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Nicely said Mr Musk

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what does he think about meetings?

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

In the words of Mr Musk, these include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicely said Mr Musk.

The battery is going on my phone…

Do you have a phone?

My guess is that most of you own a mobile phone.

Now, if you look at your phone is it a Vertu branded phone?

Probably not.

Most of you will own a Samsung, Apple or Nokia. Some of these phones aren’t cheap – the latest top of the range Apple iPhone for example retails at over £900.

But if you’re holding a Vertu branded phone then the chances are that it cost a lot more than the top of the range iPhone.

Some of the Vertu range of phones were on sale for £40,000 a few years ago. That’s a lot of money for a phone. It was a luxury brand aimed at ultra-high net worth individuals who would be willing to spend more than the cost of a new Porsche Cayman sports car on a phone.

Perhaps surprisingly it did rather well a few years ago. In 2007, it generated £150 million of sales.

Perhaps unsurprisingly though, there weren’t that many individuals with “more money than sense” who were willing to pay that amount of money for a phone. The company has had a rough ride over recent years as it’s hard to justify paying £40,000 for a phone that has been criticised in a number of areas. The Financial Times were quoted for example as saying the Vertu phones were “technologically modest”.

After originally being set up by Nokia in the 1990s with the strategic aim of building a niche market of hand made luxury phones it was sold to a Hong Kong hedge fund manager for €45 million in 2015.

In March of this year it was then sold to a Turkish businessman for €1 (he agreed to take on the company’s debt of €13 million as part of the deal).

Unfortunately though things have got worse and the company has recently gone into receivership after running out of money to pay staff and suppliers.

An interesting case study which appears to prove that being expensive by itself isn’t sufficient to make a differentiation strategy successful.

Should you employ good-looking men?

That’s an interesting question and unless you’re a modelling agency then the answer for most jobs should be that looks aren’t important and it’s the ability to do the job that counts.

Research from Aarhus University in Denmark though has raised some interesting observations which could have an impact on fast food restaurants.

The study found that women were more likely to order healthy options such as salad instead of unhealthy options such as chips when they were in the company of a good-looking man. The research found that a woman was more likely to go for low calorie items when they were with a handsome man.

This healthy eating wasn’t present though when a women was eating with a good-looking woman.

Men on the other hand, tended to spend more on expensive food and drink when they were with an attractive woman.

Whilst we can probably guess that a woman doesn’t want to be seen as somebody who could eat a whole restaurant on a date and a man wants to be seen as wealthy and able to afford expensive food, Tobias Otterbring, the author of the study puts it nicely when he says “this research reveals how, why, and when appearance induced mate attraction leads to sex-specific consumption preferences for various food and beverages.”

He went on to say that “the most valued characteristics men seek in a female mate are beauty and health, whereas status and wealth are the top priorities for women.”

He also said that the study findings suggested that fast food chains should consider whether to employ good-looking men in case it encouraged women to look elsewhere for healthy options.

Somehow though, I can’t see many fast food restaurants saying that “good-looking men should not apply” in their job adverts.

It’s maturing nicely…

“Don’t worry, it’s secured with cheese” isn’t the most common phrase you hear when discussing the bond markets but a €6 million bond issue may well change that.

When a company issues a bond, the investor is lending money to that company in exchange for the bond. When the bond matures the company will repay the money that was lent (together with interest).

If you put yourself in the shoes of the investor, then what type of company would you invest in?

The chances are that you would be looking for large, well established and financially secure companies to invest in. That means that smaller companies generally find it challenging to raise funds via bonds.

An Italian cheese manufacturer has found a novel way around this problem.

4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia is a relatively small Modena based cooperative firm which produces 75,000 wheels of Parmigiano cheese annually (nearly 2% of the world production of the famous cheese). It has issued a €6 million bond offering an annual yield of 5% with the capital being repaid in 5 annual amounts starting in 2018 and ending in 2022. The funds raised will be used to support their commercial expansion plans.

The interesting thing about the bond issue though is that it is secured by Parmigiano cheese worth 120% of the bond value. This means that if the company fails to repay the money the investors can get Parmigiano cheese from the company.

€7.2 million worth of cheese – that’s a lot of cheese! Let’s hope the bond matures nicely without any problems.

Standing up for productivity.

How would you feel if your chair was taken away from you at work? Probably not too happy I would guess.

A recent bit of research though may make your boss think otherwise.

Scientists from the Texas A&M Health Science Centre School of Public Health installed “standing desks” in a call centre employing over 150 people. The standing desks could be adjusted so that the employee could work at them either sitting down or standing up.

Half of the employees were given sit–stand desks to use whilst the other half were given traditional sitting desks. The performance of the employees was recorded over a period of 6 months and the results were surprising.

Despite the employees who had the sit–stand desks only using the desks in the standing position for a third of the time, their productivity increased by 50%. Productivity was measured by the number of successful calls that the employee made to the clients with “successful” being defined as being when the company earned revenue from that call.

Each employee typically made in the region of 400 to 500 calls every month and the company wanted them to achieve on average 2 successful calls per hour. Those with the sit–stand desks achieved the target whilst those with the traditional seated desks averaged 1.5 successful calls per hour.

Dr Gregory Garrett from the centre was quoted as saying that “having the ability to move throughout the day really makes a big difference”.

So, is it time to introduce standing chairs in your office?

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 recent 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…

Is this the best time to leave the office?

When do you think it is a good time to leave the office on a Friday night? After all, if the sun is shining and you’ve got a nice weekend planned it would be good to be able to finish at a reasonable time.

In some jobs though there can be pressure to finish projects which legitimately means that you’ll have to stay late to meet the deadline.

In other companies though there can be a culture of staying late as there’s “always something to do” and never enough time to do it all or there can be pressure to stay late to “prove” that you are busy and working hard.

As an aside, when I was younger I used to work with a colleague who would bring in a spare jacket to leave on the back of his chair when he left the office at the end of the day – his boss would see the jacket on the chair together with an open file on the desk and the screensaver active on his computer and think he was still working hard and in a meeting somewhere else in the office.

Back to 2016 though and Credit Suisse, the leading investment bank, has introduced a new policy called “protecting Friday nights”.

In an email leaked to Reuters, Credit Suisse said it would be ordering all employees to stop working at 7pm on Fridays.

Marisa Drew, co-head of banking and capital markets in London reportedly told workers that she “had given a great deal of thought into how we can provide some time off for our bankers”. Ms Drew went on to say that this would allow “employees to make firm plans with family and friends and ensure that this time will be respected”.

So, good news for Credit Suisse employees as (unless they are working on a deal) they have to leave the office by 7pm on Friday.

When do they have to be back in the office though? Well, they have been told that they cannot go back to the office until midday on Saturday.

Yes, a whole 17 hours to relax, see the family and get some sleep…

Thank you 200,000 times from ExP…

WOW – thank you so much. We’re celebrating 200,000 fans on Facebook so a big, big, big thank you to all of you that follow us on Facebook – it’s much appreciated!

Whether you attend one of our classroom courses, our online courses or access our free courses on our website thank you so much for your trust in us and we hope we’ve helped you in your professional development.

Thanks again from all of us here at The ExP Group.

Should this have been predicted?

Picture the scene. You set up a company with two of your university friends. Things are going well but as is often the case with start-ups the work is hard, the hours are long and there is no initial salary.

Chris Hill-Scott was one such entrepreneur who founded a tech start-up business back in 2008 together with fellow Cambridge University graduates Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock.

After setting up the company and getting it off of the ground, Mr Hill-Scott decided that being an entrepreneur was not for him. He resigned as a director, left the business and transferred his shares in the company to Mr Reynolds and Mr Medlock in exchange for a bicycle.

We’ve all done things that we have regretted but in hindsight Mr Hill-Scott should have stayed in the company. He now works for the Government Digital Service creating websites and it has been reported that the average salary for that type of job is in the region of £55,000.

The two gentlemen he left behind in the company though have faced a different journey. The name of the company the guys set up is SwiftKey and although you may not have heard of the company, you have almost certainly used their technology.

SwiftKey developed the predictive text technology which suggests the next word a user is about to type on their smartphone or tablet. It has been incredibly successful and their software is used on more than 300 million smartphones and tablets around the world.

The company estimates that the software it developed has saved over 10 trillion keystrokes for its users. Let’s just think about that figure for a moment. 10 trillion keystrokes – that amounts to more than 100,000 years of typing time and represents an awful lot of thumb pain which has been avoided.

SwiftKey is an incredibly successful company and yesterday Microsoft purchased the business for £174 million (or in dollar terms, just over one quarter of a billion dollars).

Mr Reynolds and Mr Medlock will both make more than £25 million each whilst Mr Hill Scott will receive nothing from the sale as he transferred his shares in the business in exchange for a bicycle.

It’s not clear how much the bicycle is worth but I don’t think you have to be a technology expert to predict what words that Mr Hill-Scott was probably thinking when he heard the news the business he helped set up had been sold for £174 million and he had received nothing….

Would a good liar make a good accountant?

Do you have children? Have they ever told you a lie? Even a small teeny weeny lie?

Well, if they have then although you may not be particularly pleased with them, it may actually mean that they have good memories and excellent thinking skills.

Psychologists at the University of Sheffield tested 135 children and found that those children that lied performed much better than the honest children in the group.

The children in the study were aged between 6 and 7 years old and during the study they were given a trivia game. The answers to the trivia game were on the back of the card which they had been given. Initially, each child was in a room accompanied by one of the researchers but the researcher then left the child alone with the card with the answer on the back.

Before leaving the room the researcher told the children not to look at the answer but what the children didn’t know was that when they were alone in the room there were hidden cameras which were monitoring whether they would look at the answers on the back.

25% of the group subsequently cheated and looked at the answers on the back of their cards but claimed that they hadn’t cheated when the researcher returned to the room.

At a later stage, all of the children had to perform a separate memory test and the research found that the children who had lied performed significantly better than those children who didn’t lie.

Dr Tracy Alloway, project lead from the University of North Florida was also involved in the research and said that “this research shows that thought processes, specifically verbal working memory, are important to complex social interactions like lying because the children needed to juggle multiple pieces of information while keeping the researcher’s perspective in mind”.

This has got me thinking as a lot of the readers of this blog are accountants or studying to be accountants.

“Thought processes”, “verbal working memory”, “juggling multiple pieces of information” and “keeping other people’s perspective in mind” are all skills which many accountants need.

Does this mean that you would make a good accountant if you were a good liar when you were a child?

Whatever your answer is, I’m not sure I would believe you…