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High Lantern Group Notebook | March 2014

1. Richard Branson: Bluster Machine

Finally, a much-needed take-down of Richard Branson, who is usually the beneficiary of fawning, celebratory profiles that paint him as the hero-entrepreneur. In this review essay of Tom Bower’s biography of the Virgin CEO , David Runciman parses business success from flimflam:

What holds all this scheming and posturing together is the Virgin brand, which is the primary commodity Branson is selling. He works tirelessly to defend the Virgin name while simultaneously hawking it around to anyone who might be interested…Its name has been attached to so many hare-brained schemes and so often associated with business failures that there hardly seems anything left to protect. Virgin Brides, Virgin Cars, Virgin Cola, Virgin Cosmetics, Virgin Digital Publishing, Virgin Fuels, Virgin Health, Virgin Net, Virgin Nigeria, Virgin Racing, Virgin Wines: you’d be hard-pressed to find many consumers who feel positively about any of these.


2. Venezuela: Injustice is Here

Is the op-ed still a potent political weapon? Fifty-one years after King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Leopold Lopez leaves no doubt with his New York Times piece . The leader of Venezuela’s opposition and a friend of High Lantern Group, Lopez wields his own political weaponry by writing under incarceration in Venezuela, exposing how futile it is for tyranny to try to silence freedom’s voice:

I have been in prison for more than a month. On Feb. 12, I urged Venezuelans to exercise their legal rights to protest and free speech – but to do so peacefully and without violence…. In the aftermath of that protest, President Nicolás Maduro personally ordered my arrest on charges of murder, arson and terrorism. Amnesty International said the charges seemed like a “politically motivated attempt to silence dissent.” To this day, no evidence of any kind has been presented.


Join the cause to free Leopold Lopez by following @Free_Leopoldo on Twitter.


3. Equality. Innovation. Honesty. Corporate Noise.

This pitch-perfect video spoof of the corporate brand spot has already gone viral. But it is too good not to bookmark. No business cliché is left unexploited. A sample from the video’s faux-gravitas narrative voice-over:

See how we’re part of the global economy?
Look at these farmers in China.
But we also do business in the U.S.A. Or want you to think we do.
Check out this wind energy thing in Indiana.
And this blue collar guy with dirt on his face.


4. Our Biggest Economic Growth Challenge

The Wall Street Journal op-ed by High Lantern Group’s Michael Hodin and AEI’s Nick Eberstadt gets to the heart of what is the most complex and fundamental issue facing economic growth:

How do we build an economic growth model for an aging society? As the over-60 population grows much faster than the younger working-age cohorts, while life expectancy increases, the 20th-century model of work and retirement becomes increasingly unsuitable for economic growth.


The article (and the hundreds of intelligent online comments it has generated, as well as the subsequent “letters to the editor”) has helped reframe the debate. It shows how some pioneering companies are rethinking the value they can get from deploying older, healthy, and highly productive employees in new ways.



5. Minister of Funny Walks, Talks

The inimitable John Cleese, whose work in Monty Python and Fawlty Towers set a high-water mark modern humor, explains to Harvard Business Review the enduring appeal of his craft:

In America, in particular, every new young generation seems to rediscover it, which is a mystery to us. I think it’s because the Python attitude toward life is to suggest how absurd everything is, and when people are younger they often look around and think it’s all a bit crazy. Humor is fundamentally a sense of perspective, and as I’ve grown older I’ve just gone back to the position I had when I was 15 or 16, when I thought most of what was going on was absolutely ridiculous. I’ve now re-reached that position at the age of 74.



6. The Fading Economics of Summer Blockbusters

The Ivey Business Review has published an eye-opening, three-part look at the mechanics of the movie business. In Part I, author Liam Boluk explains (with excellent charts) why last summer’s movie line-up, when 18 blockbusters were released, “was a bloodbath for the Big Six Studios.” Boluk explains:

Over the past decade, movie audiences have never supported more than nine blockbusters in a summer, with an average of only 4.5 profitable films and a clear upper limit of around six films. Nevertheless, the Big Six continue to invest more in each picture and release more and more blockbuster-budget films each year. Studio executives appear to believe that audiences will flex to the number (and largess) of “event films,” but they don’t – or at least, not enough.