Rumblings of US trade war present business leaders with import/export headaches

Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ policy agenda has hit the world’s business leaders with the prospect of a full-blown trade war. Following an announcement from the White House that the President is aiming to slap a 25% tariff on imported steel, along with 10% on foreign aluminium, retaliatory statements have been flying around the media. Responding to the plans in a BBC interview, EU commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmstrom said that a number of US bourbon brands, plus Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Levi jeans, had already been earmarked for stiff trade levies in the event that Trump brings his plans to fruition. Malmstron later lined up US juice products and peanut butter for the potential sin bin.

On 6 March, trusted Trump economics adviser Gary Cohn became the latest in a long line of individuals to resign from the White House, citing policy differences. And in a statement, Levi Strauss & Co strongly hinted that Trump’s ‘trade wars are good’ contention was far from unanimously endorsed within the corporate community. “We support open markets and free trade where everyone plays by the rules,” said a company official. “Unilateral tariff impositions risk retaliation and destabilising the global economy – in which case, American brands, workers and consumers will ultimately suffer.”

Carillion chiefs paid too much attention to pay and not enough to governance, says BlackRock MD

New light was shed on the collapse of infrastructure giant Carillion on 7 March, when Amra Balic – managing director of major investor BlackRock – told MPs that the failed company’s bosses had become distracted from their managerial duties, amid bids to secure pay rises. Appearing before representatives of the Work and Pensions Select Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Balic said: “My team meets with the board and has interaction with [it]. Most recently, in 2016 and 2017, that [contact] was around executive pay, where we received a letter from the [Carillion] remuneration committee looking to allow for … larger bonuses for the executives, and we categorically said no to that.” She noted: “It seems that the board was focusing more, thinking again [of] how to remunerate executives rather than actually what was going on at the business.”

Brewdog shoots self in foot with ‘satirical’ gender-pay branding stunt

Attitude-fuelled beer firm Brewdog is licking its wounds following a backlash to its latest branding stunt, whereby an attempt to highlight the challenges that women face in the workplace was generally deemed a misfire. On 7 March, the hip, thrusting outfit unveiled a dramatic – if temporary – new look for its Punk IPA line, in which the label’s standard blue hues were replaced by a selection of pinks, and the beer itself was renamed ‘Pink IPA’ (subtitle: ‘Beer for girls’). In a statement, the company explained that the makeover had been timed to chime with International Women’s Day, and aimed to draw attention to sexist marketing and the gender pay gap.

In the ensuing online storm, social media users accused Brewdog of trivialising the debate and succumbing to the very same branding clichés it had purportedly set out to attack. It later emerged that Brewdog pays its female staff around 3% less than its men…


‘Social mission’ helps female entrepreneurs find backing, researchers say

Female startup founders are more likely to secure funding for their businesses if they can demonstrate their projects are built around a ‘social mission’, according to two researchers. In the Harvard Business Review, INSEAD academic Matthew Lee and Harvard associate professor Laura Huang reveal that they examined 421 funding evaluations that investors had carried out across 43 different business ventures. On average, they note, the female-led projects were considered less viable than the male-led ones. “However,” they point out, “female-led ventures that more heavily emphasised their social impact managed to avoid this gender penalty.” Lee and Huang say that this is good news for female entrepreneurs, who tend to avoid talking up their startups’ social aims for fear of not being taken seriously.


Will social entrepreneurship prove effective reputational rehab for Kalanick?

Eyebrows were raised across the Big Tech landscape this week at disgraced Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s announcement that he is moving into the world of social entrepreneurship. Silent for months following his Uber defenestration, which played out in the wake of a firm-wide management meltdown, Kalanick revealed in a Twitter statement that he and a series of partners had launched a new venture called 10100 – pronounced ‘Ten One Hundred’. Describing the new entity as a home to his “passions, investments, ideas and big bets”, Kalanick noted: “The overarching theme will be about large-scale job creation, with investments in real estate, ecommerce and emerging innovation in China and India. Our non-profit efforts will initially focus on education and the future of cities.”