Wednesday 30 July 2008

Yodel all night long

Have you ever wondered what it looks like when Red Bull crashes into a saucy version of "The Sound of Music"? Just in case you haven't, I thought I'd share the result with you above: Frank's Energy Drink.

I am always interested in new brands, especially those that a little quirky or downright cheeky. While in Vancouver we just happened upon Frank's Energy Limo, parked in a sidestreet. There was no sign of the girls: I expect they had popped out to replait their hair or tighten up their Lederhosen.

Frank's Energy Drink seems to be the brainchild (if that is an appropriate expression) of automotive parts and horse-racing mogul Frank Stronach, originally from Austria but now well-established in Canada. For anyone who is really interested, have a look at the website, where you can read that Frank's Energy Drink "boosts physical performance and mental alertness" and learn what Heidi, Gretl and Liesel's favourite hobbies are.

Thursday 24 July 2008

The spider and the fly

On holiday, I went semi-voluntarily unplugged. Not being near a computer to look at e-mails or the internet was easy enough for two weeks, but I also became disconnected from the mobile phone when the wretched thing stubbornly refused to have any reception from the moment I landed at Vancouver airport. (I must ask T-Mobile about that: my husband's phone seemed to have no problems...strange.)

Anyway, once I had got used to the idea, I felt a wonderful sense of freedom and release. I asked myself: why is it assumed, these days, that you have to be connected, that you have to have your network at your fingertips, that you have to be "in touch"?

I think a lot of us kid ourselves. We think we're spiders, spinning our wonderful complex nets and webs, in full control, at the centre of things. But away from it all, I realised that I am often just a poor fly, caught up, buzzing helplessly in a sticky, suffocating net of someone else's making.

Friday 4 July 2008

Falling Star

Some are talking about hubris, while others are trotting out the "wake up and smell the coffee" cliches, but it certainly seems that Starbucks is going through a tough patch in its home market. It was recently announced that 500 stores will be closed in addition to the 100 announced earlier this year and that the workforce will be reduced by 7%.

Now, it does seem that Mr Howard Schultz does have some insight into his predicament with talk of the wounds being "self-inflicted" through too much emphasis on growth at all costs and a proposed refocus on quality, innovation and service rather than over-rapid expansion.

But I then read a rather alarming comment that "the International business is cushioning the weakness in America at the moment" from Mr Schultz, who plans to license 150 new coffee shop locations in Germany, Britain and France in the next three years - with 120 of these in Germany. So, rapid expansion in Germany is going to bolster up the mistakes made back home.

Please, Mr Schultz, when you open your new stores in Germany, can you learn from your mistakes and try to do so with a little understanding of local wants and needs? You are already quoted as saying that "coffee drinking culture in Europe is vastly different than in the US". Well done, that it the understatement of the year! I, for one, have no interest in buying any of your sickly, over-priced beverages that seem to masquerade as the McFlurry's expensive big brother in order to help bail you out.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Follow the leader

I've just got back from the city of the fish-heads and am feeling a little like a headless herring myself after the annual APG Open Source. I have to say that the session was a little disappointing this year: there was a distinct lack of dottiness amongst the professors and there were moments when the mood of the room lurched depressingly into that typical German "we need leadership but, no, not that kind of leadership again..." mentality.

First off was Prof. Jansen who took us wittily and entertainingly through the history of organisational leadership, aspects and trends in leadership. With a fast-paced delivery Prof. Jansen managed to throw everything from herrings to Paul Gascoigne into his talk. Next up was Prof. Langguth whose talk on political leadership in Germany, contrasting Kohl, Schröder and Merkel was interesting enough but I have to admit not so relevant to me personally as someone dissecting Thatcher, Major and Blair (and I am sure there are enough people who would like to see that literally!). So I am afraid that, by the time Herr Jörges from the Stern came on with more state of the nation stuff and answers to questions that were longer than the original talk, I was only aware that I was stuck in Hyde Park Corner, German-style, and that my feet were freezing cold!

Prof. Haberfellner (who looked alarmingly like Bianca Castafiore, the opera singer from Tintin), provided a change in theme and gave a talk about leadership in education, with a particular focus on her own school, Schloß Salem. While lacking a little in depth, Prof. Heberfellner's talk was pleasant to listen to and provided a welcome injection of optimism into the proceedings. I was pleased to see that the next speaker, Dr Ditzer, was going to do a presentation, rather than a talk. At last, having been deprived of Powerpoint for a whole day, there would be something to look at! Unfortunately, this particular presentation, about leadership Japanese-style was rather like the origami paper before you start folding: flat and with unfulfilled potential.

Finally, with about half of the delegates already gone, came Herr Geyer, the mountain guide. And at last, we had visuals: glorious pictures of mountains and plenty of them! And here, finally, was the quirky, bizarre element of the Open Source that I had missed up to now. I could sense the audience becoming increasingly intrigued and amused by the superimposition of the clunkiest Powerpoint arrows, stars and boxes in the most unnatural colours littering the peaks of the Alps and Himalayas!

Overall, I feel that the organisers could have cut out at least one of the speakers: and a wider spread would have been nice - spiritual leadership would have been an obvious candidate for me. Herr Geyers's main point was that a mountain guide's decisions are always based on the trade-off between potential risk and potential experience. I'll certainly have to bring that one into play in my decision whether to come next year. Or maybe I'll just be a headless herring.