Alphabet to Warren Buffett, conglomerates are back; When the CEO takes a break; Emojis spell the end for abbreviations

1 Alphabet to Warren Buffett, conglomerates are back (David Hellier in The Guardian) Conglomerates have been distinctly unfashionable among investors for decades. But that may be about to change. Just as Warren Buffett put the final touches to a $37.2bn deal to add a nuts-and-bolts maker to his sprawling Berkshire Hathaway empire last week, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin unveiled a restructuring that borrowed liberally from the sage of Omaha’s rulebook.

Suddenly, the word “conglomerate” is on everybody’s lips. Google’s founders have always admired Buffett. Google’s IPO letter to shareholders in 2004 disclosed that it was inspired by the octogenarian’s essays in Berkshire’s annual reports. When the technology group announced a restructuring last week, with various businesses operating under the umbrella of a holding company called Alphabet, it was no surprise that analysts detected the subconscious influence of Buffett.

Google is proposing a structure in which the profitable search business funnels some profits into its more speculative ventures like driverless cars or Calico, which aims to extend the human lifespan. There are those who feel the Buffett analogy is not fair on the investor. His businesses – from brickmaking to clothing and insurance – might be run under a similar structure to the one being described by Page, but they are expected to be profitable in the medium term.

He is not trying to develop new businesses but reinvigorate old ones. And his model relies on well-timed acquisitions. “Google’s Alphabet sounds like a 21st-century Berkshire Hathaway, but with a lot of very large venture bets,” Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s chief executive, tweeted last week.

“Startups remain private for a reason,” says Scott DeRue, professor of management at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “The primary reason is that management in startups can take full risks and be free to make errors. The market is going to increase the pressure on the moonshot businesses under this structure.”

DeRue thinks the newer businesses under the Alphabet umbrella will not thrive without strong-willed executives driving them on. “If they can withstand the market pressure and maintain a high level of exploration, then it could work,” he believes. But that is a big if.

2 When CEOs take a break (BBC) Over the long weeks of summer even the busiest executives want to spend time away from their office. So what happens if you run your own firm? You might have the big salary that comes with the top job, but little time to enjoy it. Can CEOs ever release their grip and truly take a break?

It’s all about strategy. It depends on your strategy for running a productive company, according to former engineer Francis Irving. Irving, who runs his own company, feels that small amounts of holiday time can be a good way of testing or future-proofing your business. Can it survive with the team you have in place?

Just don’t disconnect. Designer Wolfgang Bremer thinks the people at the top do “take vacation like anybody else,” but is sure “they don’t just switch off their phones, close their laptop-lids, etc while they’re away.” Because of their role at the top, they must do regular calls and phone conferences, check their emails and respond regularly, and actually work during their vacation.

Taking a breather. Gam Dias described what it’s like being a start-up chief executive officer in need of a break. “Let’s say you’re cooking dinner and you have 4 pans on the stove. How can you sneak out of the kitchen and maybe even run to the store without ruining the meal or getting it to the table late?” he wrote.

Dias added that you have to ensure everything will continue to cook “that the ingredients you need to use as soon as you are back are ready, then you take a deep breath, turn the burners down slightly and you do your best to make sure that nothing is going to go wrong while you are out.”

He wrote that because, as CEO, you have so many projects on a critical path and so few resources to complete them, it’s even more important to get away on a very rare occasion “even if it just to breathe and keep all of your personal relationships in order”.

3 Emojis spell the end for abbreviations (Christian Science Monitor/Khaleej Times) Step aside ‘LOL’. ‘Haha’ and emojis are killing the once popular abbreviation, says latest Facebook study.  Have you typed “LOL” in the past week? If so, you might be a 28-year-old woman from Phoenix, Ariz. A new Facebook study aimed at dissecting the demographics of “haha”-ers, “LOL”-ers, “hehe”-ers, and emoji enthusiasts has found distinct patterns of usage within different genders, ages, and geographic locations.

Out of the 15 per cent of people who used some form of e-laughter to express amusement, 51 per cent of people chose the standard “haha.” Thirty-three percent relied on emojis, and 13per cent channelled their vaguely mischievous side by “hehe”ing. “LOL,” the iconic acronym for “laughing out loud,” brought up the rear with a mere 1.9 per cent.

“LOL,” once the face of teen textspeak, is now favoured primarily by the oldest demographic of Facebook laughers, with a median age of about 28. Emoji smiley faces are used most frequently by the youngest subset of Facebookers, typically those in their teens and early twenties. “Haha” and “hehe” occupy the space in between.

The study found clear preferences when it comes to gender as well. Women are more likely to use emojis and “LOL”; men more likely to type out a “haha” or “hehe.”

Within these categories of e-laughter, there are additional nuances. “Haha” and “hahaha” are far more common than “ha” or “hahahaha,” and the same pattern holds true for “hehe” and “hehehe.” In an article for The New Yorker titled “Hahaha vs. Hehehe,” Sarah Larson describes individual “ha”s as building blocks “with which we can construct more elaborate hilarity.”

But how closely do these levels of e-laughter correlate to real-life laughter? In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Krikorian argues that expressions such as “LOL” and “haha” have evolved from their literal meanings into “texting’s go-to replies, a vaguely complimentary, vaguely condescending way to acknowledge a text has been received.”

“Walk down any street and people have their heads down, staring at their phones, texting or looking at texts,” he writes. “None of them is laughing out loud. They aren’t even smiling. They might be typing ‘haha’ or ‘LOL’, but they are not living the text, not texting the truth.”


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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