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On the money

Can Oatly milk the US stock market?

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Three big challenges lie ahead for the Swedish oat-milk producer Oatly following its debut on the US stock market this week, which saw it valued at a frothy $10bn. The first is whether the maverick firm can ride out the volatile trading conditions that The Wall Street Journal says have caused three other companies to delay their recent IPOs and the Nasdaq Composite Index to fall 4.8% since the start of May. But Oatly is a consumer company rather than a tech stock, so it “could sidestep some of the weakness in the broader market”.

The second challenge is whether the company can dominate a highly competitive market over the long term, with big food conglomerates such as Nestlé beginning to unveil their own milk alternatives. “The interest of heavyweight investors is confirmation that vegan food has gone mainstream,” says The New York Times. It points out that this may make it harder for Oatly to maintain its anti-establishment, upstart image – somewhat at odds with the fact that it is 25 years old and backed by serious money.

Finally, the Financial Times highlights the individual test facing Toni Petersson, the high-profile CEO who has featured heavily in Oatly’s controversial ads: he sang “Wow, no cow” in one screened during this year’s Super Bowl. “Many entrepreneurs fail to thrive in the role of chief executive of a public company,” says Niccolo Manzoni of the venture capital firm Five Seasons. A lot of their time is taken up by quarterly results, conversations with analysts and investors, and communication with the media, with “most finding it difficult”. Manzoni adds: “You have a lot more watchful eyes from the analyst community and investors.”

Google’s search for the perfect post-Covid office 

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Google is as likely as any company to have seen the future of post-pandemic work. So the tech giant’s plans to “redefine the office” over the next year, as The New York Times puts it, will no doubt attract widespread interest. The newspaper sums up its vision as “Ikea meets Lego”, with “team pods” instead of rows of desks next to cookie-cutter meeting rooms. “Each pod is a blank canvas: chairs, desks, whiteboards and storage units on casters can be wheeled into various arrangements, and in some cases rearranged in a matter of hours.”

A meeting-room concept called Campfire allows in-person attendees “to sit in a circle interspersed with impossible-to-ignore, large vertical displays” that show the faces of people using video-conferencing software. In this way “virtual participants are on the same footing as those physically present”. If a meeting requires privacy, a robot on wheels will inflate a translucent cellophane balloon wall to keep prying eyes away.

Google is trying to reduce distractions. It has designed leaf-shaped partitions called “petals” that can be attached to the edge of a desk, eliminating glare. An office chair with directional speakers in the headrest plays white noise to muffle nearby audio. For people who no longer require a permanent desk, the company has built a prototype that adjusts to personal preferences: with a swipe of a work badge, it calibrates the height and tilt of the monitor, brings up family photos on a display and even adjusts the nearby temperature.

Europe’s lobbying problem

Few Europeans would be complacent enough to suggest excessive corporate lobbying is an issue exclusive to Washington DC. But with Brussels “the world’s second capital of the dark arts”, according to The Economist, and Berlin “not far behind”, the scale of the problem is striking. Figures from the watchdog Transparency International show Brussels now has a mind-blowing 25,000 lobbyists seeking to influence EU policy, with a combined annual budget conservatively estimated at more than €3bn. Approximately 7,500 of them are accredited to the European Parliament. Berlin is reckoned to host up to 7,000 lobbyists, with more than €1bn to throw around every year.

The EU has a voluntary register for lobbyists and commissioners, and senior members of the European Parliament have been required to make meetings with lobbyists public since 2015. A new lobbying law and stricter ethics rules for members of the Bundestag are steps in the right direction, but “the next scandal is just waiting to happen”, says the author of Die Lobby Republik, a book that sounds the alarm about the growth of corporate lobbying in Germany.