.

Anyway, whilst you’re thinking of that particular point I’d like to mention that the next blog article will be written by a Chinese company but please don’t tell my employer.

Meanwhile I’m off to watch some cat videos…

Don’t put your foot in it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The security is a shoe.

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

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

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

Flying high with creativity.

Sometimes a little bit of creative thinking can go a long way. This bit of creativity though went a very long way indeed.

Creativity can add value to all types of businesses and this particular project involved technology and one of the largest sea birds.

There are 22 species of the albatross bird. With a wingspan of up to 3.5 metres, the wandering albatross species has the largest wingspan of any living flying bird. Importantly for this project though, they are also capable of flying long distances out to sea.

Illegal fishing by trawlers can seriously impact on fish levels. Organisations tasked with protecting fish levels can find it almost impossible to prevent this illegal fishing. In simple terms, the ocean is very large and the boats are pretty small so keeping track of them and what they are fishing for is very difficult.

In an innovative project led by the French National Centre for Scientific Research, 169 Albatrosses have been equipped with sensors. If the birds are in the vicinity of a boat, these sensors are able to tell whether the boat’s Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) are switched off.

Having the AIS systems switched off on a boat is common when the boat is fishing illegally.

The beauty of this project is that the albatrosses can cover huge areas and when the sensors identify boats with their AIS switched off, the enforcement boats can head to that location to investigate further.

The initiative was trialled off the coast of New Zealand and over a 6 month period the birds located 353 boats, 37% of which were not emitting the AIS signal.

Best to take it back…

Most of you have probably had an interview. In fact, some of you may have had a number of interviews but a boss of one of the top companies in Australia has recently disclosed a pretty unusual way of deciding who not to offer a job to.

Trent Innes, who heads up Xero in Australia said that he will greet the person when he or she arrives for the interview and then take them to the kitchen to offer them a drink before heading to the meeting room with the drink. Even if they aren’t tea or coffee drinkers they will generally walk away with a glass of water.

He explained in the Venture Podcast with Lambros Photios that after taking the drink back for the interview “one of the things I’m always looking for at the end of the interview is, does the person doing the interview want to take that empty cup back to the kitchen?”

He explained that what “I was trying to find was what was the lowest level task I could find that regardless of what you did inside the organisation was still super important that would actually really drive a culture of ownership.”

He went on to say, “You can develop skills, you can gain knowledge and experience but it really does come down to attitude, and the attitude that we talk a lot about is the concept of ‘wash your own coffee cup’.”

That’s quite a smart move by Mr Innes as he said that attitude was the most important trait he looked for when hiring people.

He said that “Especially in a fast growth company or a start-up environment or scale up environment – you need people with a really strong growth mindset and that comes back to their attitude.”

So, how many interviewees do you think offered to take their cups back?

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of people who offered to take their cup back to the kitchen was pretty high. According to Mr Innes only 5 to 10 per cent of the interviewees didn’t offer to return their empty coffee cup back to the kitchen.

So there you go. If you’re attending an interview and you go to the kitchen with the boss to get a drink, it’s probably a good idea to offer to take the cup back.

Was this an Innocent transaction by Coke?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great recovery

We’ve all made mistakes but the key thing is how you recover from those mistakes. ASOS, the global internet clothing company recently made a mistake but recovered from it really well.

ASOS is an incredibly successful company. They sell over 80,000 products on their website and last year had over 15 million active customers and sales of nearly £2 billion.

One thing they are not that good at though is using the spell check function as they printed 17,000 packaging bags with the slogan “discover fashion online” spelt using “onilne” instead of “online”.

Now, what would you have done in that situation?

Would you have ignored it and hoped that no one noticed or cared about it?

Would you have scrapped the bags?

ASOS did neither of those and recovered brilliantly by tweeting:

“Ok, so we *may* have printed 17,000 bags with a typo. We’re calling it a limited edition”.

So, depending on how you look at it you’ve either got a bag with a typo on it or a limited edition collector’s item.

A brilliant recovery by ASOS. Turning a typo into some great publicity.

An unexpected ending…

A lot of you may have been on business trips but I bet your trip wasn’t as exciting (and tragic) as this gentlemen’s trip was.

What was also surprising was that his employer was found liable for his death as it was classified as an industrial accident.

The exact cause of death was a cardiac arrest whilst he was having sex with a stranger he had met on the business trip.

Now, whilst having a heart attack during sex with a stranger probably wouldn’t meet most people’s definition of an “industrial accident” a French court found otherwise. The court stated that the employer was responsible for any accident occurring during a business trip and ruled that his family were entitled to compensation.

The man who died on the job, named as Xavier X, was working as an engineer for TSO, a railway services company based near Paris and his employer had perhaps quite reasonably argued that he was not carrying out professional duties when he got into an extra marital relationship with a total stranger in his hotel room.

This opinion though wasn’t accepted by the court and they upheld the view that sexual activity was normal, “like taking a shower or a meal”.

As a result of it being classified as a normal activity on a business trip, the death was considered to be an industrial accident and under French law, partners or children of industrial accident victims receive up to 80 per cent of their salary until what would have been the person’s retirement age, with pension contributions paid from then on.

He won’t be scratching the surface on this one.

A good friend of mine collect labels from beer bottles. As he travels around the world on holiday or business he collect labels from bottles of the local beer.

I think it’s a nice idea as it is a unique souvenir of where he’s visited, it’s relatively cheap and perhaps most importantly it gives him a great excuse to try out some local beers.

Things may be about to become more difficult for him though as a number of beer producers seem to be changing their marketing mix to save money and (some would argue) make the bottles look more fashionable.

As a lot of readers will appreciate, the marketing mix is also known as the 4Ps (Product, Price, Place, Promotion). If you look at the product component of the mix then not only does it include the beer itself but it also includes the packaging. This packaging in turn includes bottles (both glass and plastic) as well as cans.

Drinking some bottles of beer during a recent evening out with friends at a restaurant got the accountant in me thinking about what it costs to create the bottle that holds the beer.

Well if you think about it the raw materials that go into the bottle are glass (for the bottle) and metal (for the top) together with paper and glue for the label.

How can you reduce the cost of the packaging?

Can you reduce the quantity or quality of the glass? This would be tricky as the bottle could break.

What about the top? Again, this is awkward as you don’t want the beer to suddenly start leaking from the top of the bottle.

That leaves the paper and glue for the label and what a number of manufacturers now appear to be doing is producing bottles without the main label on it but instead embossing the name of the beer on the bottle itself (no additional material costs) and having the only label as a small paper “collar” around the neck of the bottle. An example of such a bottle can be seen in the image above from the successful Fosters Beer adverts in the UK.

Reducing the label size seems to make sense for bottles of beer that are sold in restaurants. After all, the label on the bottle has little impact on the purchasing decision when a person is looking at the menu or asking the waiter or waitress what beer they have. They may even know what beer they want already or can’t see the bottle anyway so the bottle wouldn’t impact on their decision.

It seems a good idea therefore for the beer companies to save money by removing the labels. Even though the paper used by one label is quite small, if you multiply that by the thousands of bottles which are sold around the world every day it could turn into a very significant saving.

What is interesting though is that if you go into a shop or supermarket that is selling beer, you will see bottles which have larger more “attention grabbing” labels on them. As people are wandering through the supermarket aisles they haven’t necessarily made up their mind whether they want to purchase a bottle of beer or if they have, what particular beer they want so having a big label which will grab their attention is a good thing.

In summary then it appears that two out of three people are happy. The accountant in the beer company is happy as production costs have been reduced due to reducing the labelling on the restaurant bottles. The marketing person is happy as he or she can use their skills on the design and thought process behind the labelling for bottles that are sold in supermarkets.

As for my friend that collect the beer bottle labels well my guess is that he may soon be unhappy as instead of trying to peel off the labels from the bottles whilst sat at a restaurant table he’s having to try to do that at the supermarket…

Is the joke on Volkswagen?

The German carmaker Volkswagen said “we regret if it appeared to some that we overshot the mark of this campaign.”

The campaign involved announcing that it would change its name in North America from Volkswagen to “Voltswagen” as a reflection of its commitment to an electric car future.

The market was impressed by the news and the share price of the company shot up by 5%.

One of the leading newspapers in the UK, the Guardian wrote that “For 65 years, Volkswagen has been one of the most popular names in American motoring, its VW Beetle snaring generations of enthusiasts and selling millions of vehicles. But now, in North America at least, the Volkswagen brand is no more.”

Wall Street analysts provided guidance about the company’s strategic direction. Wedbush analyst Dan Ives was reported as saying to investors that the name change “underscores VW’s clear commitment to its EV [Electric Vehicle] brand”

The problem with the announcement though was that it was a joke.

An April Fool’s joke to be exact.

A lot of people were unhappy about the announcement.

After all, April Fool’s jokes tend to have a short life span being announced on the morning of 1 April and then revealed as a joke later that day.

Volkswagen took it a step further though.

They ran the news for several days in the run up to 1 April.

The campaign could get the company into trouble with the US Securities and Exchange Commission who are likely to look as the stunt in case it is seen as an attempt to manipulate the company’s stock price.

Volkswagen said in a statement to CNN that “It is a publicity measure in the context of the market launch of the ID.4 and the e-mobility push in the USA.”

The 3 person honeymoon and Belbin team roles…

Picture the scene. It’s the first night of your honeymoon. You’ve just married a beautiful Italian Signorina called Marianna. You’re Italian and Italian men have a reputation for being some of the most romantic men in the world.

Now, even though some may say this reputation has largely been self created, there are still certain things you should do on your honeymoon and certain things you should definitely not do on your honeymoon.

Due to Italian privacy laws the individuals concerned can only be identified by their Christian names but what did Stefano do on his honeymoon that led to his new wife divorcing him one month into their marriage?

From a project management point of view there are various tools and techniques that can be used to ensure a project runs smoothly. One of these is to ensure that the team is made up of the right type of person as well as the appropriate number of people.

A well known theory behind what makes a good team is Belbin’s team role models.

In simple terms, Belbin’s theory says that people are born with certain characteristics. Belbin gave names to the different types of people. For example, a “plant” is a person that likes to come up with ideas and is usually quite creative. A “Monitor Evaluator” is somebody with a logical eye who can make impartial judgements.

Back to the one month marriage though and Stefano decided that rather than the traditional 2 person project team that goes on the majority of honeymoons he would make his a 3 person team.

To his wife’s understandable annoyance, Stefano’s 3 person honeymoon team included himself, his new wife and his mother.

The project team first started showing signs of a split when the mother-in-law turned up at the airport for the flight to the honeymoon destination of Paris.

A honeymoon in Paris sounds great until you realise that your mother-in-law is staying in an adjoining room at the hotel you’re staying at and accompanying you to every meal and romantic boat trip along the Seine.

One month after the wedding and Marianna left the marriage home they shared in Rome and returned to her home town of Naples leaving the 39 year old Stefano without a wife.

Maybe Marianna is more of a Belbin’s “Completer Finisher” than Stefan and his mum may have thought.

Zooming in…

At the start of the year zoom calls were relatively uncommon. Now though, with the global pandemic, they are a common feature of business life for most of us.

Whilst some people will creatively claim that their video isn’t working so that they can scroll through their phone whilst half listening to the meeting, most people will have their video on so that the rest of the people in the meeting can see them.

This has had a bit of an impact on fashion. After all, if the lower half of you isn’t being seen why worry too much about what shoes or trousers/skirt you’re wearing.

The London and Milan fashion weeks which took place last month had a definite “waist-up” focus.

For example, the leading fashion house Prada had its logo near the collars of its top. Prada reportedly said that this was not inspired by zoom but rather by the “contemporary human relationship with technology”.

As anyone who has met me will confirm, I’m clearly not an expert on fashion but the cynic in me feels that some people who spend a lot of money on designer clothes will want other people to know what brand of clothes they are wearing.

What better way of highlighting your expensive clothes on a zoom call than to have the logo just below the collar. A clever move by Prada

Other changes which have been reported in women’s fashion recently include an increase in the popularity of jewellery whilst sales of handbags and shoes have fallen.

In summary therefore, it’s important how you look on a zoom call but only if it’s visible…

Out of this world advertising…

Getting professional photos taken for advertising can be expensive but this particular photo shoot for Estee Lauder is expensive.

Very expensive in fact.

4 hours of photography will cost USD 128,000.

That certainly is expensive for 4 hours of work but to be fair it’s a very unusual photoshoot as it will take place inside the International Space Station and the photographers will be the astronauts.

In what will be a first for advertising, Nasa is charging Estee Lauder USD128,000 for Nasa astronauts to take photos and to film some shots of Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair serum face cream in various locations around the space station.

The total fee includes the astronauts’ time at USD17,500 per hour (which is a pretty impressive charge out rate!).

A Nasa spokeswoman said that Estée Lauder was “paying for the astronauts to be the photographer, not to use the product, not to put the product on themselves, not even to open the product”.

Estee Lauder obviously think that the advertising will pay off but some people will no doubt argue that the cost of such photoshoots ultimately has to be recovered by the company and the way they do that is in the price of their products.

The counter argument to this though is that it’s more than just being about the photos in the adverts. The general publicity that Estee Lauder will get from being the first cosmetics business to have their products in space will also be valuable for the company.

An Apple for 100 Companies..

Whilst a lot of companies around the world are struggling or going out of business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some are doing very well.

Apple is currently the world’s most valuable company and it’s share price has shot up during the pandemic. Like a lot of tech companies, Apple’s valuation has increased as it’s expected to do well in the post Covid-19 world where people are more reliant on tech as they work and shop remotely.

Apple’s valuation is pretty spectacular and at the time of writing the value of Apple is $2.3 trillion (or to write it in it’s full glory $2,300,000,000,000).

To put that into perspective, the valuation of Apple is now higher than the value of the 100 largest companies in the UK – the market value of the FTSE 100 (the 100 largest companies in the UK) is $2.1 trillion compared to Apple’s $2.3 trillion.

Apple’s shares also recently rose by 3.4% due to a four-for-one stock split.

As the name suggests, a stock split is where the shares are split into more shares. The underlying value of the company doesn’t change as it is merely dividing the shares into a larger number of shares.

For example, if you held 1 share before the split which was worth $8, after the split you would hold 4 shares which (in theory) would be worth $2 each so your total holding would still be valued at $8.

Each individual share in Apple though was trading at over $500 before the split and after the split the equivalent value of the new shares was up by 3.4%.

One of the reasons share prices can increase when there is a stock split is that the shares are now within the reach of a larger proportion of individual buyers.

Some individuals who may not have been able to afford to spend $500 on a share may instead be able to spend $125 on a share.

This “opening up” to a wider range of shareholders can cause the share price to increase.

Either way, I’m sure that shareholders of Apple are pretty pleased with the performance of the company.

Cows vs. oats

Things are changing in the milk business. Or rather, I should say things are changing in the dairy milk and vegan milk business.

Over the last few years, the number of people who have switched from cow milk to vegan alternatives such as soya, oat and almond milk has soared.

In the US for example, over 40% of households purchased vegan milk last year according to a report by the Good Food Institute and Plant Based Food Association.

This switch in consumer habits hasn’t gone unnoticed and one of the biggest oat milk producers recently secured a significant investment.

Oatly is a Swedish company who arguably led the movement to Oat milk. They are doing very well and their products are now available at over 50,000 locations in 20 countries.

Last month they announced that a group of investors including leading global investment firm Blackstone Group and celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z and Natalie Portman had purchased a 10% stake in the business for $200 million.

That valued the business at $2 billion and for a company which reportedly had about $200 million in sales last year that’s a pretty decent valuation.

The investors are no doubt anticipating further growth as the demand for non dairy milk and oat milk in particular increases.

One thing though that could make it challenging for Oatly is that there are limited barriers to entry for potential Oat milk producers so increased competition is likely to be just around the corner.

One of the attractions of Oat milk is its simplicity. Oats and water are the main ingredients so nothing too complicated there.

Oats are a very easy crop to grow so there’s little to stop companies entering the market. Recently, for example, PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats have launched their own brand of oat milk and it won’t be long before the supermarkets have their own brand oat milk.

When it comes to the consumer, will they be prepared to pay a premium for Oatly milk or will it be a very price sensitive market similar to that faced by the dairy milk industry?

My guess is that prices may be on their way down as competition heats up.

Big Mac with 4 sides

We blogged last year about the former boss of McDonald’s being fired due to a relationship with a colleague but it turns out, there may be more to the story.

Steve Easterbrook used to head up McDonald’s but was fired when he “violated company policy” by having a relationship with a colleague.

The relationship was consensual but it was against company policy which prohibits “any kind of intimate relationship between employees in a direct or indirect reporting relationship”.

McDonald’s agreed to terminate Mr Easterbrook’s contract “without cause”, which in effect meant that he was let go, but not for significant workplace misconduct (ie he didn’t do anything seriously wrong). His payoff at the time was reportedly worth $40 million.

However, things have moved on and it looks like Mr Easterbrook shared a happy meal with more than one colleague.

McDonald’s have said that they have uncovered “undisputed evidence” of three other sexual relationships with staff. Investigators also identified that he had approved a grant of company shares worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of the employees he was in a relationship with and this grant took place “shortly after their first sexual encounter”.

When the first relationship was uncovered last year, investigators reviewed Mr Easterbrook’s phone and nothing untoward was found. Further investigation since he left however identified that he had sent nude photos from his company email account and whilst they had been deleted from the phone, they had not been removed from the company’s servers.

As a result of all this additional information, McDonald’s are now suing Mr Easterbrook to recover his $40 million payoff. They are claiming that if he had not withheld this information, they would not have approved his payoff.

The most valuable car company is…

Which of the following two motor manufacturers would you say is the most valuable?

The first one produced 2.4 million cars whilst the second one produced 103,000.

This isn’t a trick question but an illustration of how market valuation is very much based on expectations of future rather than historical performance.

The car manufacturer who produced 2.4 million cars was Toyota and up until yesterday was the highest valued motor manufacturer in the world.

The company that only produced 103,000 cars was Tesla and yesterday it’s shares increased to above $1,000 for the first time. This valued the company at £207 billion which was over $6 billion more than Toyota was valued by its investors.

So, despite only producing approximately 4% of Toyota’s production, Tesla is currently the most valuable motoring manufacturer in the world.

There are views that the market sees Toyota as a lumbering giant who is being slow to get into full electric vehicles whilst Tesla is leading the way in terms of the future of driving and electric vehicles in particular.

Tesla certainly seems to have turned the corner. After years of making losses, Tesla has reported 3 straight quarters of profits and is now worth more than Ford, General Motors, Honda and Fiat Chrysler combined.

As well as being pretty innovative in terms of their car designs, Tesla have come up with an impressive idea for their car names.

Earlier this year, Tesla’s Senior Director of Artificial Intelligence Andrej Karpathy gave a presentation on the use of artificial intelligence for full self driving.

During the presentation it became clear that the names of the cars spelt out a nice marketing message.

Their current car models are the Models S, 3, X and Y which near enough spells out SEXY (they couldn’t have the Model E as Ford had already trademarked that so Tesla called it the Model 3 but stylised the 3 so that it looked like E).

They also have 4 vehicles in the pipeline.

Namely, the Cybertruck, the All-Terrain Vehicle, the Roadster and the Semi.

The first letters from the names of the 8 Tesla vehicles spell out SEXY CARS…

Time up for Swiss watches?

Switzerland has a reputation for being the home of some of the most prestigious watch manufacturers.

Omega, Tag Heuer and Breitling are just three if the many famous brands of Swiss watches that produce extremely high-quality timepieces.

But things are changing though and there’s a modern-day challenger to their dominance.

That modern-day challenger is Apple.

Last year Apple sold more watched than the entire Swiss watch industry.

A recent report by Strategy Analytics estimated that Apple sold 30.7 million smartwatches last year (an increase of 36% on the 2018 figure).

Estimates for the entire Swiss watch industry showed sales of 21.1 million units last year (a 13% fall on the 2018 figures).

This is a difficult time for the Swiss watch industry as they face a number of challenges.

The younger generation especially are keen on the tech side of watches and these are very much in fashion.

Although some Swiss watch brands such as Swatch and Tissot are launching their own smart watches, their competencies and skills are very much based around the mechanical engineering of watches compared to software engineering which is needed for smart watches.

Another major challenge is their distribution channels and where they are sold.

Swiss watches are typically sold in jewellery shops whereas smart watches such as the Apple watch are sold in phone shops and Apple stores.

Certainly a challenging time for the Swiss watch industry.

Will these Swiss watch brands survive?

Only time will tell…

How much for a speech?

The salary of Boris Johnson, the current UK prime minister is just over £150,000. I’m sure that most Prime Minsters don’t do the job for the money but there can be some pretty significant financial benefits when they move on from being the prime minister.

As the PM, Mr Johnson can’t do any other work whilst in his job but other MPs can. Theresa May was Boris Johnson’s predecessor but now is back to being a standard MP.

According to the government’s register of interests though she’s doing quite nicely on the financial side of things.

PwC for example paid Mrs May in January to do a speech. The total time involved including preparation and travel was 12 hours.

So, how much do you think PwC paid Mrs May for this?

Go on, have a guess.

She received approximately £96,000 for the speech.

Now, that’s not bad for 12 hours work.

As well as receiving £96,000 from PwC she also received money from other organisations for speeches delivered during the first quarter of 2020. These were:

Approximately £115,000 from Dubai Women Establishment for a speech in February (19 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from the Structured Finance Association for a speech in February (25 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. (14 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from Trinity University, Texas, USA. (14 hours, including preparation and travel).

Over £500,000 for 5 speeches in 3 months.

Not bad work if you can get it.

According to a statement by Mrs May in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, these payments “are made to the Office of Theresa May Limited and used to pay employees, maintain my ongoing involvement in public life and support my charitable work.”

KPMG fined £700,000.

KPMG in the UK has been fined by the Financial Reporting Council for what only can be described as pretty poor auditing.

The situation behind the fine involves professional scepticism, or to be more precise, a lack of professional scepticism.

Professional standards define professional scepticism as “an attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions that may indicate possible misstatement due to fraud or error, and a critical assessment of audit evidence.”

Or to put into simple words, to question and challenge what the client is saying and not to simply accept what they are saying at face value.

KPMG were fined £700,000 (which was reduced to £455,000 for early settlement) and reprimanded former senior partner for Manchester, Nicola Quayle for a “failure to apply sufficient professional scepticism”. Nicola was also fined £45,000 (reduced to £29,250 for early settlement).

The reason for the fine was because the FRC held that KPMG had failed to obtain and document sufficient audit evidence in relation to supplier-funded rebates.

These were “complex supplier arrangements” and KPMG should have been on alert to pay particular attention to “these types of complex supplier arrangements.”

Claudia Mortimore, deputy executive counsel to the FRC, said: “This is a measured and proportionate package of sanctions, which balances on the one hand the limited nature of the breaches, which did not call into question the truth or fairness of the financial statements, with the fact that auditors should have been on alert to pay particular attention to these types of complex supplier arrangements. Professional scepticism remains at the core of an auditor’s duty and the FRC will take appropriate action where it has been lacking, as in this case.”

This event took place back in the 2015/16 financial year and KPMG in the UK released a statement saying:

“We regret that specific aspects of our audit of this company for the 2015/2016 financial year did not meet the required standards.

As the FRC makes clear, there is no question as to the truth and fairness of the financial statements. Audit quality is of paramount importance to our firm and we have updated our audit processes and procedures to address the areas of concern.”

Manchester Utd and Deloitte

Deloitte has stated that Manchester United are better than Liverpool.

Now before anyone starts getting concerned that Deloitte are moving away from finance and becoming football pundits, I should stress that I’m referring to the Deloitte Football Money League.

Deloitte has been compiling the Football Money League since 1996/97 and the League lists the top 20 clubs in the world for revenue in a football season. They have recently released the figures relating to the 2018/19 season and a few records were broken.

The combined revenue for the 20 richest clubs in the world grew by 11% and reached a new high of €9.3bn (£8.2bn).

It’s a Spanish top two for the second consecutive year. This time though the positions are reversed with Barcelona taking top spot and Real Madrid dropping to second place.

In terms of the fortunes of the eight English Premier League clubs in the table, Manchester United remains in third with revenue of €712m.

United’s closest Premier League rivals, Manchester City and Liverpool, generated revenues of €611m and €605m respectively.

The Deloitte Football Money League measures a club’s earnings from match day revenue, broadcast rights and commercial sources, and ranks them on that basis. The study doesn’t include player transfer fees though.

More details on the report can be found here and the top 10 in the league are:

1 Barcelona €841m
2 Real Madrid €757m
3 Manchester United €712m
4 Bayern Munich €660m
5 Paris Saint-Germain €636m
6 Manchester City €611m
7 Liverpool €605m
8 Tottenham Hotspur €521m
9  Chelsea €513m
10 Juventus €460m

Would the real Hugo Boss please stand up?

Joe Lycett is a British comedian. In fact, I should say that Joe Lycett used to be a comedian because although the person still exists his name doesn’t.

This sounds all very confusing and also, what has it got to do with the leading fashion house, Hugo Boss?

Like most large companies around the world, Hugo Boss defends it’s name when it feels other businesses are using similar names which could cause confusion in the eyes of the consumer.

If for example you decided to set up a clothing brand called “Hugo Bass” I’m pretty sure Hugo Boss would take legal action against you.

Hugo Boss was involved in a high-profile case involving a brewery in Wales called Boss Brewing and in particular two of the beers that it made called Boss Boss and Boss Black.

Hugo Boss took legal action against Boss Brewery but it was held that there was no need for the Brewery to change it’s name.

That was all very well for the Brewery but it cost them a significant amount of money in legal fees to defend the issue in court and for a small business that was challenging.

Joe Lycett wasn’t happy about this and decided to legally change his name as a protest.

His new name is… yes, you guessed it… Hugo Boss.

He tweeted a picture of the official confirmation of his name change and wrote

“So @HUGOBOSS (who turnover approx $2.7 billion a year) have sent cease & desist letters to a number of small businesses & charities who use the word ‘BOSS’ or similar, including a small brewery in Swansea costing them thousands in legal fees and rebranding.

It’s clear that @HUGOBOSS HATES people using their name.

Unfortunately for them this week I legally changed my name by deed poll and I am now officially known as Hugo Boss.

All future statements from me are not from Joe Lycett but from Hugo Boss. Enjoy.”

In what could have been a bit of bad PR for Hugo Boss (the company), they responded well to the new Hugo Boss (formerly Joe Lycett).

They released a statement saying: “We welcome the comedian formerly known as Joe Lycett as a member of the HUGO BOSS family.

As he will know, as a ‘well-known’ trademark (as opposed to a ‘regular’ trademark) HUGO BOSS enjoys increased protection not only against trademarks for similar goods, but also for dissimilar goods across all product categories for our brands and trademarks BOSS and BOSS Black and their associated visual appearance.

Following the application by Boss Brewing to register a trademark similar to our ‘well-known’ trademark, we approached them to prevent potential misunderstanding regarding the brands BOSS and BOSS Black, which were being used to market beer and items of clothing.

Both parties worked constructively to find a solution, which allows Boss Brewing the continued use of its name and all of its products, other than two beers (BOSS BLACK and BOSS BOSS) where a slight change of the name was agreed upon.

As an open-minded company we would like to clarify that we do not oppose the free use of language in any way and we accept the generic term ‘boss’ and its various and frequent uses in different languages.”

Cashless or cash?

Over 1 billion consumers are forecast to use cashless payment methods in 2020. Contactless cards and smartphone payments can make payments very easy for an individual and for the retailer it avoids security issues dealing with cash.

A number of shops are moving to “cashless” shops where all the payments have to be made by contactless cards or smartphone apps such as Apple Pay.

Not everyone is happy though as to make a cashless payment you need one important thing.

Namely, a bank account.

Globally, 1.7 billion adults do not have a bank account and whilst you may be thinking that these people without bank accounts are in the emerging markets around the world, that’s not always the case.

New York City, is one of the most famous cities in the world.

According to a recent report by the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), 354,100 households (11.2 percent) have no bank account (unbanked) and another 689,000 households (21.8 percent) have a bank account but use alternative financial products for some banking needs (underbanked).

In other words, 33% of the New York City households are either unbanked or underbanked.

That’s a pretty big proportion and as a result, the New York City Council has voted to require shops and restaurants to accept cash for payments of USD 20 or less.

The law is expected to be in place by the end of 2020.

New York won’t be the first city in the States to ban cashless stores as last year Philadelphia and San Francisco banned them.

Whilst several retail organisations have appeared to be championing cashless shops it’s looking like it won’t be possible in a number of locations around the world.

These organisations may be initially frustrated at being prevented from being cashless but in reality, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As well as the ethical debate about refusing to accept people who can only pay in cash, if they did go cashless they would be missing out on a significant part of the population who want to spend their cash, albeit “cash” and not “cashless cash”.

Rolling in it…

Here’s a question for you – what do you think the average age is of somebody who buys a new Rolls-Royce?

Perhaps surprisingly the average age has dropped significantly over the last decade.

The company has just reported their sales for 2019. Despite the majority of the global car market facing falling sales, Rolls-Royce have bucked the trend.

They have reported their best ever sales with a 25% increase in cars sold compared to the previous year.

In terms of Michael Porter’s generic strategy model, their strategy is a clear differentiation approach. In the words of chief executive Torsten Muller-Otvos, the brand is “rare and exclusive”.

They have also made a concerted effort to appeal to younger drivers (it’s fair to say that these are younger extremely wealthy drivers with their bestselling model the Cullinan starting at £264,000).

The Cullinan was launched in 2018 and it was a radical change for the company. Rolls-Royce had a history of luxury saloon models and the Cullinan was their first SUV 4×4 off-road car.

Mr Muller-Otvos said the increase in sales was in part down to the introduction of “black badge” versions of its cars, where the car was black inside and out.

He was quoted as saying

“This is a cooler, darker, more menacing, edgy proposition, [aimed] especially towards younger clients.”

“Many smart kids around the world building platforms or whatever making a fortune early in their life are coming to us to start investing in a Rolls-Royce”

In total Rolls-Royce sold 5,125 new cars in 2019 of which the Cullinan amounted to 40% (nearly 2,000 cars).

Oh, and in case you are interested the average age of a Rolls-Royce buyer is now 43.

Would you send a photo?

Picture the scene. You’re one of the largest supermarket chains in the Netherlands employing more than 100,000 people. You’re planning on introducing a new staff uniform. Do you ask people what size uniform they are or do you ask them to upload semi-naked photographs of themselves to an app so that it can work out the sizes?

Yep, you guessed it. The supermarket chain, Albert Heijn asked staff at their Nijmegen branch to upload photos of themselves in their underwear or tight-fitting sports gear.

It was supposed to be a trial to see how it worked before rolling it out to the whole organisation.

Apparently, the idea behind it was that it would be more efficient to load up 100,000 images to an app to analyse the sizes rather than receive 100,000 emails.

Whoever came up with the idea failed to appreciate that not everyone would be keen to load up a half-naked photo to an app run by their employer.

It was not only the staff that thought this was a bit strange as the Dutch Data Protection Authority described it as bizarre saying the company had “no grounds whatsoever to require its staff to do this”.

The news was first reported by the Dutch newspaper NRC who highlighted that a poster had appeared in the staff canteen at the Nijmegen supermarket saying “Wear underwear or tight-fitting sportswear so the contours of your body can be measured as accurately as possible. And ask someone to help you take the photos”.

Now, whilst the person that came up with the idea probably thought this would be an efficient way of getting the sizes, it does remind everyone to always take a step back and ask yourself “is this ok?”

A spokesman for the company said “We have cancelled the pilot and apologised to all involved”.

Ericsson fined $1 billion for bribery.

The Swedish telecommunications group Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (or Ericsson as most people refer to it as and how my spell checker prefers) is an incredibly successful organisation.

The group provides services, software and infrastructure in information and communications technology.

Oh, and they were also recently fined $1 billion to settle bribery charges.

The company was founded in 1876 by Lars Magnus Ericsson and now employs nearly 100,000 people and operates in around 180 countries.

Not all of these employees were ethical though and Ericsson’s Egyptian subsidiary recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

This bribery had been taking place for 17 years and was reported to have netted the group business worth more than $400m.

US attorney Geoffrey Berman was quoted as saying “Through slush funds, bribes, gifts, and graft, Ericsson conducted telecom business with the guiding principle that money talks.” He went to say “Today’s guilty plea and surrender of over a billion dollars in combined penalties should communicate clearly to all corporate actors that doing business this way will not be tolerated.”

The bribery took place in a number of countries. It appointed agents and consultants to bribe government officials in Djibouti, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kuwait.

One example of the techniques involved was in Kuwait where an Ericsson subsidiary agreed a payment of approximately $450,000 to a “consulting company”.

No consulting actually took place but a fake invoice for the consulting services was issued to Ericsson.

As a result of this payment, inside information about a tender for the modernisation of a state-owned telecommunications company’s radio access network in Kuwait was obtained.

The end result was that the modernisation contract, which was valued at $182m, was awarded to an Ericsson subsidiary. In return Ericsson paid the $450,000 to the consulting company and improperly recorded it in its books as consulting fees rather than as a bribe.

IRS Criminal Investigation head Don Fort was quoted as saying that “Implementing strong compliance systems and internal controls are basic principles that international companies must follow to steer clear of illegal activity. Ericsson’s shortcomings in these areas made it easier for its executives and employees to pay bribes and falsify its books and records. We will continue to pursue cases such as these in order to preserve a global commerce system free of corruption.”

You can’t McFlurry Love

Until recently, Steve Easterbrook was the boss of McDonalds. He had been with them for a long time having started working for them back in 1993 as a manager in London.

Mr Easterbrook no doubt had a lot of affection for the company he ran but it turned out that he also had a lot of affection for a colleague as he had started dating a lady who also worked for McDonalds.

Although the relationship with his colleague was consensual, it didn’t go down too well with McDonalds.

According to the company, Mr Easterbrook had “violated company policy” and shown “poor judgement” (by “poor judgement” I assume that refers to him having the relationship rather than the choice of who he had the relationship with).

Now, whilst some people may say that it was a consensual relationship between two adults so let them get on with it, the key thing here is that it was against company policy and the two people involved had agreed to the company policy when they joined the firm so it’s a straight forward case of a breach of that policy.

More and more companies are having either outright bans on any relationships or are requiring individuals to disclose any relationships (I’m not a legal expert here but it does raise some interesting questions as to what is the definition of a relationship and how quickly after reaching that definition you need to notify your employer – is it minutes, hours, days…).

Mr Easterbrook won’t be short of funds to carry on wining and dining his new love as the termination package is pretty significant. He earned nearly $16m last year and will receive 26 weeks of pay on his departure.

Bloomberg estimate that his total leaving package which includes previously granted shares will be in excess of $37m.

That should buy a few romantic meals at Burger King for the two love birds.

Working from home?

Let’s be honest now – have you ever had a day off work when you really shouldn’t have? Have you ever called in sick when you were actually feeling ok?

Well, even if you have taken a day off work when you should have been in the office then you are nowhere near as bad as Mr Joaquin Garcia.

Mr Garcia was a Spanish civil servant who was paid €37,000 a year by a water company run by a local authority in the Spanish city of Cadiz.

He had worked for the organisation for so long that he became eligible for a long service award. The deputy mayor was due to award Mr Garcia a plaque for 20 years’ service but unfortunately Mr Garcia was not in the office.

Further investigation led to the discovery that despite being paid €37,000 a year the Spanish civil servant had failed to turn up for work for “at least” 6 years. Yes, he was employed and was being paid but hadn’t turned up for work for at least 6 years and nobody had noticed!

The water company thought that Mr Garcia was being supervised by the local authority whilst the local authority thought that the water company was supervising him. The end result was that Mr Garcia was not in the office, was not working but was receiving his full salary.

The local authority was understandably not that happy at paying somebody a full salary when that person was at home enjoying life and took Mr Garcia to court. The court found in favour of the local authority and ordered Mr Garcia to pay a fine.

Despite the local authority paying Mr Garcia for doing no work for at least 6 years, the maximum amount of fine that the company could legally reclaim was equivalent to one year’s salary.

Mr Garcia has since retired. No doubt to take it easy after all of his hard work over the last 6 years…

#problemswithreturns

It’s common knowledge that high street shops are struggling. A number of household names have gone (or are going!) out of business and one of the reasons for this is the rise of online shopping.

But the online stores haven’t got it easy and online clothing stores in particular are facing an emerging threat driven by social media.

A lot of people are reluctant to buy clothes online in case they don’t fit properly. To get around this a number of online stores offer free returns.

This has led an increasing number of people to take advantage of the free returns policy.

By take advantage I mean to order clothes that they have NO intention of keeping. Instead, they want to order the clothes so that they can have their photo taken wearing them and then post those photos on social media sites before returning them free of charge.

Whilst this enables individuals to look super trendy in front of their friends on sites such as Instagram and Facebook, it is proving to be a problem for retailers.

The giant credit / debit card provider Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions, recently undertook some research which showed the scale of the problem.

The research showed that 9% of online shoppers in the UK had bought clothes online with the aim of wearing them for a photo to post on social media and then returning them. The age group who were the largest culprits were 35 – 44 year olds where the percentage rose to a staggering 17%.

Perhaps surprisingly, men were more likely than women to “snap and send back” (12% of male shoppers compared to 7% of female shoppers).

It’s a major issue for online retailers.

George Allardice, Head of Strategy at Barclaycard Payment Solutions said “It’s interesting to see the social media trend further fuelling the returns culture. We know from our research that returns are having a big impact on retailers, with a huge figure of seven billion pounds a year in sales that they potentially can’t recognise”.

In summary, “snap and send back” equals #bigproblemswithreturns

You’re fired…

How many CEOs of top global companies were replaced last year?

Well, the answer may surprise you and what also may surprise you is the reason they lost their job.

PwC have been keeping track of the movements of the CEOs of the largest 2,500 global publicly listed companies since 2000 and the most recent data for 2018 has been released and it shows some interesting things.

In 2018 the number of departures of CEOs reached a record level with nearly 18% being replaced (up from 12% in 2010).

It was the reason for their departure though which raised some eyebrows.

CEOs can leave their jobs for a variety of reason and PwC categorised the reasons as planned (e.g. they were due to retire), forced (e.g. they did something a bit “naughty”) or M&A (e.g. they were no longer needed due to a merger or acquisition).

The latest split showed the 18% of departures as:

Planned – 12.0%

Forced – 3.6%

M&A – 2.0%

Digging a bit deeper though into the forced departures shows some worrying reasons.

Historically the main reason CEOs were forced out was due to poor results but for the first time the largest group of CEOs forced out was due to integrity reasons.

In 2018, 39% of those forced out were due to integrity reasons. Ten years ago in 2008 the corresponding figure was only 10%.

These integrity issues could include scandals such as improper conduct, fraud, bribery, insider trading, environmental disasters, misleading CVs, and sexual indiscretions, according to PwC.

So, in summary more CEOs are being fired and the main reason is integrity issues.

All in all, a pretty poor performance…

On your bike…

If you drive to work, one of the nice things is to have a parking place. There’s nothing worse than being on time for work and then you can’t find anywhere to park and you end up being really late.

HSBC Bank in the UK has 700 car parking places in it’s two new regional centres but has recently announced that this is going to change.

90% of the car parking spaces will be removed and replaced with bike storage racks and changing rooms.

It’s all part of an 8-year programme in which the bank’s staff will be part of the “Cycle Nation Project”. HSBC Is hoping to enlist 1,280 staff to take part in an academic project which will study employee’s activity levels, motivation, cardiovascular health and the number of sick days they take.

The hope I guess is that the health benefits of cycling to work rather than sat in a car will result in a healthier and more motivated work force.

Ian Stuart, the Chief Executive of HSBC UK was reported as saying “Nobody gets a car parking space [at our Birmingham HQ] unless they have a disability. It won’t suit everyone and I understand that.”

The bank is planning on spending in excess of £3m this year on installing bike racks and shower facilities as well as providing electric bikes to some of the staff.

This is not the only money they are spending. The Cycle Nation Project forms part of the eight-year partnership between HSBC UK and British Cycling. HSBC will reportedly invest between £80 million and £100 million in the project.

The ambition for the Cycle Nation Project is to prove which real-world methods work best and provide clear guidance on how to get more people on their bikes.

All in all, a good cause and I’m sure the HSBC employees are fully behind it unless of course they live at the top of a steep hill and it rains a lot….

Dog seized to pay tax bill…

It’s always best to keep up to date with your tax affairs. Although most people don’t enjoy paying their taxes, it’s the law and if you don’t pay there can be serious consequences.

Over in Germany reports have emerged that make it fairly clear that you don’t mess with the German authorities when it comes to taxes.

An unnamed lady was behind in paying her taxes.

The authorities sent a debt collector around to collect whatever assets the family had to settle the tax liability.

According to the lady in question, two valuable items were identified.

One was the wheelchair of her paraplegic husband. Now, before even getting into the rights and wrongs of taking a disabled person’s wheelchair to settle debts, luckily for the family it was not an issue as it turned out that it was owned by a local association and was not the property of the family so the debt collectors couldn’t take it.

The authorities though have denied they tried to take the wheelchair and a spokesman said “Mobility aids for the disabled are absolutely exempt from being seized as collateral.”

One item though which was not exempt from being seized was the family pet.

Alas for Edda, the family dog, she was taken by the debt collector.

Edda is a pug and they are a pretty fashionable dog breed at the moment and the debt collector took the dog as settlement for the debt.

Edda was then listed on eBay and was sold to Michaela Jordan, a local police officer for €750 (approx. £650).

There’s a twist in the “tail” though in that the new owner has now sued the local authorities who sold Edda as apparently, she was advertised as being a healthy dog but has required veterinary treatment costing approximately €1,800.

We wish Edda well.

Would you send a selfie of your legs for a bonus?

I’m all for equal rights in the workplace. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is or your religious preferences. The only thing that does matter is whether or not you can do your job.

Not everyone shares the same view though and in Russia, aluminium manufacturing company Tatprof is offering a bonus to its female employees if they wear a skirt and makeup.

Oh, and to get the bonus they have to send a selfie of them showing their legs and make up to their (mostly male) bosses.

The bonus is 100 Russian Rubles (approx. £1.25) and it’s been reported that 60 people have so far sent in selfies to get the bonus.

Some may say that there are 2 sides to the argument.

The first, and probably most obvious, is that this is a step backwards in the workplace. A person should be judged by their ability to do their job rather than what their legs and make up look like. It’s 2019 for goodness sake and not the 1950s.

A counter argument though was put forward by Anasasia Kirillova, who works for the company’s department of corporate culture and internal communications who said that “Many women automatically put on trousers, so we hope that [the campaign] will increase our ladies’ awareness, allowing them to feel their femininity and charm when they make the choice of wearing a skirt or dress”.

It seems the message is coming from the top of the company.

According to Ms Kirillova, Tatprof’s male CEO Sergei Rachkov “really wants to maintain the female essence in every female employee of the company, so that young women do not have male haircuts, do not change into trousers, so that they engage themselves in handicraft, project all their warmth into raising children”.

Now, I’m personally not convinced by this counter argument but what about opening up the bonus option to everyone in the company?

What about offering the bonus to men as well as women who send a selfie of themselves wearing a skirt?

Is this for real?

If you buy a Chelsea or Manchester United football shirt and it turns out to be a fake it can be annoying but if you buy medicines and they turn out to be fakes it could be a lot worse as it could kill you.

Illegal copies and fakes of products are one of the big problems facing businesses today (£300 billion is the estimated size of the global counterfeit market) but some scientists have recently developed what they believe could be a cheap solution to the problem.

The technology is currently being developed by a company called Quantum Base and in simple terms involves placing an extremely small microdot onto the product which gives off a unique light signature.

The microdot is really small and I do mean really small – it’s a tiny flake of atoms which is a thousandth of the width of a human hair. Not only will it be impossible for a human to see but it will be unique. The flake of atoms which will make up the microdot will be unique and cannot be cloned. They will be placed on the product at the production facilities and then the atomic structures will be recorded on a database.

The technique for preventing fake products is that when an individual buys a product such as medicine or designer clothes they can scan their phone over the label and an app on their phone will identify the light source from the atomic structure on the microdot and send it to the database to confirm whether or not it is on the database.

If it is on the database, it’s genuine. If it’s not, it’s fake.

An excellent way of identifying whether the product you are buying is real or fake.

As mentioned, the technology is still be developed and made ready for the market by Quantum Base but it looks very promising in terms of helping to eradicate the problem of fake products.

Would you drink this coffee?

Anyone that has studied hard for their exams will almost certainly at one time or another utilised the services of a strong coffee.

Whilst desperately trying to cram that last bit of knowledge into your brain before the exams there is often a temptation to grab a strong coffee late in the night to keep your mind awake.

For years students around the world have been utilising the caffeine in coffee to help get that extra mark or two.

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

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

Over in Thailand though a new type of coffee has just been put on sale which has, how can I put it, but a pretty unusual processing method.

The key staff involved in the processing function are also unusual as they have massive heads and bodies, weigh on average 4,000 kg and are grey in colour.

Yes, that’s right. The key team members involved in processing coffee are 20 Thai elephants.

The new brew of coffee is “processed” by getting the elephants to eat some coffee beans and then stepping back (in fact stepping way back) and letting the natural digestive juices in their stomachs do the job of “processing” the beans before they are deposited naturally on the ground a day later.

The beans are then handpicked out of the elephant dung by people who probably don’t bite their nails before being dried and then ground into coffee.

The finished coffee is said to have a slight pooey taste smooth flavour without the bitterness of normal coffee and is some of the most expensive coffee in the world selling for nearly £150 per kilo.

It’s certainly an unusual production technique but it’s also for a good cause as 8% of the sales revenue goes towards the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants in Thailand.

Are you better looking than your boss?

So who’s better looking – you or your boss?

Well, if you are male and your boss is also male there could be some disappointing career news for you if you think you are better looking than your boss.

A study has suggested that male bosses are less likely to promote good-looking men who work for them.

The study by University College London’s School of Management concluded that good-looking men were considered competent by their male bosses but as a result were also seen as a threat to them and their own personal career aspirations.

This raises an interesting point. Organisations no doubt want to employ the most competent people but if a male boss is reluctant to recruit or promote good-looking men because they take the view they are a threat to them personally then it means that good-looking men could be discriminated against whether or not they are competent.

Dr Sun Young Lee, the lead researcher on the study was quoted as saying “organisations want to hire competent candidates but individuals have their own agenda. When employing someone, they do not want the newcomer to do better than them and show them up”.

“What about good-looking females” I hear you say?

The study concluded that the same prejudice did not apply to women. Being a good looking lady was not associated with competence according to the study.

The study was published in the Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes journal and Dr Lee felt her results suggested that organisations should consider appointing external recruitment consultants to avoid personal preferences impacting on recruitment decisions.

One additional point though is that if you yourself are male and have recently been overlooked for a promotion by your male boss then surely the only reason you didn’t get the promotion was because you are better looking than him…

What’s the link between almonds, PESTEL and water?

It wasn’t long ago that you only saw almonds in health food shops but things are changing quickly.

The health benefits of almonds are extensive. They are a rich source of vitamin E, calcium, iron and zinc to name just a few items. They can be eaten raw, made into almond oil or almond milk. They are one of nature’s super foods.

If almonds have been around for a long time, why is there suddenly such an interest in them?

If you link it to the environmental analysis model PESTEL you could argue that one of the areas within the “Social” element of PESTEL that has changed recently is that people are more health aware (if you are tucking into your burger and chips whilst reading this I should stress that health awareness doesn’t necessarily mean everyone undertakes healthy eating!)

However, it does seem that people around the world are eating significantly more almonds. So much so that there is a rush to plant almond trees.

The world’s almond crop is estimated to be worth nearly $5 billion per year and the centre of almond production is California where 80% of the world’s almond crop is produced. During the last three years alone 150,000 acres of almond trees have been planted in California.

Whilst the ever increasing number of almond eaters around the world are no doubt happy about this, there are a number of people who are far from happy.

California farmers have been removing tomato, melons and other crops to replace them with almond crops. There is a problem though as the almond tree require significantly more water than the other crops.

To produce a single almond requires about 4.5 litres of water. Multiply that by the millions of almonds that will be produced on the land and you can see what an impact it will have on the local water supply.

California has been suffering droughts for a number of years and in the past there have been certain water restrictions in place for individuals. So far, the almond growers have escaped these water restrictions but a number of activist groups have been set up and this situation could soon change.

Will we see a lot of thirsty almond trees in California in the near future….

A €40,000 pudding…

If you’re gong to hide cash then I guess hiding it in the oven may not be a good idea.

Alberto Vazzoler used to be a dentist. He moved on from that but his new activities were allegedly far from legal as he’s currently on trial in Italy accused of money laundering.

Money Laundering is where “dirty” illegally obtained money is “washed” and then reintroduced into general circulation as clean money. In simple terms, criminals disguise the method of obtaining the money from criminal activities to make it look as though it was derived from legitimate sources.

Now although Mr Vazzoler was a dentist, he’s been accused of making serious amounts of money by way of laundering more than €46 million for criminals across Europe.

Together with his accomplices, he’s been accused of channelling funds through various off shore tax havens and amongst other things, “cleaning” some money by way of converting cash into gold.

His girlfriend, Silvia Moro, has also been charged with money laundering.

Details of some expensive cooking emerged during a court session last week when an investigator told the course that Ms Moro sent a WhatsApp message to her sister saying “I’ve done a stupid thing. I put a strudel in the oven to cook where €40,000 was hidden.”

Although a cost of €40,000 would probably make the strudel the most expensive pudding in the world I guess that the couple have more pressing things on their minds now they are in court charged with money laundering and tax evasion which could result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Causing a bit of a stink…

There’s no room in the modern workplace for bullying and intimidating work colleagues.

Companies should have anti bullying practices in place and in most countries around the world there are laws to protect people who are being bullied.

The Oxford dictionary defines bullying as seeking to “harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable” but in some situations it’s difficult to decide whether or not an activity is actually bullying.

Over in Australia a worker claimed that he was bullied by a colleague who repeatedly broke wind at him.

David Hingst claimed that his ex-colleague Greg Short would “lift his bum and fart” on him up to 6 times a day.

Mr Hingst didn’t take this well and sued his former employer for A$1.8m (nearly £1m).

Now, let’s pause here for a moment and hold our breath.

Bullying in the workplace is clearly wrong but claiming damages of nearly £1 million when somebody breaks wind in front of you does seem a bit steep.

Mr Hingst was adamant though and last year took his case to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The Court found that there was no bullying.

Mr Hingst didn’t agree with the decision and appealed against it and last week the appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Hingst reportedly told the Australian Associated Press that “I would be sitting with my face to the wall and he would come into the room, which was small and had no windows. He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day”.

Mr Short, the alleged perpetrator of this “crime” had said that he may “have done it once or twice” but denied doing it with the intention of distressing or harassing Mr Hingst.

Alas for Mr Hingst, the Court of Appeal rejected his appeal and found there was no bullying.

Mr Hingst though isn’t taking this sitting down and reportedly has said that he plans to appeal to the High Court.

Click to buy a Tesla…

Most of you have probably bought something on the internet but how many of you have bought a car on the internet?

My guess is not many but things may be about to change.

The Tesla company is renowned for doing things differently. They have led the way in developing electric vehicles with their Models S and X being some of the best electric cars on the road at the moment.

Whilst the Models S and X are great cars, they are pretty expensive. The Model S starts at £72,000 and the Model X at £80,000.

As an alternative to their luxury models, Tesla announced its Model 3 car back in 2016. This was planned to be a more economical version and hoped to bring electric cars to the masses.

They were aiming for a price point of $35,000 but have been finding it difficult to reach that figure. Back in September last year the car was on sale for $50,000 but they have just announced that they have achieved their target and the car will now be sold in the US for $35,000.

They’ve got the price down and a key factor in getting the price down has been restructuring their distribution methods.

They’ve come up with what I think is a pretty innovative way of selling their cars. They are closing their physical showrooms and only selling their cars via the internet.

This is radically different from other car manufacturers.

There are clear advantages – the cost saving of not having physical showrooms and not having to employ staff to work in these showrooms is reported to allow the firm to cut costs by 5%.

What about the disadvantages? Well, an obvious one is whether customers will be willing to buy a car without looking at the car and having a test drive.

Tesla have come up with a nice solution to this problem.

Tesla announced that “We are also making it much easier to try out and return a Tesla, so that a test drive prior to purchase isn’t needed. You can now return a car within 7 days or 1,000 miles for a full refund. Quite literally, you could buy a Tesla, drive several hundred miles for a weekend road trip with friends and then return it for free.”

I personally think this is a pretty good idea but if you’re currently working for another car company in one of their showrooms, should you start to be worried?