Acton Bell

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On December 1, 2017, Acton Bell commented on Cleaning Up Cobalt: Who Is Responsible? :

Interesting article, as per the other comments, (and I suppose to the point you are making) this was not something I was aware of either. Unlike Diamonds and Oil Cobalt is a relatively “hard-to-notice” raw material, making consumer pressure on mining companies almost non existent. Its common uses are in batteries, alloys, ceramics and pigments – so typically make up a small proportion of any single product. Coupled with manufacturing operations in Africa (out of the sight of many consumers) means that labor, sustainability, corruption and environmental issues are far easier to hide from the consumer and are only brought to light by non-profits and governments. Hopefully this can change as we (as consumers) all become more aware of the role we play in keeping companies “honest” and accountable for the impact they have on the environment and society.

On November 29, 2017, Acton Bell commented on A Whole New World: The Digital Evolution of Disney :

Great and very topical piece. As I was reading I started thinking about the question in reverse, (or, which content company COULD profitably break free of Netflix) – your answer might very well be Disney (given its Niche, differentiated and arguably hard to substitute content and world famous franchises). Their portfolio I would argue has some of the strongest “consumer pull” media assets of all of the movie studios.

In general, it appears that Netflix are clearly cognizant of the power of content providers for their anchor content (hence significant investments in owned content). So if nothing else, Disney needs to find a direct route to the consumer as Netflix’s long term strategy of cutting reliance on “imported in” content plays out.

For Disney, a fully owned branded channel makes sense, firstly from a monetization perspective but also as a way to truly own the conversation and relationship with the consumer which they can further deepen (through offering “bonus” content; featurettes, classics, upcoming trailers) and monetize (sell merchandise, theme park tickets etc on the platform) – it is not clear that they would be able to build this sort of platform by partnering with an existing player.

Interesting piece. In my eyes – the ability of Campbell’s to pass on any future costs of creating a more sustainable supply chain to consumers is a critical piece of the puzzle here – and will determine whether Campbell’s can remain a “leader in sustainability”.
Currently the average consumer’s appetite to pay for “sustainability” is extremely limited, particularly when it comes to goods which are in some way commoditized (sadly soup falls into this category).

I would hazard a guess that some of the progress made so far has actually been successful in reducing costs; less water intensive manufacturing, less (ie lower cost) packaging, less energy. I wonder what happens when (or if) Campbell’s has to make real trade-offs between a more sustainable and supply chain and increasing costs.

Companies like Campbell’s (and others) need to start to think about how they can get consumers to willingly pay for more sustainable products, or risk shrinking margins. They should start now, before it is too late.

On November 29, 2017, Acton Bell commented on In Seoul, the future of transportation is here. :

Incredibly interesting article Bismah, I had no idea Seoul was this far developed. Similar to most of the comments here, I instantly thought about the applicability to other cities, and what has “enabled” Seoul to do this.

Unfortunately for some of the older public transport systems (London, NYC, Paris) the age (and thus quality) of infrastructure is prohibitive to these sorts of digital upgrades. Much of the spending on infrastructure is essential maintenance required to keep it operational, a digital network would be a significant leap from where these cites currently are – I wonder if it is even feasible.

The level of the investment in Seoul is impressive, you describe a commitment of $35Bn to build a smart city (a huge number compared to the current operating budgets of the transport authorities in New York (MTA) ~$15Bn budget [1] and London ~$13Bn [2]), this is likely driven by a higher % of the population in Seoul, possibly resulting in a bigger purse for the SMG.

As Jono asked, I wonder whether the “business case” for these upgrades exists today – if it doesn’t, I struggle to see how London and New York are going to be able to organize funding and focus, and if their public transport systems will continue to degrade and will ultimately be classed as 2nd tier vs innovation that is occurring in Asia.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the UK over the next few years. They have just set up a transport department which is an apolitical entity (the National Infrastructure Commission) – it will be interesting to see whether this structure enables the sort of investment needed to reach this level of innovation in the transport sector.


Thank you for the delightful topic and shining a light on how interesting the Meat Supply Chain actually is, where carcasses are often shipped around the world in order to maximize their utilization – as local consumer tastes rarely value each part of an animal equally.

You highlight a couple of important points about isolationism and trade wars more broadly, 1) Trade Wars are fought by politicians representing nations but the Impacts are felt extremely in concentrated areas (in this case, Georgia) 2) Trade wars are irrational – and span sectors, the “Tit-for-tat” dynamics between China and the US make it very difficult for the Georgia Poultry Industry to respond because the problem initially came from “fowl play” over tariffs in the Tyre Industry.

It may be that Georgia don’t have a happy ending here –Chicken feet are clearly a visible and culturally relevant industry to China, perhaps conceding to China on Chicken feet means more access in another “bigger” industry, which means more to the US economy?

On November 29, 2017, Acton Bell commented on Jaguar Land Rover’s Billion-Pound Brexit Problem :

Interesting piece, although I think I would come out somewhat more positively on JLRs prospects in the future than Peter Campbell’s $1bn estimate of profit downside.

I think Jaguar will actually benefit from the dependence that the European car industry has on the UK. The German automotive industry specifically is extremely reliant on the UK (86% of UK cars come from abroad, one in three from Germany). The German government are unlikely to harm their automotive manufacturers (see VW emissions scandal for more evidence of this)

As you point out, Long term within Europe tariffs will impact demand (through increased pricing) or profits (through tariffs on parts or margin reduction to remain price competitive). However, we are currently seeing short term currency effects which should boost European sales at least until the UK actually exits. The £ has weakened on the news of Brexit which makes British cars effectively cheaper. (for now at least)

Furthermore, given JLR is actually more exposed to consumers in the “Rest of the World” than Europe, there is an argument to suggest that the rest of the business could benefit from Brexit (JLR is one of the UK’s largest exporters, ~80% of the revenues of JLR come from outside of the UK, with ~25% of sales from inside Europe) leaving ~65% of sales from rest of world (with China, US and India being specifically important growth markets). [1] A weaker £ helps trade with these markets (with a weaker £, your local currency gets you more car for your buck (or yen), reducing effective export prices)


Really interesting post, particularly to hear that apparel companies are beginning to think about 3D technologies and how they can enhance the consumer’s experience on top of driving supply chain efficiency. I am particularly bullish at Nike’s advantage over competitor brands into incorporating 3D technology into their supply chain in that they already have customization built into their consumer facing operations. They already offer relatively extensive customization (both online and in store) and have successfully “trained” their consumer base to be comfortable with designing their own products.

Interesting to think about how 3D printing impacts apparel operations more broadly 3D printing would enable you to do away with sizing altogether (no need for the current crude method of different sizes when you can make to order bespoke shoes!)

However, I do wonder whether there a danger in offering the ability to “hyper-customize” to consumers may lead to a more confusing experience and paralysis by choice? No doubt consumer choice is good, but only so much choice is good for the average consumer. Optimizing the “bespoke” experience by customer types will be important– 3D printing could offer customization on every metric, but SHOULD you offer it all? Which consumers really want to make every decision?