July 1st, 2011
01:53 PM GMT
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Dramatic is the first word that springs to my mind whenever Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s name crosses the prompter.

Dramatic was his arrest in New York when he was hauled off a plane bound for his homeland. Dramatic was the "walk of shame" officers made him endure soon after, and dramatic were the allegations of sexual assault levelled against him by a hotel maid - ones the 62-year-old Frenchman has repeatedly denied.

At every twist and turn, the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn has thrown up the unexpected and left observers confounded as to how such a high-profile, successful man could find himself in the dock.

In France, where court proceedings are not televised, people were shocked to see one of their most prominent politicians treated in the same manner as a "common criminal."

Shocking images that caused many to assume Strauss-Kahn - now out of the IMF - would also be out of the running as his country’s socialist hopeful in next year’s general elections.

The danger of making such assumptions is now glaringly apparent, amid warnings that the case against Strauss-Kahn could collapse thanks to doubts about the credibility of the maid’s story.

Strauss-Kahn was this week freed from house arrest after his accuser's credibility was doubted. The  move comes ahead of the socialist party’s primaries, when French left-wingers will vote on who could lead them against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012.

Socialist party leaders, who have searched for a charismatic leader since Segolene Royal’s defeat by Sarkozy four years ago, have expressed their glee at the news surrounding Strauss-Kahn.

Yet I fail to see how a candidate whose name has been so tarnished by these allegations, even one who has protested his innocence, could realistically hope to represent his nation’s interests on an international stage given the events of the last two months.

That is why Strauss-Kahn had to step down as managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

June 6th, 2011
05:20 PM GMT
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A chill Atlantic wind rolled into Lisbon this morning, seen by some as a reminder of the tough times ahead for Portugal after last night's elections saw the Socialist party swept from power.

In his victory speech, Portugal's Prime Minister Elect, Pedro Passos Coelho of the Social Democrats, made it clear that the country should prepare itself for some serious belt-tightening. But he also told his electorate it would emerge stronger.

"We must have courage, we must have patience," he told crowds in one of Lisbon's main squares hours after the polls closed.

"We know the results will not happen in two days. It will be hard but it will be worth it."

May 23rd, 2011
05:53 AM GMT
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(CNN) - At last, someone who understands that failure is NOT the end of the world. Finally, a business book that doesn’t make me and half the people I know feel like idiots for not inventing Facebook first! A kindred spirit, I thought, as I sat down to interview Financial Times columnist Tim Harford about his new book “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.”

You see, Harford understands that success requires failure – over and over again. Even when you don’t realize you’ve failed in business, chances are you have. Chances are you learned from it. And chances are the next thing you undertook was better because of it.

Harford advocates making room to experiment and fail in your daily work environment. Easier said than done!

His examples include Lehman Brothers – a collapse of mind-numbing complexity – and a spate of problems too big to solve. Harford makes the case that preventing colossal failures would be easier if we’d just embrace the smaller ones along the way. Failure, he says, is under-rated (be sure to tell that to your boss at your next performance review will you?)

Harford’s examples include the banking crisis, the Iraq war, even climate change. What would you be more likely to fail at: Building a toaster or staging a Broadway musical? You might be surprised. There is a lot of high economics in plain English in Harford’s book—a delightful read!

May 20th, 2011
01:33 AM GMT
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CNN - Job of the week: "one managing director required to run the world's biggest 'lender of last resort'. The successful candidate will be an experienced policymaker with excellent diplomacy skills. Those with a 'colorful' personal life though need not apply."

You can just imagine officials at the International Monetary Fund scrambling to put the final touches to its latest job spec following the resignation of their managing director last night.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's decision to step down to fight allegations of sexual assault has got the world's highest-profile power-brokers quickly dusting off their resumes. His departure has also sent economists into a frenzy with many drafting their own lists of who might make cut.

The reality is that we may not know for several days or even weeks who will take control of the fund's $750 billion lending capacity and its 2,500 staff. This is because the appointment of a new MD is both political and economic.

The decisions on who gets nominated and eventually chosen occur behind closed doors, first at a country level and then on an international stage.

In fact, the opaque nature of the selection process, combined with emerging markets calls for more of a say, means the IMF has now agreed to increase its transparency about how its next MD will be chosen.

In the meantime though, this is broadly speaking how it worked the last time, when Strauss-Kahn himself became MD in 2007:

Read the rest of the article here

April 15th, 2011
02:02 AM GMT
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New York (CNN) –
When Eric Schmidt announced he was stepping aside as CEO of Google he famously tweeted, “Day-to-day adult supervision no longer needed!” But investors aren’t so sure about that. In the weeks since Schmidt announced he was stepping aside as CEO, the stock has fallen 9 percent.

Larry Page, the founder and now CEO has a reputation as a brilliant innovator, a non-conformist and an introvert. Those attributes work for entrepreneurs, but often do not translate into good CEO’s.

I had a chance to sit down with Steven Levy, a veteran technology journalist who has just released a new book about Google, “In the Plex,” and asked whether Page has the ability to lead the company.

“He is a smart guy...we know he has a great vision of the future,” Levy said. “Larry has to step up not only in terms of great products, great vision, take on Facebook, but also make people feel okay about Google and not be scared of it.”

Page takes the reins at a critical time for Google. It is still making pots of money, but growth rates are not anywhere near the meteoric 40% pace of years past. Google has missed the rise of social networking. In his book, Levy details Google’s “Facebook panic,” describing how concerned they are about the vast information Facebook now controls.


April 1st, 2011
07:31 PM GMT
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New York (CNN) - Honeywell CEO David Cote may be a fan of blues music, but he is unequivocally upbeat about the company’s prospects.

After years of battling problems related to past acquisitions, asbestos liabilities and unfunded pension obligations, Honeywell finally seems to be hitting its stride. The stock just hit a 52-week high and Cote has affirmed the industrial conglomerate is on track for sales of $35-36 billion dollars this year.

The secret? Being boring pays! Honeywell’s businesses involve energy efficiency, safety and security and engine systems to name a few. Not exactly sexy areas, but they are essential, especially in developing economies. Honeywell gets 50% of its sales outside the U.S.


March 17th, 2011
02:09 AM GMT
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Hong Kong, China (CNN) – My 10-month old daughter loves hard boiled eggs. I buy Japanese eggs to mix into her solids. Here in Hong Kong, I go to Japanese supermarkets to do my grocery shopping. I trust the quality. Then a relative from abroad called this week and asked if I was certain Japanese produce was safe.

Well, that's a tough question to answer at this point. I do know it's a question a lot of families are starting to ask.

Japanese food is hugely popular worldwide, stocking shelves at high-end stores around Asia and specialty shops in Europe and the U.S.  Governments are taking precautions by doing thorough inspections of Japanese produce. Hong Kong's Center for Food Safety has already conducted radiation tests on at least 34 samples of fresh vegetables, meat and fish from Japan. The center reports all test results were satisfactory.

"As far as radiation is concerned, I think the most at-risk articles are those fresh products, perhaps dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. York Chow, Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health, at a news conference earlier this week. “In case we detect anything, of course, we will ban those products from Hong Kong."

Thailand's government is focusing on Japanese imports of meat, milk, fish and seaweed.  A radiation physicist from the Office of Atoms for Peace has told CNN the agency will work with Thailand's Health Ministry to do random checks of imported food from Japan. On Tuesday, India also ordered radiation tests of Japanese food at its ports and airports. Only food originating from Japan after March 11 will be tested.

Paul Yang lives in Tokyo, where he grew up, and is a father with two young children. He and his wife are not changing their family's eating habits, he said.


March 14th, 2011
12:37 PM GMT
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Toyota, Nissan and Honda all chart big drops as markets react to the Japanese quake. CNN's Andrew Stevens reports.

January 28th, 2011
12:06 AM GMT
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(CNN) – Watching CNN’s fantastic Davos coverage both on television and online, I can’t help but notice we’re always talking to men.  Turns out, there’s good reason for it.

According to World Economic Forum executives, women have never made up more than 17% of total attendees.  The WEF has introduced a quota for female executives from major sponsors at this year’s summit.  One in five delegates sent by strategic partners must be female.

I’ve never met a quota that didn’t have a long trail of strong opinion floating behind it, and this one is no exception.

As one of my Twitter followers asked:  “Why does gender still count in 2011? Why don’t we talk about how qualified a person is for the job of CEO?”


January 7th, 2010
01:52 AM GMT
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It takes years of brilliant business strategy to build a global brand. And love it or hate it, Starbucks is one of the most recognizable coffee products around. So why would the Seattle-based behemoth want to un-brand its powerhouse name, logo and taste?

That's exactly what it's trying, in what some call a brazen attempt at "stealth retail," when a corporate giant tries to sneak a sip of home grown neighborhood familiarity with the consumer never knowing the difference. A Seattle outlet of the Starbucks chain has been rebranded as15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. And there's nothing Café Misto about it. Most certainly, your java and milk in this corner café will be called, quite simply, Café au Lait, as the rest of the un-Starbucked world knows it.

Starbucks sent out its own sleuths to study local coffee shops observing everything from the décor, to the music, to the cups. The company already has opened two of its uniquely named remodeled coffeehouses in Seattle as an experiment that could be extended to more of its 16,000 stores.

Seattle bloggers are frothing at their Frappuccinos over the news. Just a quick sampling below will give you a sense of the local flavor:

"In desperation, Starbuck's is now throwing Hail Mary passes. It's likely going to backfire in a big way."

"Starbucks can do whatever they want to do with their business. If you don't like their stores, go somewhere else, but stop whining!"

"What's wrong with taking fashion tips from the most fashionable girl in school?"

"I hate Starbucks. OMG the most pathetic people go there."

Well, what can you say? In a retail age in which growing numbers of consumers want to know exactly where their carrots come from, what philanthropic causes a CEO supports, and whether child labor was used to pick the cocoa beans in their favorite snack, "stealth retail" could become a lightning rod.

Take the UK's "Innocent" story. A completely non-corporate maker of smoothies and juices recently sold a stake to Coca-Cola, of all companies, for a reportedly sweet-and-substantial 30 million pounds. "Innocent" built its brand as eco-friendly, sporting cute cow-like vans and is just one in a lineup of local success stories to sell to a corporate fat cat. "Innocent" wanted to raise funds to expand in Europe, and of course growing the brand often means giving away the hand. It's business, isn't it?

While different from "stealth retail," the "Innocent's" loss of innocence is another example of how wary consumers need to scratch more than just the surface.

Consumers who are conscious about what they buy can become confused, even outraged when they discover they're not getting quite the thing they thought they were. Or that after years of patronage, a trusted company changes direction, and nobody bothered to let the public know. As a conscious consumer, you might be shocked. You might be appalled. People seem to take this stuff rather personally- as if your long haired peacenik husband came home one night with a buzz cut and a rocket propelled grenade launcher on his shoulder. You might run the other way, but even if you just shrug your shoulders and get on with your evening, chances are, you at the very least- notice!

So what will the consumers' verdict be on this kind of stealth, corporate tactic? Is there anything wrong with taking fashion advice from the most fashionable girl in school? What if her outfit turns out to be a fraud? I honestly don't know, but in today's market, the consumer will most certainly decide.

Join me on World Business Today for an examination of "stealth retail" and other trends.

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