Citi takes a small step towards cracking the glass ceiling

ET, hero of the 1982 blockbuster celebrating otherness and openness to new experiences, was not a boy or a girl. ET was a plant.

Nearly 35 years later Citigroup spinners are celebrating the bank’s openness through the promotion of Ebru Pakcan, a woman and a Turkish national. She is to head up treasury and trade finance in Europe and will sit on the bank’s top executive committee in the region.

Ms Pakcan is not a plant but she is “other” in Citi. FT figures suggest more than four-fifths of the bank’s senior employees are men.

And while she has not risen out of the testosterone-soaked, Ferrari-driving divisions such as investment banking, she has come up through another stereotypically blokish route — IT.

Banks are inching gingerly through the glass ceiling. Next stop for executives at corporate top tables is a seat on main boards.

That said, it is not quite a full hurrah. Ms Pakcan will be the fourth woman on a 22-member exec committee in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

The fact remains that there are still too few female bosses — about 26 per cent of the directors of UK’s top 100 listed companies are daughters of Eve. And that is only part of the bigger drive to opening out British boards and freeing them from the “male, stale and pale” stereotype.

A government-backed report on diversity from Sir John Parker, chairman of miner Anglo American, shows that just 8 per cent of directors of the UK’s biggest and most global businesses are other than white. Shame, in part because it underrepresents the 14 per cent of the British populace who don’t define themselves as white. But the main point is to stop boards being comfortable billets for clubby types swapping war stories over the port and cigars. There is a clear business case for creating heterogenous boards to mirror the diversity of companies’ customers.

Companies need to broaden the outlook of top teams, whether by recruiting from Mars or Venus — or indeed photosynthesising organisms, as long as they are not vegetables or wallflowers.

Scent of Persimmon

To the list of investment bubbles — which has included 19th century railways, 18th century South Sea merchants and 17th century tulips — may now be added another play on transport, trade and bulbous fibrous things: Chinese garlic. FT colleagues report that snowy weather and speculators have almost doubled its price in a year, writes Matthew Vincent.

But no one has ever suggested the bubble list should contain condensing boilers despite a similarly short-term spike in demand. That is largely because this demand was state engineered. In 2010, boiler sales leapt when 125,000 householders were given £400 vouchers to buy more efficient central heating (one over-enthusiastic Glaswegian plumber was fined £180,000 for making 2m unsolicited sales calls).

How, then, should investors treat a 19 per cent increase in Persimmon’s new home sales in the last quarter, when 45 per cent involve the government’s Help to Buy loan scheme, compared with 36 per cent nationally? Some say it explains why Persimmon has bucked a slowing mortgage market and architects’ disdain for its “rabbit-hutch” homes. However, with operating margins nearing 24 per cent and not forecast to rise much higher, the forward indicator is perhaps not so much government largesse as patience with Persimmon’s “cautious” land use. New-build prices, like that of garlic, are more about supply than taste.

Admiral red-Facebooked

Admiral became a big company through cheesy, cheap TV adverts and shaking up the staid world of insurance. On Wednesday it was itself shaken.

It had planned a big product launch that would mine the Facebook posts of 17 to 21 year olds — with their permission — to assess their risk as drivers. “Firstcarquote” sounded like an undergraduate’s social science thesis: too few full stops or comments written in the pub would prompt premium quotes to soar.

But on launch day, Facebook became suddenly queasy about giving the insurer access to the data for commercial use and blocked the product. Perhaps the prospect of a public relations disaster loomed.

Or was Facebook trying to save the youth of today from their poor punctuation and inexperience? Lombard lost £20 at college by being the last one into the ubiquitous pyramid scheme decades ago. If Facebook had been around then, Lombard’s lesson might have been less painful. Today, the big data question is who owns and controls information and what if users of social networks and customers don’t want to be saved?

kate.burgess@ft.com

Persimmon: matthew.vincent@ft.com

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