Apple boss Tim Cook joins Donald Trump condemnation

Tim CookImage copyright Getty Images

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has become the latest boss to criticise President Donald Trump over his response to the white nationalist rallies in Virginia.

Mr Cook said he did not agree there was a "moral equivalence" between white supremacists and "those who oppose them".

Mr Trump has disbanded two business councils[1] after top bosses resigned.

Mr Cook said Apple will also make donations to human rights charities.

In an email to staff obtained by Buzzfeed News[2] Mr Cook said:"I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights.

"Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans."

He added that "in the wake of the tragic and repulsive events in Charlottesville, we are stepping up to help organisations who work to rid our country of hate".

Apple will donate $1m to both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.It will also match two-for-one any staff donations to these and several other human rights groups until 30 September, Mr Cook said.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump has said he was scrapping two business councils after more bosses quit over his handling of the violent clashes in Virginia.

Business leaders left the White House manufacturing council after the backlash against how he reacted to the far-right rally last weekend.

The clashes culminated in a woman's death and nearly 20 wounded when a car ploughed into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters.

Mr Trump's reaction has sparked outrage and generated global headlines.

His announcement on Twitter came as the heads of 3M, Campbell Soup, Johnson &Johnson and United Technologies announced their resignations on Wednesday.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup was the eighth CEO to resign from a White House business panel

Mr Trump said:"Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council &Strategy &Policy Forum, I am ending both."

Before Mr Trump's announcement, the Strategy and Policy Forum announced it was a joint decision to disband the council.

Businesses have been under pressure to distance themselves from Mr Trump over his handling of the clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Why did they leave?

On Monday, Mr Trump belatedly condemned the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that rallied in a small Virginia town on Sunday.

But in a rancorous news conference on Tuesday he backtracked and again blamed left-wing counter-protesters for the violence too.

JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon, a member of the Strategy and Policy Forum, released a separate statement on Wednesday saying he strongly disagreed with Mr Trump's recent statements, adding that "fanning divisiveness is not the answer".

"Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country.It is a leader's role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart," he said.

Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup said she could not continue to participate in the advisory panel after Mr Trump's comments.Activists had called on Campbell Soup, among other firms, to take action....

References

  1. ^ has disbanded two business councils (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ obtained by Buzzfeed News (www.buzzfeed.com)

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Germany's 'hidden champions' of the Mittelstand

Town in Germany Image caption Baden-Wuerttemberg has firms which are "hidden champions", says Professor Winfried Weber

Driving along the "romantic road" between two towns in Baden-Wuerttemberg in southern Germany it's easy to admire the lush rolling hillsides, vineyards and picturesque villages.

But peer a bit closer and you catch site of a factory.

Look harder and you discover that this area between the historic towns of Bad Mergentheim and Wertheim is dotted with medium-sized or "Mittelstand" companies.

"You don't expect to find companies here from the heart of German world class industry but they are just in between those valleys in these hills," says Winfried Weber, professor of management at Mannheim University of Applied Sciences.

His passion for the privately owned - often still family run - Mittelstand companies is personal.

His grandfather was a clockmaker who was forced out of business by Japanese competition in the 1950s.

Today he says his mission is to tell the story of these companies' current success.

'Hidden champions'

He travels the world lecturing and hosts business delegations from South Korea and China.

"I tell them don't go to Berlin, come here to this rural province in southern Germany," he tells me as he drives along the gently winding road.

"You find here a very high concentration of world class Mittelstand companies in relation to the population," he says.

Image caption Mittelstand firms often manufacture and sell niche products

About 99% of German companies are small and medium sized.There are about 3.3 million of them.

Strictly speaking, they would have fewer than 500 employees to be classed as Mittelstand, but it's a term that goes much deeper and has come to define a business mindset.

"In Germany a lot of those small and medium sized companies are doing exports from the beginning," Prof Weber says.

"They try to be in the forefront of innovation, and find and define a niche, and then sell on an international level."

And the most successful ones are world market leaders in their niche sectors, which Prof Weber says are "hidden champions".

Image caption Prof Weber says small German firms embody "patient capitalism"

This is where he believes much of Germany's exporting prowess stems from.

"In Germany we have only 28 of the global 500 biggest companies but we have around 48% of those small world market leaders," Professor Weber says.

We're on our way to meet Gabriella Koenig, managing director of Koenig &Meyer, a "hidden champion".

Her company makes music and microphone stands.If you're a musician you have probably used one of them.

Slim with shortly cropped dark hair, she fizzes with energy and enthusiasm.

In the car park she introduces me to her 81-year-old father and both are keen to tell me the history of the company.

Gabriella's grandfather started the firm with a business partner in the early 1930s in eastern Germany, but after the Second World War, they moved to Wertheim in the west.

Gabriella is the third generation to take charge.

Image caption Gabriella Koenig's firm, which makes music stands, has three factories

She goes into a vast noisy factory full of green metal-bashing machines.

"We have almost every production process in-house to guarantee the best quality so that we can really control every step," she says above the roar of the machines.

True to the spirit of the Mittelstand, exporting has long been vital to the company.

"Already in the 1950s Koenig &Meyer was visiting the first trade shows in Frankfurt," she says, "and found the first international partners."

Today the company employs 280 people in three factories and has a turnover of 38m euros (£34m;$44m).

About 60% of sales are exports to 80 countries worldwide, with 70% of their turnover in Europe.

Gabriella says customers, "accept that the product can be 15-20% more expensive than a competitive cheaper made item."

But has the weakness of the euro helped?

"I would say yes definitely.The euro helps us, as all other Germany companies who are exporting a lot," she says.

Trade surplus

Germany has been criticised by its trading partners for exporting much more than it imports.

Last year it had a whopping current account surplus of just under $300bn.

Wage restraint in the last fifteen years and labour market and welfare reforms are all credited with making Germany more competitive.

Another criticism levelled at Germany is that it's not investing enough at home.

The International Monetary Fund is urging the government to spend more on public infrastructure projects, which it says would encourage German companies to invest there too, and help re-balance its global trade.

But Prof Weber says that in spite of their exporting success, the Mittelstand does face challenges.

Succession can be an issue.Gabriella doesn't have children but says the company will stay in the family.

Finding enough skilled staff is also a challenge - Koenig &Meyer trains employees on apprenticeship schemes.

However, Gabriella says, "it gets more and more difficult nowadays to find young people who will join the company."

While there is clearly innovation in the Mittelstand, at Koenig &Meyer they come up with 20 to 30 new products every year, they are not Silicon Valley.

Prof Weber says Germany has, "fewer IT start-ups, we have less venture capital."

But he says the outlook is long-term and, "You can say that our capitalism is more patient capitalism".He also believes that others can learn from the Mittelstand.

"I think that the future big company will be a little bit like many Mittelstand companies, with a more down-to-earth approach, with flatter hierarchies and more responsibility, and more flexibility for the workforce."

Listen to "The Secrets of Germany's Success[1]"....

References

  1. ^ The Secrets of Germany's Success (www.bbc.co.uk)

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China bans weird and long company names

Customers walk past signs for companies in China.Image copyright Getty Images Image caption These company names aren't so strange but others in China are a little more unusual

China has banned companies from registering weird and long names.

Last year, Beijing banned any more "bizarre" buildings[1].In recent years the country has seen buildings shaped like a teapot and another resembling a pair of trousers.

Now, China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce has continued the government's crusade for normalcy with restrictions on such names as 'scared of wife' or 'prehistoric powers'.

So, just how weird and wonderful are Chinese company names?Well, a few otherwise-unoccupied social media users in China have dug up some gems.

Skinny blue mushrooms

Some curiosities have crept into business names from internet memes.

"Shenyang Prehistoric Powers Hotel Management Limited Company" might sound weird but less so to Chinese sports fans who remember swimmer Fu Yuanhui.

She famously won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, afterwards declaring:"I have used all my prehistoric powers to swim!"

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption China's swimmer Fu Yuanhui attributed her win to her "prehistoric powers"

There are also lots of restaurants and cafes with the phrase "skinny blue mushroom".

The phrase originated from a meme which mocked a man from Guangxi province who uploaded a video of himself talking about his loneliness while his girlfriend was away.

"Unbearable, I want to cry," he moaned - but thanks to his accent, it ended up sounding more like "skinny blue mushroom".

Scared of wife

One of the best known offbeat names on Chinese social media is a condom company called "Uncle Niu".

Or, more accurately, "There Is a Group of Young People With Dreams, Who Believe They Can Make the Wonders of Life Under the Leadership of Uncle Niu Internet Technology Co Ltd."

It's not concise, but at least it's positive.

Others aren't so upbeat, especially when it comes to home life.

And given "Beijing Scared of Wife Technology Company" and "Anping County Scared of Wife Netting Products Factory" are both registered companies, the trend doesn't seem to be limited by industry or region.

Lost in translation

The rules of written Chinese are vastly different to those of written English, so many names seem far stranger in translation than in the original tongue.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Western company names often have no direct equivalent in Chinese

English names can seem pretty strange in Chinese too, and there's a cottage industry among branding agencies to help western companies come up with names for the Chinese market.

Western company names often follow the name of their founder (think Boeing, Ford or Gucci), which might have no direct translation.

Or they might be a concocted portmanteau (think Verizon, which is the Latin word "veritas" meaning truth, with horizon bolted on to the end) or maybe even just tech nonsense (Etsy, Hulu).

"What we think is most important to come up with a name that captures the spirit of the brand," says Tait Lawton, from Nanjing Marketing Group, which provides naming services.

Mighty liquid guard

Western companies sometimes try to phonetically replicate the original, or come up with a Chinese name that's fairly neutral in meaning.

Others will come up with a new name that tries other ways of encapsulating the brand.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A stable of treasure horses - or BMWs

"BMW's current Chinese name is 宝马.It's great.The first character means 'treasure' and the second character means 'horse'.The sound is 'bao ma', starting with a B and M.Plus, it's short.It just has a great feel to it," says Mr Lawton.

He has a few other examples he likes too.

Pampers, for example, is 帮宝适 or "bang bao shi", which means "helps make baby comfortable".

Walch soap 威露士 or "wei lu shi" loosely translates as "mighty liquid guard", and who wouldn't want to wash with that?...

References

  1. ^ banned any more "bizarre" buildings (www.bbc.co.uk)

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US calls for 'major' Nafta overhaul

Robert LighthizerImage copyright Getty Images Image caption Robert Lighthizer said Nafta had "failed many Americans"

The US is looking for a "major" overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), a senior US trade official said as negotiations on the pact got underway.

Mexico and Canada defended the deal on Wednesday in the first day of talks to revise the trade agreement.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said President Trump wanted changes beyond just updating the pact.

Talks between the three countries are expected to last for months.

"He is not interested in a mere tweaking of a few provisions and a couple of updated chapters," Mr Lighthizer said in his opening remarks in Washington.

"We feel that Nafta has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement."

The Nafta talks came as President Trump suffered a setback with some of the biggest US companies over his handling of violent clashes in Virginia.

Two key White House business advisory councils were disbanded on Wednesday after several bosses quit over how Mr Trump reacted to the far-right rally last weekend.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Donald Trump has criticised car companies manufacturing vehicles in Mexico

Renegotiating Nafta was a major campaign theme for Mr Trump, who has described it as the "worst deal".He blames it for the loss of US manufacturing jobs, a position that struck a chord with many voters.

Mexico's Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo said he was not surprised or deterred by Mr Lighthizer's tough posture, which is in line with earlier US statements.

The US will be seeking changes such as stronger labour provisions and stricter rules of origin, which determine where companies can say a product is made.That measure is opposed by US automakers.

The US also wants to revamp the Nafta panels used to resolve disputes.

Canada maintains that those panels - which have rejected US complaints in the past for industries such as softwood lumber - are critical.

"It's fundamental because the commerce department [in the US] takes a lot of measures and countervailing duties which sometimes are unjust and not founded, like in softwood lumber," Raymond Bachand, one of the Nafta negotiators on the Canadian side, told the BBC.

"Through that mechanism - which is much faster than the WTO mechanism - we win and these decisions are reversed.So they're fundamental."

All three sides say there is an opportunity to "modernise" the agreement to reflect new technology and online business.

Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, shared a photo of the talks on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, saying it had been a "productive discussion ...on the mutually beneficial economic relationship between Canada and the US"....

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Fracking: Shale rock professor says UK gas reserves 'hyped'

Cuadrilla exploratory drilling siteImage copyright AFP

The gas reserves in shale rocks in the UK have been "hyped", a geology professor has warned.

Prof John Underhill from Heriot-Watt University said UK shale deposits were formed 55 million years too late to trap substantial amounts of gas.

He said the government would be wise to formulate a Plan B to fracking for future gas supplies.

But the fracking firm Cuadrilla said it would determine how much gas was present from its test drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale, a sedimentary rock found worldwide.

The amount of shale gas available in the UK is acknowledged to be a great unknown.

Cuadrilla said estimates from the British Geological Survey (BGS) indicated a large potential gas reserve.

But Prof Underhill said his research on the influence of tectonic plates on the UK suggested that the shale formations have been lifted, warped and cooled by tectonic action.

These factors make shale gas production much less likely.

"The complexity of the shale gas basins hasn't been fully appreciated so the opportunity has been hyped," he told the BBC.

Big US deposits

This is very different from the US, where big deposits of shale gas were created in the continental heart of America, far from the movement of tectonic plates.

Prof Underhill's comments are based on an unpublished paper on tectonics.He said he deduced the impact on shale formations by chance.

He said:"I'm neutral about fracking, so long as it doesn't cause environmental damage.But the debate is between those who think fracking is dangerous and those who think it will help the economy - and no-one's paying enough attention to the geology.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Prof Underhill said UK shale basins had been partly formed by magma under Iceland

Prof Underhill said:"For fracking to work, the shale should be thick enough, sufficiently porous, and have the right mineralogy.The organic matter must have been buried to a sufficient depth and heated to the degree that it produces substantial amounts of gas or oil."

Iceland magma

Professor Underhill said the UK had been tilted strongly by tectonic movement caused by an upward surge of magma under Iceland.

This subsequently led the shale gas basins to buckle and lift, so areas that were once buried deep with high temperatures which generated oil and gas, were then lifted to levels where they were no longer likely to generate either.

The basins were also broken into compartments by folds which created pathways that have allowed some of the oil and gas to escape, he said.

A spokesman for the BGS said it could not comment formally on Prof Underhill's comments as it had not done the research.

'Very large potential'

Cuadrilla's technical director Mark Lappin told the BBC:"We have noted the BGS estimates for gas-in-place and consider that volume to be indicative of a very large potential reserve.

"It's the purpose of our current drilling operations to better understand the reserve, reduce speculation from all sides and decide if and how to develop it.

"I expect Professor Underhill would be supportive of the effort to understand the resource including geological variation."

The government's opinion tracker[2] showed public support for fracking has fallen to 16%, with opposition at 33%.But it also reported a lack of knowledge of the technology, with 48% of people neither supporting nor opposing it.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin...

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