Tag Archives: Financial Times

Collateral Damage: New Credit Tsunami ‘Threatens Entire Economy’!

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Bad Vibrations: Why David Cameron Failed

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Historians will probably evaluate the contribution of David William Donald Cameron – the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 11th May 2010 to 13th July 2016 – almost solely in the light of the EU referendum. But this überpoll – which amounted to a career-ending defeat for the Witney MP – may only be a symptom of a bigger problem.

Notwithstanding Cameron’s auspicious entry into big-time politics – becoming leader of the opposition eight-and-a-half years into a Labour government headed by Tony Blair and just a little before the 2007- global financial crisis – he never managed to fulfil his potential. Cameron failed to gain an overall majority in a 2010 general election that seemed impossible for him to lose; when the 2015 election loosened the coalition shackles, he still felt insecure enough to push ahead with a referendum that was seemingly designed to shore up his own intra-party authority.

All this pronounced underperformance requires some explaining, but after some contemplation, we at Mediolana think that at least part of the reason behind it may lie in a very simple lacuna: a lack of personableness. According to a Financial Times source who is apparently a close colleague of the former Conservative icon, visiting David Cameron’s office was a basically unpleasant experience: ‘Nobody comes out of Dave’s office feeling better than when they went in.’

This matters, because it serves to highlight a key competitive advantage that organisations can harness: vibes. We live in a world where talent is mobile; moreover, in many highly-skilled sectors, structurally-unfilled vacancies are the norm. So unless (or increasingly, even if) organisations can offer a substantially higher salary to attract top talent – something which may not be financially and/or politically possible – they will have to offer something else to their (prospective) employee or contractor.

That intangible something is vibes. It goes far deeper than the oft-cited and undoubtedly important factors of first impressions and aesthetics: vibes concerns the very essence of the people and mission that constitute the corporation. It is practically impossible to fake, because it is a direct reflection of character; kindness, openness, generosity and thoughtfulness are very hard qualities to institutionalise in a mechanical fashion.

Good vibes enable buy-in and cooperation; bad vibes are scary and sinister. The latter may facilitate compliance, but it also encourages revenge. The demise of David Cameron merely exemplifies the importance of ensuring that those in your presence really, really want to be there.

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When Heroes Go Down: Tyler Brûle and the Fear of the Fictional Other

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It will be no secret to regular readers of this blog that our Creative Director & CSO was and remains a huge fan of Tyler Brûle – the editor-in-chief of what is possibly still the finest magazine in the English language, Monocle – and it was precisely because of this admiration that he was so surprised at the content of one of the iconic Canadian’s more recent Financial Times columns, On the migrant train to Munich (12th-13th September 2015), avidly caught up with over the Christmas and New Year break.

In this late summer piece, Brûle openly questions whether the people of Germany (estimated population: 81,083,600) are as enthused as certain parts of the global news media appeared to suggest by the arrival of a few hundred thousand refugees (a great proportion of whom are likely to be ultimately deported) fleeing the increasingly dystopian military conflict in Syria and Iraq. This could have been exemplary journalism – questioning a seemingly broadly-accepted narrative is rarely a Bad Thing – but then Brûle posited the following:

‘The juxtaposition of kiosks selling lederhosen adjacent to Syrian and Iraqi families boarding buses almost looked like this was part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fast-track programme to get people integrated into German life as quickly as possible. But I’m not sure Ali and Leila from Aleppo were quite ready for Oktoberfest, let alone knee-skimming deerskin shorts or dresses that magically push cleavage up under the chin. And therein lies one of the main issues that are being whispered by Germany’s middle and upper classes but which isn’t out in the open just yet: how much will a wave of largely Muslim refugees impact German society?’

It is genuinely difficult to know where to begin in analysing this excerpt. For one, Brûle’s choice of the fictional Ali and Leila’s city of origin betrays a basic lack of knowledge about Syria: Aleppo is a city which for most of its >7,000-year history has been a byword for innovation, cosmopolitanism and commerce; its denizens are certainly not known for their insularity and are unlikely to be existentially freaked out by a skirt, particularly given that ‘Eastern’ religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Taoism have traditionally embraced the erotic, notably within the context of mysticism.

But wider questions must be raised, not least about Brûle’s knowledge of contemporary German culture. Is he aware that immigrants from Southern Europe – many of them Muslims from countries such as Turkey, Albania and (ex-)Yugoslavia – are credited with making (West) Germany’s postwar economic miracle possible? Does he know that footballers from the Islamic religious community have been attending Oktoberfest with their wives and girlfriends for many years, sometimes drinking the same alcohol-free brews that constitute one of the few growth spots – 200% in the seven years to 2014 – in Germany’s declining beer industry? (Bottled water overtook beer as Germany’s most popular cold drink back in 2002.)

Perhaps most worryingly, is it not simply a little bit presumptuous to assume – purely from someone’s name, place of birth and stated (non-)religious identity, whether Christian, Atheist, Muslim or Shinto – what they think? Because if the genuinely amazingly amazing Tyler Brûle cannot grasp this point, then one of the great illusions of our strange postmodern times has been shattered: spending hundreds of days a year travelling the world on business is no guarantee against parochialism.

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UK #Highered Latest: Postgraduate #Students ‘Face Destruction By Debt’!

 

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Bank Run! Deposits Flee #Greece As #Grexit Edges Closer

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Mind the C__p: #London’s New Metro Line ‘Lacks Basic Hygiene’!

 

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Making Public Service Sexy: How to Get Elite Graduates Onto State Payrolls

As one of very few columnists in the mass media who is willing to posit and attempt to answer the Really Big Questions, Gillian Tett has accordingly had her brilliant work discussed in this very blog on a number of occasions. In one of her more recent FT Weekend articles – Let’s get geeks into government (4th April 2014) – Tett tackles the issue of the chasm in attractiveness to stellar students (particularly, though not exclusively technology and/or finance students) between a dynamic, lucrative private sector and a decidedly uninspiring and comparatively staid public one. Many state bureaucracies are in dire need of genuinely visionary talents who are technologically literate, but it is exactly this type of person who is likely to find life in such a work environment a postmodern re-creation of something penned by Dante Alighieri; as more entrepreneurial personalities continue to opt for life in Silicon Valley or one of its wannabes, civil services around the world will suffer ever- more deeply by odious comparison.

Tett’s solution to this paradox is an interesting one: (i) for tech business icons to actively talk about the value of public service; and (ii) for giant ‘new economy’ corporations such as Facebook to encourage their employees to take some kind of gap year within a public service entity. As fine as these ideas are, we can’t help feeling that these may be of limited value: expecting the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world to spontaneously riff on the joys of working in a distinctly uncool tax office, or seconding some of their most talented prospects to an urban planning department, could be somewhat hopeful.

After some contemplation, we at Mediolana have three alternative solutions for making public service sexy to elite graduates:

  1. Branding. In many countries – not least the US and UK, nations which Tett writes about with great insight – local authorities, which count for a massive percentage of civil servants, tend to be rather anonymous things. It is entirely possible for someone to grow up in, say, London without much more than the vaguest idea of what municipality they happen to live in, let alone the people responsible for local decision-making. However, in some other countries, smaller administrative units are anything but anonymous. In Japan, even subdivisions of cities have their own manga characters, while in Turkey it is impossible not to know exactly in which part of an urban area you are in: everything from park benches to litter bins are loudly labelled with the relevant municipality’s logo and/or name. Better branding could go a long way towards making these entities recognisable as entities which serve particular purposes.
  2. Incentives. Following on from point 1, civil service organisations are often horrible at selling themselves; targeting the best and brightest graduates is a task that many do not even seem to have a concrete strategy for. However, given the monstrously high tuition fees now being levied in the Atlantic Anglosphere, something as simple as a few scholarships for outstanding students – tied, naturally, to a compulsory stint mirroring the duration of the degree in a corresponding public service job – could prove to be a relatively cheap way of ensuring that at least some elite students end up working away from the private sector.
  3. Quality + Competition. Ultimately, one of the biggest barriers to entering public service is that the sector does not have the best qualitative reputation: it is popularly known as a place where those who do not particularly want to work go to get a job. This stereotype is more than a little unfair, but when even relatively competence government agencies are routinely failing to do the simplest things well – such as returning telephone calls – then it is unsurprising that this impression is perpetuated. The solution is clear: there must be a quality revolution in public service, and the sector must embrace international competition. Municipalities and government agencies should be ranked across every relevant metric and compared with each other. World Cups in everything from bus shelters to property taxes apps must be prepared for. Obsessing at being the best will reap dividends for public service agencies worldwide – and help naturally attract the most some of the most talented graduates back onto the state payroll.

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