Tit for tat diplomacy: Chess as a source of strategy insights

July 17, 2007

kasparov.jpgA dispute between Great Britain and Russia has blown up into tit-for-tat political gestures. We examine the process as a strategic game, using chess as a source of strategic insights

Tuesday July 17th 2007

In another challenge for the Government, the new Foreign Secretary David Miliband faces his first international incident. The episode can be traced to the death in London in mysterious circumstances of the Russian political dissident and activist Alexander Litvinenko.

Mr Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, died of exposure to radioactive polonium-210 in London in November 2006. The trail led to Andrei Lugovoi, another KGB agent still living in Moscow.

Efforts to investigate the case further led to escalation into a political dispute. On Monday July 16th 2007, The BBC reported that four Russian diplomats were being expelled expelled from Britain.

Mr Putin has already indicated strong rejection of the claims and the British actions.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry chief spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said:

“London’s position is immoral. Such provocative actions masterminded by the British authorities will not be left without an answer and cannot but entail the most serious consequences for Russian-British relations”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said: “We don’t want to be provoked into a ping-pong game, although of course the Russian side will provide a necessary response.”

So where does chess come into all this?

Chess hasn’t come into the story all yet. I am just continuing to build a case that Chess is a powerful lens through which to examine strategic issues. Dmitri goes so far as to say that Moscow is not interested in ping-pong diplomacy. Quite right. That’s more the approach favored by Chinese leaders of recent memory.

But Chess. That’s different. Remember Ian Fleming’s celebrated tale of the Russian Grand Master hauled out of a chess tournament to bring his brilliant mind to bear on a tricky stategic problem? May even as I write, something like that is going on in Moscow. Although it sure as hell will not be Gary Kasparov at work. He is already bending his brilliant mind to strategies for opposing Mr Putin.

Incidentally, the image above comes from The Kuwait Times of April 15th 2007. It shows Gary (back to camera)engaged in his new career as a politician.

So what strategic insights might be revealed as we extend the chess metaphor? I must add that this is no attempt at black humour, and I do not deny the real-life seriousness of such a ‘game’ that led to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and arguably other murky activities and plans.

Assume the players are London (white) and Moscow (black). The game has been in play for a while and we pick up the position recently.

Move 1: Four Russian pawns are captured

The pawns were no direct threat to London. The move invites a reply from Moscow. Prior moves suggest that London would like Moscow to give up Andre Lugovoi. Moscow has indicated it will not make this move in response. London’s move is therefore to be viewed not as a direct threat forcing a reply, but as a move with a concealed threat or intention.

Moscow is expected to reply in a way which is seen to be a consequence of the London move. Sooner rather than later …


The positions change on the EADS chess board

July 16, 2007

A major restructuring is announced at EADS, the parent of the high-profile Airbus organization. The complex double helix of German and French bonds has been split apart. The reconsituted entity is a more recognizable structure. Will it provide for more effective corporate governance and strategy, as it faces severe internal and external challenges?

The announcement on the EADS website was calm, hardly signifying any major changes. It all read as if everything was well-planned.

EADS shareholders have decided – together with the EADS management team – to modify the company’s current management and leadership structure. Guiding principles of the modification are efficiency, cohesiveness and simplification of EADS management and leadership structure, towards governance best practices and in the respect of balance between the French and the German shareholders. The German Government has been consulted as well.

Under the simplified management structure, EADS will be led by a single Chairman and a single CEO.

Rüdiger Grube will assume the position of sole Chairman of the Board of Directors of EADS. In this role, he will be responsible for overseeing the Group’s strategic development and dealings with its Shareholders. In particular, he will chair the newly created EADS strategic committee.

Louis Gallois will assume the position of sole CEO of EADS. In this role, he will be responsible for leading the management team in the execution of the Group’s strategy and managing the company’s interaction with public shareholders.

Thomas Enders will assume the position of CEO of Airbus in the Toulouse headquarters of the company, reporting to the CEO of EADS. He will be supported by Fabrice Brégier as COO of Airbus.

According to the BBC,

The French joint chief executive Louis Gallois will take sole charge at EADS while his German co-head Tom Enders gets the top job at Airbus.

EADS’ complex structure has been blamed for many of its recent problems.

“We need to be a normal company,” Mr Enders said.

Previously, EADS had two chairmen and two chief executives: one French and one German. Daimler executive Ruediger Grube will become sole chairman of EADS, a post he previously held jointly with France’s Arnaud Lagardere.

The implied abnormality by Enders was the double-harnesses imposed on EADS by the influences exerted by two co-chairman, and two co-CEOs This was the heritage of the company’s formation, and reflected the ‘least worse’ way of maintaining cooperation between the company’s two main national interests in France and Germany. No alternative better could be found than the structure which permitted one French and one German chairman, one French and one German CEO on the main board.

But let’s see what can be concluded beyond the formal statement:

One or two commentators suggested that the changes were not particularly unexpected. I will be charitable and suggest that those commentators must have been holding back on the outcome for some reason or other. The details are far from expected.

In ealier posts I had chronicled the various problems at EADS and its the troubles that have piled up for its major subsidiary, Airbus. The recent press reports had led me to conclude that attempts to resolve the complicated dual-management structure appear to be centering on co-chief executive Tom Enders.

Mr Enders is a controversial figure in France after he publicly criticized political interference from Paris and suggested the possibility of sensitive asset disposals. However, Daimler, the core German industrial shareholder in EADS, is determined that Mr Enders should not be sacrificed in any final deal.

Let me put a few pieces on the chessboard. Louis Gallois, head of Airbus, is widely admired, and believed to be needed to stick it at Airbus, and see though Power 8, the strategic plan to streamline the business. This is a production and commercial imperative. He is co-CEO of EADS with Tom Enders at present.

Arnaud Lagardère of the media group of the same name is French Co-chairman of EADS. His German co-chair is Rudiger Grube.

Nicholas Sarcozy and Angela Merkel are also in play, with special concerns for their national interests (and for their own political positions). EADS Shareholder DaimlerChrysler has signaled willingness to increase its holding, a positive gesture to Sarcozy who would like to reduce the holding of the French Government. DaimlerChryser’s bid is linked to their interests in keeping Tom Enders in play.

The rumors in the French press

Rumors suggest the game will involve taking Enders off the board. This has been denied emphatically by the company.

So what is ‘behind the headlines?

The company statement seems to have airbrushed out Arnaud Lagardere, the earstwhile Co-chair of EADS. Strange. So the German Rudi Grube takes over as Chair of the EADS main board. But Lagardere remains a powerful figure and shareholder. It has been suggested that he has escaped scrutiny over earlier share scandals, and is ‘protected by Sacozy, who in turn is aware of a rather soft-ride from M Lagardere in his recent election campaign. And there is the possibility that the media figure will be in line to return as sole Chair of EADS in the future, in an agreement in which the Chair will rotate from German to French holders every five years.

Another ‘solution’ left Louis Gallois as CEO of EADS and Tom Enders in charge of the subsidiary Airbus. This grants Gallois his (alleged) wish to avoid being left to sort out Airbus while answering to Tom Enders. On the other hand, the one figure widely regarded as key to implementing the Power8 plan at Airbus is Gallois, now expected to play a more political role.

The changes are sufficiently complex to warrant a working party investigating them.


Leadership books I won’t be reading this week

July 15, 2007

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In the near future, I will not be reading two very large books about leadership that were published this week. The first by Alistair Campbell is an account of his days as Tony Blair’s spin doctor. The second is by Conrad Black on Richard Nixon.

It’s mostly a matter of added value. There have been quite exceptional coverage of both books, for rather obvious reasons. Maybe I could find something unique by a page by page reading. As it is, the books are on hold, for me. Even as holiday reading, I think I’ll wait for the paperback versions.

Alistair’s magnus opus

Alistair’s mangnus opus, The Blair Years, is subtitled Extracts from Alistair Campbell’s Diaries.

It has been serialized and summarized enough. I’ve also watched several hours of television docu-drama around the story in the book. Even if this had left me wanting more, my hunger had been assuaged by the news that the author has produced an expuragated account of his own primary notes. He has removed material that could be turned into political capital by Tony Blair’s opponents. That, from the decade’s spin-master, was enough to confirm my misgivings about reading his final offering on behalf of himself and his greatest creation, the Blair Brand.

I was tempted to invest time in a full read by one review by Julian Glover. But even Glover (like others) noted how few references in the book cited the journalists with whom Campbell had frequent contact.

Alastair Campbell’s diary is a 750-page heavyweight that can be boiled down to a single sentence: “How me and Tony stuffed the media and changed the world”.

It captures strikingly the laddish, hungry, boastful side of New Labour, a thuggish competition to acquire and use power. The details are realistic and for the most part depressing … Nasty, brutish and long, Campbell’s diary is the edited outpouring of an obsessive, but its significance cannot be denied.

That significance, historically, is likely to be its account of the unfolding of events and reactions to events around the Iraq war. The point was not quite convincing enough to overcome my ‘no thanks, no sale’ position.

The Big Black Biog

I shall also be abstaining from about 1000 pages of a biography of Richard Nixon by Conrad Black. The book was launched during the week when its author hit the headlines in Chicago where he was convicted in a high-profile fraud trial. It has been cruelly pointed out that unless his appeal is successful, Lord Black will now have time enough to plan and write his next historical text away from the distractions of running a business empire.

Several critics have rated him as a competent writer of historical works. No Jeffrey Archer here. One review again helped confirm my prejudices that the book would not be worth reading just yet. So it’s thanks to The Guardian’s Peter Preston for saving me the £30 and the labors of ploughing through Richard Milhous Nixon: The Invincible Quest .

It is worth noting that its reviewer is a distinguished journalist who was editor of The Guardian for twenty years. His achievements include several exposes of corrupt Conservative politicians including Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton.

Even so, his review offers a powerful critique of Nixon, and (a happy coincidence) a chance for Preston to comment on its author, someone he obviously been tracking for many years. (Nothing personal, Conrad, only doing my job).

Here’s Preston summarizing Black’s analyid

Nixon, [according to Black], was a politician of great talent, and a man traduced. Black, on behalf of traduced chaps everywhere, has to come out of his corner fighting. Mere facts aren’t .. entirely fit for rehabilitation purposes… Nixon was tricky from first to last, carving up hapless opponents who played by the rules, first with the slur that hurt most, always liable to break into foul rages against “that senile old bastard” Eisenhower (or any younger bastard who crossed him). You can’t show that the real Nixon was better than this. You have to tell us so, with conviction. And Black can’t pull that off all the time.

So we’re back to the inevitable second strand here, to Richard M Nixon as an invincible model for [Lord Black, who is] …much more than your average, controversy-ridden press baron. He has a rare talent for serious history, and the talent to tell it well. … How could he toil to such solid effect in the midst of such personal strife? It’s remarkable. But it is also calculated. Set Nixon against Kissinger, rivals as well as partners, and you’d think Kissinger (a Black appointee to the Hollinger board) would get rave reviews. Not exactly. Kissinger was a “self-absorbed egotist”, a malignant gossip, a master “of scraping the barrel with his obsequious memos and asides” – while “loyal Richard Nixon” was “touchingly generous countless times in his life” but, in his loneliness, sadly vulnerable “to the counsel of extreme cynics and people of thuggish mien”.

Then we have Preston’s somewhat mischievous summing up:

Consider your literary verdict carefully, members of the jury: and try to remember exactly who’s there before you in the dock.

So it’s thanks Alistair, thanks Conrad, but no thanks. But most of all, thanks Peter Preston, and Julian Gover. For two great reviews, but also for saving me a lot of time than I can now spend on less dodgy dossiers.


Royal Mail: Lions led by donkeys?

July 12, 2007

lions_donk_haig_cartoon.jpgA second one-day strike at Royal Mail is announced for Friday 13th of July. Letters are exchanged between the Union and Management. In that curious way of industrial disputes, the letters seem intended to avoid constructive dialog. The battle looks more and more like the Somme, or perhaps Little Big Horn and General Custer’s last stand.

Events at Royal Mail grind forward, painfully slowly. Billy Hayes and Dave Ward are in there somewhere battling for the Union side, Allan Leighton and Adam Crozier also somewhere for ‘Management’.

Sometimes the general shape of a battle-field has old warriors reminiscing of past triumphs and disasters. Two historic possibilities occur to me, one from The First World War, and one from the early days of American History.

Despite rumors to the contrary, I do not have first-hand experience of either, although my father survived the Somme, an experience that stayed with him for the rest of his life. He rarely talked about it. There were no real survivors. Poets and military historians give us a picture of the bloody futility of it all.

Appeals to Patriotism

The first world war was a war of patriotic slogans, sometimes wrapped up in the noble ancient language of the ruling class.. Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori… Lions led by donkeys. Two or three generations later and there is cultural residue, a nagging awareness in Great Britain, going back to Dr Johnson’s maxim that patriotic rhetoric is the last resort of the scoundrel.

While patriotism remains more desirable and contested ground in the USA, two American journalists are worth mentioning for a modern gloss.

In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary, patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit that it is the first.”—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, at entry for patriotism, The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce, p. 323 (1946, reprinted 1973).

H. L. Mencken added this to Johnson’s dictum: “But there is something even worse: it is the first, last, and middle range of fools.”—The World, New York City, November 7, 1926, p. 3E.

Lions led by Donkeys

Historians argue over the origins of the term. Alan Clark wrote a book which helped popularize the expression. A reviewer noted:

The title comes from the German view of the English soldiers who charged into their machine guns and barbed wire: “Lions led by donkeys.” The donkeys were the professional officers of the British army which was destroyed in those battles, officers who were unable to adapt to the awful technology that changed the face of war forever

Back to the Royal Mail dispute

From the outside, events since the last one-day strike are baffling. Maybe they are as baffling on the inside as the battle orders were to the front-line troops on the Somme, or to General Custer’s men.

As the troops hunker down for the next planned push, the generals exchange letters. The tone of the letters is that of civilized beings engaged in diplomatic speak. Dear Allen, Dear Dave they begin.

But are the generals struggling and ‘unable to adapt to the awful technology’?

There is no alternative

Royal Mail claims it needs a billion pounds for the new technology, rather than meeting payclaims they compute as roughly the billion pounds for modernisation. There is no alternative. Or is there? It seems cruel to quote words associated with Margaret Thatcher, a general who waged war with another great Union two decades ago.

Today we have a new generation of political leaders. Dave the toff an open admirer of Tony Blair trying to drag the conservatives to a safe place for their political survival. Gord of the clunking fist is busy recruiting talented capitalist heroes to advise him.

Maybe the outcome will eventually attract more political attention. But for the moment, Dave and Gordon are united in their silence over the Royal Mail dispute. The BBC is curiously uninterested. The business has not yet cast any leader in a particularly heroic light. Creative leadership is at a premium.


Home Depot needs more improvements

July 11, 2007

frankblake.jpgHome Depot is known as the largest home improvement firm in the world. High-flyer Bob Nardelli failed to sustain its early growth, and was fired. Six months on, his successor Frank Blake is also struggling in a tough market place. We look back at the board room battles that have beset the company

Financial warning signs are looming for Home Improvements giant Home Depot. Market conditions are tough even for a one-time glamour stock. Time was, when the company was outperforming Walmart. But then the company growth slowed.

AS USA Today put it in January, Home Depot boots CEO Nardelli.

According to Business Week,

the Board did not want to sack their CEO, neither did he want to go. In the end it came down to the headstrong CEO’s refusal to accept even a symbolic reduction in his stock package. Home Depot Inc.’s board of directors wanted their controversial chief executive, Robert L. Nardelli, to amend his whopping compensation deals for recent years. After he pulled down $38.1 million from his last yearly contract, angry investors were promising an ugly fight at the company’s annual meeting in May.

How Bob was recruited

Nardelli was recruited in 2002 after building a reputation of a high flyer under the legendary Jack Welsh at GE. But Welsh could not promise his ambitious executive the preferment he craved. A director of both GE and Home Depot had secured his services for Home Depot, whose board removed the company’s co-founder. A Fortune article at the time of his appointment offered a picture of a determined and driven character, and a battler. He had wanted to become a pro footballer but was rejected as being too small. He wanted to be chief of GE but was passed over.

Enter Frank Blake

Frank Blake was appointed chairman and CEO of Home Depot in January 2007. Prior to this position, he served as vice chairman of the board of directors and executive vice president of the company. He joined The Home Depot in 2002 as executive vice president, Business Development and Corporate Operations, and was responsible for real estate, store construction, credit services, strategic business development, growth initiatives, call centers and the Home Services business.

Frank did not have a great leadership honeymoon. Progress remained unimpressive. This was not for want of leadership initiative. Recently he was praised for bringing in the expertise of the founders:

Baboons drive the dethroned alpha male out of the pack. Eskimos set their elders adrift on ice floes. And so it goes with departing CEOs, who are often shown the door as part of the new regime’s assertion of power. In 2000, Bob Nardelli was named CEO, replacing Arthur Blank; within the next two years, Blank and co-founder Bernie Marcus gave up their remaining ties to the company.

“No one ever called or asked us our advice,” Marcus recently told Fortune. As a result, Blank and Marcus became outsiders at their own company – until January, when Nardelli stepped down amid charges of bloated compensation. The board tapped executive vice president Frank Blake to take charge, and on his first day in the job, Blake called back the founders.
Experts suggest Blake is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to recognizing the value in retired brass. “They’re an incredible resource,” says Jeff Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management. “They know where the bodies are buried.”
The risk, of course, is that the old team hangs around too much. Blank and Marcus try to keep their distance. Blake says the founders have struck the right balance: “They’re responsive, but not intrusive.”

Happy ever after?

Leadership is not that simple. Blake has a participative style that increasingly wins support from Business gurus. It fits nicely, for example, with the Sloan leadership model. This model reminds us that no leader is perfect, and it is a strength not a weakness to acknowledge that. On the other hand, shareholders invest for returns, not leadership theories. Home Depot may now have enlightened leadership. Will it achieve improved results before another leader departs, this time with a less generous golden goodbye?


Boeing, theater of dreams and Airbus nightmare

July 8, 2007

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Boeing launches its much-awaited Dreamliner 787. For Airbus is must seem more like a nightmare. In this fantasy battle, their champion, the Airbus 380, appears to be as potent as Superman in Kryptonite underpants. Can the European aero-dream still turn out all right in the end?

In Seattle they build planes. And, at the moment they are also very much in the Hollywood territory of selling dreams. The fantasy object is the new Dreamliner. High-tech, high-flying, the i-phone of the skies, the flying apple of the mind’s eye.

Meanwhile, some six thousand miles to the East (well within the 8000 mile range of the Dreamliner), Airbus executives put a brave face on for the ceremonies.

The power of the dream

Who can doubt the power of the dream? Who knows what happens if we stop believing, as James Barrie reminds us in Peter Pan, and Terry Pratchett points out in The Hogfather.

The selling of the dream has been a signal success, with press release claims that the 787 is already the fastest-selling commercial airplane in history with over 600 orders valued at more $100 billion at current list prices.

Even those us immune to the romance of the tale know that the 787 is the next giant leap of a line of aircraft of great consequence in the history of civil aviation. The 707 was a first. The 747, affectionately known as the first Jumbo jet. Now the 787, the star in the theater of aero-dreams.

Airbus versus Boeing

From the American side of the Atlantic the battle is a no-contest. Here’s the view of Lance Winslow, a not totally unbiased correspondent assessing the Dreamliner against its most direct competitor the Airbus A-350

Is the A350 really that spectacular? Hard to say, but one thing is for certain it is certainly no match for the robust, daring and dashing Dreamliner of today. Airbus’s attempt to compete with the Free Market Boeing Company has once again earned itself a distant second place or last place in the battle for the sky. The A-350 will use the same fuselage as the A330, but the wings will be made of composite. This is hardly a reciprocal response to Boeing’s cutting edge technology and advancements in design. But we have come to expect mediocrity from Airbus. When flying do you really want to ride in a bus while traveling at 30,000 feet in the Air? Think about it.

The Free-Market Boeing versus EU-subsidized EADS is important issue which will continue to be brought into the debate. The article also gets to another the key factors in the argument, the technical merits of the competing products.

Meanwhile in Europe …

In Europe, the financial press is more preoccupied with the boardroom battles within EADS, the corporate parent of Airbus. The Financial Times suggests that the efforts to restructure its complicated dual-management structure appear to be centering on co-chief executive Tom Enders.

Mr Enders is a controversial figure in France after he publicly criticized political interference from Paris and suggested the possibility of sensitive asset disposals. However, Daimler, the core German industrial shareholder in EADS, is determined that Mr Enders should not be sacrificed in any final deal.

We will continue to follow the twists and turns of this board-room battle. My point here is that persistent stories of corporate infighting may be indicating that the overall position is highly unsatisfactory. Boeing, we may presume, is doing very nicely. So nicely, that there are few rumors of boardroom clashes. In contrast, EADS leadership is forced to attend to the battles over its international border disputes.

The Chequer Board

What if anything can EADS, and more specifically the larger part of the outfit which is Airbus, do to break out of its nightmare? Incidentally, a deadline is approaching (July 16th) which dragged the New French President into the battle.

Let me put a few pieces on the chessboard. Louis Gallois, head of Airbus, is widely admired, and believed to be needed to stick it at Airbus, and see though Power 8, the strategic plan to streamline the business. This is a production and commercial imperative. He is co-CEO of EADS with Tom Enders at present.

Arnaud Lagardère of the media group of the same name is French Co-chairman of EADS . His German co-chair is Rudiger Grube.

Nicholas Sarcozy and Angela Merkel are also in play, with special concerns for their national interests (and for their own political positions). EADS Shareholder DaimlerChrysler has signaled willingness to increase its holding, a positive gesture to Sarcozy who would like to reduce the holding of the French Government. DaimlerChryser’s bid is linked to their interests in keeping Tom Enders in play.

The rumors in the French press

Rumors suggest the game will involve taking Enders off the board. This has been denied emphatically by the company.

The current form of the EADS/Airbus nightmare will be shared more widely in Toulouse after this month’s summit meeting.


UBS BOARD CLUBS WUFFLI VERY ROUGHLY

July 7, 2007

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Peter Wuffli departs as CEO of Swiss Banking giant UBS. But his departure was far from plain sailing for the board members who had convened in Valencia to support the Swiss team in the America’s cup. Although allegedly supported by Chairman Marcel Ospel, Wuffli has taken the hit for recent operational setbacks. Are we seeing an example of a corporate culture compulsively attracted to boardroom battles in response to commercial difficulties?

From time to time in these posts we have remarked on a company that seems to suffer a series of board-room conflicts, and attempted coups. The departure of Peter Wuffli of UBS makes a nice case for studying such board room battles, and considering whether there might be an underlying pathology in corporate culture contributing to a tendency towards repeated dismissals of their leaders.

The Financial Times today suggests that Peter Wuffli has paid the price for UBS stumbles’. Peter Wuffli is a highly regarded manager. His stumbles seem to centre around a failed in-house fund (Dillon Read Capital management). The share price of USP has held up well.

In Europe News (BusinessWeek) it is argued that UPS is finding it difficult to cope with competitive pressures but calls the shift ‘clumsily handled ..and bound to create unease inside the bank and raise questions about the bank’s future direction.’

Zurich-based financial giant UBS has a disconcerting habit of dispensing with senior managers without warning. Luqman Arnold was shoved out as chief executive officer in December, 2001, and replaced by Peter Wuffli in circumstances shrouded with mystery. Wuffli will leave the bank and be replaced by Marcel Rohner, the deputy CEO and chief of UBS’s most valuable business, private banking (or Global Wealth Management, as it is officially known).

Marcel Ospel and the Board

The key figure in the board room carnage is the powerful Chairman of UPS, Marcel Ospel. The official version of events has Ospel seeking to win board approval for Wuffli as his own replacement on stepping down next year. This week he reported that the board rejected his proposal indicating that such an appointment was not in the outgoing leader’s gift. The board also had reservations about Dr Wuffl’s performance.

Something doesn’t add up

There’s something that doesn’t add up in the official version of events. The board is stacked with powerful and experienced executives, leaders in their own right. They are widely believed to be largely hand-picked by Marcel Ospel. Observers have doubted that they would oppose him on a matter of judgment over a propopsal that he felt deeply was in the interests of the company.

Furthermore, the indications are that the board of USP continues to support Ospel’s strategy and has indeed nominated him for a further term as leader (chairman).

I can’t see how things have turned out as they have. If Marcel Ospel was all-powerful and had stacked the board with his appointed supporters why and how did they oppose his wishes?

If they resisted his efforts to appoint his favored candidate, why were they keen to appoint Ospel for a further term, against his original wishes. Did they feel that, unlike Wuffli, the chairman had made no significant contribution to the travails of the company since 2001? I have no doubt that further information will emerge on these matters.

Permanently conflicted cultures

A suggestion. Corporate culture remains a fuzzy concept. Maybe there is some merit in an investigation of permanently conflicted organizations. The condition is more commonly recognized in political organizations, with a relentless internal battle for the top jobs within political parties. We might be able to identify the early-warning symptoms, with the potential for remedial actions (as accompanies analyses of an organization’s financial state of health).