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Strategic business decision-making - Network Rail

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Network Rail’s proposed £34bn development of a high-speed rail line from London to Scotland could prove to be a great example to use with students over the next few years.

Network Rail has just published Strategic Business Case for New Lines.  It attempts to justify the business case for both adding new rail lines and also releasing capacity on the existing rail network.  There is lots of useful information in the publication relating to:

- Stategic objectives
- Stakeholders and the impact of investment on them
- Investment appraisal
- Capacity management
- Forecasting revenue and demand
- Environmental considerations
- Sources of finance (who pays?)

Gaps in the market, or the Silly Season?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two more stories which might be used to stimulate discussion about gaps in the market:

Unilever want to launch ice cream which is not frozen - they won’t need to use refrigerated transport for it so it will help to reduce distribution costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Can the consumer get their head around this?

And B&Q want to cash in on the trend for ‘grow it yourself’ as more people are growing their own vegetables and keeping chickens - and pigs. Their sales of chicken coops are apparently up by 25 percent, and they are considering introducing pig sties next year.

Katharine Poulter, B&Q director of seasonal ranges said:

“Our research tells us that Brits are ready to get their hands dirty and take the plot to plate revolution one step further with back garden pigs.  Home farming is a trend which is going to get more mainstream over the next few years.”

Plastic car is a blast from the past

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One of my favourite stories from the Business News this month has been the possible relaunch of the original plastic car – the Trabant.

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Picking from a growing pool of job hunters

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Despite evidence that the worst of the current global recession may be behind us, unemployment will continue to ratchet up for some time to come. It remains a lagging indicator of the economic cycle. The economic and social costs of mass unemployment are impossible to deny although hard to measure accurately. For some employers looking to recruit new workers, the growing pool of unemployed workers does provide - on the surface - an opportunity to hire well-skilled and motivated people often desperate for a fresh chance in work. Chris Tighe focused on employers in the North East in this revealing article in the Financial Times.

“More than 9,000 people in the North East are seeking work as sales assistants, it said, but only 191 such jobs have been advertised. Morrisons, the supermarket operator, has just reported an “amazing response” at its new Wallsend store in north Tyneside: more than 900 people applied for 35 posts….........At Manchester Airport, where an advertisement posted online for just two weeks in February for four places on its graduate training scheme produced almost 2,000 applications.”

The high and rising ratio of applicants to unfilled vacancies should give businesses the scope to find the right people and perhaps unearth some gems who might rise through the business in the years to come. But although the pool of workers is high, businesses must also face the challenge and considerable cost of screening each application. Few smaller businesses have the luxury of being able to employ human resources personnel. Hiring recruitment companies can be expensive. Often the best new employees fall into your lap because of their vigorous approach to job hunting and an ability to keep their nose to the ground to spot what might be the right job for them.

Using Celebrities In Adverts

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kerry Katona’s sacking from the Iceland adverts (read the full story here)  raises an interesting question - is it a good idea to use celebrities in advertisements?

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Ryanair Turbulence

Monday, August 17, 2009

Corporate culture is and has played an important role in the success of Ryanair over the years. Whilst the media reports profits quickly turning to losses for many players in the airline sector, Ryanair is bucking the trend and still reporting profits. Corporate culture is defined as a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.

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Sainsbury’s and Diageo pitch in to battle

Summer isn’t over yet – still plenty of time to enjoy a few glasses of Pimm’s with friends – or is that a few glasses of Pitchers? Diageo, the giant company that owns Guinness, Smirnoff Vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky as well as Pimm’s (and many, many other brands) is threatening to use copyright legislation to take Sainsbury’s to court, alleging that the supermarket’s own brand ‘Pitchers’ is a copy of Pimm’s. Pitchers is a gin-based summer drink which can be mixed with fruit and lemonade. Does this sound familiar? A little like the way you might mix a Pimm’s, perhaps?

 

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They’re Here! Our new Business Influence Card Game

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

They are here - tutor2u’s new Business Influence Cards!

This is a new teaching resource which can be used again and again in the business classroom.

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Own label brands profit from the recession

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

As the price of the average grocery shop rises, supermarket own-brands are becoming more popular with shoppers. A neat little video clip from the BBC explains further.

Demand and supply in action - tea prices surge

The new Edexcel GCSE Business Unit 1 specification encourages students to look at commodity markets to develop their understanding of how demand supply interact to determine market prices. 

Here is an excellent example of how two significant shifts in the demand and supply curves can affect the global price of a commodity.  Failing crops and surging demand for tea is pushing prices higher.

As a leading exporter of tea, Keyna is benefitting from the surge in prices, after suffering from higher production costs in recent years.

Banks lend more and charge more at the same time

Commercial loans and overdrafts and other forms of credit for businesses are hugely important to sustain businesses fighting a recession or those in better shape and looking to expand. It is a truism that the UK economy will not engineer a durable recovery unless the international financial and economic backdrop improves. Increasing the availability of bank lending especially to small and medium-sized enterprises is another essential building block to an upturn in output and jobs.

In this sense the news that Barclays has lent £17 billion to UK households and business in the first half of 2009 - already outstripping the £11 billion target it set for the whole of 2009 - is welcome. But that figure hides the actual cost of servicing loans. Even if a business can maintain an overdraft facility or gain access to fresh credit, it is likely to be paying more for the privilege. The cost of debt can be as important as the supply. Here is a good video on Rhino Rugby a manufacturer of equipment for the rugby industry.

Given that thousands upon thousands of smaller businesses use credit cards as a way of tiding them over from month to month (something the business studies textbooks and exam boards seem strangely reluctant to recognise despite overwhelming evidence), it will come as little comfort to entrepreneurs to be paying upwards of 40 times base rate (policy rate) for their loans.

Three becomes two - concentration of the UK newspaper wholesaler market

Monday, August 03, 2009

A significant development in the wholesale distribution market for newspapers and magazines leaves two major competitors scrapping for the remaining profitable contracts…

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When the Steel Town Boomed

A fascinating 4 minute journey into the history of steel-making from Panorama…

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The Yahoo and Microsoft deal: what’s behind it?

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Not long after the news of the new Google operating system (see Microsoft and Google compete head-to-head comes another big news item: Microsoft and Yahoo!, the world’s biggest software firm and its leading online portal respectively, have reached a deal for a ten-year web search and advertising partnership. The combination is likely to create a serious rival to Google, the online giant that dominates both of these markets.

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The Death of Newspapers - to be replaced by Nichepapers?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

There is a perfect storm brewing in the newspaper industry around the globe. Dramatic falls in advertising revenues coupled with a rapid migration of readership from paid-for newsprint to free-to-read digital is destroying the business model of many regional and national newspapers. Here is a thought-provoking piece which considered what the successful newspaper of the future is likely to be.  I like the concept of a nichepaper - where readers are prepared to pay for the value added from specialist and passionate journalists and other writers.

Is Friends Reunited in freefall?

An article in The Sunday times suggests that the value of Friends Reunited might be even lower than initial estimates as ITV looks to dispose of the one-time Internet darling.

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BA cuts out the cost of short-haul meals

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It will take more than this to reduce its enormous losses, but British Airways has decided that meals on short-haul flights after 10.00am are for the chop…

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Will Apple allow Spotify a spot on the iPhone?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Here is the latest move in the battle for position, power and profitability in the market for digital downloads. Spotify the music streaming service based in Sweden has submitted an application to Apple for their iPhone that will allow their premium service users to search for music on the Spotify playlists and download their free library of songs onto their mobile phone.

Spotify say that the free application for the iPhone has met all of the developer guidelines required by Apple. The application will not allow users to buy music from the iTunes online store and herein lies the stumbling block! Will Apple really allow potentially one of its major rivals in the market place to find a home on the ultra-popular iPhone? Their dominance of the mobile phone music market looks too strong and too profitable to allow this new application. Spotify has become tremendously popular within a short space of time - it is claimed that they have over two million users in the UK alone.

*The advertising-funded version of Spotify is free of charge
*The premium service costs Euro 9.99 a month
*Apple has already approved several other music services such as Last.fm, Deezer and Pandora but these are much smaller competitors
*Music technology experts say that one of the main advantages of the Spotify application for the iPhone is offline play - push a button to download your Spotify playlists containing up to 3,333 songs to the app for playing whilst not connected

Here Rory Cellan-Jones from the BBC test drives the new Spotify application

And this Guardian editorial sings the praises of being able to listen to music without paying over the odds

Update: In August 2009 Apple announced that it had approved the bid for an iPhone app from Spotify. Details here

Hedging the Fuel Price

Hedging is a way of reducing uncertainty over the future path of volatile inputs such as the cost of fuel. One the most important decisions that an airline can take is the extent to which it uses hedging to lock in the price of a barrel of kerosene for a period of six or twelve months.

Ryanair provides a good example of how this can have a decisive effect on profitability. Late in 2008 Ryanair was hedged into paying the equivalent of $125 a barrel for kerosene just as the world price price of oil was collapsing to below $40 a barrel - the result was higher operating costs and a Euro 150 million hit on profits. For 2009 around four-fifths of Ryanair’s fuel requirements are locked in at $62 a barrel which with oil prices nudging up towards $70 a barrel will give the airline much needed breathing space as the recession affects demand for seats and forces many airlines to cut prices still further to maintain a profitable level of load-factor (the percentage of seats on each flight that are filled).

*Ryanair is now Europe’s largest airline having overtaken Lufthansa and British Airways
*In the last twelve months nearly 60 million passengers have flown with the airline
*With a market capitalisation of £4.6 billion, Ryanair is larger than the German flag carrier and easily more than twice the size of BA.
*Ryanair has a 28% stake in rival Irish airline Aer Lingus and has tried several times to take it over - so far without success!

Using the Big Question

The Big Question feature in the Independent is a reliably regular source of useful and interesting background articles. There is often an economic / environmental /social / business perspective to their choice of topics in the news. And the Indy handily provides some vivid graphics that can serve well as student handouts or a prompt for a data response question. Here is a brief selection of recent features

Why is inequality rising in the UK? (July 2009)

Can the G8 meet its climate change targets? (July 2009)

What has gone wrong between the Chancellor and the Governor? (June 2009)

Will there be cuts in public spending whichever party is in power? (June 2009)

Why are games consoles the focus of the battle between computer giants? (June 2009)

Recruitment & selection gets scary

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hundreds of applicants are expected for a job where the main criteria for the job will be the ability of the job applicant to scare the living-daylights out of the interviewer…

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Microsoft to offer users a choice of browsers

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The battle between Microsoft and the EU competition commission seems to have gone on for an age. In the latest move Microsoft has agreed to contact European users of its Windows software to a choice of Web browsers. The browsers featured in the ballot would be determined by market share; the five with the highest—at the moment, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Apple Inc.‘s Safari, Opera and Chrome—are almost certain to be displayed. What is critical is the number of web users who then decide to switch to an alternative browser and click on an option for Microsoft IE to be removed as the default web browser. My default choice is now Firefox from Mozilla. Windows 7 is due for release on the 22nd of October.

How the recession is changing Britain

The Telegraph has an engaging piece here on ten ways in which the recession is changing Britain - from the explosion in the use of discount vouchers (real and virtual) to stay-cations, rising demand for sewing machines, takeaway pizza, discount food retailers and buses, consumers are showing resilience and ingenuity in responding to the challenges of the downturn. Smart businesses have taken advantage of the opportunities.

Starter Activity - The Crystal Ball

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This is one of my all time favourite starter activities..a belter if you have an interactive whiteboard.

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New improved (?) accountancy rules

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Accountancy is under huge pressure: it’s widely felt that inadequacies in the way firms have kept their books contributed to the credit crunch mayhem of last autumn.  That’s probably a bit unfair, but what is seen to be the problem and what are the proposed solutions?

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One-handed eating changes the demand for knives

Monday, July 20, 2009

How do you eat your ready meal dinner or Sunday lunch?  Evidence of changing social habits suggests that we are increasingly turning into a nation of one-handed eating…

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Absenteeism - the effect of the fear factor?

Fascinating research issue by the CIPD today sheds light on an important topic in HR management - absenteeism…

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Pay-as-you-go holiday spending money

Saturday, July 18, 2009

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As sterling is so much weaker than it was a year ago, anyone travelling abroad for their summer holidays is going to find that their spending money buys far less. One result of this is that fewer of us are travelling abroad – see Innes Robinson’s piece ‘Recession hits Tenerife beaches’ on the GCSE blog, with its link to a video report on the BBC website showing glorious empty beaches, and the business closures, cancelled flights and growing unemployment in Tenerife as a result. Another result is that holiday makers will feel that their spending budgets are under pressure, and finding the best exchange rate could make a big difference. The BBC found that the cost of buying 500 euros varied hugely, from £423 to £463, which really makes shopping around worthwhile.

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Fantasy Football hit by the weakness of sterling

Friday, July 17, 2009

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Imagine, for a moment, that you are a top European footballer, perhaps from Italy, Spain or Portugal – something like Cristiano Ronaldo but better looking and more modest. Now imagine that two years ago you signed for a top Premiership club, perhaps Chelsea or Manchester United, for a transfer fee of around £25million plus a weekly salary of £100,000 – a reasonable and modest sum, given the quality of your football. When you started to play in the UK the top rate of tax was 40%, so after the first week when you benefitted from the lower tax rates on the first £40,000 or so of your annual pay, you have paid £40,000 income tax per week. But next April the top rate is set to rise to 50%, so your net (or take-home) pay will fall by a further £10,000 per week. Will you have to start watching your spending a bit more carefully?

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Playing The Ethical Business Game

The better business game from BT is a useful resource for helping students to think about some of the ethical issues involved in running a business, and balancing the responsibilities of a business with the need to make money.

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Product life cycle - end of the line for Teletext

After 35 years of providing TV listings, sports results and weather forecasts, the analogue information service known as Teletext is to be closed…

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Sources of finance: BA goes for the convertible bond

You won’t find this source of finance in any of the new A Level Business textbooks, though it is likely to be an increasingly popular option for quoted companies who want to raise substantial new financeo over the next year or two…

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Workforce planning - getting ready for swine flu

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The swine flu pandemic has the potential to cause substantial disruption to the operations and workforces of many businesses - large and small.  Forget the media hysteria.  Employers around the UK are now being given direct advice on how to prepare for the potential storm…

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Pet Airways - Is This a Shaggy Dog Story?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I’m not convinced that this business start-up is for real. But the story comes from the US, and its featured on the venerable BBC, so it must be true…

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Corporate culture - inside the HQ of Twitter

The Guardian takes a guided tour round the HQ of the Internet’s hottest property - Twitter.  Some interesting observations on corporate culture, the need for focus and fast decision-making etc.  The reader comments below the article suggest that many Guardian readers are not enthusiastic supporters of Twitter though!

Mapping The TV Market

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The new Edexcel specifications introduce Market Mapping as a GCSE topic, and it is a great way of getting students to put forward their own views and then justifying them.  It’s also a useful way of helping students to recognise that there are no concrete answers in business, and that their market map may not be the same as other students.

Of course students need to be familiar with the market being mapped.  That usually means food (e.g. the crisp market, chocolate market), mobile phones, or TV.  So this example from the Channel 4 website, which maps the channels that are considered competitors of E4, may prove to be useful.

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What’s really in our food?

Where does M&S’s lochmuir salmon come from? How can you double the size of a chicken breast in 40 seconds? Does the chicken in a Birdseye ‘Great British Menu’ prepared meal come from Brazil, and would it matter to you if it does? Was a bag of ‘organic salad’ washed in organic water before it was packed? I am kicking myself for not having set the DVD recorder for this programme on BBC1 at 9pm last night. Initially it focuses on marketing techniques used to persuade consumers to buy food products through suggestion of the origin of the ingredients. Are the marketers clever, devious or unethical here? Later the programme moves on to a more serious investigation of food fraud - deliberate misrepresentation of the ingredients used in food products. Food scientists are, apparently, developing all sorts of techniques to hide the DNA evidence of what is in our food, but others are fighting back by using the same technology as that used to identify extinct animal special such as Tyrannosaurus Rex to identify the source of protein used in our food. Some of the opinions sought from consumers shopping in British markets are clearly manipulated by the producers of the programme to get a good old-fashioned ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ response to what marketers might call imaginative promotion. Elsewhere there is evidence that fraudulent labelling is used to imply that products made from halal chicken actually contain beef and pork. If you missed the programme, it is worth watching on the i-player.

Video briefing - Doing Business in China

A very useful video which highlights the opportunities and issues facing UK businesses looking to do business in China

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Introducing Fling - Mars’ first new confectionery product launch for 20 years

Monday, July 13, 2009

I’m more than surprised that global confectionery giant Mars hasn’t launched a new brand for 20 years (according to the FT).  But that has just changed with the arrival of a new chocolate product aimed fairly and squarely at women…

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How to improve profitability? - give customers a “staff appraisal”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mike Southon is essential reading in the FT on a Saturday and his latest entry makes some really useful points for business students…

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Business angels take flight - just when small businesses need them

An interesting article from Andrew Stone this morning in the Sunday Times highlights the growing funding problems faced by small business who are looking for external investment by business angels…

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Batch production in action - cricket bats

Forget those boring textbook examples of batch production - loaves of bread, school dinners, building a house etc etc.  Here is a great pictorial example of batch production in action…

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Regulating quack medicine

Friday, July 10, 2009

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It’s getting close to the end of term, so if you follow this blog you will get a link to a Mitchell and Webb comedy clip that neatly expresses my sentiments about ‘alternative’ medicine.  This year the government has taken some first steps to regulate a business worth around £4.5 billion, with ‘treatments’ ranging from aromatherapy and energy channelling to yogic healing.  Apparently 1 in 5 Britons has visited one of the 150,000 alternative therapists in the UK.

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Innovation helps firm buck the recession

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A fascinating insight into some new technologies that are enabling a Cambridge-based firm to grow, despite the impact of the global downturn…

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Starter Activities - UK Retailers

Here are some puzzle-style starter activities based around a collection of well-known UK retailers…

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Microsoft and Google compete head-to-head

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A dramatic shake-up for the information-technology (IT) industry is coming.  Google is promising to release an operating system (like XP or Vista) for personal computers.  This represents a direct attack on Microsoft, the world’s biggest software firm.

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Starter/ Plenary - The Completed Crossword

Here is an activity that my students are buzzing about.

So, so simple but so, so effective.

Rather than giving a crossword out of key terms at the start of the lesson, how about giving them a completed crossword and asking them to write in the clues?

I tried this yesterday and the results were amazing. You could really see the students thinking and the level of differentiation was incredible. There are lots of crossword creators on-line, and the cool thing about this is, you don’t need to come up with the clues. Let the students do the work (I’m sure that is what teaching is supposed to be about!)

Enjoy…...

Welsh Business Benefits from the Ashes

A nice video clip from the BBC website examines the direct and indirect economic effects enjoyed by businesses in Wales as the Ashes cricket series comes to Cardiff:  A good example to use as students consider the effect on demand of external influences.

Business Teacher Discussion Forums

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Our Business Teacher Discussion Forums are now fully live.  We’re hoping to make the discussion boards into a lively and useful source of help, debate and materials for Business teachers in the UK and overseas. 

We’ve got separate boards for various Business courses, including GCSE, AS/A2, BTEC First and IB Business & Management.  You can visit them here

To register with the discussion boards, click here

Wonky Veg - Poor Quality or Just Cute?

EU legislation which prescribes the required shape for a range of fruit and vegetables, is being relaxed.  So can you now look forward to seeing a lot more “wonky” veg in the supermarkets?  Or will the main grocery chains continue to source good-looking vegetables to meet the needs of customers who like their products to look just right?

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