ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

French business relishes the prospect of President Macron

THE likely election of Emmanuel Macron as France’s president, in a run-off vote on May 7th, has corporate leaders in a state of high anticipation. French politicians with business experience rarely prosper. It is nearly half a century since Georges Pompidou won office in 1969 on the back of a private-sector career partly at Rothschild, an investment bank. The sitting president, François Hollande, roused voters in 2012 by declaring that his “true enemy” was the world of finance. Mr Macron’s own stint at Rothschild, advising on mergers from 2008 to 2012, included handling a $12bn acquisition of a unit of Pfizer, a pharma firm, by Nestlé, a consumer-goods giant.

Markets rose and bond yields fell after Mr Macron won the first round on April 23rd. His second-round opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far right, dismays business—one investor admits re-registering his firm as European rather than French, the better to shift headquarters were she to win. But Mr Macron is favourite.

A chief of a big firm headquartered in Paris speaks of new optimism for France’s economy if Mr Macron wins. Business indicators are improving; measures of corporate confidence in…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Patanjali, an Indian consumer-goods giant

EXECUTIVES at firms selling consumer staples like to think of themselves as “marketing gurus”. But how many could actually contort themselves into the lotus position, let alone attempt a headstand? Such feats are nothing for the top brass at Patanjali, an Indian purveyor of toothpaste, cooking oil, herbal concoctions and much else. Fronted by a bona fide guru, the firm’s marketing strategy—play up the benefits of natural products, then paint foreign multinationals as latter-day imperialists—delivers over $1bn in annual sales, up tenfold in four years. Having dismissed the firm as a fad, the likes of Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever are emulating it.

Baba Ramdev (pictured), an ascetic yogi who is the public face of the brand, makes for an unconventional capitalist symbol. But with Acharya Balkrishna, a devotee of his who serves as the firm’s boss and majority-owner, he has built a consumer-goods powerhouse that is vying with the business-school graduates at the multinationals. Starting out two decades ago as an apothecary of traditional Ayurvedic potions, Patanjali has expanded into personal care, home products, packaged food and more. Mr Ramdev’s beard and saffron…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The boss of LafargeHolcim resigns over a scandal in Syria

KEEPING cool in the heat of war is not easy. That might help explain why LafargeHolcim, a French-Swiss cement-maker, blundered so badly while running operations in Syria as fighting raged. On April 24th the firm said that its chief executive, Eric Olsen, will go, a casualty of a growing scandal over its activities in the country.

The board of the world’s biggest cement producer stated only last month that Mr Olsen was not responsible for, nor aware of, wrongdoing by the firm in Syria. But public pressure has been increasing, notably after Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a left-wing candidate in France’s presidential election, attacked the firm and its “damned cement” in a television debate on April 4th. François Fillon, a pro-business rival, agreed the firm should be punished if allegations against it proved to be true.

At issue is the activity of Lafarge before the firm’s merger with its Swiss rival, Holcim, in 2015. In 2010 Lafarge had built a cement factory of 240 workers for $680m near Kobane, a north Syrian town. Operations there continued until 2014, long after the violence began in 2011. The firm evacuated foreigners in 2012; local workers fled in…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A Form 10-K for America’s government

WHEN he was running Microsoft, Steve Ballmer was famous for his energy. In a legendary clip of a company meeting that has received almost a million hits on YouTube, he charges onto the stage and launches into his “monkey dance”, before roaring into a microphone: “I love this company!” Mr Ballmer stood down from the software giant in 2014 and has new outlets for his drive. One is the LA Clippers, a basketball team he bought for $2bn. The other could not be more different: a project to create a Form 10-K, a type of corporate report, for America’s dysfunctional government. That is more revolutionary than it sounds.

In most walks of life, 10-K denotes a long-distance run or a sum of money. In the investment world it refers to the report that American regulators force all listed companies to publish once a year. Investors have a near-religious reverence for 10-Ks. They are the global gold standard of corporate disclosure: 300 or so warts-and-all pages that contain a firm’s financial accounts and describe its objectives, conflicts of interests, governance, risks and flaws. Fund managers scour the documents to ensure that firms’ executives are not fibbing. Bosses study…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Technology firms and the office of the future

FROM the 62nd floor of Salesforce Tower, 920 feet above the ground, San Francisco’s monuments look piddling. The Bay Bridge, Coit Tower and Palace of Fine Arts are dwarfed by the steel-and-glass headquarters that will house the software company when it is completed later this year. Subtle it is not. Salesforce plans to put on a light show every night; its new building will be visible from up to 30 miles away.

It is not the only technology company erecting a shrine to itself. Apple’s employees have just begun moving into their new headquarters in Cupertino, some 70 kilometres away, which was conceived by the firm’s late founder, Steve Jobs. The four-storey, circular building looks like the dial of an iPod (or a doughnut) and is the same size as the Pentagon. At a price tag of around $5bn, it will be the most expensive corporate headquarters ever constructed. Apple applied all its product perfectionism to it: the guidelines for the wood used inside it reportedly ran to 30 pages.

Throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley, cash-rich technology firms have built or are erecting bold, futuristic headquarters that convey their brands to employees and customers….Continue reading

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