Posts in category Business


ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Masterful salesmanship has pushed Salesforce to ever-greater heights

Benioff’s guide to upselling

VISIBLE from nearly every corner of San Francisco and from up to 30 miles away, the new skyscraper that will be the headquarters of Salesforce, a software giant, stands 1,100 feet (326 metres) tall, making it the highest building in America west of Chicago. On January 8th, after four years of building, workers will start moving in.

Those who know Salesforce’s founder, Marc Benioff, find his firm’s new digs fitting. As creator of a firm that caters to salespeople, he is himself a fiercely ambitious salesman. In its 2018 fiscal year, which ends on January 31st, Salesforce is expected to reach $10bn in annual revenue for the first time. It plans to more than double that figure over the next four years. Even that is not enough. In 20 years Mr Benioff’s “dream” is $100bn of revenue, he muses.

Can his towering expectations be met? Founded in 1999, Salesforce claims a combination of longevity and size that few tech companies…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

China’s Ant Financial is obliged to abandon an American acquisition

It didn’t mean jack

“THE geopolitical environment has changed considerably since…a year ago.” That was the explanation given this week by Alex Holmes, chief executive of MoneyGram International, a Dallas-based American money-transfer firm, for Ant Financial abandoning its $1.2bn deal to buy his firm. Ant, the online-payments affiliate of Alibaba Group, a Chinese e-commerce giant, had outbid Euronet, an American rival, in 2017 and secured the approval of MoneyGram’s board for the acquisition. In normal times, Ant would have secured the prize.

But it is up against a rising tide of anti-China sentiment in Washington, DC. Donald Trump has often argued that China does not play fair in global commerce. The sense that China and its companies are not to be trusted is spreading on Capitol Hill, too. Ant’s bid was blocked by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a government body reporting to the Treasury. It reviews such deals for…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Canada frets about anonymously owned firms

WHEN reports surfaced in 2016 of foreign students with no known income buying homes worth millions of dollars in Vancouver, locals said it was yet more evidence that foreigners were inflating prices in Canada’s dearest property market. It was also evidence of a home-grown problem. The students turned out to be figureheads for anonymous firms whose ultimate owners cannot be identified because the information is not legally required by the land registry. Canadian authorities are concerned about the abuses caused by such opacity. The property market may well be attracting foreign criminals and corrupt officials seeking to launder dirty money, notes David Eby, the attorney-general of British Columbia.

Other countries have taken steps to make sure that anonymous ownership of firms does not help criminals. In 2014 G20 leaders agreed to make the ultimate ownership of legal entities more transparent. Britain, for example, set up a searchable, public database of beneficial or ultimate owners of all firms,…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

South Korea’s antitrust tsar has a good shot at taming the chaebol

AS KIM SANG-JO was preparing last May to make the switch from snappy shareholder activist to a regulatory role as South Korea’s fair-trade commissioner, he had a simple message for the country’s big conglomerates: “Please do not break the law.” Not one to make bosses quake in their brogues, exactly. And yet the chaebol, as the country’s family-controlled empires are known, are responding to his call for reform. Addressing complaints about governance, a few have brought far-flung businesses into a simpler holding-company structure. Others have set up funds to provide support to suppliers, which have long accused the giants of treating them badly. Another group is paying out record dividends to once-disregarded shareholders.

Mr Kim was preaching, if not yet to the converted, then to the disconcerted. The chaebol have had a bruising couple of years. Nine of South Korea’s most powerful bosses, some rarely seen in public, were grilled on…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

2018 will be the year that large, incumbent companies take on big tech

ACCORDING to Ginni Rometty, IBM’s boss, the digital revolution has two phases. In the first, Silicon Valley firms make all the running as they create new markets and eviscerate weak firms in sleepy industries. This has been the story until now. Tech firms have captured 42% of the rise in the value of America’s stockmarket since 2014 as investors forecast they will win an ever-bigger share of corporate profits. A new, terrifying phrase has entered the lexicon of business jargon: being “Amazoned”.

The second phase favours the incumbents, Ms Rometty believes, and is starting about now. They summon the will to adapt, innovate to create new, digital, products and increase efficiency. The schema is plainly self-serving. IBM is itself fighting for survival against cloud-based tech rivals and most of its clients are conventional firms. Yet she is correct that incumbents in many industries are at last getting their acts together on technology.

Enough time has elapsed for even…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Combustible cigarettes kill millions a year. Can Big Tobacco save them?

BESIDE a serene lake in Switzerland sits a modern glass building called the Cube. Wide-leafed tobacco plants grow in the lobby. In one room machines that can “smoke” more than a dozen cigarettes at a time dutifully puff away, measuring the chemicals that consumers would inhale. The research centre is run by Philip Morris International (PMI), which sells Marlboro and other brands around the world. The facility’s purpose is not to assess the risks of smoking, but to determine whether this huge cigarette-maker might get out of selling cigarettes altogether.

André Calantzopoulos, PMI’s chief executive, talks about moving to a “smoke-free future”, with the firm’s business comprised entirely of alternatives to cigarettes. “We are crystal clear where we are going as a company: we want to move out of cigarettes as soon as possible,” he says. Mr Calantzopoulos has the boldest goals in this regard, but he is not the only tobacco executive to tout a new direction. Nicandro Durante, chief…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

An experiment with in-home deliveries is under way

AFTER staying at home one afternoon for a delivery of discounted toilet disinfectant that never came, Valentin Romanov, a Stockholm IT manager, installed a special lock on his flat’s entrance. When no one is in, deliverymen unlock the door and slip packages inside. Four months on, Mr Romanov has doubled his spending online and says he cannot imagine life without in-home deliveries. These are sweet words for delivery firms and online retailers, Amazon included, that are setting up partnerships with lock manufacturers to overcome a big hurdle for e-commerce.

Conventional deliveries fail so often that a parcel is driven to a home an average of 1.5 times in the Nordic region, says Kenneth Verlage, head of business development at PostNord, a logistics giant operating in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. It is an expensive inefficiency made worse, he says, by the fact that recipients have still often had to wait for a failed delivery. Some couriers leave packages on doorsteps, but this invites theft….Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A vote on “net neutrality” has intensified a battle over the internet’s future

A DAY before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to rescind “net neutrality” regulations designed to ensure that internet-service providers do nothing to favour some types of online content over others, Ajit Pai, its chairman, tweeted a short video reassuring Americans. “You can still post photos of cute animals,” he says in it, posing with a dog. He also wields a light sabre, which prompted Mark Hamill, the actor who portrays Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” films, to criticise Mr Pai on Twitter for siding with giant corporations. Ted Cruz, a Republican senator, then asserted in Mr Pai’s defence that Darth Vader supported government regulation of the web; further jabs followed.

It made for a silly treatment of an arcane subject. But net neutrality is a serious business. The state of New York’s attorney-general said he would lead a multi-state suit against the FCC; in Congress Democrats and Republicans are expected to propose competing bills on the subject in 2018. Broadband and wireless companies such as AT&T responded to fears about their increased power by questioning whether internet firms like Google have too much. Google, Facebook, Amazon and other platform companies in turn put out statements in support of an open internet. So rather than end the struggle over how the internet is regulated in America, the FCC’s vote has…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Russia’s dysfunctional funeral business gets a makeover

Stiffer competition is coming

THE calls began shortly after Yulia’s grandmother died. The undertaker offered help arranging the funeral, for 47,000 roubles ($800) in cash. She then travelled to Moscow’s Khovanskoe Cemetery, where she was offered a discount on a gravesite—150,000 roubles off—if she could bring cash within three hours and sign a receipt saying she had paid half that amount. Yulia (whose name has been changed) and her family gave in. “We knew we were paying a bribe, but what else could we do?”

To bury a loved one in Russia often means entering an underworld of corruption and red tape. The myriad goods and services needed, from preparing the body for burial to funeral arrangements to carving a headstone, all represent opportunities for extortion in a largely informal market. “Instead of a funeral as a commercial service, the consumer is offered a strange sort of quest,” writes Sergei Mokhov, editor of The Archaeology of…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

An accounting scandal sends Steinhoff plummeting

Steinhoff goes on special offer

THE scale is staggering, even by the standards of scandal-worn South Africa. Steinhoff, a retailer that is one of the country’s best-known companies, admitted to “accounting irregularities” on December 6th when it was due to publish year-end financial statements. Its chief executive, Markus Jooste, resigned, and the firm announced an internal investigation by PwC. Within days Steinhoff had lost €10.7bn ($12.7bn) in market value as its share price fell by more than 80% (see chart). Much is unclear, but it is shaping up to be the biggest corporate scandal that South Africa has ever seen. The company has said it is reviewing the “validity and recoverability” of €6bn in non-South African assets.

Steinhoff traces its roots to West Germany, where it found a niche sourcing cheap furniture from the communist-ruled east. The company merged with a South African firm in 1998 and is based in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town—a…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Not even “The Last Jedi” will reverse Americans’ retreat from cinemas

THE new “Star Wars” film opens this week. “The Last Jedi” arrives in cinemas in time to boost expected ticket sales for the year to about $11bn in America, only slightly down from last year’s record. But the American film industry is in trouble. Tickets sold per person have declined to their lowest point since the early 1970s, before the introduction of the multiplex. Expensive flops have prompted studio executives to complain that Rotten Tomatoes, a ratings website, is killing off films before their opening weekends. The studios count on remakes and sequels to attract fans; such films account for all of this year’s top ten at the box office.

It may get worse. Americans are losing the film-going habit as new sources of entertainment seize their attention. Netflix and other streaming services have made it more convenient to watch movies and TV programmes anywhere, on internet-connected TVs, tablets and smartphones. Apps such as Facebook and YouTube are fine-tuned to…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

American business has concerns on tax reform

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S effort to change America’s tax code is approaching the finishing line. Republican negotiators from the Senate and the House of Representatives this week hashed out a consensus bill behind closed doors. On December 13th, Mr Trump expressed confidence that he would be able to sign the reform into law before Christmas.

The key provision is the slashing of the corporate tax rate, from 35% to 21%. Big business in America uniformly cheers this reduction. The US Chamber of Commerce calls it a measure to “grow the economy, create jobs, and increase paychecks”. The Tax Foundation, a right-leaning think-tank, claims that reducing the corporate rate to 20%, just one percentage point lower, would increase the size of the economy by 2.7% over the long run. Yet big firms are less enamoured of controversial international provisions that may make it into the final law. Both the Senate bill and the House bill try to stop the shifting of profits by American…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The Santa clause

DEAR Team, I trust you are looking forward to your vacations and that the spirit of love and generosity infuses your family gatherings. I also hope that this spirit will be left next to the Christmas tree when you return to work at this incredible company on January 2nd. Because 2018 is going to be the year when America Inc loses its head after a decade of iron financial self-control. And I am not going to make that mistake. Let me drop some festive wisdom: when everyone else is throwing money around like Santa, it is best to behave like Scrooge.

During my workout at 5.10am this morning my trainer played U2. I love Bono for his personal advice on charitable giving, but he is also a perceptive lyricist. “It’s a beautiful day” captures the mood in business. Third-quarter results blew the roof off. Earnings per share for the S&P 500 are 23% above the last peak in 2007. The world economy is rocking. At this week’s digital town halls our sales teams in Houston and Guangzhou reported…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The global property business tries to adapt to e-commerce

Stores of value

FIFTH AVENUE in New York is the most expensive stretch of retail property in the world, now festooned with lights in the approach to Christmas. The pavements heave with crowds eager to see the diamonds sparkling at Tiffany & Co, a jeweller, and festive displays at Saks Fifth Avenue, a department store. But storefronts further downtown in once-thriving shopping districts remain vacant.

The global retail property business is having to adapt as consumers spend more online. Consolidation is in vogue. On December 12th two retail property companies, France’s Unibail-Rodamco and Australia’s Westfield, agreed to merge in a deal worth $24.7bn to form the world’s second-biggest owner of shopping malls by market value. Westfield earns about 70% of its revenues from property holdings in America.

In November, Brookfield Property Partners, another mall owner, bid $14.8bn for the 66% of GGP, a rival, that it did not already…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

America’s Public Company Accounting Oversight Board gets a new boss

THE collapses of Enron and WorldCom in the early years of this century turned book-cooking into front-page news. Investors lost over $200bn; in 2002 the stockmarket fell by over a fifth between April and July. In response, America’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act set up a new body, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), to supervise auditors.

Its quest to give auditors more teeth continues, with the introduction of new rules that James Doty, its outgoing chairman, bills as the most significant changes to reporting by auditors in over 70 years. The question now is whether Mr Doty’s successor, who was announced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on December 12th along with four new PCAOB board members, will keep heading in the same direction.

New disclosures on auditors’ tenure and independence take effect this week. And from 2019 auditors must go above and beyond the low bar they have historically set themselves, which is a pass or fail “opinion” on…Continue reading

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