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The Economist Corner – essential readings II

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David Cameron

Does he have what it takes?  The Conservative leader, David Cameron, is still the favourite to be Britain’s next prime minister. Mar 31st 2010 – From The Economist print edition

He has led the Conservative Party for more than four years and is the man most likely to lead Britain after the general election this spring. Yet people still wonder just who David Cameron is. This is not because he hides what he does or fudges what he thinks, as those on the receiving end of countless webcameron flashes and unending policy e-mails can attest. It is, rather, that his views are not always those of either his party or, perhaps, of his age.

The Economist talked to Mr Cameron on March 29th, in the last of a series of on-the-record interviews with the leaders of the three main political parties. Though only 15 years younger than Gordon Brown, prime minister and leader of the Labour Party, he seems of a different generation, with an easy, human touch that Mr Brown often struggles to achieve. He has more obviously in common with the similarly 40-ish, six-foot-tall leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. But Mr Cameron is an altogether slicker number, and a far more experienced political operator. Read more here.

Ford sells Volvo to Geely

Devolving Volvo  For both buyer and seller, the deal is worth the risks. Mar 28th 2010 – From The Economist online

It took more than a decade for Ford to create what it called its Premier Auto Group around a bunch of classy European brands—starting in 1987 with its purchase of Aston Martin, followed by the acquisitions of Jaguar, Volvo and then Land Rover. It all proved a terribly expensive distraction. Now, it has taken Ford three years of tricky negotiations to dismantle the group, selling the European marques at a considerable loss. Aston Martin went to a British-led consortium in 2007, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) was snapped up by Tata of India in 2008 and, on March 28th, a deal was signed to sell Volvo to Geely, a small but vastly ambitious Chinese carmaker.

The sticker price is $1.8 billion, a fraction of the $6.45 billion that Ford paid for Volvo in 1999. The cost to Ford is worse even than those figures suggest: it has had to support the Swedish carmaker through years of losses and even now it faces further expenses associated with the sale to Geely that will eat up much of the meagre sum it is getting for Volvo. Read more here.

University rankings

Leagues apart How tall is my ivory tower? University league tables give different answers. Mar 25th 2010 – From The Economist print edition

JUST as magpies adorn their nests with shiny trinkets, young people seeking to burnish their credentials love to scour league tables to spot the world’s brightest universities. Time at such places, they hope, will stoke both brainpower and future earnings.

That creates a big global business. The OECD, a rich-country think-tank, reckons that more than 3m students are enrolled outside their country of citizenship. The number has trebled over the past 30 years. Most go to America, which attracted some 600,000 students in 2007, the latest year for which data are available. Britain, Germany, France and Australia are also popular destinations.

American institutions also shine in the rankings of university performance: exercises that are themselves of varying merits. The success comes despite growing grumbles about visa difficulties for foreign students, and rocketing costs. Harvard consistently tops a league table produced by Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University. First published in 2003, this rates institutions according to the excellence of the research they produce.

In the most recent Shanghai table Europe fares remarkably poorly. It is certainly striking that from all of Europe only Oxford and Cambridge feature in the top 20. In the top 50 entries, Europe has only ten places (but 32 in the top 100). By contrast, fully 17 of the top 20 are American. Read more here.


The celebrity effect  The magical effect of putting a famous face on a company’s board. Mar 30th 2010 – From The Economist online

IN MARCH 1998 the Coca-Cola Bottling Company announced the appointment of a most unlikely new director to its board: Evander Holyfield, a former heavyweight boxing champion (pictured above), best-known for having part of his ear bitten off in a bout by a fellow boxer, Mike Tyson. He was not the only top athlete at the time with a seat in the boardroom: Michael Jordan, a celebrated basketball player, was a director of Oakley, a sunglasses manufacturer. Other sports stars to try their hand at directing corporate America in the past 25 years include Billie Jean King, a tennis player appointed to the board of Altria (then called Philip Morris) in 1999 and Nancy Lopez, a golfer, who became a director of J.M. Smucker, a jam-maker, in 2006.

Boards have also recruited from the ranks of Hollywood. Disney appointed Sidney Poitier to its board in 1994, for example. Deepak Chopra, an author and lifestyle guru, was recruited to the board of Men’s Wearhouse, a suit retailer, in 2004. Stretching the definition of celebrity a bit, General “Stormin’” Norman Schwarzkopf was appointed a director by the Home Shopping Network in 1996. And you can take your pick from scores of politicians-turned-directors, including Al Gore, a former vice-president and a member of Apple’s board since 2003. Read more here.


Written by Theophyle

April 2, 2010 at 8:48 am

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