The Quirky business that wants to transform inventing

  • 27 July 2015
  • From the section Business
Ben Kaufmann
Ben Kaufmann has a rather forceful personality

Sometimes a chap becomes a part of the story he's been sent to cover. Recently it happened to me in New York.

For years now, I've been reporting on what people call the great disruption - the way that technology (in particular the internet) keeps bumping into our established way of doing things, and rewriting established ideas.

Electronic commerce, smartphones and smart watches, 3D printing, internet video phones, social messaging, the whole wireless world... each a small part of the wave of change that's confronting the giant companies who've made fortunes based on mass production and 20th Century marketing.

Well, reporting on change is one thing... taking part in it is quite another, as I discovered when I trudged across lower Manhattan a few months ago to visit a company called Quirky.

Quirky by name, quirky by nature, it was founded six years ago by a big and rather bombastic 20-something called Ben Kaufmann.

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The small fruit with a big flavour

  • 18 July 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Two peaches in someone's hands

More than 250 crops are grown in California's Central Valley, including some of the world's tastiest peaches. But several years of drought have left the farmers facing an uncertain future.

I have never tasted such a peach in my life. Two peaches, actually, but I will come to that in a moment. This one glows yellow in the shade where the fruit is being packed into crates. The familiar furry skin, but one bite into it is enough to produce a revelation. The cool, succulent flesh, the depth of flavour, the precise balance of sweetness and acidity achieved by the devoted nurture of Mas Masumoto and his family.

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The economist who had 'deviant thoughts'

  • 18 June 2015
  • From the section Business
Richard Thaler
Prof Thaler is a leading proponent of behavioural economics

What exactly is economics? Science or art? An explanation of our society based on observable, demonstrable laws? A framework for prediction? Or is it an attempt to systematise the unknowable - the mysteries of the human mind?

As an economics numbskull, I would plump for the latter.

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Entrepreneur of the year: a Bedouin turned businessman

  • 10 June 2015
  • From the section Business
Mohed Altrad

Don't ask Mohed Altrad how old he is. He may be a billionaire, but he doesn't know his age. No records. He's round about 65, perhaps.

Mr Altrad told me his astonishing story in the unlikely surroundings of one of the poshest hotels in that nest of posh, Monte Carlo.

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A Tale of Several Cities

Medellin city

Suddenly, the mayor of Medellin got excited. He sped across his office where we had been talking and we clambered up a spiral staircase that took us right on top of the mayoral building: floor 12 or 13, where the helicopters land. He wanted to show off the city he is so proud of. The city that was, 25 years ago, the murder capital of the world.

The long hills form a steep river valley by which this booming place is constrained. Lit up by the sunset, Anibal Gaviria spoke at a rapid pace about the sense of open hilltop he wanted to preserve, even as the city expands by crawling ever higher up the hillside.

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A question of computers and artificial intelligence

Gary Kasparov playing chess with IBM computer Deep Blue in 1997
IBM computer Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997 by 3.5 games to 2.5 games

There are moments that live on in business history.

One of them is the cry: "Mr Watson come here, I want to see you," spoken by Alexander Graham Bell back in 1876, in the world's first telephone conversation.

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The curious case of low unemployment

  • 29 April 2015
  • From the section Business
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
Why unemployment didn't rise notably in the last recession is a conundrum for investigation

One of the most puzzling things about the recent economic recession in the UK was to quote Sherlock Holmes: "The curious incident of the dog in the night time."

Normally in recession, unemployment rises notably. But last time it didn't - the dog didn't bark.

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Colombia: Home of the perfect cup of coffee?

  • 12 April 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Pouring the coffee

It is a bewitching thing, coffee. For years I used to follow the daily twists and turns of the London coffee market, reporting on the tremendous Brazilian frost in July 1975 which devastated the crop and caused world coffee prices to triple in the two subsequent years.

I remember the dark auction room in the Brazilian port of Santos where the traders met to spar over the latest market offerings before retreating to their dusty offices to taste and sniff the export crop.

Read full article Colombia: Home of the perfect cup of coffee?

What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?

  • 30 March 2015
  • From the section Business
The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster is said to require significant restoration work

I had to meet an MP the other day, a minister, at the Houses of Parliament.

As an ordinary member of the public, it is no longer easy to get in if you don't have a badge.

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Turning Midland Bank's former headquarters into a hotel

  • 23 February 2015
  • From the section Business
former Midland Bank head office
27 Poultry, once a bank, soon to be a hotel

Something is happening deep inside one of the City of London's most distinguished 20th Century buildings. After being disquietingly empty for some eight year, the builders have just moved in to turn No 27 Poultry into a very expensive hotel, brandishing (it is said) six stars.

Close to the Guildhall and the Bank of England, this building is better known as the former head office of Midland Bank, for some decades from 1918 the largest bank in the world.

Read full article Turning Midland Bank's former headquarters into a hotel