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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.”

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.

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.

How to impress over a business lunch…

Picture the scene. You’ve got an important business lunch coming up. You want to make a good impression on the person you are meeting with. What should you eat for lunch?

A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has some interesting findings which indicate that if you have an important business lunch, there are various benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress.

Scientists from the University of Chicago studied nearly 500 people to identify whether eating the same food helped them agree in negotiations.

The researcher’s conclusion was that people who are served the same food are more likely to trust each other, smooth out problems and make deals.

As part of the study, participants in the research were told to imagine they were “investors” who had to decide whether to invest in funds operated by their “fund manager” eating partners. The researchers found that those people who were served similar food invested more money.

Another interesting finding in the study was the link between food consumption and the effectiveness of advertising. The authors said that “consumers are more trusting of information about non-food products – e.g. a software product – when the advertiser in the product testimonial eats similar food to them”.

Back to the business lunch though and although the research found that there are benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress, I’m not sure that if you’re wearing a nice clean white shirt to the lunch meeting you should necessarily follow the other person in ordering that “tricky to eat tidily spaghetti with the sloppy tomato sauce”…

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…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

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

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

Or does it involve chocolate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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.

#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