What to do when your TV breaks down during the World Cup

June 26, 2010

When your TV breaks down during the World Cup you lose all sense of economic caution

Or maybe you are different, and carry out a risk analysis. You figure out it doesn’t matter. You will be able to watch the matches with a room-full of fans at a nearby pub. Or, you select the most accommodative relative or neighbour or friend or any combination of the three you can think of, and start checking dates. Or, you do what I did.

You switch the set off and take the plug out of the wall and put it back again and switch on. The screen remains blank.

It was all right last night

Who turned it off last night? Whoever. It was all right last night. Now it’s an ex-Tele, dead, departed, not even a flicker of red from the standby light. You start a list of friends who ‘know about fixing the Tele’.

It is Friday lunchtime. England has limped (almost metaphorically) through the qualifying stages of the World Cup. For that other breed of masochist, followers of British tennis, Murray is doing a similar last-hope-for-the-country thing at Wimbledon. They even brought the Queen in after thirty years absence from the Royal Box to make sure Murray won through the second round. There aren’t going to be pubs showing all the Wimbledon matches. So it’s a double whammy.

What to do?

Of course. Call Susan. Did you turn the television off last night? It’s not working. Go down the village, Susan says. Now. There’s a TV place. Yes. That’s it. I go in some haste to the village. There is a line of anxious-looking customers outside the shop, and a cortege of illegally parked cars with red and white flags on. [No, that was just me fantasizing]. As I feared, all TV repair engineers were out fixing broken-down TVs. Booked out until the day of the final.

Buy another one

Have to buy another one. But can someone come immediately? No. By Monday? Well, maybe. If I buy one now, can you guarantee to get in down the road today. No.

Some more discrete haggling, me assuming that the engineers will become available if the price is right. Maybe today, but the boss himself will do me a favour (that’s what it’s called) and install a new set over the weekend.

But we are playing Germany on Sunday I say calmly. [ OK, not calmly. I shout wildly: BUT WE ARE PLAYING GERMANY ON SUNDAY!! ‘We have the match of the tournament on Sunday and you are going to get a bloody good price for a fancy set because you won’t have cheap sets in store will you?’ my defeated body language whispered.]

This is no joke

This is not an invented story. What will be, will be… [To be continued].

How Isner and Mahut changed the game of tennis

June 24, 2010

A single match played at Wimbledon smashed all records for a set of tennis. It will lead to rule changes in the game to accomodate the changes brought about by stronger, larger fitter players, and the technological changes introduced into the sport. Tennis, like cricket, will change to prevent the occurance of timeless tests

The first round match of men’s singles between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut began on the Tuesday afternoon [22nd June 2010] and stopped as it was entering the last set at two sets all. The game resumed the next afternoon. Tennis has already restricted the number of games played in the first four sets of any official match with the tie-break if play reaches six games to each player in a set.

Wimbledon’s timeless fifth set

The tie-break innovation is a result of demands for more manageable time schedules for television audiences. Wimbledon, that bastion of tradition, persists with a timeless fifth set for its annual gram-slam tournament in June for male competitors. In this event , play continues until one player (or team) achieves a two game lead, 8-6, of 9-7, or more rarely 10-8 and so on.

The arrangement sometimes resulted in scheduling overruns, with the match resuming the next day. Which is how Eisner and Mahut returned to their outside count for what might have been a few more games to settle the match. Eisner, one of the tallest tennis players of all time, is noted for a near unbreakable serve unless his own concentration slips, or fatigue or illness creeps in to his game. This happens enough to permit opponents with more all-round game skills to win, and the most talented players have mostly survived his greater physical attributes. Mahut is also noted as a powerful player with a strong serve.

The longest match ever

The match-up meant that the players were each to hold serve comfortably. With Eisner serving to edge ahead each time, the game passed through the 20 game barrier. Various records were threatened and broken. The longest match at Wimbledon. The longest match ever. Then, incredibly, the single set lasting longer than any completed match before. Mahut staved off defeat at 11-10, 12-11 and so on through the twenties to 30-29. Eisner appeared increasingly fatigued but managed to find yet another unstoppable serve to win his own service game once again, and prolong the match.

Crowds began to gather an vantage points ouside the court. Players watched in the dressing room, and even commented on it in their own post-match interviews. The duration of the match seemed it impossible for the players to retain concentration or fitness to keep going. But keep going they did. Officials and ball boys and girls were replaced, but players and their superb Umpire kept on, far beyond the presumed limits of athletic concentration or physical capabilities.

History in the making

Extended sets are other rather boring, but in this one ,the tennis was remarkable error-free, with some highest quality rallies and winning shots. With each game completed, and the announcement of an even more incredible score, there was a renewed burst of applause. The spectators were watching history in the making, and appeared to know it.

At an incredible 59-59 games, and ten hours of play, the match was suspended, to be continued the following day. The entire set had been captured by the BBC’s cameras and commentary.

To be continued

As will this post. Whatever happens, history has been made. But not just in the statistics. The possibility of such drama and titanic personal struggle has also revealed the possibility of the inconvenience to schedules in future tournaments. Pressures from commercial interests will prevail. Even at Wimbledon.

They think it’s all over: It is now

On the third day, after still more astonishing play, Isner gambled, struck out for the sidelines and broke Mahut’s serve. The final score was 70-68 in the fifth set, and the overall contest the longest match in tennis history, at 11 hours and five minutes of play over three days.

Volkswagen News: Is it Jetta Launch or Jettison Plans?

June 22, 2010

Volkswagen parties in Times Square for the launch of the 2011 Jetta. But is this the biggest story around for the German giant?

Volkswagen went in for a sexy launch of the new Jetta in Times Square this week [June 2010]. The Square was turned into a beer garden for the event, with grass and sand shipped in. I’ve never seen sand as a big feature in beer gardens in Germany, and the music did not quite capture the Oompa Oompa Gemutlichgeit spirit either.

VW chose to launch the car using pop diva Katy Perry. Dressed in a skin-tight, low-cut dress and high heels that kept the cameras clicking, Perry took the stage while three new Jettas — one behind a makeshift moat — remained off on the margins. Perry’s presence might leave some to think the target market for the new Jetta is 14-year-old screaming girls. They certainly packed the square along with twenty- and thirtysomethings who danced and sang along. But Perry was there to generate the party vibe New Yorkers expected and to cast this new Jetta in an urbane, fun and distinctly American light.

American or what?

The attack on the American auto market by incomers has intensified with the shift in public interest away from the older and larger models which once dominated the sector. Toyota, Holda, and Volkswagen are serious players. VW seems inclined to differentiate itself from the Toyota strategy of appearing to make all-American cars for the US market. The brand image on offer in Times Square may be sending mixed messages. In any event, in light of Toyota’s recent problems they may also be signalling ‘we aren’t like those other foreign auto-companies like Toyota’.

Another VW story

But is there another VW story bubbling along? Maybe there is. Far from the glitz of Times Square, rumors are growing that Volkswagen is up to something big with Suzuki. Bikers have been blogging the possibility of something very new on two not four wheels. http://www.automotorblog.com/rumors-from-volkswagen/ . For this community, the story is as sexy as Katy Perry.

According to Dr Thomas Kirchmaier, a distinguished media commentator with long experience of the automotive industry, and Lecturer in Strategy at Manchester Business School “The VW Group is going partiularly strongly in China’

Rumors involves plans for the company to set up a new manufacturing plant in Asia http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-06-16/volkswagen-plans-significantly-higher-operating-profit-sales.html, and that it its interest in electric cars may be an ‘e-lusion’ and that commitment to all-electric vehicles may be jettisoned.

Or there may be further developments in the dynastic struggle involving the inter-related Porsch and Volkswagen famiies. Leaders we deserve had been noting the possibility of a merger since 2007. The ‘reverse takeover’ occured shortly after State Law was revised, arguably to permit it.

Dr Ferdinand Porsche designed the original Beetle in 1936, and his grandson, Ferdinand Piech, is chairman of VW and the controlling shareholder in Porsche. Wendelin Wiedeking, chief executive of Porsche, is a member of the supervisory board of Volkswagen …In November 2007, rumours suggested that Porsche intended to acquire VW, and incorporate the models under the Porsche brand through a holding company. The powerful unions at Volkswagen sent a signal of discontent, with work stoppages, including 40,000 workers at the main Wolfsburg plant [Wednesday Oct 30th. 2007]

Business Lessons

There are plenty of business lessons here worth reflcting on. They will appeal to corporate strategists, environmentalists, business leaders, marketing executives, petrol heads, and (I almost forgot), teenage fans of Katy Perry.


Image of Katy Perry via starpulse

Emirates Airlines: the Secret Story of a Successful Company

June 21, 2010


Kamel Mnisri

The continuing success of Emirates Airlines raises questions for students of leadership. In what ways have culture, location, and internal strategic decision-making contributed to the growing success of the business? Has leadership made the main difference, or is it more to do with powerful financial backing at State level?

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Renew your Business: A Dentist’s Tale

June 15, 2010

Tudor Rickards
Professor Emeritus
University of Manchester

Conventional wisdom suggests that every business has to renew itself to become and remain competitive. An example from a Dental Surgery shows how management of technology, knowledge and people all have their parts to play

When I arrived at his surgery to interview him, Ian Smith was on a mobile, discussing a technical problem. His space-age dental chair had produced some space-age symptoms. A dental version of Hal from Space Odyssey seemed to be misbehaving. In another part of the practice, a more recent piece of new technology looking not unlike a mini-lathe was creating a replacement tooth, working to data and dimensions specified by a more compliant computer.

Transforming practice

Dentistry is not the most obvious profession in which to search for examples of innovative leadership. Ian Smith took me back through changes which had taken place in his business which had transformed practice over the years.

“In the 1970s” he recalled “we were mostly drillers and fixers”. As a young graduate he had continued his professional development, setting up a study group to explore the possibilities of transferring skills from best international practice. Arguably, he was among the pioneering dentists in the UK to see the benefits of preventative dentistry. Still within the NHS he began to assemble teams including a dental hygienist. The National Heath Service system in the UK was (and still is) the dominant provider of dental services, augmented by a smaller private sector.

In the 1980s, his interest in dental innovations drew his attention to advances in dental implants. “It was Brånemark’s work in the 1950s [Professor of Anatomy at Gothenburg University] which led to the technical breakthrough” he explained. The research had discovered by accident that titanium probes inserted into a rabbit within an experimental programme could not be removed afterwards because bone grows around the surface of the titanium [“osseointegration”].

Nobel Biocare

The implications for human applications and particularly dentistry became recognised. They were to change practices had been around for thousands of years. Smith was introduced to the implant approach because the commercializing company, Nobel Biocare, had already known of his interests in dental innovation.

This was to be one example of a sequence of innovations. Ian Smith had set in action a continuous learning process which helps understand how this business has been able to renew itself over time. He later took an opportunity to acquire a private practice, while still working where he had built up his patient base. “I had to hope my patients would come with me.” he recalled “They mostly did. Since then, I’ve given talks to other dentists who say, ah yes that might work in Didsbury [a prosperous South Manchester location] but not for most places. That’s nonsense of course. You just have to explain what’s going to happen, face to face. Some patients I’d given a lot of time to just walked away. But it wasn’t a case of only keeping the better-off patients.”

He shows deft people skills. The author of this post had become one of his new patients around that time. It had been a decision based on word-of-mouth recommendation (No pun intended). It is clear he has a calming impact on people. There is something of the horse-whisperer about him.

The digital revolution

By the 1990s, information technology was becoming available throughout the professions. “Digitalization which was another big change” he recalled. “I could see that the costs were going to pay for themselves.” He is a bit of a technology enthusiast. He has the researcher’s interest in trying out new ideas, getting immersed in the application process, whether it is a new system for digitalising records, or fixing the bells and whistles of his dental chair.

Restless for Innovation

His story reveals a pattern of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and decisiveness in investing in introducing changes. In is said that entrepreneurs are not risk junkies, but are more prepared to assess risks and act accordingly. They are calculative risk-takers

The premises were acquired at a time when little attention was being paid to the psychological climate for patients. Ian Smith talks fondly of ‘the refurb’, the major redesign which he commissioned, and in which he appears to have been involved with considerable attention to detail. Rooms are now decorated in rather subtle shades of creams and yellows. Colours were important,” he recalls “I spent a lot of time getting the right colours for relaxed psychological conditions.”

And now its CEREC

He took me to part of the refurbished practice which housed his latest innovation. We passed a patient doing what patients do, (waiting, patiently). Something looking like a mini-lathe had been installed in a small location which reminded be of a mini-laboratory you find in a high-technology engineering department of a University.

“Cerec” he explained. “It’s revolutionising dental treatment. We’ve been using the same sorts of methods as the ancient Egyptians”. I suppose he meant archaeological evidence of ancestral scrapers and spatulas. Millennia later, you still needed close encounters with your dentist involving albeit with modern anaesthetics, and heavy duty drilling. Now a computer scan (“much lower radiation levels”) permits design and installations of “metal free dental restorations”. The mini-lathe I had seen in action, complete with cooling sprays, was carving out a precision tooth from a little block of ceramic. The patient waiting-time would be twenty minutes, followed by an immediate fitting which itself would be of a high-precision and less-invasive kind.

The Human Side of Business

Parkfield Dental practice is a business that has been engaged in a process of regular innovative change. It is easy to develop a story line based around its entrepreneurial leader, and the transforming power of new technology. You have to look more carefully to tease out aspects which might be called the human side of the process. However, the outward signs are that the practice has established a good staff climate.

Parkfield has renewed its working practices in a way which seems unlikely to have happened without the influence of Ian Smith’s leadership style and strategic decision-making. I left the premises musing on the nature of entrepreneurial leadership, technology, and the people skills needed in successful business renewal.

Acknowledgements and Disclaimers

This post was prepared as a business case suitable for study on leadership and related business courses. The image of Professor Brånemark is from Nobel BioCare’s web site. My interest in medical innovation in Sweden was deepened during a visit to the University of Upsalla’s junior faculty workshop on creativity in 2009. The author acknowledges the generous time given in preparing this post by Ian Smith and staff at Parkfield Dental Surgery. However, no financial sponsorship was provided, or promised for the future by Parkfield or any other person or Corporation in the preparing the materials contained in this post. Permission to use the post for teaching purposes will be freely granted with appropriate acknowledgement.

World Cup Flag Leadership and Social Networking

June 13, 2010

Tracking data from the World Cup offers a great chance for Social Networking. One interesting possibility is collecting data of ‘flags on cars’. Maybe teams of families could be mobilized, counting and tweeting when travelling in different parts of the country

During the European Nations competition in 2008, I wondered what proportion of cars in England were driving around displaying the England flag. So I started started counting cars with flags. I now see how the rise of Social Networking sites suggests a way of taking part in an interesting little project.

Why stop at England?

In somewhat parochial fashion, I was only thinking of England at first. But what about all the other countries competing in the World Cup? Do they have similar proportions of flags on their cars, or are there great cultural variations?

Counting flags?

Maybe I have hit on a new game to occupy young family members on a car journey. That’s fine. However, if you want to play the statistics game, there are quite a few pitfalls for the first-time flag-counter. Many of these are to anticipate statistical variations and bias. For example, the timing of counting is important worth noting. Are there fewer cars with flags when the home country is playing? Is there a variation as fans drive to watch the match (pubs and public areas would be expected to be heavily loaded. My passenger seemed a bit over-eager to ‘beat the record’ so getting a promise to (try to) be honest is a good idea.

If you start the counting when you see a beflagged car, you introduce a bias. Set a start point (‘at the next road junction’) and stick to the same pattern. I have settled for cars that pass in the opposite direction, and ignore parked cars. Decide if you want to include larger vehicles (I included vans, but have ignored busses).

Use a passenger

Use a passenger with a notebook to record the when and where. It’s safer and probably more reliable. (Two passeners are even better, one counting cars the other counting flags). I now ask for a count of 100 cars as a sample. Stop between samples to avoid count fatigue, and spread out the results over the journey. You may be surprised at the percentages you record, so carry out several trials to see what results you get.

Log the data

Confession. I logged data last time, and will probable do so again, now that I have thought of the possibility of recruiting others, maybe through Twitter. Comments to this post also welcomed, and I’ll do some stats on them.

Enjoy the Football

Oh, yes and enjoy the football. And if (and when) your team gets knocked out, you can always keep further records to follow track how quickly the flags are taken off the cars afterwards.

Image Image from Usborne Books at Home ’50 things to do on a car journey’.

Tesco: Continuity in Leadership, but what about Strategy?

June 11, 2010

When the internal candidate Philip Clarke replaced Sir Terry Leahy [left] as head of Tesco, The first reports were almost exclusively focused on the departing leader rather than on the arriving one

The lament was understandable.

Profits, dividends and earnings per share doubled and then doubled again during Sir Terry Leahy’s 14‑year tenure. It works out at a compound annual growth rate of 10%. Very few large companies improve these measures at double-digit pace for a decade and a half without blowing up at some point.

Part of the secret, you suspect, is that long [leadership] reigns have always been part of Tesco’s culture. As every football follower knows, changing managers frequently is a losing strategy. Leahy is only the fifth chief executive of Tesco since the company was formed in 1929. He has seen four chief executives at both Sainsbury’s and at Asda [UK arm of Walmart] during his time at the top.

Praise from his predecessor

Within hours of the announcement, [June 8th 2010] Lord McLauren, Leahey’s predecessor, was on BBC’s Five Live lunchtime radio programme. He gave a glowing account of Leahy’s efforts and the merits of another internal appointment ‘from the Tesco family’. On being pressed, he added he had drawn up a private short-list of three internal candidates, and that Philip Clarke was ‘up there at the top’. He refused (naturally) to name the other two executives.

The endorsement ended abruptly when the interviewer suggested that Sir Terry may have eclipsed Lord McLauren’s leadership contributions.

“Didn’t eclipse me at all” he growled “he built on the successful company I established … and Phil will build on what Terry has accomplished” [quoted from memory].

Other BBC eulogies followed

Under Sir Terry, Tesco led the way in offering banking services and introducing the Clubcard, the store card that has been copied right across the High Street. He has also overseen the store’s expansion [overseas]. The company now employs almost half a million staff worldwide, with stores in China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, Malaysia, Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey and the US.

Enter Philip Clarke

Philip Clarke said he was “honoured and delighted” to succeed Sir Terry. Mr Clarke has worked for Tesco for many years and joined the board in 1998. He had held responsibility for the supermarket’s Asian and European operations, as well as for IT.

The Guardian was quick to provide an informed account of Philip Clarke and the challenges he was facing:

Clarke, who has been on the Tesco board since 1998, was judged one of the frontrunners to replace Leahy. The son of a Tesco store manager in the Wirral he has reached the top rung 36 years after he did his first shelf-stacking shift for the supermarket as a schoolboy.
Analysts said that the biggest challenge in Clarke’s inbox come next year [2011] would be deciding what route to take with its loss-making US arm Fresh & Easy which is run by Tim Mason, who was also promoted to deputy chief executive. Fresh & Easy made a loss of £165m on sales of £354m last year and outgoing boss Sir Terry Leahy hinted at its annual results in April that its scope might be “hundreds” rather than the “thousands” of stores first envisaged when it was launched in 2007.

“Pile ‘em high ….?”

Tesco’s diversification both geographically and in product offerings has become a model for Business School study. Will the one-time local retailer get back to its original ambitions in America with the less than successful Fresh and Easy chain? Will it become more involved in the challenges of the financial sector? Will continuity in selection of a leader be followed by continuity of strategy? Whatever happens, the firm has come a long way from its original “pile ‘em high” philosophy.

Keep Religion Out of Sport

June 8, 2010

It is argued that politics should have no part in sport. The same has been said about religion. But are such polarisations possible?

The connection between religion and sport was raised in articles following a golfing win by the deeply religious Stewart Cink [in July 2009]. The story began as Cink battled with fellow- American Tom Watson to win his first Open Championship at Turnberry, Scotland, in 2009. A win for the 59-year-old Watson would have been a wonderful human interest story. The BBC reported the outcome:

Cink won the play-off by six shots to deny 59-year-old Watson the chance of a fairytale sixth Open win. Watson had ended level with Cink on two under after he missed a putt for the title on the 18th.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, Journalist Kevin Mitchell captured some of the media frustration noting:

Spare a thought for Stewart Cink. He is the Open champion nobody wanted … It is hard to recall a winner who more completely spoilt the party in a major sporting event than Cink did when he beat Tom Watson in the play-off. Should we feel sorry for him, this redeemed battler who pick-pocketed the biggest prize in golf from Major Tom?

Mitchell went on to find some ironic justification for the media’s unenthusiastic reaction to Cink’s win.

Anyone who uses his acceptance speech to thank his wife for introducing him to the Almighty so fits the stereotype of boring American God-bothering Republican-supporting lime-green-hat-and-shirt and cream-trouser wearing golfer [that] he deserves all the indifference he gets.

The Counter-argument

A journalist for the rival newspaper produces a counter-argument, taking the religion and sport theme a little further: Michael Henderson, writing for The Telegraph, rejected the idea thus:

Bernhard Langer thanked the Almighty after he won the Masters for the second time on Easter Sunday in 1993. But he’s from Bavaria, which is really Mississippi by another name, so that’s all right. However, let us go back exactly three years, to the Lord’s Test of July 2006, when Mohammad Yousuf made a lovely century for Pakistan against England. Let us consider what one reporter called the “moving act of faith” with which Yousuf, the Christian-turned-Muslim, celebrated as he knelt towards Mecca.

Henderson then quoted Mitchell’s account of that story:

“…it would be nice to think that the warmth of the reception that ripped around the ground as Yousuf went through his now-familiar ritual of thanks was acknowledgement of his religious convictions as much as his fine batting …the interaction between Yousuf and the crowd encouraged the hope that sport does cut through prejudice occasionally.”

Henderson disagreed.

Who’s talking about prejudice? The only thing the Lord’s crowd is interested in is whether a chap can play, and Yousuf can… The only acts of faith that have any relevance in sport are those which have nothing to do with religion. Let’s keep it that way.

Keep Religion out of Sport?

The history of sport shows that moral beliefs and organised sport have inter-mingled for millennia. In the 19th century the philosophy of Muscular Christianity was introduced into the influential public school system in England so that sport, sportsmanship, and religion were utterly conflated as character-building and Empire building.

A feminist perspective suggests that

Given how men have historically dominated sports, it’s only natural that they would become a locus of Muscular Christianity. In the late 19th century, Christian men joined fraternal groups which emphasized exercise. With the growth of professional sports during the 20th century, Christian athletes argued that the body is a temple to God, making athletes quasi-priests. Of particular importance for evangelical Christians has been the use of high school and college sports to promote Christianity

The Spirit of Sportsmanship

The main thrust of Mitchell’s article was the danger of losing the spirit of sportsmanship in Cricket, another game where ethical conduct is highly prized. Keeping religion out of sport is far from a simple matter.

Tidjane Thiam’s AIA Scheme Falls Flat at the Pru

June 2, 2010

Stop Press

Tidjane’s plan to take over AIA, the Asian arm of AIG has collapsed. This news adds a postscript to the following unpublished account of the plan and of the Pru’s leader Tidjane Thiam. It raises questions of leadership and strategies for opposing a plan for major corporate change.

Original Post

Today’s news [2nd June 2010] reveals a group of active shareholders, The Prudential Action Group had been working to block the proposed bid, believing the price being offered was too high.They Prudplanned to oppose the deal at a shareholder vote due to be held on 7 June.

The Prudential Insurance group has a tradition of reliability built from generations of agents providing insurance and savings schemes for the poorest families in England. The new man from the Pru is helping create a new global organization with an audacious bid for AIA.

Tidjane Thiam could not be further from the image of businessman in charge of a traditional English financial institution. The French-Ivorian son of an Ivorian diplomat was educated as an Engineer in France where he won top grades, and later took an INSEAD MBA. His subsequent work at McKinsey ended with an invitation to join the Ivorian government, but political turbulence ended his ministerial career and he returned to business life at Aviva. When Richard Harvey stepped down as chief executive of Aviva, he was tipped as a possible future head.

Robert Peston evaluated the bid and the new man from the Pru. The BBC’s hard-to-impress financial editor, described him in ways he saw as different from the norm.

“I’d not met Tidjane Thiam, the chief executive of the Prudential, till I interviewed him yesterday. And unlike many business leaders I encounter, for whom the expression charmless nerk [does he mean nerd?] was probably invented, it’s not hard to see how he has reached the top: he’s persuasive, amusing and self-deprecating.”

The article goes on to examine Thiam’s plan to obtain finance for acquiring AIA, the Asian arm of the ailing finance giant AIG.

“As if you didn’t know, if you want serious long-term growth, there’s no better place to go shopping for business assets than Asia. And as for the putative treasure sought by the Pru, AIA, it’s at what Thiam describes as an “inflexion point”. Which means that AIA’s profits are soaring, because of a combination of recovery in the Asian economy and the great sense of liberation of its local management that they’re soon to be freed from the stigma of being owned by AIG, the US insurer that crashed spectacularly in late 2008”.

Peston is suspicious of the promised added value of mega-mergers. He recalls the hubris which followed the enthusiasm of Fred Goodwin of Royal Bank of Scotland and John Varley of Barclays regarding the acquisition of the Dutch bank ABN. He is not alone in his concerns. The Daily Mail noted

Prudential admits it may have to spend £500m hedging against currency movements as it battles to complete its right issue. That is on top of £850m of adviser fees and other charges. The massive outlay associated with the £14bn capital raising won’t help win over investors. They are already lukewarm on the insurer’s plans to shell out £24.6bn. Details of the charges were revealed in a mammoth 936-page prospectus for the share issue [an opportunity] that will have got lawyers and advisers salivating.

The document highlights the vast amount of shareholder cash that Pru chief executive Tidjane Thiam is putting at risk with the audacious takeover of the Asian insurance business belonging to bailed out US firm AIG.

Contained within the document are numerous warnings about the potential risks of embarking on the AIA acquisition. The Pru warns that the problems at AIA’s parent company AIG could rub off on the firm and ‘harm the Prudential Group’s business and reputation’. It also said that integrating AIA could be tougher than anticipated and that targets could be missed. Change of control clauses could impact the business that the Pru is buying, and there could be hurdles with the myriad of overseas regulators which monitor the Asian businesses.

Shareholders of the Pru are called on to help finance the scheme and were scheduled to meet on June 7th [2010].

End Note

This, as they say, is not the end of the story but the beginning. Students of leadership might reflect on the lessons from the story both for a change-oriented CEO, and for minority shareholders opposing a board’s proposals