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Read about some of Germany's wealthiest people by clicking on the links below:
  • Germany's Grocery Giants: A pair of reclusive brothers crowns the list of Germany's richest people. Karl and Theo Albrecht, founders of ALDI supermarkets, made their extreme fortune selling low-price groceries.
  • The Family Behind BMW: Reclusive BMW heiress Susanne Klatten is the richest woman in Germany. Her brother and mother aren't struggling, either.
  • Germany's Media Mogul: The Bertelsmann corporation began by publishing bibles, but over the company's 170 years, it transformed itself into one of the most powerful media empires on the globe. Reinhard Mohn is the man behind the company.
  • The Mail-Order King: Michael Otto heads Germany's second-richest family. But he hasn't let that get to his head. He took his father's successful mail-order business and turned it into a global player.
  • The Screw King: Reinhold Würth turned his father's wholesale screw company into a giant multinational. These days, Germany's sixth richest individual is enjoying the fruits of his labors collecting art and riding his Harley.
  • The Baking Barons: Together with his family, Rudolf August Oetker, of the Oetker baking empire, is one of the richest men in Germany. Collectively the family is worth about $7.7 billion.
related items:
The World's Billionaires, Forbes

Financial Times: From its lavish headquarters in central Vienna, it is hard to believe the bulk of Bawag's (Austria's fourth-largest bank, total assets ~ €56bn) fortunes derive from activities as mundane as retail banking for blue collar workers, payments for trade unions and transactions processing for government agencies. But Bawag, the Austrian [trade union-owned] bank now ensnarled in the collapse of Refco, the futures broker, has always been a company full of contrasts. A must read.

blattExecutive Summary: In a new survey of 156 senior executives of financial services firms worldwide [PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Economist Intelligence Unit] found that offshoring activity is expected to rise significantly. <>

Yet satisfaction levels with offshoring often leave much to be desired: only half the survey respondents pronounced themselves satisfied with its overall impact. Among the key sources of dissatisfaction are cost overruns, difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff and cultural differences between offshore employees and customers. Time will certainly help firms to offshore more successfully, as service providers and institutions themselves gain in sophistication and experience. But as offshoring activity reaches a critical mass, the problems will also increase.

Regulators are watching to ensure that standards of compliance and governance are maintained, particularly as offshoring pushes into higher value-added areas which are more critical to business continuity and where concerns over client confidentiality and data protection loom larger. Rising turnover of staff is a growing headache in the most popular offshore destinations. Some of the initial savings in wages are being eroded as competition for employees increases.

Lower cost is still seen to be the main benefit of offshoring, and the source of greatest satisfaction for those to have actually offshored. Companies will continue to focus on exporting lower value-added, transactional activities in order to reduce their overheads, and although offshoring to captives remains the preferred option, outsourcing some of these activities to third parties is set to gain ground. Saving cost is not everything, however, Niall Mowlds, director in performance improvement consulting at PwC in London, cautions companies to take a long-term view of their plans, which usually means between seven and ten years. And survey respondents count strategic flexibility and improved quality of service among the greatest benefits of offshoring.

Many in the industry believe that the distinction between offshoring and the sourcing of expertise and talent internationally will become increasingly blurred. As firms consider shifting higher value-added activities that require specific knowledge or head offshore to address skills shortages in home markets, those that place greater emphasis on people and expertise will do better than those that are simply out to cut their costs. ‘The further you go into highvalue work, the more it is going to become a team effort between people in high-cost countries and those in lower-cost ones,’ says Rob Muth, HSBC’s head of global resourcing.

As firms move towards building a global footprint in which processes are disaggregated and shared between multiple locations, so offshore destinations will need to differentiate themselves more smartly. Simply being cheapest is unlikely on its own to win business. As examples from India to Ireland show, a critical mass of offshore centres and providers, active government support and the quality of the local skills base will count for more over the long term. Click here to read the whole study.

aquabellEvery couple of months while flying I peruse the airline SkyMall catalogue, which has all sorts of frivolous items: home submarine, couch ramp for you dog, Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Most seem fun, but most would also end up on a garage sale table in no time.

Still, I think there should be a special prize for what I consider the stupidest SkyMall product, AquaBells, the dumbbells that you fill up with water in the bathroom so you can do some excersizes with at most 16 pounds. See SkyMall's pitch here

Most travellers stay at hotels with modest gyms that dominate doing whatever one would do with 10 pound dumbbells. But the target market of the 10 lb dumbbell user is clearly a dilletante, someone who exercises with all the intensity and forethought of a chronic multitasker. The time it would take to fill and unfill these weights, and then the mess they would cause in your luggage as they dripped on your clothes, seems totally intolerable for someone who has only the patience for for exercising with 10 pound dumbbells.

Then again, they have been in the catalogue a few years now...

Businessweek: Soon to be the world's No. 3 ad market, China is easing restrictions on foreign agencies. The jockeying has begun. The ad campaign left shoemaker Nike Inc. (NKE) flatfooted. The company's "Chamber of Fear" spot featured LeBron James of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers battling -- and defeating -- a computer-generated Kung Fu master. It might not have raised eyebrows elsewhere, but Chinese consumers found the concept insulting, and Beijing banned the ad last December. <> {Nike's "Just Do It" campaign doesn't work because it emphasizes individualistic youthful irreverence -- a no-no in Confucian China. Instead, Nike runs ads such as a 10-second spot that features a school kid impressing classmates by spinning the globe on his finger. While the ad expresses playfulness and a certain bravado, "there's no rebellion," says Tom Doctoroff, CEO of Greater China for J. Walter Thompson, which made the spot.} The bad news for Nike, though, was great news for advertisers. The fact that the ad ignited a national debate highlighted the growing power of advertising in China. The industry has grown from virtually nothing in 1979, when the communist government lifted a ban on ads, to as much as $16 billion last year. Click here to read the story.

related items:
Impressive China pictures (pps)

BusinessWeek: McBride PLC is not a household name, and that suits the company just fine, even though European consumers spend almost $1 billion a year on the household cleaners, laundry supplies, and hair- and skin-care products it makes. McBride, based near Manchester, England, is in the private-label business, making goods that European retail chains sell under their own in-house brands. The work isn't glamorous, but it's lucrative: McBride posted a 27.9% increase in profits, to $65 million last year, and sales in Germany, France, and Italy are growing more than 9% annually. "In Western Europe, I'd rather be in private label than in consumer branded goods," Chief Executive Mike Handley says. Click here to read the whole story.

Hold onto your shopping carts, folks -- this battle's just getting started.

laptopbabeNewsFactor Network: Women represent nearly half the workers in the U.S. -- 46.6 percent. However, they always have been underrepresented in I.T. Even more discouraging is the fact that the percentage of women working in I.T. jobs is not growing but dropping. That is bad news indeed for employers seeking hard-to-find technical candidates and the women who might otherwise fill those well-paying jobs.

"Skill obsolescence is the number one issue for I.T. workers," Professor Deb Armstrong of the University of Arkansas told NewsFactor. And it turns out, according to a study by Armstrong and her colleagues, that certain facts of women's lives make staying ahead of the game harder than it is for men. Click here to read the story.

isen.blog: Francis McInerney is an analyst with a penchant for getting it right. In a recent client letter on the Fiorina firing at HP he writes:
Napoleon arrived at Austerlitz on November 21, 1803, nearly two weeks before the Austrian and Russian allies whom he chose to fight there. Outnumbered two to one in men and artillery and three to one in cavalry, he had plenty of time to survey the battlefield. He carefully ceded the high ground, which, when they finally arrived in early December, the Allies rushed after with glee.

Just like H-P and Compaq rushing after market share, this was a big mistake.

Impossibly outnumbered like Napoleon, Dell’s high cash and capital velocities gave Dell far more time to survey the market battlefield and make more judicious choices than his much larger competitors.

From their "high ground" at Austerlitz, the Allies thought they saw a weakness on Napoleon's right, and marched their main forces off to attack him there, expecting to rid Europe of Napoleon forever. Once the Allies had lumbered off, Napoleon attacked their now depleted center, overran it, and destroyed the remaining allied divisions in detail.

So it is with Dell today. Fiorina rushed off to merge H-P with Compaq, thinking that this was the winning direction in which to throw their combined weight. Dell waited until this unwieldy move was well under way, then launched his main move on H-P’s profitable “center”, its printers. Carly Fiorina [had] marched straight into Michael Dell’s Austerlitz.
Pretty cool the way strategy works in genuine competitive markets, huh?

via Richard Stastny

Newsweek: Serious Christians have always been ambivalent about how society celebrates Christmas. It’s hard to get children to focus on the birth of Christ, and what that means, when the arrival of Santa Claus—and all that that portends in the way of hectic getting and spending—is imminent. The quiet subtleties of "Silent Night" are no match for the clang of "Jingle Bells."

Now it appears that even the secularized Christmas that Santa represents is too sectarian for some keepers of the nation’s public spaces and commercial places. Wherever you look, references to Christmas have been suppressed in favor of a featureless “Seasons Greetings.”

A prime commercial example is Macy’s, locus of the classic Christmas film “Miracle on 34th Street.” This year, Macy’s corporate owner, Federated Department Stores, has advised that the words “Merry Christmas” should be avoided in its Yuletide decorations. But Macy’s is hardly unique. Saks Fifth Avenue clearly wants the store to “feel a lot like Christmas” without actually acknowledging the season as such: its awnings are trimmed with a litany of words—JOY, PEACE, HOPE, GLORY—that read as if they were cribbed from Christmas carols, like gems without a setting. On Union Square I plunked some coins in a Salvation Army kettle. “Have a happy” was the response I got. Click here to read the whole story.

Don't miss Christmas and Christianity (Opinion Journal, WSJ)

Less than 50% of people who work from home are satisfied with their home office space, with a quarter of them forced to work in the kitchen, 37% in the spare room and 10% "hotdesking" it to anywhere they can find, according to a survey by Lexmark.

The distant memory of your air-conditioned office, gossiping with workmates around the water cooler, may seem all the sweeter when you're sitting alone in a rickety chair in some far corner of your living room.

Curiously, contrary to expectations of an easier life, one of the challenges facing professional home workers has been a tendency to overdo it and work too hard, according to a survey by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Many have found themselves unable to "escape" work, extending their hours into the evenings and the weekends.
Click here to read the full story.