Issue 99 ■ March 2014
Exclusive to Emirates First Class and Business Class
MARKET FORCES Greece’s Social Economy YOUTUBE STARS A New Media Paradigm SOLAR ECLIPSE Spain’s Green Tax
The Yahoo! Challenge
This issue MARCH 2014
Exclusive to Emirates First Class and Business Class
Marissa Mayer knew that the odds were stacked against her when she became CEO of Yahoo!. The internet giant’s core business was eroding, its user base shrinking and it hadn’t launched a successful product in years. Now, 19 months later, opinion remains divided about her performance.
Features 28 The $1 Billion Valuation Game
48 Burnt by Solar
The club of billion-dollar technology startups is growing –
The Spanish government’s decision to pay less for solar
raising fears of another dot.com bubble.
energy is a huge blow to both small and large investors.
34 Europe’s Skill Shortage
52 France’s Fight for Fresh Food
Despite Europe’s high unemployment rate thousands of jobs
The use of industrial foods is a growing phenomenon, but
remain open due to a lack of qualified candidates.
French legislators are fighting back with consumer protection
38 Commuters Bearing Cash High-profile tax investigations and rule tightening at Swiss
56 Greeks Promote ‘Social’ Economy
banks have resulted in European customs agents seizing
Cutting out middlemen by selling directly to consumers
increasing amounts of undeclared cash.
illustrates the problems inherent in the Greek economy.
42 Subsidies Stifle Farmers
The Japanese are starting to question the tariffs and subsidies that protect their farmers from global competition.
© MARTIN KLIMEK/ZUMA PRESS/CORBIS/ARABIAN EYE
Cover Story 22 Saving Yahoo!
Exclusive to Emirates First Class and Business Class
Essentials 61 The Fortress City Lying at the heart of the ancient Indian state of Rajasthan, Jodhpur has attracted travellers for centuries. It is home to polo – the ‘Game of Kings’ – and some of the country’s most majestic monuments.
66 A Love for Spam South Korea has become the largest consumer of Spam
outside the US, where it’s not only a culinary staple but also a tasteful gift.
72 Chasing Their Star, on YouTube YouTube has been providing resources and incentives to help amateur video makers step up their game, but it’s a tough way to earn a living.
76 Industry Versus Agriculture Chinese officials are becoming increasingly worried about
the industrial pollution of agricultural lands, which is affecting food safety.
80 The NFL in All Its Glory Madden NFL, the EA Sports game, has sold more than 100 million copies thanks to its extreme realism.
84 London’s Underground Movement With sky-high real estate prices, it is little wonder that art establishments, restaurants and shops are literally moving
88 Other Business
Portfolio takes a light-hearted look at the latest business news.
World business in a nutshell.
15 Observer Spotting and analysing business trends.
20 Column: Quentin Hardy The Beliefs Behind Money
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BUSINESS NEWS IN BRIEF
Oman’s $3 Billion Railroad Plan
through which some 20 per cent of crude supplies pass to reach global markets, equal to 35 per cent of seaborne traded oil, according to the US Energy
Oman, which faces iran
Oman signed a $35 million deal for design
Information Administration. About 17 million barrels of oil passed
across the Strait of Hormuz, is poised to
work with Italferr SpA, the engineering
start raising cash for a $3 billion rail line
arm of Italy’s state railway. Awards to
through the channel each day in 2011, almost
offering an alternative route for oil and
construction companies will take place by
five times the total for the Suez Canal, the
freight shipments that funnel through the
the end of this year, with work commencing
next busiest chokepoint, the EIA estimates.
by the first quarter of 2015, Al Hatmi said.
Oman is considering issuing bonds by the
Rather than hugging the coast to reach
The GCC Railway has a projected cost of $20 billion and aims to provide a
end of 2014 to kick-start funding for the track
Oman, the line will take the shortest route
route spanning six Gulf countries by 2018.
across some of the Arabian Peninsula’s harshest
east from Abu Dhabi on the Arabian Gulf,
Work is most advanced in the UAE, where
terrain, said Abdulrahman Al Hatmi, a director
crossing the border from the United Arab
the government is backing the railway to
at Oman National Railway Company.
Emirates near the desert town of Al Ain
boost integration and ease pressure on
before ploughing for 160 kilometres through
Oman wants to push on with its leg of the
GCC ambitions stretch beyond a rail
so-called Gulf Cooperation Council Railway,
the Hajar Mountains, which rise to 2,980
due to stretch 1,940 kilometres from the
metres, and reaching the ocean near
system that reduces the bloc’s reliance on the
borders of Iraq to the shores of the Indian
Suhar, 240 kilometres north of the Omani
Strait of Hormuz. The UAE public works
Ocean by 2018, just as nations including
minister, Abdullah Al Nuaimi, has suggested
Kuwait – which have less to gain from the
By circumventing the Strait of Hormuz
that a study be carried out into a link to Arab
project – have admitted they’ll struggle to
the railway would dilute the impact of
countries in the north to creating a long-
meet agreed deadlines.
further closure threats to a waterway
distance line to the borders of Europe. n
Notebook Sydney’S Real eState FRenzy
Buying by locally resident Chinese and those from mainland China is inflating housing bubbles in and around
Sydney. Prices in some suburbs
have surged as much as 27 per
Lenovo group Ltd rights over
cent in the past year. That’s
google’s Motorola phone unit.
almost three times faster than
Lenovo has been buying into
the overall Australian market. The proportion of foreigners
Us technology businesses and this latest acquisition has seen its shares fall eight per cent amidst investor concerns that Lenovo may have paid too much for the dwindling phone
million visitors in 2013 to Burj Khalifa’s at the top, hailed as the world’s highest observation deck, means it is now one of Dubai’s most popular tourist attractions. Visitor numbers increased 13 per cent in 2013, up from 1.66 million visitors the previous year.
purchasing new homes in Australia more than doubled to 12.5 per cent in the three months to September, from five per cent throughout most of 2011, according to a survey
billion loss is suffered by
the eU economy annually as a
of more than 300 property
professionals by National Australia Bank Ltd.
Australia’s housing market was the fifth-most overvalued
result of widespread corruption in europe says the european
hit California amid a worsening
among countries in the
Commission. the Commission
drought condition this year
Organisation for Economic
studies revealed high levels of
according to the California Farm
bribery in Croatia, the Czech
Water Coalition, an industry
automotive. Mexico is poised
relative to rents, the
republic and Lithuania.
group. California is a top Us
to pip Japan to the post this
International Monetary Fund
agricultural producer and the
year as its auto exports to the
said in a December report.
gW is the new record
drought is depriving the state
Us have more than quadrupled
for a country’s annual
of water needed to produce
from 1993 to 2013. Next year
were also among the 10 most
installation of solar power.
everything from milk and beef to
Mexico should also overtake
unaffordable cities for housing
China doubled its rate of solar
fruits and vegetable crops.
current no.1 Canada.
in a Demographia survey.
Cooperation and Development
Sydney and Melbourne
installation in 2013, and no
other country has ever added more than 8gW of solar power in a single year before according
billion bid signed by Britain’s smith
& Nephew wins it control
to an analysis by greenpeace
over Us sports medicine firm
arthroCare Corp. the deal will strengthen smith & Nephew’s
billion in lost revenue from farming and
related businesses such as trucking and processing could
treatment in sporting injuries,
an area growing faster than
to the Us could
its main replacement hips and
soon be Mexico according to Ihs
Notebook Mining’s Positive M&A outlook
potential buyers are attracted by signs that the bottom might be near. At the same time, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American are among major mining companies seeking to shed unwanted and higher-cost assets as part of an industrywide push to trim expenses and bolster profits. This combination of reduced values and an influx of mines for sale is luring private equity investors. Last month Citigroup upgraded its 12-month view on the industry to bullish from neutral, its first such call in three years. M&A in the mining industry last year slumped more than half to $81 billion compared with a year earlier, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Anglo American has said it has
identified as many as 15 assets for divestment, while Deutsche Bank has put The world’s mining assets may be the
mining since 2012, only about 14 per cent
the value of all projects that could be sold
target of mergers and acquisitions as an
of the almost $10 billion raised in the last
at $35 billion. Mining companies are also
$8 billion pool of private-equity money
two years has been deployed, according to
looking for capital to fund new mines.
that has lain dormant is stirred this year
data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.
by attractive valuations and predictions of
That could change if they face pressure
criticism of mining executives for
resilient demand for raw materials.
from their investors to act.
swamping the world with an oversupply of
While buyout firms have targeted
While valuations remain depressed,
The influx of private equity follows
raw materials from copper to coal.
Saudi’s Social Media Buzz Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest
unrest that has swept through other
companies improving their 4G and fibre-
proportion of people using Twitter. A
Arab countries. Record funds have been
third of Saudi internet users access
allocated to build roads, airports and
Twitter each month, according to data
industrial centres to reduce the country’s
cent of the population at the end of the
from PeerReach, while YouTube and
oil dependency. The Saudi authorities
first half of last year, according to data
Instagram are the other two most popular
have also accepted greater online freedom
from the country’s telecoms regulator.
social media sites in the kingdom.
since the Arab Spring uprisings started in 2011.
being supported by economic growth
Saudi Telecom and
of 3.6 per cent last year, employment
Etihad Etisalat, the two
initiatives and by a population structure
where a majority of the 30 million people
providers in the country,
in the country are under the age of 30.
have expanded their services
The government raised the minimum
in response to customer
wage for Saudi workers and increased
demand. The focus has been
spending to ward off the political
on data services, with the
The increase in online media use is
Internet penetration reached 55 per
Notebook DUBAI EVENT: OFFSHORE ARABIA 2014 WEBSITE: OFFSHOREARABIA.AE DATE: MARCH 3-5 VENUE: DUBAI INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE Strengthening its position as a global event, 200 companies from 33 countries including the US, Norway, Netherlands, Singapore and Japan will participate this year. The vast list of exhibitors range from oil industry, tanker and shipping to renewable energy, satellite tracking systems and marine environment research centres. This year’s theme “Regional Oil Spill Prevention & Preparedness” reflects the industry’s focus on spill prevention and protecting the marine environment from contamination. In keeping with the theme invited experts in the field will hold Visionary sessions and keynote addresses. The show will also honour key individuals in the environmental field at the Environmental Awards held on March 4 as part of a gala dinner.
EVENT: AGRA ME WEBSITE: AGRAMIDDLEEAST.COM DATE: MARCH 25-27 VENUE: DUBAI INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION CENTRE Presenting the opportunity to meet industry leaders across agriculture, poultry farming and aquaculture this event will showcase over 250 international exhibitors from across the globe. Buyers and distributors will gain first-hand information on several government trade initiatives that will be revealed at the show. The event also hosts the Agribusiness and Poultry Outlook forums where the latest know-how on food security, food preservation and sustainable farming are deliberated.
United Arab Emirates
EVENT: ARAB OIL AND GAS WEBSITE: OGSONLINE.COM DATE: MARCH 17-19 VENUE: DUBAI INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTRE For over 30 years this biennial Arab Oil and Gas show is the region’s key networking platform bringing together representatives from throughout the industry including operators, contractors, governments and regulatory bodies. The event highlights include open forums where exhibitors display their product and technology to an audience of keen buyers, the Excellence in Engineering forum where the importance of training and career development within the energy sector is emphasised and a clean energy programme that helps connect distributors of solar products with buyers across the public and private sectors.
EVENT: THE SME WORLD SUMMIT 2014 WEBSITE: SMEWORLD.AE DATE: MARCH 26-27 VENUE: JUMEIRAH BEACH HOTEL The summit will witness a gathering of entrepreneurs from across the globe together with thought leaders, researchers and investors. It is aimed at harnessing the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the region’s small and medium enterprises and recognising them as key drivers of economic growth. The show will host 10 prestigious awards, four keynote conferences and four fashions shows plus there will be the chance for attendees to participate in interactive workshops, gauge first-hand insights on their newly launched products and build alliances with some of the world’s most innovative organisations.
EVENT: MIDDLE EAST INVESTMENT SUMMIT 2014 WEBSITE: TERRAPINN.COM/CONFERENCE/MIDDLE-EAST-INVESTMENT-SUMMIT DATE: MARCH 26-27 VENUE: RITZ-CARLTON DIFC Held over two-days the event will showcase a plethora of investment opportunities available to Middle East investors. Attendees representing more than $3 trillion worth of capital will gain from connecting with the region’s top performing and emerging funds. There will be investor strategy clinics held by global funds to help investors plan and strategise their investment funds. Additionally there are business-networking managers at hand to facilitate with setting up meetings and partnering sessions. With networking being the chief focus, the event’s social menu includes 15 plus hours of dedicated interactive sessions, an invitation-only lunch with global industry heavyweights, and a dinner party at the No.5 Terrace of the Ritz-Carlton DIFC. Portfolio
Amanda Hernandez retrieves Johnson & Johnson products for testing.
BUSINESS NEWS IN BRIEF
The Customer is Always Right
ingredients in their products. The complex
Johnson & Johnson has removed two questionable chemicals from baby products due to consumer pressure, reports Katie Thomas.
re-engineering of some of Johnson &
effort carries both risks and rewards for the health care giant – it requires difficult Johnson’s most beloved brands, but success in the marketplace could serve as a muchneeded boost. Cathy Salerno, vice president of research and development for the company’s consumer products division in North
The only hinT ThaT someThing
America, said she had seen consumer
companywide effort to remove an array of
attitudes change significantly over the past
Johnson’s Baby Shampoo arriving on store
increasingly unpopular chemicals from its
decade. When Johnson & Johnson acquired
shelves are two words: “Improved Formula.”
personal care products, and is the biggest yet
Aveeno, the natural skin care company, in
by a major consumer products manufacturer.
1999, it polled customers about their interest
100 other baby products sold by Johnson &
Johnson & Johnson has also promised to
in the brand’s ingredients. The answer
Johnson, isn’t so much about what’s been
remove such chemicals, and others, from all
demonstrated little consumer concern about
added; it’s what’s missing. The products
of its consumer products by 2015.
the details. “They’re telling us the opposite
What’s different about the shampoo, and
© 2014 New York Times News service
The move is the first step in a
is different inside millions of bottles of
now,” she said.
no longer contain two potentially harmful
In doing so, the company is navigating a
chemicals, formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane,
precarious path, investing tens of millions of
Other manufacturers are also responding
that have come under increasing scrutiny
dollars to remove the chemicals while at the
to these concerns. Wal-Mart has announced
by consumers and environmental groups
same time insisting that they are safe. The
that it would eventually require suppliers
in recent years. In response to consumer
company is responding, executives said, to
to reduce or eliminate 10 chemicals from
pressure two years ago, the company pledged
a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour,
cleaning and personal care products. Target
to remove both chemicals from its baby
as an increasingly informed public demands
has said it would monitor suppliers’ use of
products by the end of 2013, and in January,
that companies be more responsive to their
potentially harmful chemicals, then give
it said that it had achieved that goal.
concerns, especially when it comes to the
incentives to companies that use safer
Responding to pressure from consumers’ groups, Johnson & Johnson revised the ingredients in its baby shampoo to remove a formaldehyde-releasing preservative called quaternium-15.
chemicals. Procter & Gamble has promised
levels of 1,4-dioxane in many of
even held a dinner to celebrate. But their
to eliminate phthalates and triclosan, whose
the company’s baby products were at the
hopes were dashed when the normally clear
safety has also been questioned, from its
wash turned cloudy, and they were forced to
products by the end of this year. Environmental groups disagree with
But Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, a part
start over. The challenges continued: Two products
the safety claims that Johnson & Johnson
of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, said
were scrapped when they failed a skin test in
makes about the chemicals it is removing.
there was not enough information to know
adults, an initial step before they are tested
Nevertheless, they praised the company for
the long-term effects of these chemicals, and
on babies. Altogether, the team vetted 2,500
keeping its commitment.
there was mounting evidence that cumulative
raw ingredients and tested 12 to 18 versions
exposure can be dangerous.
of each product before seeking the opinion of
Even before its removal, customers would not have found formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane
Taking it out, however, has not been
74,000 consumer volunteers. Mostly, the task was to make the change
listed on the back of products because they
simple. In remaking its baby products,
aren’t technically ingredients. Formaldehyde,
Johnson & Johnson’s scientists had a delicate
as invisible as possible. “If you can’t tell the
which has been identified by government
task before them: how to remove the
difference, then we did our job,” said Trisha
scientists as a carcinogen, is released over
chemicals in question without compromising
Bonner, principal scientist for Johnson &
time by preservatives, like quaternium-15.
some of the company’s most iconic brands.
Johnson’s consumer products. The team’s next step is removing another
And 1,4-dioxane, which has been linked to
“There was a lot of angst about it,”
cancer in animal studies, is created during
recalled Salerno, who was one of the
type of preservative, parabens, from their baby
a process used to make other ingredients
executives who oversaw the team of close
products, and removing those and additional
mild – important for a company that has
to 200 people who worked for two years on
chemicals from their adult products.
sold billions of bottles of baby shampoo on its
the project. “Our people in the marketing
“No More Tears” claim. Johnson & Johnson
department were adamant that they wanted
frustrated at critics who promote the idea
has removed the preservatives that release
the exact same product.”
that natural ingredients are inherently better.
formaldehyde, and said it has reduced the
But as the scientists set to work, they
Salerno and others say they sometimes get
“I like to remind people that poison ivy is natural,” Salerno said.
levels of 1,4-dioxane to very limited trace
discovered that replacing the problem
amounts, from one to four parts per million.
ingredients often led to a chain reaction
But she said that the concerns of their
Johnson & Johnson executives are quick
of unintended consequences. One new
customers, especially those related to health
to note that formaldehyde occurs naturally
preservative led to a snow-globe effect,
and safety, could not be ignored. “This lands
in many products – a person’s exposure to
with particles settling at the bottom of
right at the heart and soul of what Johnson &
formaldehyde in a single apple, they claim,
the bottle. But the fix for that turned the
Johnson is about, so we really had to take this
is greater than it is in 15 bottles of baby
shampoo from a golden honey colour to
very seriously,” she said.
shampoo. And 1,4-dioxane is found in their
a dull brown. Another change turned the
products at levels low enough to be safe.
consistency to water.
An outside analysis by the Campaign for Safe
The team thought it had successfully
Cosmetics published in 2009 found that the
reformulated the Head-to-Toe wash and
“I tell people, in 28 years with this company, this is by far the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” Salerno said. “But it’s a real point of pride.” n Portfolio
Observer O N E 2 W AT C H TExT: HildA d’sOuzA
Satya Nadella US technology giant Microsoft appointed Indian-born Satya Narayana Nadella as its chief executive officer on February 4. Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer, who was Microsoft’s CEO since 2000 and announced his retirement last year. Nadella – a 22-year Microsoft veteran – has extensive experience working with cloud technologies, a domain that Microsoft is focused on. As executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group he led the team in charge of computing platforms, developer tools and cloud services. He was successful in transforming the company’s technology business from client services to cloud infrastructure and services. Under his management the cloud services division accounted for $20.3 billion in revenue and $8.2 billion in operating income last fiscal year. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has emphasised his faith in Nadella saying, “Satya is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together. His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs as the company enters its next chapter of expanded product innovation and growth.” Born in 1967 and educated in India and the United States, Nadella’s technological career began at the internet software pioneer Sun Microsystems. He joined Microsoft in 1992 and quickly climbed the corporate ladder holding key positions in the Office and Bing search-engine teams. He was promoted to run the company’s server and tools unit in 2011. That unit now forms the backbone of Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform. Analysts and investors expect Nadella will maintain the company’s momentum in the rapidly expanding field of cloud computing. In a statement the 46-year-old Nadella said, “our industry does not respect tradition, it only respects innovation.” He has emphasised his intention of staying focused on transforming the company’s business. “I see a big part of my job as accelerating our ability to bring innovative products to our customers more quickly. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.” Some investors and critics have expressed concerns over Nadella’s inexperience in the retail sector. However, Bill Gates has quit being Microsoft’s chairman and taken up a position as technology adviser. In his new role Gates will support Nadella in shaping Microsoft’s future technology and products.
Crisis for Egypt’s Tourism
Egypt’s tourism industry is battling to recover from what the tourism minister has described as its “worst year in modern history”, after millions of tourists were put off visiting Egyptian resorts and heritage sites in 2013 by reports of civil unrest. The industry made £3.6 billion in 2013, compared with £7.7 billion in its record year of 2010, before the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and led to three years of political instability. Only 9.5 million tourists stayed in Egypt’s hotels in 2013, against 14.7 million in 2010, according to the tourism minister, Hisham Zaazou. In a country where tourism provides 12.5 per cent of employment, and 11.3 per cent of GDP, the effect has been catastrophic for many Egyptians. The industry suffered during 2011 and 2012, as tourists stayed clear of a country that had swung from crisis to crisis after Mubarak’s removal. But numbers fell off entirely between July and November 2013 after western governments issued warnings against travel to most areas following the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi. Media reports of unrest from hotspots in Cairo and northern Sinai appeared to put tourists off even the tranquil holiday resorts hundreds of kilometres away on the Red Sea, and in Luxor and Aswan. Tourism workers say visitors’ fears are largely unfounded. “If you go back over the past three years, most of the tourist cities were under control like this one. It was safe and sound,” said Zaazou, interviewed near Hurghada, a Red Sea resort. Portfolio
EU to Cut Emissions by 40 Per Cent
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Europe will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, the toughest climate change target of any region in the world, and will produce 27 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by the same date.
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The EU is now the first to set out emissions reduction targets ahead of a crunch meeting of world governments in Paris in 2015 that will decide a global framework for avoiding dangerous levels of global warming. Every other major developed and developing economy is expected to set out its own binding national emissions target within the next year, for the United Nations talks to go ahead. Europe’s emissions trading system will also be reformed as part of the 2030 energy and climate package, with a more flexible mechanism to allow the surplus of carbon permits to be curbed, and member states will have an “indicative” target – that is, not legally binding – of improving energy efficiency by 25 per cent by 2030. The targets are weaker than many green campaigners had called for, but stronger than the alternatives that some member states and commissioners were championing right to the final stages of the negotiations. The 27 per cent renewables target may be easily achieved by 2030 not least because Germany, the world leader on renewable power and the EU’s biggest economy, is implementing a radical energy shift away from nuclear into renewables.
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The Beliefs Behind Money How sHould we tHink about
like Bitcoin might mean. In many ways,
partners, saying that belief in Bitcoin
a currency like Bitcoin? The first thing
that is the more interesting phenomenon.
was another symptom of Silicon Valley’s
to remember is this: Money is a kind of
Certainly, it is applicable not just to Bitcoin
collective fiction. What money we trust says
but to Bitcoin proxies like Zerocoin or to
much about how we see the world.
other new stateless, math-based currencies
central bank is being swapped for the new
like Ripple. It also sharpens current
collective fiction of the almighty tech elite.
preoccupations in the high-tech world.
That idea settles in uncomfortably close
Above the simplest exchanges, most money has limited use. Gold, the most common historical currency, is good
In the place of believing in a central bank,
By those lights, the old fiction of the
to recent calls by some prominent tech
almost only for adornment. To its fans,
or its owner, a powerful nation state, what
executives to detach, as much as possible,
gold’s uselessness is a value in itself; since
do we believe in when we believe in Bitcoin?
from the old, failed nations.
the stock of gold is not consumed, it is
Specifics around the algorithm, of course.
reasonably stable, while governments can
More deeply, we believe in a borderless
with other currencies. Ripple, developed
print all the currency they want.
world of hyper-empowered individuals.
after Bitcoin, hopes to be a kind of
Paper is, of course, a proxy for the
They are not gated by language, thanks
There are also other fictions associated
universal proxy currency, perhaps enabling
government issuing the money. How much
to image-sharing and Google Translate.
the owner of a farm animal in Nepal to
we trust the government’s ability to collect
Many have sent thousands of messages
directly trade it for an iPhone in Britain, or
taxes, pay debts and so on is the collective
around the world without ever using a
American frequent-flier miles to become
fiction that gives a country’s money value.
sovereign nation’s stamps. Many have never
gold in Mexico.
Paper or metal, money is worth
done national service in the physical world.
The poet Wallace Stevens called money
something only if people continue to believe
Nor do they expect their children to fight
“a kind of poetry.” He also had the horse
in it. And right now, an increasing number
in a country’s wars, at least not as soldiers
sense to write his verses about the romance
of people believe in Bitcoin and similar,
of the human imagination while walking
emerging stateless currencies.
Charles Stross, the science fiction writer,
to his job as a vice president for an
wrote in a strong critique of Bitcoin that it
insurance company. He knew both sides
whose firm has invested just under $50
has an inherently elitist, libertarian agenda.
of the coin when he said how closely the
million in startups related to Bitcoin, wrote
Alex Payne, another critic, wrote a piece
real and the imaginary need each other
a very helpful introduction to Bitcoin for the
sharply criticising one of Andreessen’s
for society to work. n
Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist
New York Times. It is also a spirited defence of Bitcoin. Mind you, Andreessen has a significant number of US dollars bet on Bitcoin’s increasing use. The journalist Glenn Fleishman, with whom Andreessen has been spiritedly debating Bitcoin on Twitter, wrote a strong the argument is about the mathematics, or whether Bitcoin is deflationary, or the way in which the creation of new Bitcoins burns increasing amounts of electricity to no good end.
© 2014 new york times news service
critique of Andreessen’s thinking. Much of
So far, there is little discussion of what the collective decision to believe a fiction Portfolio
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Saving Yahoo! Marissa Mayer knew that the odds were stacked against her when she became CEO of Yahoo!. The internet giant’s core business was eroding, its user base shrinking and it hadn’t launched a successful product in years. Now, 19 months later, opinion remains divided about her performance, reports Guido Duken.
MARISSA MAYER, THE CURRENT PRESIDENT
Yahoo!, which once had been valued at $128 billion,
and CEO of Yahoo! and former Google employee
is now worth around $40 billion. That valuation is little
number 20, was always facing an uphill battle. When
more than the sum of its two key Asian assets: Chinese
she was appointed on July 16, 2012, the company
internet giant Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan. Its user
had run through three CEOs in less than a year.
base was more than 700 million, but unlike Facebook,
There hadn’t been a hot new product launch in years,
Google and Apple, Yahoo! had no fundamental function
revenue was falling, and the stock price – which had
– such as e-mail, search and photo-sharing – that
peaked at $118.75 in early 2000 – was bumping along
wasn’t done better by others. But the biggest worry was,
between $14 and $19.
and still is, that its core business – premium display
There was no shortage of scepticism when Mayer
advertising – has been steadily eroded by the switch to
departed Google, her only professional home, for
smartphones and competitors such as Facebook and
the struggling giant that was Yahoo!. A pay package
Google. In short, Yahoo! had become something of a
valued at $36.6 million in salary and stock for 2012
joke in Silicon Valley and had huge trouble retaining
alone obviously played a role. The question was: How
skilled people, never mind hiring new talent.
could she turn around a company that was a mere shadow of its former self?
The first thing Mayer did on joining Yahoo! was to order a major overhaul of Flickr, the sites photoPortfolio
sharing service. She also went into
maps, weather, news, stock quotes, share
acquisition mode, buying microblogging
photos, group communication, sports
engineers who develop mobile apps are
and social-networking service Tumblr
scores, games – these are all things people
young and scarce. Furthermore, working
for $1.1 billion in May 2013 and story-
do on their mobile phones.” Under Mayer,
for a limping giant such as Yahoo! is rarely
summariser Summly for $30 million.
Yahoo!’s new description of itself is “a
high on their list of personal goals. So
With the acquisition of Tumblr, Mayer
global technology company focused on
Mayer and Cahan bought talent, spending
managed to solve the problem of Yahoo!’s
making the world’s daily habits inspiring
close to $200 million to acquire at least
aging demographics and lack of cool.
18 startups. In each instance, Yahoo! has
“I’ve done now between three and four
Cahan’s biggest challenge is that
As a result one of Mayer’s top priorities
locked up engineers with two- to four-year
dozen acquisitions in my career,” Mayer
was to re-establish a centralised mobile
contracts and set them loose to build apps
says about the Tumblr purchase, “and I’ve
group. To run the unit she selected Adam
and hire more mobile developers.
never seen this kind of lock-and-key fit
Cahan, who’s startup, IntoNow, was
between two companies. Our demographic
acquired by Yahoo! for around $20
Mayer’s begun shifting funds back into
is older. Theirs is the youngest on the web.
million in 2011.
Yahoo!’s research organisation, which
In addition to her mobile hiring spree,
We pride ourselves on publishing at scale –
previous CEO Scott Thompson gutted in
they have some of the best publishing tools
a round of layoffs. She says the lab has a
available. We’re strong in news, sports and
goal of hiring 50 Ph.D.s this year and
finance. They are strong in all the different
has already signed up 30.
complementary pieces – fashion, food and
One place where these hard-core
architecture. They need monetisation. We
researchers might focus their attention
have monetisation that can be turnkey for
is search. Although Google dominates
them and not very obtrusive.”
the space and Yahoo! has had Microsoft
However, Tumblr is far from profitable
power its search engine for the last three
with a user base deeply resistant to
years, Mayer still believes Yahoo! can
advertising, which means it will be a
find new ways to present search results.
burden on Yahoo!’s bottom line until the
“Search is far from over,” she says. “It’s
company figures out how to monetise it.
physics in the 1600s or biology in the
Mayer also decided early on in her
1800s. There’s miles to go before you get
tenure that Yahoo!’s fortunes were tied
to quantum physics or even a microscope.
to mobile. “What people want on their
There’s a lot of that you can do once you
phones is content. It’s just another way of delivering the web,” she says. “E-mail,
have mobile, and we are going to be very
Adam Cahan has been put in charge of the centralised mobile group.
focused on the user experience.” MAYER WAS off to a great start. A new weather app for mobile phones, the relaunch of Flickr, and an update of Yahoo Mail earned the company its first positive reviews in ages. By September 2013 the stock price of Yahoo! had doubled in the 14 month’s since Mayer’s appointment as investors pinned their hopes on the new CEO and surging growth at Chinese online retailer Alibaba. However, Yahoo!’s overall revenue fell six per cent in the last three month’s of 2013, marking four consecutive quarters of eroding revenue. A seven per cent drop REUTERS
Marissa Mayer has been busy outlining Yahoo!’s new corporate strategy.
in the share price greeted this news and the first rumbles of discontent started emanating from Wall Street about Mayer’s Portfolio
Yahoo! owns a 24 per cent stake in the giant Chinese online retailer Alibaba.
turnaround plan. More criticism headed her way in September when she became the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to feature on the cover of Vogue. Mayer has been talked about ever since
Mayer’s begun shifting funds back into Yahoo!’s research organisation, which previous CEO Scott Thompson gutted in a round of layoffs. She says the lab has a goal of hiring 50 Ph.D.s this year and has already signed up 30.
she became Google’s first female engineer in 1999. During her 13 years with the company she was an engineer, designer, product manager and executive. In her final years with Google she was vice president of Local, Maps, and Location Services and, before that, vice president of Search Products and User Experience. She reportedly amassed a $300 million fortune at the search giant when Google went public. Yet Mayer has always downplayed her achievements. “I didn’t set out to be at the top of technology companies,” she insists. “I’m just geeky and shy and I like to code. Once, Eric Schmidt [then Google’s CEO] pointed out to me that at Google, when you want to have an impact that’s bigger than just you, you move from being an individual contributor to managing a team… And I March 2014
Mayer has been on an acquisition spree. She bought social network Tumblr for $1.1 billion.
Yahoo! Smart TV gives customised recommendations of what to watch and instant access to on-screen information.
Yahoo! owns a 35 per cent stake in the successful Yahoo! Japan.
was like, Oh, right, it would be nice to have
product strategies and CEOs. It was a web
deal to buy the social network for $1 billion.
an impact that’s bigger than just me. It’s not
directory under founders Jerry Yang and
Then Semel decided to offer $850 million
like I had a grand plan where I weighed all
David Filo, then a web portal under Tim
instead, and Mark Zuckerberg took that as
the pros and cons of what I wanted to do –
Koogle. Terry Semel made it into a tech
his opportunity to walk away.
it just sort of happened.”
company with Hollywood pretensions, while
Depending on whom you listen to, Mayer drove the rigorous testing and analytics that perfected Google’s search and other
Yet despite that huge blunder by Semel,
under Carol Batz and Scott Thompson it
his executive team did two deals that
languished as a dot-com relic.
make up the vast majority of Yahoo!’s
Yahoo! also became infamous for the
value today. One was Yahoo Japan that
offerings and that she worked incredibly
deals that it didn’t do. The worst one:
the company owns a 35 per cent stake of,
hard to get to the top. Her detractors say
Facebook. In 2006, Yahoo! had a handshake
and in 2005 Yahoo! took a 40 per cent
she is as ruthless as her ambition. On thing is sure, Mayer knew she was taking on what was probably the toughest job in Silicon Valley when she left Google. Yahoo! lost a decade due to a series of failed
Looking across the company’s existing products, she argues “in many cases, we haven’t lost those users. We just want more of their time and attention.” According to her, Yahoo!’s core competency has always been figuring out the web.
Yahoo! has its headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. Portfolio
Mayer points to Yahoo!’s acquisition
stake in Alibaba (now 24 per cent). This
Mayer also recently outlined Yahoo!’s
Chinese equivalent of eBay and Amazon
company strategy. In her view, Yahoo! is
of Aviate as a prime example. Yahoo!
mixed together is on a phenomenal
“really a personalisation company.” Looking
announced in January it had bought the
growth curve. Should Alibaba go public
across the company’s existing products, she
company, which organises the home screen
its value has been put between $70
argues “in many cases, we haven’t lost those
of a person’s Android device based on what
billion and $200 billion. “I think there
users. We just want more of their time and
they’re doing at the time. So if a person is
have been certainly some very smart
attention.” According to her, Yahoo!’s core
walking into a restaurant or pulling away
investments that I owe to my predecessor,”
competency has always been figuring
in a car, the technology uses signals from
out the web.
things like the GPS and accelerometer to
WALL STREET may be starting to lose
it will partner with San Francisco-based
“Aviate gives us a nice building block in
faith in Mayer, but she remains upbeat.
Yelp for local search, incorporating Yelp’s
terms of what we can do with context,
Firstly, she says Yahoo!’s transition into
listing into Yahoo!’s search engine. Yelp
and improve search,” she says.
the mobile world is working. According to
has a strong presence on mobile and has
her, 800 million consumers visit Yahoo!
seen its advertising revenue explode.
Yahoo! also announced in February that
properties each month, up 20 per cent
This all ties in with Mayer’s focus on
push related apps onto the home screen.
When Mayer took the CEO job she said that turning around Yahoo!’s core business would take at least three years.
from when she arrived. More importantly,
contextual search, which gives people
Now, a little over one-and-a-half years
390 million of those consumers are
the right information at the right time,
later, it is still unclear if she is succeeding.
accessing Yahoo! on mobile devices, which
by looking at signals such as where they
could help expand its advertising revenue.
are located and what they’re doing “We’re
there. “Name another internet giant that
“I hope that at some point we are looking
long on search,” Mayer said in February,
went through three years of decline and
at a world where mobile is a majority of
meaning the company sees it as a good
then started to grow again,” she says. “It’s
our revenue,” says Mayer.
area for investment.
a very good sign. n
Mayer received a $36.6 million salary for her first year at Yahoo!.
But Mayer seems to think she is getting
The $1 Billion ValuaTion Game
The club of billion-dollar technology startups is growing â€“ raising fears of another dot.com bubble, report David Gelles and Claire Cain Miller.
trouble, it fired hundreds of employees. A company co-founder and the chief operating officer left the company. Its valuation sank below $1 billion, leaving some investors underwater. The rise and stumbles of Fab demonstrate how swiftly the fortunes of startups can change. At the company’s giddy high point, it also illustrated why some billion-dollar-plus valuations have raised concerns of a new dot-com bubble. “Predicting what’s undervalued and what’s overvalued is fabulously hard,” said Josh Lerner, a professor of
© 2014 New York Times News service
entrepreneurship at Harvard Business
School. “It’s a trope to see a young, highly ab.com, an online
valued company and say it’s wrong, but
retailer selling affordable
sometimes it is.”
high design, last year seemed as if it could be the
next Amazon. Just a few months later,
a decade ago. In the three years from
however, it looked as if it could become
2011 through 2013, there were at least 34
the next Pets.com.
investments that valued companies at $1
Big-name venture capitalists, including the Andreessen Horowitz firm, poured money into the company over the last few years, lured by its startling growth rate. After raising some $170 million in venture funding, Fab accepted
VentureSource, compared with 16 from 1998 to 2000. Yet it is more than a speculative frenzy that is driving up the valuations of these companies. A number of changes in the capital markets, the venture capital industry and the public equity markets have conspired to make it easier than ever for unproven startups to be valued
million in June, a
at $1 billion or more. For one, the stock and merger markets
the company at
have demonstrated that many companies’
$1 billion and
high-flying valuations are justified.
vaulted it into the
Facebook’s stock has surged after its
club of billion-
early stumbles. Newly public companies
like Twitter are performing well. And
Instagram and Tumblr both sold for
include Snapchat, Pinterest, Evernote, Spotify and Dropbox. But by the end
billion or more, according to Dow Jones
an additional $150 round that valued
Jason Goldberg, chief executive of Fab.com, at the company’s office in New York.
The growth of the billion-dollar club has eclipsed the exuberance of more than
of the summer, Fab had fallen from that elite. Amid financial
Fab was valued at $1 billion but fell below that level last year, burning some investors.
more than $1 billion each, emboldening
networking company reportedly valued
near $2.5 billion.
“A number of high-profile companies
What’s more, the availability of cheap
in the social media space have been
financing for companies and investors,
successful,” Lerner said. “It’s creating a
which has helped buoy the stock market,
is allowing investors to easily finance
Another factor driving up valuations
deals and borrow money. Pension funds
is the 38 per cent rise last year in the
and endowments are putting more money
Nasdaq composite index, which is heavy
into venture funds. In the third quarter,
with technology companies. For venture
venture capital firms raised $4.1 billion, an
investors eager to find the next big thing,
increase of 28 per cent from the previous
the healthy stock market acts as a green
quarter, according to the National Venture
light to keep pouring money into private
companies that might go public or get sold.
In the third quarter, venture capital firms raised $4.1 billion, an increase of 28 per cent from the previous quarter, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
And with so much cash to deploy, venture funds are competing with one
Partners, were interested in investing.
irrational exuberance tied to the
another to invest the money, a process that
But before they could offer Lyft any cash,
enthusiasm, excitement and growth
often drives up valuations.
Andreessen Horowitz swooped in with an
“There’s always this long and almost
of a company when the economy is
When the ride-sharing service Lyft was
doing well,” said Jayshree Ullal, chief
seeking to raise a new round of funding
executive of Arista Networks, a cloud
last year, many firms, including Greylock
offer that Lyft could not refuse, according to people briefed on the situation. Andreessen Horowitz is known in Silicon Portfolio
higher. Just seven months later, interest from Valiant, a hedge fund based in San Francisco that also invested in Dropbox, and AGC Equity Partners’ affiliate m8 Capital, elevated the valuation to a reported $2 billion. For those venture firms that aren’t able to invest in the top companies, the inclination is to spread out their investments among a broad pool of companies, many of which are derivative. Ride-sharing service Lyft easily found investors for a new round of funding.
When the deals site Groupon was thriving, for example, big investors including Amazon poured money into rival LivingSocial. For a time, the company was valued at more than $1.5 billion. But in February, LivingSocial took $110 million in new funding at a lower valuation, a so-called down round. “These funds have a lot of money and push money out into whatever looks hot,” said Alexander Ljungqvist, professor of finance at New York University. “It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.”
But many investors contend that young companies will one day justify their eye-
The technology-heavy Nasdaq has had a bumpy ride this year.
popping valuations. “Valuations are never a reflection of today’s performance, it’s a reflection of
Valley for such tactics, having had success
new investors jockey to compete with
the future opportunity,” Ullal of Arista
with companies like Facebook, Twitter and
venture funds. Competition from later-
Networks said. “Most of these companies
Skype. According to CB Insights, which
stage investors like Meritech Capital,
grow into their valuations nicely and those
tracks venture investing, the average size
Institutional Venture Partners and hedge
that don’t fall by the wayside.”
of the firm’s investment was substantially
funds like Tiger Global and Valiant Capital
higher than those of rivals New Enterprise
Management has driven up valuations.
Associates and Greylock.
These funds expect lower returns than venture capitalists, so they take less risk by
And technology boosters note that the market for internet companies is larger than it was 15 years ago. “In the last cycle, there were barely 500
But Andreessen Horowitz is not
investing in more mature companies that
million people online, and they were all on
alone. In the third quarter, venture capital
are safer bets. “If you have funds and you
56k modems,” said David Lee of SV Angel,
firms invested $7.8 billion, an increase
need to basically deploy pretty big chunks
an early-stage investor. “By 2015, there will
of 12 per cent from the previous quarter,
of capital, wouldn’t you rather invest in
be five billion people with a supercomputer
according to the venture capital association
things that seem like a sure thing?” said
in their hands.”
Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures. In
Still, to some, Fab and other companies
The competition is especially tough
a widely read blog post on tech companies
that attain high valuations are a sign that too
when it comes to later-stage investments
worth more than $1 billion, Lee called the
much money is chasing too few good ideas.
in the most admired billion-dollar tech
group the “Unicorn Club.”
companies, a group that includes such
Last May, Evernote, a company that
“This is a drama that has played out many times before,” said Lerner of
companies as Square, Box and Uber.
makes a productivity app, raised money
Harvard. “The music inevitably stops at a
And the fight is becoming fiercer as
that drove the valuation significantly
certain point.” n Portfolio
eek after week, newspapers issue hopeful headlines: Microsoft, PayPal,
Fujitsu and scores of other companies are expanding in Ireland, creating thousands of jobs as unemployment hovers near record highs. There is just one hitch: Not enough people are qualified to fill all the jobs. In some cases, the companies have had to look outside Ireland to recruit candidates with the right skills. After a five-year economic crisis, the mismatch represents one of the biggest problems facing Ireland and many other European countries. Hundreds of thousands of people who lost work, and many young people entering the workforce, are finding that their skills are ill suited to a huge crop of innovation-based jobs springing up across the Continent. “In all countries, there is an expectation that many of the new jobs created will be in the knowledge-intensive economy,” said Glenda Quintini, a senior labour economist at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. “But we are seeing a worrisome skills mismatch that means a large number of unemployed people are not well prepared for the pool of jobs opening up.” Employers have long complained that AFP/
graduates do not have the skills they need. But in a recent report, the International Labour Organisation warned that “skills mismatches and occupational shifts have worsened” in Europe after the crisis. People laid off in hard-hit sectors, like construction and finance, face lengthy retraining, while too few graduates entering the job market have chosen engineering, science or technology degrees for the growing
© 2014 New York Times News service
innovation-based jobs market. The gap in Europe has important consequences for the recovery as the Eurozone grapples with unemployment rates stuck stubbornly above 12 per cent.
EuropE’s skill shortagE Despite Europe’s high unemployment rate thousands of jobs remain open due to a lack of qualified candidates, reports Liz Alderman.
It may hold back a return to meaningful growth and generate “significant economic and social costs,” according to the European Portfolio
About two million job vacancies around the EU are going unfilled, about the same number as in 2010, in sectors ranging from hotel work to computer programming, according to Eurostat, the statistics office of the EU. Ireland is exiting its recession woes.
Commission, the policymaking arm of the European Union. In the United States, the phenomenon has helped contribute to a rise in long-term joblessness, the organisation said. About two million job vacancies around the EU are going unfilled, about the same number as in 2010, in sectors ranging from hotel work to computer programming, according to Eurostat, the statistics office of the EU. A study released in November by Eurofound, the research arm of the EU, showed that despite the recession, almost 40 per cent of companies reported difficulty in finding workers with the right skills, compared with 37 per cent in 2008 and 35 per cent in 2005.
are generating jobs at a rapid clip. By
The problem is especially striking for innovation-based companies, which
A GenCell employee works on a microfluid sample at their headquarters in Limerick.
2015, about 900,000 information and
programmes and sought to polish the allure
communications technology vacancies
of mathematics degrees as alarm bells
may go unfilled in the EU, the European
sounded over the issue a couple of years ago.
PayPalâ€™s chief executive in Ireland,
Commission warned in a recent report on
At the time, unemployment was around
Louise Phelan, stoked controversy by
the digital economy.
14 per cent after an economic collapse that
acknowledging that the company had
destroyed jobs in the construction sector.
recruited from 19 other countries for
Governments and companies around Europe are fast-tracking efforts to retrain
Multinational technology and social media
jobless rate of around 12.5 per cent. The issue peaked last summer, when
500 positions in its operations centre in
the unemployed for a burst of technology-
companies kept investing, lured by Irelandâ€™s
Dundalk. This summer, Fujitsu, which
related jobs. They are also stepping up
ultralow 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate and
employs 800 people in Ireland, revealed
campaigns to lure university students to
an English-speaking workforce. But many
that it had to hire most of its Ph.D.-level
mathematics, engineering and science.
have been forced to look outside the country
experts from abroad.
In Ireland, the government introduced a series of retraining and higher-education March 2014
for employees with the right skills, despite more than 391,500 being out of work and a
All told, around half of information technology jobs in Dublin were being filled
eBay employees stand in the glass fronted entrance area of the company’s European headquarters in Dublin.
PayPal had to look abroad to find suitable candidates for 500 positions.
with foreign workers, while about 4,500 information technology jobs in the country were going unfilled because of a limited supply of suitably skilled applicants, various studies have shown. Part of the problem for all countries, not only Ireland, was that technology-related university training lost appeal after the dot-com bust in the early 2000s, said Regina Moran, the executive director of Fujitsu in Ireland. In Ireland, people flocked to construction or tourism work, which
Ian Sharpe works at a desk at VCE, a cloud computing provider with offices in Ballincollig.
blossomed in the middle of the decade. Ian Sharpe was one of them. He spent nearly 15 years working in the hotel industry until Ireland’s banking crisis
that provides cloud and virtualisation software and services. After six months as an intern, he was
with no job ultimately materialising. Sharpe said that people had urged him not to enter the programme. But he
left him jobless in 2010. He tried fruitlessly to
hired full time to help manage a data centre,
wanted to avoid the fate of friends who
find new work, but last year he latched on to
with an annual salary of about ¤30,000
had fallen into a rut, where the longer they
the government’s back-to-work programmes.
($40,773) – about what he had made as a
were unemployed, the less likely they were
to get back into the job market. “I know
Recently, 182 candidates – most of them
The initiatives are not without flaws. For
people who had to get medication for being
that include farming, construction and even
example, as part of the JobBridge internship
depressed, because they don’t see anything
astrophysics – went through retraining. One
programme, people continue to collect
coming,” he said.
company, VMware, hired 82 people, and
unemployment and receive a modest ¤50
other companies hired nearly everyone else
stipend per week. For many, that barely
from someone who had never been
– including Sharpe.
covers transportation and food. Stories
professionally involved in IT to getting an
have littered the Irish news media of abuses
engineering position just nine months later,”
with a team of technicians in the Cork-
by companies in the programme, such as
based offices of VCE, a joint venture
giving interns either menial tasks or fully
between VMware, Cisco, EMC and Intel
fledged professional work with no pay, and
unemployed, with backgrounds in fields
On a recent weekday, he was huddled
He now has an air of hope. “I’ve gone
“You can see where you’re going,” he added. “Finally, there’s something to aim for.” n Portfolio
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Commuters Bearing Cash
© 2013 new York TiMes news service
High-profile tax investigations and rule tightening at Swiss banks have resulted in European customs agents seizing increasing amounts of undeclared cash, report Doreen Carvajal and Raphael Minder.
The passenger, Boris Boillon, 43, is a
in economic crisis, customs agents say
extraordinary about the casually
former French ambassador to Iraq and
they are seizing increasing amounts of
dressed businessman waiting on a
Tunisia with two degrees from prestigious
undeclared cash exceeding the ¤10,000
Paris train platform except, it turned out,
universities and a Legion of Honor
($13,750) that each traveller is allowed
for the envelopes he carried – stuffed with
medal. But to customs agents, who seized
to carry. They find it stashed in luggage,
¤350,000 in cash, and seized by French
the money in July, he was just one of a
cake boxes, potato-chip bags, cookie tins
customs agents as he prepared to depart
growing number of “cash commuters.”
and sometimes even in children’s pockets.
here was nothing
At the borders of European countries
The cash, often in bundles of ¤500-notes, Portfolio
is moving with political currents as some
networks and tax evaders,” said Mathieu
of deterring money laundering and tax
Europeans seek to hide their wealth from
Delahousse, a French journalist
evasion. Undeclared cash can be seized
rising taxes, high-profile tax investigations
and co-author of a book about the
and held for six months, and fines of
and tightening rules at Swiss banks and
phenomenon, Cache Cash. “People are
25 per cent or more can be withheld.
other traditional havens.
still taking money abroad for tax
The authorities can also start broader
The agents say they are routinely
evasion, but it is also moving in the other
investigations into the origins of the
detaining business travellers who are on
direction, because Swiss banks are closing
money in special customs courts.
their way to European financial capitals,
accounts of foreign customers, and then
carrying minimal luggage and behaving
they have to make a choice: declare these
catching business people, but they were
nervously. “We see professionals and
bank accounts and pay high taxes, or hide
amused to see an American family of
businessmen in insurance and banking,
four, including two young children, in a
like him, every day,” said Philippe Bock, secretary general of the French solidarity trade union for customs agents, referring to Boillon. “Three hundred fifty thousand euro was nothing exceptional,” Bock said. “Every month it passes like that, and there’s more and more money because of the crisis.” For decades, banking secrecy laws in Switzerland made banks there a refuge
Customs agents are blasé about
discreet corner of a railway station near
The main reason for the increase in seizures is simply the rising use of cash by fraudsters, including criminal networks and tax evaders.
the Swiss border, dividing ¤600,000 among themselves. The money was seized when they boarded a train, according to Bock of the customs trade union. Cash seizures by French customs agents have soared over the last decade even as budget cuts have thinned the agents’ ranks by 25 per cent. The total for the first quarter of 2013 was up sixfold from
for foreigners hoping to keep assets away
a year earlier, to ¤103 million, most of it
from official notice. But Switzerland
from a man who tried to drive into France
signed a treaty in October providing for the automatic exchange of tax information
from Switzerland with ¤86 million in The rule requiring travellers crossing
bearer bonds, which are tantamount to
with depositors’ home countries, and
borders within the European Union
cash. On an average day in 2012, French
bankers have been warning clients to
to make a written customs declaration
agents seized ¤300,000, 50 per cent
make tax declarations or risk having their
when carrying more than ¤10,000 in
more than the 2011 average, according
Swiss accounts closed. That has left many
cash was introduced in 2007 in the hope
to government figures. And the customs
would-be tax avoiders with little choice but to move their money around the oldfashioned way. “The main reason for the increase in seizures is simply the rising use of cash by fraudsters, including criminal
A dog with the Guardia di Finanza that has been trained to detect the ink on currency notes. March 2014
The Guardia di Finanza check out a car, whose driver was suspected of smuggling cash from Switzerland.
agency estimates that it catches only five per cent of the undeclared cash crossing the country’s borders. The precautions are growing more elaborate, and the finds more eyecatching. In February, inspectors on the fast train between Zurich and Paris stopped a Spanish traveller who was carrying ¤1.8 million ($2.5 million), made up entirely of ¤500-notes. Those bills, the largest denomination in circulation, have come to be nicknamed Bin Ladens for and illicit transactions. In Italy, cash-sniffing Labrador retrievers and German shepherds
their association with money laundering Uli Hoeness, the president of Bayern Munich football club, is part of a German tax investigation.
helped the financial police who prowl the country’s five main airports and its northern border to nearly triple their seizures of cash in 2012, to ¤124 million. The authorities were close to exceeding that figure this year by mid-autumn. Sergio Callipo, national secretary of the Italian customs agents’ union, said that much more cash slipped through. “Millions of passengers pass every week, and some officers and one or two dogs are not a real deterrent for smugglers,” he said. “We would need an army, and we are
just sentinels.” Some expertS believe that
FC Barcelona football start Lionel Messi (right) appeared in a Spanish court over alleged tax evasion.
widespread publicity about tax
they have been making more seizures
up a ring that was using a fake import-
investigations of well-known figures in
this year despite their ranks having been
export company to launder hundreds of
struggling countries is driving an increase
depleted by budget cuts. In Spain, most
millions of euros belonging to Chinese
in cash smuggling. Those ensnared
seizures are of undeclared money leaving
criminal gangs and wealthy Spaniards.
include Jérôme Cahuzac, the former
the country, but some are of cash on its
The network was smuggling cash out of
French budget minister; Uli Hoeness, the
Spain by train and car.
president of the Bayern Munich football
The bulk of the Spanish cash seizures
That case resulted in the arrests of
club in Germany; and the football star
are in euros – about ¤17.5 million
more than 100 people. But in most cases,
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona in Spain.
so far this year – but some involve
people caught moving undeclared money
other currencies, including American
are dealt with more discreetly, in private
they feel like targets. A European aristocrat
dollars, Korean won and Chinese yuan.
judicial proceedings, and are fined rather
who did not want to be named, for fear of
Increasingly, it seems, intermediaries are
drawing more scrutiny, said that friends
being used to move the money, according
were sharing stories of Italian financial
to Eladio Barrado, a spokesman for Siat,
diplomat, news of the cash seizure leaked
police boarding docked yachts to check for
the main union representing employees of
out almost immediately to the French
undeclared cash in safes on board.
Spain’s national tax agency.
investigative website Mediapart. His case
Some wealthy travellers complain that
Like their French counterparts, Spanish customs agents and tax authorities say
In a prominent case last year, named Operation Emperor, the authorities broke
In the case of Boillon, the former
is pending before the National Judicial Customs Service. n Portfolio
Tel. +39 335 8394824 email@example.com
MEDA (MB) ITALIA www.flexform.it
design by ANTONIO CITTERIO
A.D. nAtAliA corbettA / fotogrAfiA mArio ciAmpi
made in italy
of this rice has nowhere to go, as Japanese
defended its 778 per cent tariffs
favour bread over their traditional staple.
ground 10 years ago, when Konsho first
on rice with a kind of religious
The government will soon raise subsidies
came to Niigata from a Tokyo office job
zeal. Rice is a sacred crop,
that encourage farmers to divert their rice
with the idea of starting an organic rice
to animal feed.
farm. Bureaucrats tried to block his land
the government has argued, not open to
leases. Local farmers threw rocks into
trade negotiations. Its farmers are not just
More enterprising farms face difficulty
defenders of a proud agrarian heritage, but
in expanding their plots or experimenting
his rice paddies and flung salt at him, an
form the nation’s spiritual centre as well.
with more sustainable cultivation, steps
insult reserved here for evil spirits. “The
that would let them better compete in a
idyllic rice farms most city people think of
are things of the past,” Konsho said. “Rice
Hardly, says Hiromitsu Konsho, a young organic rice farmer in the ricegrowing region of Niigata. Many Japanese
© 2014 New York Times News service
Echigo Farm almost did not get off the
or decades, Japan has
Konsho points to his Echigo Farm,
farming is collapsing, and not because of free trade.”
farmers have all but given up on their tiny
a rare upstart in rural Japan, whose
plots, he says. They earn most of their
organically grown rice sells at high-
income elsewhere, farming only part time
end retailers as far away as Tokyo and
Japan should open up its agricultural
and paying little attention to improving
Singapore. It faced difficulties at first, but
sector to join a proposed free trade
now its rice has become a hit, fetching
group led by the United States, the
5,500 yen per kilogram – almost 10 times
Trans-Pacific Partnership, is opening
the market price.
up new rifts in Japan, rifts that defy
Yet, kept on life support by subsidies, production controls and tariffs, these farmers grow mediocre rice year after year, he says. Now an increasing amount
“It’s high time to revive Japanese rice farming,” Konsho said.
The recent debate over how much
traditional urban-rural divides. Increasingly, urban Japanese – and
farmerS The Japanese are starting to question the tariffs and subsidies that protect their farmers from global competition, reports Hiroki Tabuchi. Portfolio
even some farmers – are questioning exactly what those tariffs protect. Japan has signed only a few limited free trade agreements, thanks to its tough stance on agricultural tariffs. Consumers pay more than twice the global average price for rice, and four times more for wheat. Still, Japan will not give in on farming tariffs, Akira Amari, Japan’s trade minister, declared at the latest talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in December, holding up talks at the eleventh hour. The TPP, which involves
Japan has signed only a few limited free trade agreements, thanks to its tough stance on agricultural tariffs. Consumers pay more than twice the global average price for rice, and four times more for wheat.
Shigeaki Okamoto, 52, who runs a successful fruit and vegetable farm in Aichi, in central Japan, says Japanese farmers can compete without tariffs. Unlike rice, Japan-grown vegetables face global competition, with most import levies between zero and three per cent. Still, four-fifths of the vegetables the Japanese consume are homegrown. Vegetable growers on average earn far more than rice farmers. Indeed, Japan’s stiff protections on rice no longer have much to do with protecting
the United States, Japan and 10 other
farmers, Okamoto says. They instead
Pacific Rim nations, would create the
protect a sprawling network of farm co-ops that has leeched off farmers and
world’s biggest free trade zone. Tens of thousands risk losing their
the government going to protect all the
stymied their efforts to innovate, he says.
livelihoods if farming tariffs are brought
small-time farmers scattered across the
That network, as Okamoto likes to say,
down, critics said at a recent national
country?” said Kazumori Yamazaki, a rice
is bureaucracy run amok. About 216,000
rally against the TPP in Tokyo. “How is
farmer from Ishikawa in central Japan.
people work in agricultural cooperatives
Most Japanese rice farms are smaller than a hectare.
in Japan, under the umbrella of the Japan
In addition, the JA acts as financier
the JA would lose its commissions and its political clout.
Agricultural Group, or JA. There is one
to Japanese farmers, handling deposits,
co-op employee for every two full-time
loans and insurance in a side business
The rise of entrepreneurial farmers like
rice farmers. The central government’s 2.3
that has made it one of Japan’s largest
Konsho or Okamoto would have the same
trillion yen farming budget for the current
effect because they do not rely on the JA for sales or equipment.
year is seven times the budget to oversee
Okamoto refused to work with the
the non-agricultural 99 per cent of the
Japan could make a full switch to
direct-income subsidies, like the US
JA in expanding his farm, focusing on
Much of that money makes its way to
and European Union have done, which
produce like strawberries, which he
these co-ops, charged with administering
would at least protect farmers against
is able to sell independently. “Japan’s
production controls on rice, as well as its
international competition without the
agricultural policy hasn’t made farmers
sales and distribution. Under that system,
need for tariffs. But that would mean
strong – it’s made them weak to the point
farmers receive subsidies in exchange for limiting the amount of rice they grow, which keeps rice prices high and small, and part-time rice farmers in business. The average Japanese rice farmer spends only about 30 days a year on agricultural work, and more than half of all farmers till less than a hectare each of land, according to the latest census data. The tiny farms find it impossible to achieve economies of scale. But that suits the JA just fine, because the organisation gets commission income from collecting and selling their crops –vv something larger, dedicated farms could do on their own. The JA also makes money selling small farmers the machinery, fertiliser and pesticides necessary for growing rice part time.
A worker carries a bag of processed rice at Echigo Farm, which grows high-quality organic rice.
Japan could make a full switch to directincome subsidies, like the US and European Union have done, which would at least protect farmers against international competition without the need for tariffs. But that would mean the JA would lose its commissions and its political clout. Hulled rice after processing, left, and rejected rice and small rocks, right, at Echigo. Portfolio
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of collapse,” he said. But the biggest problems lie in rice cultivation, Okamoto says. Most Japanese rice farmers have no incentive to raise the quality of rice they grow, because JA buys their harvest regardless of quality. Years of neglect have made Japanese rice not just more costly, but also lower in quality – and more dependent on fertiliser and pesticides – than much of the rice grown in the United States, Southeast Asia or China, industry insiders say.
Studies in Tokyo, said that at TransPacific Partnership negotiations Japan could be forced to offer concessions to
Kazuhito Yamashita, an agricultural expert at the Canon Institute for Global
the Americans on some farm products,
Employees taste freshly made Japanese sweets named Samuchi, which are made with Azuki bean and Mochi (rice cake).
like wheat and sugar. Japan could even
market in the real sense,” he said. “There
local farmers sceptical of Echigo Farm.
expand the small quota of rice imports it
are too many vested interests.”
But now he helps Konsho run it. “We’ve
accepts each year to appease the US and other rice producers.
been growing rice for the JA, not for the consumer,” Wakatsuki said. “Farmers need
generations in Aga, was initially among
to start taking the initiative.” n
“But Japan will never free up its rice
Toyokazu Wakatsuki, 47, a farmer whose family has farmed rice for
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drives a rice planting machine at a paddy field in Sendai. Portfolio
The Spanish government’s decision to pay less for solar energy is a huge blow to both small and large investors, reports Suzanne Daley.
IX YEARS AGO,
So when the government passed a law
“It seemed so safe,” he said recently. “It was a government guarantee.”
Justo Cruz Rodríguez,
offering attractive rates for solar energy –
who runs a small business
and guaranteed them for the next 25 years
in Aguilas designing
– he mortgaged his house, his father’s house
its mind. It plans to pay less, a lot less.
signs, was looking for
and his workshop to install half a dozen
Under legislation that goes into effect this
a way to generate a steady, if modest,
rows of solar panels in his father’s garden,
year, it will drop its per-kilowatt-hour
pension for himself and his father.
with the idea of selling his excess electricity.
payment system altogether and effectively
But the Spanish government has changed
impose retroactive cuts in payments. It also plans to make solar power producers pay a charge on electricity they generate and use themselves, a measure that angry protesters have named the “sun tax.” Spain has good reason for wanting to take action. It is facing a growing deficit – about $40 billion now – because it has never passed on the true cost of producing energy to its consumers, a problem that has ballooned with the
economic crisis. If it does
not do something, that deficit will only grow, experts say. Energy experts across Europe are watching Spain’s actions closely, however, wondering if they amount to folly. Thousands of solar energy investors large and small will doubtless face insolvency, and perhaps just as worrisome, experts say, the new charges for those using their own electricity may set off a rush by owners of solar panels to find ways to sell or use their electricity without reliance on the national grid at all, further reducing its customer base. Nor is Spain’s abrupt U-turn likely to go “When a government changes the terms of existing contracts, that’s a bad move,” said Toby Couture, a solar energy consultant
over well with future investors, experts say.
The PS20 solar thermal tower in Andalucia will be capable of producing 300 mega-watts of electricity when the project is finished.
with E3 Analytics in Berlin, who believes that the government will have trouble when it wants to develop public-private partnerships to fund water treatment plants, highways or pipelines, for instance. “There are reasons we live by contract rules,” he said. “If you keep changing the rules of the game, then, after a while, your friends don’t want to play. The government has lost credibility.” Spain was once at the forefront of the solar energy movement. It barrelled into the renewable-energy business, winning over thousands of investors big and the country has already come close to the European Union’s goal of 20 per cent reliance on renewable energy by 2020. But experts say the government never
© 2014 NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
expected so much investment and never
small with its guarantees. Experts say
Angel Miralda poured his retirement savings into a small solar farm, encouraged by the Spanish government’s promises of stable returns.
The new government payment system
But no other measures are as drastic as
came up with a way of paying for it.
has left thousands of investors, like Cruz,
the reduction of payments to the nearly
When the economic crisis hit in 2008 and
51, in a state of shock. “I am going to lose
60,000 producers of solar power, 50,000
demand for energy went down, the deficit
everything,” Cruz said, standing near the
of which are small-time investors like
widened at an even faster rate.
panels he thought would make his old
Cruz, according to the Spanish Solar
age easier. “I will be homeless. At my
Spanish officials say they have no choice now but to reduce the payments, which were once offered to spur investment
age, homeless.” The government has proposed cuts to
“If we did nothing, the only two alternatives would either be bankruptcy
in solar energy but are now considered
other parts of the energy sector as well,
of the system or an increase of the price
overly generous, especially because
and has taken other steps to reduce the
to consumers of more than 40 per cent,”
the cost of solar panels has dropped
energy deficit, including asking Spaniards
said José Manuel Soria, the minister for
precipitously in recent years.
to pay more for the electricity they use.
industry, energy and tourism, defending
the government plans shortly after they were announced last summer. The government’s plans have prompted
Under the new law, instead of the current per-kilowatt-hour fees, the government will offer a formula intended
stated that any future changes could affect only new installations. “The law was drafted in a very sure
angry accusations across the energy
to produce a 7.5 per cent return on
way,” said Piet Holtrop, a Barcelona
sector here. Solar energy producers feel
investment. The problem, experts say,
lawyer representing about 1,200 investors,
unfairly singled out and say more savings
is that the basis for determining that
ranging from individuals like Cruz to
might be squeezed from other electricity
investment is unclear, and the formula
small town councils. “The people who
producers. Spain’s other energy producers
looks likely to penalise those who paid
invested gave it some thought. They
are offering little sympathy.
more for their equipment, took out big
were not just putting their money into
loans or are paying high interest rates.
anything. It was a sound investment.”
They say the terms that the Spanish government was offering in 2007 were so
The Solar Power Union estimates a cut in
Several large investors have decided to
good that no one should have expected
income of 30 to 50 per cent for producers.
take Spain to the World Bank’s arbitration
Already, some investors are turning to
agency, the International Centre for
were speculators,” said Eduardo Montes, the
the courts. Their lawyers say the original
Settlement of Investment Disputes.
president of the Spanish Electricity Industry
law specifically guaranteed a fee of 58
Association, which represents traditional
cents for each kilowatt-hour for the next
questions on the subject. They are being
electricity producers. “It was not reasonable
25 years and guaranteed 80 per cent of
widely criticised for coming up with the
to expect it would stay that way.”
that for the years thereafter. It also clearly
new plan without consulting any of the
them to last. “Essentially, these investors
Government officials declined to answer
Jose Manuel Soria, Spain’s minister of industry, energy and tourism, is adamant that solar payments need to be cut.
affected parties and for changing their
the government had little trouble getting
mind about several components in the last
approval for its main proposals in
December, although many details will be clear only when new regulations are
“The government made a bad situation
worse by following a process that lacked consultation and transparency and instead
Justo Cruz Rodriguez, who runs a small business designing signs, stands at his solar farm in Murcia.
Some investors say they will respond
created confusion and uncertainty,” said
to the government’s plan by finding ways
David Robinson, an economist in Madrid
to become independent. Diego Nicolas,
who specialises in energy policy and who
who owns a car repair business in Murcia
is a senior research fellow at the Oxford
and installed solar panels in his garage
Institute for Energy Studies.
last year, said that he was considering investing in some wind turbines and a
But with a solid majority in Parliament,
generator and becoming self-sufficient. “I will be completely independent then, and not subject to their numbers game,” he said. But that option is not available to Cruz, whose business has suffered badly in the economic crisis. After the government first reduced his income from the panels in 2010 by capping the amount of electricity it would pay for, he renegotiated the terms of his loans. But he ended up with a higher interest rate and a longer term of repayment. He has already given up any dreams that the panels will contribute to his retirement. REUTERS
“I can’t go to the bank and say, ‘I am not
Workers remove solar panels after Spain’s government unveiled levies on green energy. March 2014
going to pay you anymore,’” he said. “But the government can just do what it likes? That does not seem right to me.” n
FRANCE’S FIGHT FOR
FRESH FOOD The use of industrial food is a growing phenomenon, but French legislators are fighting back with consumer protection laws, reports Liz Alderman.
IT DOWN AT A CUTE Parisian bistro and the chances are the onion soup, the paté and the boudin blanc set
before you were not prepared from fresh ingredients delivered that morning. Even though France is renowned as a world capital of gastronomy, these days, odds have grown that a savourylooking entree or dessert – especially at establishments near tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame or Montmartre – may have been at least partly prepared by an industrial food giant, frozen, then reheated in a kitchen. Even the bread, the French bread, may have been made in an industrial bakery. While this practice is taken for granted in the rest of the industrialised world, to
© 2014 NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
many French it is an astonishing affront to their very culture. The solution is just as French: Lawmakers are expected to soon approve a consumer protection law requiring restaurants to designate fresh dishes with a “fait maison,” or “homemade” logo. If a dish is unlabelled, some or all of it is Portfolio
presumed to come from an assembly line.
ON A recent morning at Le Petit Paris,
Castagnet recalled. “When people ordered,
a cosy bistro in the touristy Marais
they would pull out a bag of frozen
restaurants is a growing global
quarter, Alexandre Castagnet wrote out
lasagna, blanquette de veau or whatever
phenomenon,” said Daniel Fasquelle,
the day’s lunch specials on a blackboard:
was on the menu, pop it in the microwave
a National Assembly lawmaker among
cauliflower velouté, country ham and
and serve it on a plate,” he said.
those pushing for the label. “But for
other dishes made only with fresh
France, we’re talking about our heritage.
ingredients delivered that morning. But
choice,” said Hubert Jan, a representative
If we don’t do anything, in 10 years, real
before he and a partner took ownership,
of the French restaurant and hotel union
restaurants will be the exception.”
the bistro was serving very different
UMIH. Labour costs including taxes
fare. “The previous owners used factory-
have increased 40 per cent since 2000,
made foods, stored in two huge freezers,”
accounting for about 45 per cent of a
“The use of industrial food in
As is often the case in France, however, resolving the issue is not so simple.
“Businesses are making an economic
Restaurant owners behind a fresh-food movement say the government has not gone far enough. They want menus to note every frozen item, citing the right for consumers to know after a European food scandal last year in which frozen beef products were found to contain horse meat. Pushing back is an influential coterie of agro-food companies. Although the quality of frozen foods has vastly improved, they are concerned that singling them out on a menu could cut into a lucrative business that is expanding as dining habits shift and restaurants seek to improve margins as labour and food costs rise. The stars of French cuisine like Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon are offering their own “Restaurant de Qualité” seal for establishments that meet higher
Metro and other influential industrial food businesses are pushing back against a proposed consumer protection law.
standards for cuisine and atmosphere. Only 10 per cent of France’s 100,000 restaurants would qualify, since most “only do industrial cooking,” Ducasse said while unveiling it last year. The rest of the world may think the French are gastronomes, but about onethird of French restaurants acknowledged using ready-made meals in a recent anonymous survey conducted by Synhorcat, the French hotel, restaurant and café operators union. But Xavier Denamur, a leader of the fresh-food faction who owns five restaurants in the Marais, estimates the figure is closer to 70 per cent when ingredients like frozen fish are part of an otherwise homemade dish. March 2014
A cook cores fresh apples for a pie in the kitchen of Le Petit Paris, a bistro which serves only fresh-made meals.
Kodad Chafik, an assistant of the chef, prepares fresh scallops at Les Philosophes restaurant.
restaurant’s costs, while raw materials prices are rising. In addition, “there is a dearth of skilled kitchen workers and people aren’t willing anymore to rise at 2 am to make bread or pastries.” The modern French diner is more pressed for time: Most have cut back to two sit-down meals a day, from three. And last year, for the first time, more money was spent in fast-food chains than traditional restaurants, 54 per cent of the ¤34 billion French market. For restaurants eager to maintain
The rest of the world may think the French are gastronomes, but about one-third of French restaurants acknowledged using ready-made meals in a recent anonymous survey conducted by Synhorcat.
a competitive edge, padding a menu with ready-made dishes is economically attractive – even if no one dares to admit it, Jan said. One of the biggest tell-tale signs is a menu with a large range of choices. “If the menu is gigantic, the kitchen would need to be as big as the restaurant for all the food to really be fresh,” Jan said. “I have no interest in talking about it,” said Bernard Grateloup, who runs the Café de la Poste in Carmaux, in southern France. He was one of several owners who refused to speak after earlier telling French media that they bought frozen meats, vegetables or other dishes because the quality was good. THE BIGGEST players in industrial food see a growing market. They include Davigel, one of Europe’s largest food providers, owned by the Swiss giant Nestlé; the Brakes Group, owned by the private equity firm Bain Capital; Bonduell, the world’s largest purveyor of prepared vegetables; and the German wholesale giant Metro.
Xavier Denamur, a leader of a fresh-food faction who owns five restaurants, at his restaurant Les Philosophes.
Castagnet said representatives of almost all the companies had visited his bistro Portfolio
and others, bearing glossy catalogues and profit calculations for items. He said a Brakes salesman recounted how a 50-cent factory-made molten chocolate cake was made to “look homemade,” and could be microwaved and sold for ¤6. If enough menu items were replaced, he was told, he could even save on the cost of an employee. A spokesman for Brakes declined to comment. Castagnet rebuffed the arguments. “If you run your kitchen right, it is just as costeffective to use fresh products,” he said. That may be so – but only if restaurants can charge higher prices. At Denamur’s nearby flagship restaurant, Les Philosophes, the cost of workers preparing meals from scratch is passed on to consumers willing to pay more for quality.
A frozen food catalogue at Les Philosophes restaurant.
Duck confit is ¤25 ($34), compared with about ¤16 at a corner cafe. Nearly 60 per cent of Davigel’s ¤783 million in sales in 2012, the latest figures available, came from independent restaurants in France, where it has 66,000 accounts. The Brakes Group had annual sales of ¤630 million in 2012, up six per cent from 2011. The companies employ chefs to craft alluring offers – Brake, for instance, has a partnership with Ducasse to enhance quality and create new recipes. Its lush catalogue includes 3,500 items like frozen foie gras with caramelised apples or a precooked kit for gourmet beef stew with sous-vide meat, vegetables and broth.
The modern French diner is more pressed for time: Most have cut back to two sit-down meals a day, from three. And last year, for the first time, more money was spent in fast-food chains than traditional restaurants, 54 per cent of the €34 billion French market. March 2014
Baskets of fennel await preparation at Les Philosophes, a restaurant serving only freshmade dishes.
Denamur, the activist, is concerned
chef uses frozen onions to save time and
that many such dishes contain additives
costs, does that really need to be pointed
not found in fresh foods. One morning
out?” said Didier Chenet, the president
at Les Philosophes, he brandished an
empty container that had held salt cod
For the industry, the answer is no.
purée, which he said he had found in a
“When you identify something as frozen,
rival restaurant’s trash bin. The ticket
you put it in the head of the consumer
was stamped “like homemade,” but it also
that it might be less good,” said Ignace de
listed chemical preservatives.
Villepin, the marketing director of Davigel,
But the argument isn’t really about preservatives; it’s about origins. “If a
said. “That is wrong, but they may be less inclined to choose it,” he said. n
he feisty owner of a
small family business that makes detergents in Alonia
has never had time for anti-
capitalist firebrands. So he was “suspicious and sceptical” when he was approached by left-leaning activists campaigning to purge “profiteers” from the market. But, struggling to keep his business afloat under the weight of unpaid invoices and constant demands for bribes, the owner, Savvas Mavromatis, decided to give their proposal a shot. He started selling his products directly to consumers for cash at fixed prices through a non-profit collective, instead of shops and traders as he had always done. Fourteen months later, he credits the group with saving his enterprise from a Greek economic meltdown that rivals the Great Depression. “We are in the middle of a terrible crisis and are just looking for solutions,” said Elias Tsolakidis, the driving force behind the no-middlemen movement here in northern Greece, a small, quixotic but surprisingly successful effort to redefine the terms of commerce. “We don’t have a magic wand. We are not communists and we are not capitalists, but we are trying to help people survive.” In their search for solutions, Greeks are tinkering with a new kind of economy with little precedent in modern Europe. The collapse of the Greek economy is challenging not only the survival of Greeks, but also of some of the basic mechanisms of capitalism in a nation where the economy has shrunk by about In the view of widening numbers, Greece’s market-driven system has broken down, a victim of endemic corruption, budgetary mismanagement by the state, and the overbearing demands of global financial markets. In response, experimental ventures like the one
© 2014 New York Times News service
25 per cent since 2008.
Mavromatis joined have sprung up on the margins in towns and cities across
Cutting out middlemen by selling directly to consumers illustrates the problems inherent in the Greek economy, reports Andrew Higgins.
Greece. While they may not offer a longterm solution, and are too small to alter the overall shape of the economy, they represent a bottom-up effort to address an economic crisis whose closest antecedent may be the aftermath of World War II. Attacks on modern profit-driven capitalism are hardly new in Greece, where Syriza, a coalition of radical leftist forces, narrowly lost the last national election in 2012 and, according to opinion polls, is now the country’s most popular party. Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, decorates his party’s office in Athens with a poster of revolutionary icon Che Guevara. But Syriza, like many other left-wing parties across Europe, has had a hard time matching fiery rhetoric against “neoLiberal” economics with concrete actions to ease economic pain, including 27 per cent unemployment. It has focused mostly on denouncing job cuts, particularly in the bloated public sector, and attacking austerity measures imposed by Greece’s international creditors in return for $328 billion in bailouts.
Syriza, like many other left-wing parties across Europe, has had a hard time matching fiery rhetoric against “neo-Liberal” economics with concrete actions to ease economic pain, including 27 per cent unemployment. It has focused mostly on denouncing job cuts. March 2014
As the left remains deeply committed
economy, starting with what became
to much of the status quo, the task of
known as the “potato revolution,” a now
answering calls for a new economic order
nationwide movement that has slashed
and bringing some relief to Greece’s
the price of potatoes by getting farmers to
misery has fallen to people like Tsolakidis,
sell directly to customers.
who organises the ranks of the “no
In addition to its regular “no
middlemen” movement in his region
middlemen” markets, held in parking lots
through a local non-profit collective called
across the region, the Voluntary Action
the Voluntary Action Group of Pieria.
Group operates a free health clinic staffed
The movement seeks to cut out wholesalers, shop managers, state bureaucrats or anyone else between
The movement seeks to cut out wholesalers, shop managers, state bureaucrats or anyone else between producers and consumers, and who once took a share of profits and added to the costs of goods.
by volunteer doctors and a pharmacy stocked with donated drugs. Christos Kalaitzis, 53, a convert to
producers and consumers, and who once
the cause who grows kiwis, olives and
took a share of profits and added to the
chickpeas with his wife on their farm
costs of goods. Instead, Tsolakidis’ group
near Mount Olympus, acknowledged
runs a website where orders are placed in
that he, too, had initially been sceptical
advance and then distributed at markets
but got so fed up with not being paid by
to customers for a fixed price paid in cash.
big wholesalers and exporters that went
should I sell to big companies if their
bust after taking his products, that he
cheques bounce? If the free market in
took the chance.
Greece worked properly, none of this
His group takes a small cut to cover expenses, but it does not pay salaries to its members, more than 3,500 volunteers
“The goal is not to destroy the old
would be necessary.”
who have jobs or are unemployed. It is
market system but just to slow it down
a small link in a long chain of ventures
and get it to change,” Kalaitzis explained.
and avoiding appeals to the state for help
seeking to create a parallel “social”
“Maybe this is a bit romantic, but why
– the customary approach of many Greek
By cutting out marketplace middlemen
Christos Kalatzis, who produces chickpeas and other products, sells direct to consumers with the help of a volunteer group.
Greece has an unemployment rate of 27 per cent, with large cuts in the public sector. Portfolio
leftists – the activists say they hope to address the passive despair felt by many Greeks, who may need a generation or more to climb out of their economic hole. “This is a whole new concept for Greece,” said Fiori Zafeiropoulou, an expert on ways to mix social goals and business initiatives who advised officials drafting a new law that gives legal status to “social cooperative enterprises,” entities that combine business interests and social benefits. Unlike left-leaning activists, however, she does not want to upend market forces, only to make them better serve the underprivileged. Progress, she said, has often been slow because “in Greece there is a problem, and the problem is called corruption” – what she defined as a whole culture that revolves around getting favours from the state, as well as demanding bribes and kickbacks. Mavromatis, the detergent maker, said that the purchasing managers at
Savvas Mavromatis’ detergent business has flourished since he started selling directly to consumers.
supermarkets, whether owned by Greeks
Greece, where it is distorted by corruption
or foreigners, all demanded bribes just
at every level, public and private.
to agree to a meeting so he could present
no-middlemen markets. While he said
to ensure good display for his goods, he
he gets a slightly lower price than before,
said. The price varied depending on which
he no longer has to worry about paying
shelf he wanted his detergent placed,
bribes or getting cheques that bounce.
with the shelf near the floor costing
Struggling families, meanwhile, get to buy
less. On average he paid about $1,300 a
household detergent, fruit and a host of
transaction, plus gifts at Christmas and
other goods at a fraction of the normal
He said that when he started selling
Flush with cash for the first time since
through the no-middlemen group, “I had
Greece’s economy went into a nosedive
been dealing with supermarkets for so
in 2008, Mavromatis recently bought
long I kept waiting for them to ask for
a new Mercedes truck to transport his
money under the table. But nobody ever
detergents from his factory in a village
asked and I have not paid anything.”
near the town of Katerini, the regional
“I could not understand why they were
Today, Mavromatis is a regular at the
his products. They also asked for money
capital, and has expanded his product
doing all this for free,” Mavromatis, 46,
line to include toilet paper. Even after
added. “I was very suspicious and kept
six straight years of recession, he said,
thinking: ‘Where is the catch?’” He said
“People need to wash clothes, do their
he believed in the free market, but not in
dishes and go to the bathroom.” n
ROGER FEDERER ARTIST Enjoy responsibly – www.moet.com
THE BEST OF LEISURE AND LIFESTYLE
THE FORTRESS CITY
Lying at the heart of the ancient Indian state of Rajasthan, Jodhpur has attracted travellers for centuries. It is home to polo – the ‘Game of Kings’ – and some of the country’s most majestic monuments, reports Nick Rice. THE PANORAMIC VISTA AT
The Mehrangarh Fort is one of several
Named after the Indian ruler Rao
Mehrangarh – the fort of the sun – is an
essential places to visit in Jodhpur, the
Jodha, Jodhpur is universally known as
assault on the senses. A concrete blue sea
second largest city in the Indian state of
the ‘Blue City’ thanks to the multitude
of dwellings stretches to the horizon, as
Rajasthan. Founded in 1459, Rajasthan is
of houses painted in various hues of
though the sky is being reflected on the
significant in Indian history as it formed
indigo. The origin of the blue houses
earth below. As the eye skirts across a
the bedrock of the Indus Valley Civilisation,
bears resemblance to what the Western
sprawling desert metropolis that recently
widely acknowledged as one of the most
world might refer to as ‘Keeping up with
topped a million residents, the cacophony
ancient human civilisations on the planet.
the Joneses’. The widespread daubing of
Due to its central location in the state,
blue paint is connected to the prevailing
of noise being created in the faraway distance is carried on the wind up to this
Jodhpur is a popular travel hub and
caste system in India, and it began when
staggering perch atop a hundred foot cliff.
attracts a huge amount of tourists, both
members of the priestly class, known as
The British writer Aldous Huxley said
domestic and international. The whole city
Brahmins, painted their homes to signify
of this phenomenon, “From the bastions
emanates outwards from the 10 kilometres
their own perceived elevated status.
of the Jodhpur Fort one hears as the gods
of city walls surrounding Mehrangarh.
What they didn’t count on was the rest
must hear from Olympus, the gods to
Like a mirage in the inhospitable Thar
whom each separate word uttered in the
Desert, Jodphur glistens in the almost
innumerably peopled world below, comes
up distinct and individual to be recorded in the books of omniscience.” Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say one can hear snippets of conversation, or any discernible words for that matter, it is still a curious deception to hear the daily racket and bustle from so remote a standpoint.
of the population following suit, and the custom still lives on. However, today the
to buy it. Very eager! And persistent. When it comes to accommodation there
‘haveli’ can be a good option. These multifloored mansions are constructed with a
locals are more likely to cite blue as being
is also a great deal of choice – a somewhat
central courtyard, and many families and
an effective insect repellent or coolant
daunting range of over 100 guesthouses,
businesses can be based within, meaning
as motivation for painting their home.
all within close proximity of each other.
they are often lively places.
Regardless, the effect is striking and
Unsurprisingly the competition is fraught
people flock to see it.
as locals vie for your custom. An old
of Jodhpur’s city centre can be found
traditional Rajasthani building known as a
in areas such as Navchokiya. Slightly
Respite from the unremitting activity
TOURISM IS the second largest industry of Jodhpur after handicrafts. Shopping is a major attraction and in the warrens of medieval streets, amid the roaming sacred cows, constant blare of motor horns and the pungent aromas of sweet and foul, visitors can find all manner of textiles, souvenirs and jewellery. On a larger scale the city has a thriving export sector, with an estimated 200,000 workers sustaining a $200 million furniture industry. The landmark clock tower in the Sardar Market serves as a good orientation point when exploring the old city. This is the heart of the action and a degree of patience will serve you well. There is a lot for sale – and a lot of people eager for you Jodhpur is also known as ‘the Blue City’ due to its painted houses.
Dancers perform in traditional colourful saris at the Mehrangarh Fort.
further west, this part of the old city is
and has converted it into a five star hotel
poised tigers lining sweeping staircases. A
equally fascinating but less overwhelming.
and museum run by Taj Hotel Resorts &
subterranean spa offers modern creature
South of the old city in the more recently
Palaces, with visitors paying a nominal
comforts whilst a stunning outdoor pool,
developed neighbourhoods there is more
fee to see the grounds and museum, while
neat tennis courts, and squash courts
space and less hustle. But for real peace
restaurant and hotel guests have the
cater for active guests.
and quiet a visit to the other great edifice
freedom to explore. Walking through the
in Jodhpur is a must.
vast marbled lobby the sheer scale takes
for the Maharaja and aside from the
a while to process. Taxidermy decorates
conversion of his own home into a hotel
the walls, with roaring leopards and
and museum, he has provided leadership
ENCIRCLED BY 26 acres of
Tourism has been a major concern
meticulously maintained gardens, the Umaid Bhawan Palace is one of the largest private residences in the world and the last of the great palaces of India. It was built between 1928 and 1943, both as a symbol of a progressive Jodhpur and a way to provide people with work during periods of struggle and drought. The palace was designed by Henry Lanchester, the lauded Edwardian architect, and named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present Maharaja of Jodhpur. This stunning sandstone monument was conceived on a grand scale, boasting 347 rooms, and combines Eastern and Western architectural influences. The present Maharaja, His Highness Gaj Singh II, still resides at the palace
The huge Umaid Bhawan Palace was built between 1928 and 1943.
The present Maharaja of Jodhpur, His Highness Gaj Singh II, has done a lot to promote tourism. March 2014
It was a tightly fought contest at the final of The Royal Salute Maharaja of Jodhpur Golden Jubilee Cup.
Johannes Huebl, a big name in the modelling world, added some glamour.
IPG Bedla was the winning team at this year’s Royal Salute Maharaja of Jodhpur Golden Jubilee Cup.
to the innovative movement of ‘Heritage
his palace. Portfolio had the good fortune
the action would take place. In the same
Hotels’ in Rajasthan and the neighbouring
of being invited to the most prestigious
car with me was Malcolm Borwick, one
states, which is positively influencing
event of the year – The Royal Salute
of England’s leading professional polo
tourism and conservation in India.
Maharaja of Jodhpur Golden Jubilee Cup.
players, and he whetted an already keen
The Maharajah is not secreted away in
Royal Salute was originally created in
appetite saying, “As an international
a private corner of the palace either, but
1953 by Chivas Brothers as a tribute to
polo player you get to play in some
is often seen around, especially at polo
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II upon her
pretty special places, but the foothills
events. Polo is huge here and Jodhpur is
coronation. The brand has been a market
of the Umaid Bhawan palace is really
often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Polo’.
leader ever since and the Royal Salute
spectacular. India makes for an incredible
The Maharaja is the Ambassador and
World Polo tour has a presence in every
cross-cultural stage to showcase polo,
Founding Patron of the Jodhpur Polo &
major region globally.
immersed in magnificent style with
Equestrian Institute, and he rejuvenated
The journey to the pitch was a rare
the sport back in 1997 when he created
treat as a retinue of vintage motorcars
impressive new grounds in the shadow of
arrived at the palace to drive us to where
majestic company.” It was a riveting match, and despite the fact Borwick played a great game, his Portfolio
A vintage car from the Maharaja of Jodhpur’s collection.
team were narrowly beaten. There were no damp spirits though, and Neil Macdonald, the global brand director for Royal Salute, summed up the day concisely saying, “There is no other setting quite like it. This is a great way to round off a very busy year of Royal Salute World Polo events.” PLUS, HOW could anyone be down at heart when the evening was yet to unfold at the exclusive Royal Salute Golden Jubilee Ball – which was back at the Mehrangarh Fort. By night it was no less impressive… the expanse of blue buildings gave way to an electric orange lake of glimmering beauty. The fort towers upwards into the stars, its serrated battlements glowing red
The Royal Salute Golden Jubilee Ball was held at the Mehrangarh Fort.
against the inky sky. The words of another English writer, the Bombay-born Rudyard Kipling, (the first English-language writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, and at 42, still the youngest recipient to this day) describe the fort perfectly. “The work of angels, fairies and giants... built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun... he who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is as though he walked through mountain gorges...” n March 2014
Polo ponies are unique horses that combine the traits of a number of breeds.
South Korea has become the largest consumer of Spam outside the US, where itâ€™s not only a culinary staple but also a tasteful gift, reports Choe Sang-hun.
Holiday gift sets of Spam at Lotte Department Store in Seoul.
ith the Lunar New Year holiday that passed, Seoul’s increasingly well-
heeled residents scoured store shelves for tastefully wrapped boxes of culinary specialties. Among their favourite choices: imported wines, choice cuts of beef, rare herbal teas. And Spam. Yes, Spam. In the United States, the gelatinous meat product in the familiar blue and yellow cans has held a place as thrifty pantry staple, culinary joke and
South Korea has become the largest consumer of Spam outside the United States, according to the local producer. And that does not include the knockoffs that flood the market.
kitschy fare for hipsters without ever
© 2014 New York Times News service
losing its low-rent reputation. But in
economically vibrant South Korea, the
States, according to the local producer.
pink bricks of pork shoulder and ham have
And that does not include the knockoffs
taken on a bit of glamour as they have
that flood the market.
worked their way into people’s affections.
Spam’s journey from surplus meat
“Here, Spam is a classy gift you can
shoulder in Minnesota to the centre of
give to people you care about during
the South Korean dining table began at
the holiday,” said Im So-ra, a saleswoman
a time of privation – hitching a ride with
at the high-end Lotte Department
the US military during the Korean War
Store in downtown Seoul who proudly
and becoming a longed-for luxury in the
displayed stylish boxes with cans of
desperate years afterward, when American
Spam nestled inside.
troops stayed to keep the peace.
South Korea has become the largest consumer of Spam outside the United
“PX food was the only way you could get meat,” said Kim Jong-sik, 79, a
South Korean veteran who was stationed
with eggs, and a mixture of little cubes of
at US bases in the 1950s. “Spam was
Spam, sour kimchi and rice (stir-fried and
a luxury available only to the rich and
preferably served with an egg sunnyside
up on top) is a favourite snack Korean
These days, it is sometimes easy to forget the US military presence that
women say they crave when pregnant. And then there are the gift boxes, which
has lasted for decades. The sprawling
have helped loft Spam’s sales in South
military base in the heart of Seoul, the
Korea fourfold in the last decade to nearly
capital, is shrinking in deference to
20,000 tons, worth $235 million, last
Korean sensibilities, and even the famed
year. The local producer, CJ Cheil Jedang,
district of Itaewon, once a warren of
said it released 1.6 million boxed sets this
bars for servicemen, is now a stylish
holiday season alone, boasting of contents
neighbourhood with a more international
that make Koreans “full of smiles.”
feel. But Spam remains ubiquitous, so
An exact comparison with American
much a part of the fabric of culinary life
sales remains elusive. A spokeswoman for
here that many young people have no idea
Hormel, the US maker, said the company
of its origins, even as they order “military
does not report individual product sales,
stew,” or budaejjigae.
noting however that Spam remains a
Restaurants that specialise in the stew –
“high-quality kitchen staple made of 100
a concoction that often mixes Spam with
per cent pure meat that the world has
the more-indigenous kimchi – dot urban
come to know and love.”
South Korea’s love affair with the former PX food has so far been enduring. It grew in popularity even through the years of a gradual reduction in the size of the US forces in South Korea and even when student-led anti-American protests rocked the country, some of them set off by the foreign military presence.
That may be. But George H. Lewis, a
of Popular Culture that Spam won its
in the convenience of opening a can and
sociologist at the University of the Pacific,
“highest” status in South Korea. Here,
serving a breakfast of pan-fried Spam
noted in a 2000 article in the Journal
he observed, Spam not only outranked
alleys. Some harried Korean mothers revel
Ahn Myeong-sook prepares Johnson’s Stew, which includes Spam, at the kitchen of her restaurant.
His dream We fulfilled his
was to reach the top.
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International and Area Studies. “Given Spam’s introduction to South Korea through the US military, it enjoyed an association with prosperity and nutritiousness during an earlier era.” Kim, the army veteran, is of the generation that remembers first-hand the painful origins of the product’s popularity. “In those early years, children scavenged through American Army Dumpsters, collecting Spam, sausage, half-eaten hamburger patty, bacon, bread, anything edible, and sold them to restaurants,” he said. The stew that came to be known as budaejjigae was born that way, as people cleaned the castaways and began mixing them, or black-market US military Factory workers check Spam tins before they are packed at CJ Food Factory in Jecheon, Chungcheongbuk-do province, South Korea.
During a recent lunch, Bada was packed with well-dressed young Koreans. Sung Min-kyeong, 35, an interior designer dining at the 14-table restaurant, said she could not understand what Americans found so funny about Spam while they loved hot dogs.
rations, with kimchi. (The dish is also sometimes called “Johnson’s Stew” to honour President Lyndon B. Johnson, who visited in 1966 and promised continued US economic aid.) Kim and his wife now run Bada Sikdang, one of the most popular budaejjigae restaurants in Seoul. One past high-profile client: President Park Geun-hye, whose framed signature hangs on the wall. During a recent lunch, Bada was packed with well-dressed young Koreans. Sung Min-kyeong, 35, an interior designer
Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken
obsession, some richer South Koreans
dining at the 14-table restaurant, said she
in status, but was given as a gift “on
turn up their noses at the canned product
could not understand what Americans
occasions of importance when one wishes
(which, incidentally, lent its name to
found so funny about Spam while they
to pay special honour and proper respect.”
those irritating, unwanted emails known
loved hot dogs.
For a time, Korean children even
Even some who do not consider themselves big fans said that though they
considered it cool to have pan-fried slices
But South Korea’s love affair with the
of Spam in their school lunchboxes. (Now,
former PX food has so far been enduring.
did not live through the war, they have
it is at least not uncool.) Its cachet was
It grew in popularity even through the
their own fond memories of Spam as a
obvious in a recent television commercial
years of a gradual reduction in the size of
fixture of their childhoods.
featuring movie and television stars. In it,
the US forces in South Korea and even
a man makes a romantic dinner invitation
when student-led anti-American protests
had been a revelation when her American
that his picky girlfriend cannot refuse:
rocked the country, some of them set off
brother-in-law once looked shocked to see
How about slices of pan-fried Spam over a
by the foreign military presence.
her buy Spam and told her it was “junk
steaming bowl of rice?
So what explains the staying power?
One, 40-year-old Seo Soo-kyung, said it
food for the homeless in the US.”
“Spam maintains a mythical aura
“To me, Spam was just a tasteful and
ThaT is not to say everyone here has a
on the Korean market for reasons that
convenient food that mother used to cook
soft spot for Spam. At a time when there
escape many,” mused Koo Se-woong,
for us,” she said. “The thing about Spam is
is no shortage of fresh meat and organic
a lecturer of Korean studies at Yale
that it goes marvellously well with kimchi
foods have become a bit of a national
University’s MacMillan Center for
and rice.” n Portfolio
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T IS 3 PM, AND OUTSIDE another brilliant Los Angeles afternoon beckons. But Olga Kay has drawn her blinds, leaving her living room in a semi-darkened haze.
She has been up since 8 am, though she
is still in her pyjamas and has ventured outside only briefly to walk her dog, Roxy. Otherwise, Kay sits cross-legged in front of a glowing screen, offering cheerful commentary as she navigates her way through the video game Grand Theft Auto 5. The video game marathon is not a diversion; it is her job. Kay, 31, is part of an emerging group of entertainers who are trying to make a living by producing content for YouTube. On this particular weekend, she is filming a week’s worth of segments for her online game channel, because during the week she must feed the rest of her network. Yes, network. With neither writers nor producers, she has made herself the star of five channels on YouTube that together attract roughly one million subscribers. That following helps her earn money through advertising, sponsorships and merchandise like Olga Kay knee socks. It’s a living. But it’s a frantic one. Kay, who started her entertainment career as a juggler in Russia, is a juggernaut who has turned everything in her life into material for her videos. Her living room has become a studio for Olga Kay Games, the hall space outside her kitchen is used as an editing suite, and her bedroom has been wallpapered in pink and white stripes to create a background for the taping of Mooshville, on which she gives makeup and fashion tips to her fans, who are largely young and female. There is even a channel featuring Roxy, her Shih Tzu.
© 2014 NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
In total, she posts at least 20 videos a week to her main channels – a punishing pace. “It is very stressful,” she says. “Every morning I wake up and think, ‘What can I do that’s different that will keep me relevant for another year?’” Kay is in the vanguard of a do-it-yourself entertainment revolution, which YouTube
CHASING THEIR STAR,
ON YOUTUBE YouTube has been providing resources and incentives to help amateur video makers step up their game, but it’s a tough way to earn a living, reports Leslie Kaufman. Portfolio
Olga Kay is part of an emerging group of entertainers who are trying to make a living by producing content for YouTube.
has been nurturing since its inception in
revenue from their videos. The company
Angeles to amateur cooks working out
2005. Once an outlet for zany antics and
had allowed some ad sharing as early as
of small kitchens in SĂŁo Paulo.
animal videos, YouTube has more recently
2007, but the simplicity of the new model
sought to attract the kind of high-quality
set off a gold rush: All creators have to do
more than 100 content producers grants
programming that advertisers will want
is click a button agreeing to let Google sell
of roughly $1 million apiece to improve
to buy against. To do that, it has been
advertising that will appear on their site
the quality of their videos. And it has
providing resources and incentives to help
in return for a share of the revenue. Today,
built huge, modern production facilities
amateur video makers step up their game.
the company says, there are a million
that are open for no charge to YouTube
â€œpartnersâ€? trying to make money off the
contributors in Los Angeles, London and
programme that would allow content
platform, ranging from venture-backed
Tokyo. (A New York studio will open at
producers to share with YouTube the ad
enterprises that fill warehouses in Los
the end of 2014.)
In 2012, YouTube announced a partners
That same year, the company gave
The message to aspiring video makers was clear, and seductive: Come to YouTube, attract an audience, build your brand and even make real money. Jason Calacanis, who received a $1 million YouTube grant to encourage his company to produce more of its popular cooking and lifestyle videos, set off a minifirestorm last summer when he published an article explaining why he thought YouTube’s terms were unfair. Titled “I Ain’t Gonna Work on YouTube’s Farm No More,” after a Bob Dylan song, the article Kay earns between $100,000 to $130,000 a year, but most of it is reinvested in her business.
called YouTube’s take an “absurd” tax. “We were huge fans of YouTube,” he said in a recent email exchange, “but we are not creating content anymore because it’s simply not sustainable. YouTube is an awesome place to build a brand, but it is a horrible place to build a business.” Relaxing in a swivel chair in YouTube’s mod headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, Robert Kyncl, the company’s head of content and business operations, acknowledged the fundamental tension built into the YouTube business model. Yes, he said, ad rates are declining and will probably drop even further in the near future as more people post material. But Kyncl is unapologetic.
The YouTube production centre is open for no charge to YouTube contributors, enabling creators to build their brand in hopes of earning viewership and attracting advertisers.
“No other platform has invested in video delivery like we have in terms of ad force and technology,” he said. “There are huge
The message to aspiring video makers
KAY, WHO has been slogging away since
amounts of people behind it and costs.” Google, which has owned YouTube since
was clear, and seductive: Come to
2006 to be in this elite group, says she
YouTube, attract an audience, build your
has earned from $100,000 to $130,000
2006, has put its worldwide advertising
brand and even make real money.
in each of the last three years. And while
sales force of 12,000 behind the platform.
that’s a good income, she puts much of
Kyncl also cited the investments that allow
wealth, remain elusive. YouTube is
it back into her business, investing in
for high-quality video uploading from
vague on its numbers and says only that
merchandise, equipment and staff.
all over the world, even on cellphones or
But success, let alone stardom and
thousands of channels, among the million
Then there is YouTube’s cut of the profits.
or so that collect revenue directly through
The company would not provide details, but
the partners programme, earn at least six
content creators say the company takes 45
figures in revenue.
per cent of the ad revenue.
other mobile devices. All of this has made YouTube more attractive to A-listers. As a result, once-wary advertisers are pouring in. In 2013, YouTube attracted Portfolio
Essentials Media all of Advertising Age’s 100 top spending
aren’t so sure that the deal makes sense
brands. The company’s ad revenue for
for them financially.
last year, according to eMarketer, totalled
Olga Kay grew up in rural Russia until
about $5.6 billion, up 51 per cent from
her family ran out of money and she
2012. (By comparison, CBS, the most-
went to work for a circus. She learned to
watched network and three-quarters of
juggle and eventually got a visa to come
a century old, reported $8.5 billion in
to the United States to join the Ringling
ad revenue in 2012, the last full year for
Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus.
which data is available.)
She began to get work in commercials
It’s a lot of money, but it is spread so
– for example, juggling glasses in a
thinly among the many content providers
Smirnoff Vodka ad. In 2002, she moved
that an increasing number are saying they
to Hollywood, looking for a career in
Korean singer Psy earned $8 million from his one billion YouTube hits.
show business. At the time, YouTube was a burgeoning phenomenon, and Kay was sucked in. In 2006, she began a video blog Crew members shoot a segment of The Next Great Starship, a reality-based competition series, at the YouTube production centre in Los Angeles.
about her daily life and soon had tens of thousands of followers. Currently, she says, more than one million people, generally female and 13 to 21 years old, subscribe to all her channels combined – which means they have clicked a button asking to receive notice when she posts something new. That kind of traffic gives her a strong base for pre-roll ads, but not enough to make up for declining rates overall. The problem is worsened by the fact that fat sponsorship deals for promoting products directly are increasingly rare – and even when they come through, they are not as lucrative as they seem. “We are underpaid,” Kay says. “We are
not only coming up with the commercial
Big sponsorship deals for promoting products are becoming rare. March 2014
concept and tapping into a loyal audience, we are also doing marketing. We are doing all of these jobs for a relatively small fee.” n
Industry Versus AgrIculture
A pool of water next to a lead factory in Songbai Township, China.
Chinese officials are becoming increasingly worried about the industrial pollution of agricultural lands, which is affecting food safety, reports Edward Wong.
The farm-To-Table process in
released the results, adding to the fear and
China starts in villages like Chenjiawan
making it more difficult for most Chinese
in the agricultural heartland. Food
to judge what they eat and pinpoint the
from the fields of Ge Songqing and her
neighbours ends up in their kitchens or
An alarming glimpse of official findings
in the local market and, from there, goes
came recently, when a vice minister of
to other provinces. The foods are Chinese
land and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said
staples: rice, cabbage, carrots, turnips and
at a news conference in Beijing that 3.2
million hectares of China’s farmland, equal
But the fields are ringed by factories and
to the size of Maryland, had become so
irrigated with water tainted by industrial
polluted that planting crops on it “should
waste. Levels of toxic heavy metals in the
not be allowed.”
wastewater here are among the highest
A signal moment came in May, when
in China, and residents fear the soil is
officials in Guangdong province, in the far
similarly contaminated. Though they
south, said they had discovered excessive
have no scientific proof, they suspect that
levels of cadmium in 155 batches of rice
a spate of cancer deaths is linked to the
collected from markets, restaurants and
pollution, and worry about lead levels in
storehouses. Of those, 89 were from Hunan
the children’s blood.
province, where Ge farms.
“Of course I’m afraid,” said Ge, in her
The report set off a nationwide scare.
60s, pointing to the smokestacks looming
In June, China Daily, an official, English-
over her fields and the stagnant, algae-
language newspaper, published an editorial
filled irrigation canals surrounding a home
saying that “soil contaminated with heavy
she shares with a granddaughter and her
metals is eroding the foundation of the country’s food safety and becoming a
“Soil contaminated with heavy metals is eroding the foundation of the country’s food safety and becoming a looming public health hazard.”
looming public health hazard.” One-sixth of China’s arable land – nearly 20.2 million hectares – suffers from soil pollution, according to a book published this year by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The book, Soil Pollution and Physical Health, said that more than 13 million tons of crops harvested each year were contaminated with heavy metals, and that 8.9 million hectares of farmland were affected by pesticides. But the government has refused to divulge details of the pollution, leaving
husband, a former soldier. “But we don’t do
farmers and consumers in the dark about
physical checkups. If we find out we have
the levels of contaminants in the food chain.
cancer, it’s only a burden on the children.”
The soil survey, completed in 2010, has
With awareness of China’s severe
© 2014 New York Times News service
environmental degradation rising, there
been locked away as a “state secret.” “We think it’s always the right of the
has been a surge of anxiety in the last
public to know how bad the situation is,”
year among ordinary Chinese and some
said Ma Tianjie, an advocate at Greenpeace
officials over soil pollution in the country’s
East Asia who is researching toxic soil. “The
agricultural centres and the potential
Chinese public can accept the fact that our
effects on the food chain. In recent years,
environment is polluted. The important
the government has conducted widespread
thing is to give them the means to challenge
testing of soil across China, but it has not
polluters and improve the environment,
and not just keep them in the dark.” There has been some acknowledgment
producers of nonferrous metals. As a result, it is the leading polluter of cadmium,
of the problem by top officials. In January,
chromium, lead and non-metal arsenic,
the State Council, China’s Cabinet,
according to data collected in 2011 by the
announced that it would set up systems
Institute of Public and Environmental
to comprehensively monitor soil
Affairs, a research group based in Beijing.
pollution by 2015 and promote pilot projects for treatment. Scholars say soil pollution is especially
That year, the province was responsible for 41 per cent of the nation’s cadmium pollution when measured by its presence
acute in Hunan province, China’s rice bowl.
in industrial wastewater; the number
In 2012, Hunan produced 17 million tons
has not dropped below 30 per cent
of rice, 16 per cent of the national total,
since 2004, when the data were first
according to one market research company.
collected by the group. The wastewater is
The province is also one of China’s top
discharged in rivers, where it flows into
A farmer prepares his land to plant sweet potatoes beside a lead factory.
A workers prepares to remove farmed catfish from a contaminated pond.
Residents dig through trash for recyclable materials near Hengyang. Portfolio
Essentials Environment irrigation channels. “There’s this pressure from the central government on Hunan to maintain a high
of pollution. Some scientists are now conducting studies. In July, the Chinese Centre for Disease
level of yield for rice production,” said Ma,
Control and Pollution published some
the Greenpeace programme director. “On
findings from a study that drew a direct
the other hand, rice production never gives
connection between pollution of the Huai
you the same kind of GDP growth that
River, which crosses several provinces in
industrial development gives you.”
central China, and high rates of cancer
Hunan’s abundance of raw metals has led to a push by provincial Communist Party
among people living by the river. Here in Hunan, and particularly in this
leaders to develop mining and smelting
area administered by Hengyang City, which
there further, leaving officials caught in
includes Ge’s village, stories of cancer are
what Ma calls a clash of two imperatives:
common. One woman in the village of
“They have to feed the country with their
Liujiacun said her husband had died in his
rice, but they want to grow their economy.”
late 50s of liver cancer. “He didn’t do heavy
Among the heavy metals seeping into
labour, didn’t smoke and he would drink
Hunan’s crops, the worst may be cadmium,
only a little bit,” said the widow, who gave
which at high levels has been linked to
only her surname, Li. As in nearby villages,
organ failure, weakening of bones and
crops here appear wilted, and the village well
cancer, scientists say.
is clogged with green muck. These were all sharp changes from Li’s childhood, she said.
IncreasIngly, chInese news
Twenty people still live in Chenjiawan
organisations are reporting on clusters
now, down from a population of about 100
of villages that have high rates of cancer,
in 2007, most of them elderly, Ge said,
raising questions about the potential
adding that many recent deaths had been
link between cancer and various forms
from cancer. There is no public data drawing a direct connection between these cases and the factories that loom over the farmland. But a 2009 study published in a Chinese journal said that the area’s main crops were “at a high risk of heavy metal contamination,” and that only less than half could be rated “secure” or “good.” Given the nationwide health risks, some environmental officials in Beijing have praised recent experiments done by scientists that show certain plants could help clean the soil by absorbing poisons. Still, there has been no sign of action on the State Council’s announced goal for comprehensive monitoring and treatment of soil pollution. Many farmers working their ravaged lands remain fearful and fatalistic. “You’re born on this earth, you grow up on this
A family of A worker feeds a male farmers eat lunch Orinoco crocodile horse at their home in meat at Masaguaral Ranch. Chenjiawan village. March 2014
earth, and you can’t do anything about it,” Ge said, sitting in an alley next to a pail of carrots. “Those who are most vulnerable have died.” n
THE NFL IN
ALL ITS GLORY
Madden NFL, the EA Sports game, has sold more than 100 million copies thanks to its extreme realism, reports Ken Belson.
HE FOOTBALL PLAYERS STRUTTED DOWN A 36.6-metre strip of synthetic turf in Burnaby, British Columbia, yelling, jumping and flailing their arms to whip the fans into a frenzy. But there was no stadium and no crowd here, only a barn-like studio with an animator
directing the mock celebration and a few computer technicians recording the movements with dozens of high-speed motion-capture cameras that zero in on 65 reflective markers fastened to the players’ uniforms. While the National Football League (NFL) season has just ended, EA Sports is busy preparing the next version of Madden NFL, the best-selling video game whose release each August represents the unofficial kickoff of another season. To entice fans to pay $60 for the latest edition, EA Sports has spent uncountable hours and drawn on the skills of technical experts, athletes and John Madden himself to mimic the real pro game. Much of what goes into the effort to add fresh details each year is based on a half-dozen stunt players who enact thousands of elements of the game day experience and the game itself. Computers could simulate the movements, but it would take more time and money, and ultimately the results would look as if they had been created by a machine. The popularity of the video game, which has been around a quartercentury and has sold more than 100 million copies, thrives on its realism, from a running back’s stutter step to the sweat on his brow.
Matt Spanos (left), Kenny Bell (centre) and Omar Nazel are stunt players for EA Sports’ Madden NFL. March 2014
© 2014 NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
“The sport is so complicated and has so many individual little things, to do it at a scale where it isn’t repetitive at every play, you’d need a country of animators to try to crank that out,” said Jason Danahy, Madden NFL animation director. “An animator can convey weight and speed, and handle that kind of stuff, but they don’t have necessarily a football mind like these guys do, and that’s a huge help for us.” The attention to detail in Madden NFL is a huge help to the league and its players, because they receive tens of millions of dollars in
licensing fees. The video game also helps
video game (and of seeing themselves in
an exhibition on the history of Madden
introduce the sport to fans that might not
it), and some features – like the circles
NFL. “It’s a double-edged sword, because
otherwise follow it, especially as some
that highlight players – have worked their
the experience at home is so good, it’s
parents steer their children away because
way into television broadcasts. Before
another reason not to go to the stadium.”
of safety concerns.
each Super Bowl, EA Sports simulates
Madden’s hyperrealism is partly a
a game between the two teams and has
result of increasingly sophisticated game
simulation games, but few have Madden
predicted eight of the past 10 champions.
consoles and software. But the game is
NFL’s staying power. It has been the
(This year’s forecast, however, was less
also inextricably entwined with the league.
Number 1-selling sports video game the
successful: EA Sports picked the Denver
Madden NFL is known informally as “the
past four years and has ranked in the
Broncos to win in overtime, 31-28. The
33rd franchise,” because its developers
top three since 1995, according to Liam
Seattle Seahawks triumphed 43-8.)
are sent the same game footage that the
There is no shortage of sports
Callahan, an analyst at the NPD Group
“Video games were for a long time
market research company. Last year, the
the cart, but now they are becoming the
game generated 27 per cent of the $900
horse,” said Carl Goodman, the executive
million in sales of sports video games.
director of the Museum of the Moving
among our best partners, not just in total
Image in New York, which has assembled
dollars, but in the fans they bring in and
It has also entered the cultural lexicon
coaches on all 32 teams receive every week during the season. “Especially the last 10 years, EA has been
partly because of the popularity of Madden, the former NFL coach and television announcer who, in the 1980s, agreed to help develop the video game if it resembled the real thing. “There are people who know me as Coach,” Madden said. “But the last year I coached was 1978. Then as a broadcaster with CBS, Fox, ‘Monday Night Football’ and ‘Sunday Night Football’. Then video games. Usually, I can tell the video game people because they just call me Madden.” NFL players talk about their love of the Travis Griggs, senior animator at EA Sports, speaks with stunt players during a motion capture shoot for Madden NFL.
Players on a field of synthetic turf at the EA Sports building in Vancouver, Canada. Portfolio
Essentials Technology the fans they retain,” said Tim Langley, the director of consumer products for the NFL. “It’s very important to us, because we anecdotally see time and time again people who said they didn’t really follow the NFL, ‘but then I started to play Madden.” WHILE EA Sports has an exclusive license to use names, plays and other elements of the league, the NFL has editorial oversight. Langley and others vet thousands of pages of recorded scripts and delete inappropriate dialogue, like the harshest trash talk. Chop blocks, helmet-to-helmet hits and other illegal plays are not permitted in the video game – even with accompanying penalties – despite the other efforts at realism. This stems not only from the
Troy Thibadeau places markers on a stunt player.
league’s fastidiousness about its image but also from Madden’s insistence that the game be exciting and educational. He still helps developers at EA Sports identify trends to add to the game. “The goal was to make the video game the same as what’s on TV,” Madden said. “This isn’t a kid’s game. It’s a football game that kids play.” The video game has been around so long that some stunt players were born after the first edition was released in 1988. Others, like Omar Nazel, who played defensive end at the University of Southern California but never reached the NFL, trace their love of football to their first encounters with it. “I’ve always played video games, and
A computer screen displays the motion capture recorded for the EA Sports animators designing the latest edition of Madden NFL.
Then Clint Oldenburg, a former
I didn’t know anything else to do but be
around in the air a few times a season.
inside of it,” said Nazel, who was a stunt
Nazel and his teammates might do that
offensive lineman who became a designer
double in a Nike commercial starring
several times in a session. An emergency
for EA Sports, showed them footage of
Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions receiver.
medical worker is present, as well as a
a game between the Indianapolis Colts
“This was a key, key, key vehicle for a lot of
trainer to help the players stretch.
and the Miami Dolphins on a big screen.
things in my life.”
Most of what the players do, though,
Oldenburg was focused on how Mike
is more pedestrian. Nazel and another
Pouncey, the Dolphin centre, repelled a
like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning
player, Matt Spanos, for instance, spent
fill the video game, NFL players do not
15 minutes acting like opposing linemen.
“I want to recreate that,” Oldenburg
portray themselves because of the risk of
They pointed around the field, just as real
told them. “It should be like, this lineman
injury. The stunt players are journeymen
linemen would, to communicate before
dominates you so much you gave up.”
like Nazel, who have collegiate and some
the snap. They were also asked to crouch,
professional experience, if not in the NFL.
pause and stand up. Nazel was told to
on his heels, Nazel hung his head in
pretend to jump offside.
Though the likenesses of quarterbacks
An NFL player might be hit and spun March 2014
After Spanos pushed Nazel back
Londonâ€™s UndergroUnd MoveMent With sky-high real estate prices, it is little wonder that art establishments, restaurants and shops are literally moving underground, reports Christine Ajudua.
he British capital’s evolving
layered palimpsest. During construction for
skyline is as impressive as it is
the coming Crossrail subway, archaeologists
24/7 karaoke clubs where there were once
unusual. Consider the Shard,
have unearthed medieval ice skates, Roman
secret war rooms.
the 309.7-metre “vertical city”
skulls and prehistoric bison bones, all within 3.7 metres of the pavement. Meanwhile,
in the world than looking into your
building when it was completed in 2012,
with sky-high property rates above ground,
old cupboards and finding a toy,” the
and 20 Fenchurch Street (aka the Walkie-
some of the city’s most innovative art spaces,
company’s founder, Ajit Chambers, said.
Talkie), which made headlines last summer
restaurants, shops and bars have been
when the glare from its cartoonishly flaring
springing up below street level.
facade warped the panels of a Jaguar
Of course, Londoners have long possessed
In the fantasy novel Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman depicts an underworld invisible to “London Above,” where the tony
a downward-cast gaze. Take the Tube –
neighbourhood of Knightsbridge becomes
the world’s first underground rail system,
an ominous Night’s Bridge. In reality, with
rock, London – ancient, sprawling, famously
introduced just over 150 years ago. Its
the confluence of wealth in the area and
self-deprecating – has its roots buried in
stations provided shelter when the city was
the city’s notoriously restrictive planning
a bed of clay, sand and chalk, an unlikely
blitzed during World War II; they’ve also
laws (generally, those looking to expand
foundation for high-rise grandeur. Rather,
displayed commissions by artists from Man
their homes cannot build up or out – only
as the author Peter Ackroyd noted in
Ray to Tracey Emin. Now, the Old London
down), it is prime territory for digging out
London Under, “the geology of London is
Underground Co. is hoping to reopen
multilevel “billionaire basements.”
a clue to the labyrinth beneath”: a deeply
26 ghost stations as attractions. Think of
parked outside. Whereas Manhattan is built upon hard © 2014 New York Times News service
“There’s nothing more valuable
that topped out as Western Europe’s tallest
Following suit, a sleek, 85-room
The Chalk Room offers bespoke fashion. March 2014
labyrinth of disused rail tunnels opened in January for Vault 2014 – a six-week immersive arts festival, January 28 to March 8, with more than 60 acts and latenight parties. The Establishment has also been going underground. In 2012, Tate Modern unveiled the Tanks, a live art space occupying the former power station’s three subterranean oil chambers (while currently shut for the building of a 10-level extension
Patrons at B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Cocktail).
above ground, they’ll reopen by 2016). Under a parking lot, archaeologists have discovered London’s second-oldest and best preserved Shakespearean playhouse: the 16th-century Curtain Theatre, or the “wooden O” that premiered Henry V and Romeo and Juliet. “Digging down in London is like going back in time,” said architect John Drew, of Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will. restAUrAnts WithoUt A VieW More and more establishments have been inspired by their own underground histories. Last September, the Royal Academy of Arts opened its 19th-century Keeper’s House – never before accessible
Citrus at the candlelit B.Y.O.C. which is hidden under a juice bar.
The entrance to Hostem, which features the Chalk Room in its cellar, a fashion boutique.
Bulgari Hotel opened here a year-and-a-
– forerunner of the Tube, burrowed by
half ago with six subterranean floors for
Marc and Isambard Brunel as an under-
the restaurant, ballroom, cinema, spa and
river path for horse-drawn carriages – was
glittering glass-mosaic swimming pool,
soon overrun by criminals and closed to
the jewel in an inverted crown. There’s
pedestrians for nearly 150 years. Now, the
even a plan to convert an underground
Brunel Museum offers guided descents into
parking lot in Bloomsbury into a budget
the tunnel’s Grand Entrance Hall and plans
hotel with 172 windowless guest rooms.
to turn the sooty underground shaft into a
Pending a green light, it’s one of many new
proper amphitheatre. Last year it started
schemes to repurpose parts of London often
hosting concerts from the likes of the Pop-
overlooked. Here are some of those projects,
up Opera company, which will pop down
along with places you can visit now.
again come spring.
abandoned, lie beneath London. Off the
Hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”
graffiti mecca that is Leake Street, under
when it opened in 1843, the Thames Tunnel
Waterloo station, a 1,672-square-metre
Countless passageways, many long
to the public – with a seasonal British
come in and forget the outside world,” Gott
boutique Hostem has repurposed its cellar
restaurant designed by Sir David
explained. Previously a “dodgy strip club,”
as the Chalk Room, a by-appointment store-
Chipperfield and Rolfe Kentish in the
the Spitalfields cellar bar – which serves
within-a-store for bespoke offerings such
formerly unused basement. Previously the
cheeseburgers with ox cheek (£9.50, or
as made-to-measure Casely-Hayford suits
kitchen and scullery, it was, before that,
$15) – was a natural fit. “We like off-pitch,”
and custom umbrellas from Oliver Ruuger.
the servants’ quarters, a beer store and a
Swathed in off-black chalk paint, the space is itself worth a trip down the creaking,
17th-century crypt with a wine cellar, now a vaulted ladies’ room. In Soho, the just-opened Coal Vaults is
Drop til YoU shop
It’s been said that from a window in
situated within a 19th-century subterranean
the Selfridges basement you could see a
coal storage facility. Here you’ll find low-lit,
perfectly preserved Victorian high street.
Speakeasy-type bars have been cropping
exposed-brick dining vaults and a copper-
This is a myth, according to a spokesman
up all over town – below a Breakfast Club
topped bar, plus small plates (devilled
for the department store, though the “sub”
cafe in Spitalfields (ask to see “the mayor”)
popcorn; venison sliders with shallot rings)
and the “sub-sub” – going nearly 61 metres
or a BrewDog in Shoreditch (UnderDog,
and cocktail pairings.
below ground – did shelter 50 US Army
downstairs, serves cocktails in addition
Signal Corps soldiers during World War II,
“We actively avoid the sites that most restaurateurs would describe as prime,” said
with remnants of prison cells at the bottom.
Huw Gott, co-founder of Hawksmoor, a
While they’re off limits to customers, the
Garden, the tiny, candlelit B.Y.O.C. (Bring
group of clubby British steakhouses mostly
regular basement staged a six-week Festival
Your Own Cocktail) requires guests to bring
set below ground. Its latest location – a
of Imagination, through March 2, with a
a bottle of liquor: the mixologist, pushing
level-two spot on Air Street, near Piccadilly
mirror-clad “Imaginarium” designed by
an antique trolley with ingredients from
Circus – is an anomaly, but the windows
Rem Koolhaas for talks by “imagineers” like
upstairs, will need it to fix your drink.
have been blurred and darkened with
the Swedish electronica band Little Dragon.
B.Y.O.C. does not have an actual bar, or a
stained glass. “The aim is for customers to
In Shoreditch, the avant-garde fashion
Hidden under a juice bar in Covent
liquor license. Some feel that the trend is a bit overkill. “If I hear of another speakeasy coming up, I might literally have to kill myself,” said Mark Holdstock, owner of Bourne & Hollingsworth, a ‘20s-style basement bar in Fitzrovia. In 2012, his team started converting a cellar on Goodge Street that, they soon discovered, was the home of a now-deceased vicar. They named the bar after him – Reverend J.W. Simpson – and kept the water-stained wallpaper and peeling paint, adding votive candles and a series of “sermons” on reviving forgotten spirits of another sort. Ruby’s is situated under an old cinema sign in Dalston. Previously the kitchen of a Chinese takeout joint, it now serves seasonal cocktails in 1940s milk bottles. Nearby, the hipster favourite Dalston Superstore recently opened Dance Tunnel, spinning left-field house and techno under a pizza parlour. “People come in looking for the ‘secret
Patrons in the Attendant, a coffee shop in a Victorian “gentlemen’s loo”.
entrance,’” said Dan Beaumont, a co-owner, though the venues sit down the road from each other. “Usually they end up trying to get into a storage cupboard.” n
Automotive Vote Rigging The head of Germany’s Allgemeiner
The revelations have
Deutscher Automobil-Club (ADAC) car
battered the reputation of
club, Europe’s largest, has resigned in
ADAC, which before it
disgrace after an external audit found
first admitted wrongdoing
it had rigged the results and order
in January was one of
of its award for the country’s most
Germany’s most respected
institutions with 19 million members.
Leading German carmakers Daimler,
The scandal erupted when it
ADAC had said that 34,299 motorists endorsed the Volkswagen Golf as the most popular car in Germany, but auditor
Volkswagen and BMW immediately
emerged that its popular ADAC
Deloitte said only 3,271 votes had been
said they would hand back the once-
Motorwelt magazine had massively
cast for the vehicle. The accountants also
coveted annual “Yellow Angel” awards
inflated readership votes for the
found evidence of “willful manipulation” as
after the audit found irregularities in
“Yellow Angel” award for Germany’s
well as technologically flawed processing
the counting and ordering.
Goldfish Drives Tank A team of tech wizards at Studio Diip – which specialises in innovative imagerecognition projects – have kitted up a goldfish tank with a camera and computer vision software, turning it into a robot car. As the goldfish swims around in the tank, the system detects which way he’s heading and directs the car there, essentially allowing the fish to control the vehicle. “By swimming towards an interesting object, the fish can explore the world beyond the limits of his tank,” Studio Diip says. The team is also developing new -technology such as number plate
Facebook Doomed to Die
recognition, and even vegetable recognition
Facebook has spread like an infectious
for supermarket checkouts.
disease but we are slowly becoming
versions of other – perhaps more everyday
Studio Diip admits there’s no practical application yet for their goldfishmobile, but at least their finned friends are having fun.
within the next three years. For their study, John Cannarella and
immune to its attractions say researchers at
Joshua Spechler used what is known as the
SIR (susceptible, infected, recovered) model
The forecast of Facebook’s impending doom was made by comparing the growth curve of epidemics to those of online social
of disease, which creates equations to map the spread and recovery of epidemics. “Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to
networks. Scientists argue that, like bubonic
spread infectiously between people before
plague, Facebook will eventually die out.
eventually dying out, and have been
The social network, which celebrated its
successfully described with epidemiological
10th birthday on February 4, has survived
models,” the authors claim
longer than rivals such as Myspace and
Investors do not appear to be heading for
Bebo, but the Princeton forecast says it will
the exit just yet. Facebook’s share price
lose 80 per cent of its peak user base
reached record highs in January. Portfolio
Elegance is an attitude