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On the money

Google faces some searching questions

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google’s progress is as relentless as it is inevitable, right? Maybe not, says The New York Times. Having interviewed 15 former and current executives, it thinks the ubiquitous internet giant, one of the five best-performing US technology stocks, “is showing cracks”.

The disgruntled managers told the paper that Google is suffering many of the pitfalls of a large, maturing company – “a paralysing bureaucracy, a bias toward inaction and a fixation on public perception”. Decisive leadership and big ideas have given way to risk aversion and incrementalism, with workplace battles over diversity being allowed to fester by the affable but low-key chief executive, Sundar Pichai.

Google was founded in 1998 and its parent company, Alphabet, is worth a staggering $1.6 trillion – three times its value when Pichai took over six years ago. It continues to chart new revenue and profit highs each quarter. Most commentators think hostile regulation poses the biggest threat, and this week the EU announced an antitrust investigation into Google’s role in the online advertising market. But the NYT says the biggest danger could be the enemy within, and the “perception that its best days are behind it”.

Other tech executives in Silicon Valley say it has “never been easier” to persuade a Google executive to forego a stable seven-figure salary for an opportunity elsewhere. One former Googler said the company’s risk aversion is embodied by a state of perpetual research and development known internally as “pantry mode”. Teams stash away products rather than developing them in case a rival creates something new and Google needs to respond quickly.

Private equity’s image problem

Private equity houses are on the rampage. Clayton Dubilier & Rice’s £8.7bn offer for the Morrisons supermarket group this week capped a frenzied six-month period in which dealmakers have announced bids to take UK-listed companies private at the fastest pace in more than two decades. But the offer for Morrisons has triggered a torrent of anti-private equity protest on Twitter and by shareholders in the City. “Truly, private equity in this country has a terrible image problem,” says Patrick Hosking in The Times – and yes, if Morrisons is taken over, the new owners could “sack thousands, reduce service levels, pull [customers’] favourite food lines, load up the company with unaffordable debt or ‘asset strip’ it in some other way”.

Yet the idea that PE firms want to damage their asset is “daft”. Horror stories such as Debenhams and Saga, which were starved of investment under PE, are atypical; PE-owned initial public offerings actually did better than other British IPOs in the eight years to 2017; and another study has shown businesses backed by private equity to be “modest net hirers” and even payers of above-average wage increases. But the FT raises another concern: are company boards selling out to private equity too cheaply? It quotes shareholders who think the real problem with the initial bid rejected by Morrisons is that it just wasn’t enough.

What’s the best day to work from home?

To WFH or not to WFH? While managers debate the issue, The Economist says “employees will need the cunning of Machiavelli and the tactical brilliance of Napoleon” to flourish in the era of remote working. Given a choice of which day of the week to stay away from the office, it explains, they’ll need a strategy “to maximise visibility and minimise stress”. Monday and Friday are “too obvious”, Wednesday neatly breaks the week into two, and Thursday allows you to “start thinking about the weekend on Wednesday night”.

If two days of remote working are sanctioned, there are 10 possible combinations: “to avoid suspicion”, it advises, don’t pick Monday/Friday or Thursday/Friday. “Tuesday and Thursday might be a good selection, as it means you will be at the office (and thus visible) every other day.”