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  • Amazing Pathé Newsreel of Dublin Airport under construction

    July 26, 2012 @ 4:43 pm | by Laura Slattery
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    Take note, Ryanair landing jingle composer – this is how you do trumpets… You really can’t beat a Pathé newsreel for some good old-fashioned jaunt, though the narrator’s optimism with regard to Dublin Airport’s ability to link “all nations in peace” was ill-founded, sadly. This report is from 1939 – not a year that’s especially famous for the smooth passage of international diplomacy. After the airport’s official opening in January 1940, it spent the rest of the Second World War (aka the Emergency) effectively mothballed.

    Still, onwards and upwards. For the airport, obviously. And in terms of European diplomacy. For news reporting, anything with such a jubilant, brassy soundtrack clearly represents a peak of sorts.

  • Worker-directors make bid for survival beyond privatisation

    July 16, 2012 @ 2:17 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Are worker-directors good for business? Yes, was the unequivocal answer given by a focus group of chief executives, other company directors and corporate governance types to a study conducted by think-tank Tasc and commissioned by the National Worker Director Group.

    Worker-directors were “felt to be loyal to the company, trustworthy and diligent in their duties; their contribution was viewed as positive and unique by over three-quarters of respondents”, Tasc found. And, as Seán Barrett, the Ceann Comhairle, said as he launched the report this morning “there’s no State organisation that has gone down the tubes because there were worker-directors on the board”.

    Some argue that worker-directors are more independent and resistant to groupthink than other directors; others feel the advantage worker-directors bring to boards lies in their long-term commitment to the organisation, and in their insider knowledge. This is exemplified in their role in industrial relations, where they “act as a two-way conduit for information in times of conflict”.

    So why aren’t there more of them? And why are employee-directors almost always excluded from boards’ powerful remuneration and audit sub-committees? “I’m a qualified auditor, but I wouldn’t be allowed on my own audit committee,” said John Moore, employee-director of the Dublin Port Company since 2007. “I’m not saying you have to be an auditor to be on an audit committee, but it helps to have financial knowledge.”

    Indeed. There are times, it seems, when a little bit too knowledge among worker-directors is seen, by their co-directors, as a dangerous thing. Tasc’s report, based on interviews with nine worker-directors and 13 non worker-directors, found that “almost all” worker-directors felt excluded from audit and remuneration committees, “and in particular felt that CEOs would not welcome a worker-director on a remuneration committee”.

    No prizes for guessing why. The perception was borne out by the other interviewees, more than half of whom felt that worker-directors shouldn’t sit on remuneration committees “due to a potential conflict of interest”.

    UCD professor of corporate governance Niamh Brennan has previously written that conflicts of interest for elected worker-directors are “so systematic as to completely undermine their ability to carry out their duties as directors”. But, as Barrett suggested at the launch of Tasc’s report today, worker-directors are no more at risk of a potential conflict of interest than any other director. “Don’t tell me the other directors don’t meet at the Stephen’s Green club or the golf club.”

    Not everyone was happy when worker-directors were first introduced in Ireland more than 30 years ago. “In some quarters it was seen as a Communist takeover, if not of the country, then of certain State bodies,” recalled An Post employee-director Jerry Condon.

    Tasc has now recommended that the worker-director model should be extended across the public sector, with a minimum 25 per cent employee representation on public boards to ensure worker-directors are not isolated. There were concerns in the room, however, that in the State assets privatisation journey that lies ahead, the days of worker-directors at some companies might be numbered.

    Barratt insisted privatised and part-privatised State companies should retain their worker-directors. “The old fears of 30 years ago didn’t come to fruition,” he noted. Perhaps ominously for supporters of worker-directors expecting the Government to take the lead rather than just welcome new reports, he added that worker participation on boards should happen “automatically”, rather than needing to be backed up by legislation.

  • Sci-fi loving Samsung wins easy cool points from high court judge

    July 9, 2012 @ 4:20 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Spot the difference: a Samsung Galaxy tablet 10.1 and Apple's iPad. Clue: the one on the right is apparently not as cool. Photograph: REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak/Files

    Yes, yes. A judge has declared that Samsung’s Galaxy tablets don’t infringe Apple’s registered design because they aren’t “as cool”.

    In the seemingly damning point 190 of a 191-point ruling, the judge notes: “From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool.”

    But is this really the Pyrrhic victory it first seems? Can Samsung survive such a slapdown? Of course it can. Since when has a high court judge ever been regarded as the arbiter of cool? Since never. As a group, they are notorious for their tenuous grasp of popular culture, and as for their fashion sense, well, who really knows what’s going on underneath those gowns? (Other than a sneaky game of Words With Friends during the more boring witness testimonies, of course.) Consumer psychology suggests Samsung will now see its appeal in certain trend-conscious circles rocket in comparison to the court-approved iPad – an added bonus to the fact that it has actually won its case.

    In any event, Samsung’s relative uncool in the eyes of Judge Colin Birss wasn’t the only thing that helped the South Korean company emerge victorious from court. Its expert technical witness, Itay Sherman, also called on the science fiction canon to argue that Apple didn’t invent the tablet computer, and therefore all hands are legally on deck.

    Point 70 of the ruling reads: “Considering the design corpus generally, Mr Sherman explained that the idea of tablet computers has existed for a long time, and pointed out they had been imagined in science fiction, referring to Star Trek (from 1966 onwards) to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968).”

    Sherman, on behalf of Samsung, asserted that the “optimal design principles for tablet computers had been commonly understood for a long time and by 2004 it was understood that any tablet computer should offer unfettered views of electronic media by means of a large display screen and that the screen would be the main element in the design of any tablet”.

    The judge accepted this evidence, though which episodes of Star Trek he watched in order to confirm Samsung’s argument is not recorded. Neither, sadly, is his verdict on whether Starfleet’s Personal Access Display Device is as cool, cooler or not as cool as the iPad’s model of “extreme simplicity”.

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