April 23, 2015

Accenture Interactive's new Innovation Center

Accenture Interactive R&D Director Alexandre Naressi talks to a robot (Accenture)
Cute conversation: R&D Director Alexandre Naressi chats with a robot
If you like conversing with robots and your watch, but hate driving behind the wheel or shopping in stores, then the future is just for you. This might be one conclusion drawn from a number of thought-provoking presentations given by Accenture managers at the opening of the IT & management consultancy's Innovation Center in Sophia Antipolis last week. Company experts are clearly convinced that the teething problems of new consumer technology such as wearables, driverless cars, the "internet of things", and delivery drones will soon be resolved. Talking robots are also about to enter call centres and shops in order to deal with customer enquiries. Welcome Brave New World?
April 9, 2015

Ornella Barra talks Walgreens Boots Alliance

Ornella Barra, EVP Walgreens Boots Alliance (photo: WBA)
Ornella Barra: "Employee relations are often overlooked after big merger deals"
Ornella Barra and Stefano Pessina go back a long way together, but they still ride in formidable tandem at what is now the world's largest pharmacy-lead health and beauty company. With over 12,800 drugstores in eleven countries and a mighty pharmaceutical wholesale & distribution network in eight more, there has to be considerable harmony of strategic thought at newly-merged Walgreens Boots Alliance. "I consider Stefano the architect within the company and myself as the engine," says Barra. "He is the visionary strategist and does the financial side. I prefer to create a common culture and nurture good relationships." As a female exec, Ornella Barra is quite a rarity in male-dominated boardrooms. But this cosmopolitan lady has not lost her femininity in the fight to the top and dresses with exquisite taste. Almost shy at press conferences, she unfolds her Italian charm and emotional intelligence to the full when talking one-to-one.
April 1, 2015

When will drones deliver our Easter eggs?

Drones deliver Easter Eggs (photo collage: Chesky/Shutterstock; senoldo/Fotolia)
All good things come from above
German kids have always had a rough deal over Easter. In the UK, kind relations bring huge chocolate eggs in glossy wrapping paper. But German children are expected to hunt for painted hard-boiled eggs in the garden. Admittedly, the April weather is not quite as bad as in Blighty, but it always looks more like a survival course for the young than an enjoyable ritual for the sweet-toothed. There may yet be hope for German boys and girls, however. In the foreseeable future, they will be able to order their own Paschal goodies on a smartphone and need only look to the sky for online manna to arrive. Drones could soon deliver all. If Amazon & Co. had their way, all this would be tomorrow. But, alas, dear children of the Federal Republic, you have a formidable adversary blocking your path: the US Federal Aviation Authority, known to its friends as the FAA.
March 20, 2015

Talk with Web 2.0 basher Andrew Keen

Andrew Keen (photo: Andrew Keen )
Andrew Keen: "The Internet and the monopolists who dominate it need regulation"
Is the Internet a common good or should it be? Andrew Keen sees our digital age as a very mixed blessing and has become one of its most vehement critics. The British entrepreneur and author maintains that online monopolies, such as Amazon, Google, YouTube or Uber, have created a dangerous dystopia. In his opinion they destroy jobs, stifle innovation, and exacerbate global inequality. Social media platforms also raise Mr Keen's ire as being anything but social and only seemingly free. He accuses these networks of destroying our privacy and ruthlessly marketing personal data: "Facebook is not interested in humanity, but primarily in profit." And, if Edward Snowden's revelations are to be believed, the providers of such platforms are not only commercialising but also surveilling users in collaboration with the NSA. Keen also claims that WhatsApp, Instagram & Co promote a trivial, narcissist culture and "the tyranny of the moment". Is then the Web an amoral force in desperate need of state regulation, or is the man merely exaggerating in order to sell his controversial books?
March 19, 2015

Aldi tests e-commerce

Screenshot of ALDI Liquor, Aldi's online delivery site in eastern Australia
ALDI Liquor: Online delivery site for wine, beer, and spirits in eastern Australia
This could be the game changer the market has long been waiting for. In a significant break with tradition, Aldi Süd (Aldi South) is taking a big step towards becoming an internet retailer. According to our sources, the German discount giant plans to trial an online shop in the United Kingdom and is looking to develop similar activities in a number of other countries, including Germany. Sister company Aldi Nord (Aldi North) is also believed to be considering a launch into Spanish and Portuguese cyberspace. Germany's most profitable discounter has been scrutinising the virtual world for more than a decade, but persons familiar with the group state that its interest has now entered a new and decisive phase.
March 16, 2015

Sex and the billboard

Sexist beer advertising (Deutscher Werberat)
Forbidden view: This beer ad was ruled to be discriminatory against women
Men are generally suckers for a pretty face. And it is highly amusing to see how sex appeal can open the purse strings of the most flint-hearted male penny-pincher. The advertising industry, essentially run by men and working for male-dominated clients, frequently cannot resist pandering to clichés and sexual stereotypes, especially when marketing to an essentially male audience. Sex sells, as they say in the trade. If a few airy-fairy sociologists worry about the commoditisation of human relationships or the over-sexualisation of our society, who cares? Thus, smokers are treated to pictures of steamy Latinas on hand-rolled tobacco pouches, or long-legged girlies drape themselves over sports cars at motor shows. Even some German milk products apparently can't be sold without touting a nubile blonde, dressed in a plunge bra and dirndl, waiting expectantly in the barn.
March 13, 2015

Fyffes Chairman David McCann talks fruit

Fyffes Chairman David McCann (photo: Ute Schmidt)
David McCann: "We are an initiator"
Last year was full of banana drama: Fyffes, the fourth-largest tropical fruit trader in the world, announced bold, cost-saving plans to merge with larger US rival Chiquita. The attempted mega-deal, which would have catapulted "ChiquitaFyffes" to no. 1 in the global fruit business, held the trade in suspense for much of 2014. Investors on the Irish Stock Exchange generally loved the idea, although some analysts were worried about the level of debt. After coming with an ace of clinching the deal, however, the proverbial luck of the Irish failed. Fyffes was outbid by Brazilian fruit juice giant Cutrale and investment group partner Safra. Wisely, the Dubliners had negotiated a termination fee and didn't slip on the proverbial banana skin. But could the McCann founder family soon find themselves faced with takeover interest from fruit giants Dole, Del Monte or Chiquita? Mild-mannered Chairman David McCann didn't look at all anxious at interview. Buoyed by good results from 2014, the 56-year-old Irishman sees a bright future for Fyffes Plc. Despite a strong dollar pushing up costs, he is clearly bullish on international growth, including Germany.
March 12, 2015

Ulrike Detmers talks female manager quotas

Professor Dr. Ulrike Detmers, Mestemacher Group (photo: Randi Blomberg)
Professor Ulrike Detmers: "Prejudices and relics from the old men's club days are the biggest barrier to encouraging female management talent"
More than a century after the suffragettes, the world clearly still has a long way to go when it comes to creating a level playing field for women. This goes far beyond the stubborn persistence of sexual stereotypes and harassment at the workplace. Last Sunday, International Women's Day reminded an often indifferent planet of, for instance, female factory hands in Bangladesh who strive for a liveable wage and safer work conditions. Even in the West, women generally still do not earn the same wages as men. Although pay gaps have been narrowing over recent years, the rate of change has been painfully slow. In fact, it has been computed that, if remuneration improvements continue at their present snail's pace, a girl born today would have to live to 88 in order to experience full equality. Although an Angela Merkel or a Christine Lagarde have made it to the top against the odds, women still tend to abound in honourable professions, such as nursing, which require immense devotion for little recompense. Whether in investment banking or commodities trading, male domains are nearly always to be found where the financial goodies lie. Retailing, in particular, still retains its red-neck image. But even in the more rarefied world of fmcg, many senior women struggle to break through the glass ceiling. So most C-suites remain testosterone-drenched boys' clubs.
March 5, 2015

Lidl close to US kick-off

Lidl services company (photo: Thomas Schindel)
Lidl services company: Has set up US headquarters in Arlington/Virginia
Rejoice America, Lidl is nearer than you think! Although the official entry date is still set for 2018, the signs are increasing that the German discounter could cross the Big Pond as early as next year. Doubtless this will please our transatlantic cousins who have regularly been demanding on this site that the company comes to Battle Creek, Tallahassee or Atlantic City! Lidl is currently contacting its supplier base in order to ascertain who can also deliver to the US market. Around 200 execs from within parent Schwarz Group's vast international empire will apparently soon undergo training at head office in Neckarsulm in preparation for entry. After years of prevarication, which were lengthened by the global financial crisis in 2008/09, senior staff at the group are now said to be rooting for the project. They are clearly excited by the huge potential of the market where the multiple will inevitably meet an old friend – Aldi.
March 5, 2015

Aldi eyes start in Italy

Aldi crosses the Alps (source: Cartoonresource Fotolia)
Aldi trips off the Italian tongue so much more easily than Lidl that one would have thought them on the sunshine peninsula long before their arch-rival. In fact their fellow German discounter ventured across the Alps in 1992 and was joined two years later by Rewe Group subsidiary Penny Market. In the 1990's, "sources close to Aldi" revealed that Austrian subsidiary Hofer had indeed taken a long hard look at bella Italia. At the time, however, group head office in Mülheim was said to have been deterred by the complex building regulations governing the numerous centri storici (historical town centres) which delight the world's tourists. Nonetheless, the secretive retail giant confirmed exclusively to Lebensmittel Zeitung this week that it is reviewing the dossier. Local bureaucracy has hardly simplified in the interim. So what has made Aldi change its mind about the Italian job?