Days after starting her first job in the male-dominated tech industry, a then 22-year-old Vin Murria was told she would never be successful because she was young, female and Asian.
Fast forward four decades and Vinodka (or Vin) Murria’s career highlights include the creation of three tech companies that reached a “unicorn” valuation of about $1bn (£820m). For her latest challenge, she is fighting the Mad Men of Soho in a rollercoaster takeover battle to buy M&C Saatchi, the advertising agency that created the 1997 “Demon Eyes” poster for the Conservatives.
She still knows the person that told her she wouldn’t make it. “Whenever I meet that person now, I say, ‘Guess what? I’ve fixed one of those. I’m not so young any more’.”
Murria, 60, has made a series of offers for M&C Saatchi, where she is the largest shareholder and until recently was deputy chair. However, its board is resistant, having overseen a recovery trajectory that includes reporting the best profits in its 27-year history last year.
In May, chairman Gareth Davis rejected her fourth offer in almost as many months as “derisory”. She is dangling a £254m deal mostly in shares in her London-listed AdvancedAdvT takeover vehicle.
Shortly after, M&C Saatchi approved a £310m takeover from rival agency Next Fifteen. However, in the latest twist, M&C reversed that decision, announcing on Friday it no longer regarded the terms as “fair and reasonable”. The bid was a mixture of cash and Next Fifteen shares, and its value has fallen after tens of millions were wiped from the bidder’s share price in the latest stock-market rout.
Murria and AdvancedAdvT, which is backed by private equity group Marwyn, control 22% of M&C Saatchi and claim to have secured the backing of other shareholders to take her overall support to 43%.
“She has made a lot of money, but leadership is multidimensional,” says one source at the agency. “She is very dogmatic, her incredible energy is only matched by her ego. She is not particularly embracing of other views – it’s my way or the highway – and that points to a lack of respect towards other people and their roles.”
However, other sources who have worked with Murria for decades say that while she is “incredibly demanding” she is “very willing to listen to other people’s opinions – they just have to be strong in voicing them”.
“She is generally, the smartest person in the room, and she can be very direct and will say things that need to be said in the boardroom,” one long-time colleague says. “She’s a challenging person, you’re never going to have an easy ride, you have to plan what you’re going to say and be very clear about it.
“She also very principled, more so than other people that have risen to similar positions.”
Another boardroom colleague described her knack for picking the best ideas, and attracting the best talent. She has, they said, a “unique ability to make you feel special”. “She will do it with everyone,” he says. “One minute she will speaking to the chairman, the next she will sit down next to a junior programmer and chat to them – and you can be sure she will have remembered the name of their kids and any illnesses in the family.”
Born in Punjab, India, Murria came to the UK when she was three years old. The family lived above the corner shop they ran, which is where she developed the work ethic that continues to drive her today.
“If you weren’t home after school at four o’clock, the search parties were sent out,” she has said. “You were home, you studied, or you worked in the shop. We were very conservative, very sensible, very focused.”
In her teens she took a year out to fight to save the shop when it ran into financial difficulties, her first taste of the often tough realities of the world of business.
Murria attended the local comprehensive, going on to gain a BSc (first class) in computer science and an MBA from the University of London. In the final year of her studies she undertook a project in industry and met Kevin Overstall, the chief executive and co-founder of Kewill Systems, a logistics software company. Starting as a sales executive, she rapidly climbed the ranks, making 13 acquisitions in 15 years as the company’s market value soared from £3m to £1.2bn by the time she left in 2001.
In 2002, she set up Computer Software Group, a shell company operating in the legal software industry, and replicated the Kewill model before selling to HG Capital for £91m in 2007. Weeks later, it was merged with Iris software and sold to Hellmann & Friedman for £500m, after which Murria left and took some time out to travel.
In the same year she set up the PS Foundation, named after her mother, to help educate young women in India and the UK.
“When I go back to India I see a lot of young girls who just don’t get the opportunities,” she has said. “When I look at those girls in India, I think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.”
In 2018, Murria received an OBE for services to the British digital economy, as well as for advancing women in the software sector.
Her third major play was the healthcare applications business Advanced Computer Software Group, which she joined as chief executive in 2008. Seven years later the company was acquired for £765m by US private equity investor Vista Equity Partners.
One industry executive who has served on a board with Murria for several years says that, while her style may divide opinion, she will believe she is targeting M&C Saatchi for the right reasons.
“The bid is part of her fearless approach to life,” he says. “She wouldn’t be doing it if she doesn’t think she can win – but if she doesn’t, she will think she was right for trying.”
Emperor Penguin Linus Torvalds has released the first release candidate for Linux 6.0, but doesn’t mind what you call it.
“After I had already decided to call this kernel 6.0, a few Chinese developers piped up and pointed out that ‘5.20’ is a more wholesome version of the Western ‘4.20’ internet-famous number,” he wrote in his announcement that Linux 6.0 rc1 has been released.
“4.20” is a reference to a day on which some celebrate marijuana, while “5.20” does likewise for magic mushrooms.
“So if you want to call this ‘Linux 5.20’, go right ahead,” Torvalds wrote.
“Because the kernel version numbers really are entirely made up and have no intrinsic meaning.”
That this week’s release has the 6.0 label is still nice to know, as discussion on the Linux kernel mailing list in recent weeks used 5.20 and 6.0 interchangeably.
As The Register has already reported, the release does not make major changes to the kernel but does include many useful updates – such as more RISC-V support, code to drive Intel’s Gaudi accelerators, and improved ACPI handling.
Torvalds lamented some Rust-enabling code didn’t make it into the release.
“I actually was hoping that we’d get some of the first rust infrastructure, and the multi-gen LRU VM, but neither of them happened this time around,” he mused, before observing “There’s always more releases.”
“This is one of those releases where you should not look at the diffstat too closely, because more than half of it is yet another AMD GPU register dump,” he added, noting that Intel’s Gaudi2 Ai processors are also likely to produce plenty of similar kernel additions.
“The CPU people also show up in the JSON files that describe the perf events, but they look absolutely tiny compared to the ‘asic_reg’ auto-generated GPU and AI hardware definitions,” he added.
The release includes 13,099 changed files, 1,280,295 insertions and 341,210 deletions. Torvalds calculated those numbers “just because I was curious and looked.”
He wants you to be curious too – or at least curious enough to test the kernel, because that’s what release candidates are for and this one contains at least one active bug. ®
Ireland is one of 19 countries worldwide that strongly dislikes Tinder. One in five Tweets by Irish people about all apps are negative.
According to Electronics Hub’s analysis of the most hated apps in the world, Tinder is the most loathed app in Ireland.
Irish people are not alone in their hatred for the dating app. Tinder was the most hated app in 19 countries in total, with Canadians, Americans, Nigerians, Kenyans and our neighbours in the UK also singling it out as their least favourite.
Electronics Hub determined the most hated apps in each country by analysing Twitter data. It processed more than 3m geotagged tweets related to 87 social media, dating, mobile games, entertainment, cryptocurrency and money transfer apps.
Researchers calculated the percentage of tweets about each app that were negative using a sentiment analysis tool which identifies whether a tweet has positive, negative or neutral sentiment.
Click to enlarge and see the most hated apps in the world by country. Infographic: Electronics Hub
Ireland was found to be one of the most negative countries when it came to attitudes towards apps. One in five Tweets posted by Irish people about apps were negative, Electronics Hub found.
Despite Irish people’s professed loathing for Tinder, the dating platform tried to play a role in keeping daters safe in the pandemic. It hooked up with the HSE to promote vaccines by adding badges to users’ profiles.
Tinder was only the second-most hated app in the world, with Roblox taking first place. More than 20 countries said the child-targeted gaming app was their most hated app. Other unpopular apps include Snapchat, Disney and Reddit.
Neighbouring countries tend to dislike similar apps, with the Scandinavians professing a dislike for Reddit and South Americans hating e-commerce apps.
Dating apps, meanwhile, are disliked the world over. In Iraq, 71.4pc of all tweets about Tinder are negative, which is the highest out of any country. A state-by-state breakdown of the most hated apps in North America also found Tinder took the top spot in 21 states.
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Amazon workers say they are working in a “sweatshop” as safety concerns and worries about the cost of living crisis have triggered walkouts at warehouses around the country.
The Observer has spoken to four staff involved in the walkouts, who work at three Amazon warehouses, including Tilbury in Essex, where protests began on 4 August. All say they will struggle to survive this winter with pay rise offers between 35p and 50p an hour – far less than the rate of inflation, which is currently at 9.4%.
The workers, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals from Amazon, said they were speaking out to highlight how the firm’s ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient, super-fast delivery model works.
Amazon employs more than 70,000 people in the UK, adding 25,000 staff in 2021 alone. Many work at the company’s 21 fulfilment centres, where some workers say they are asked to carry out long, physical shifts, with difficult targets, for low pay.
Starting pay in Amazon warehouses will shortly be increasing to between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location. An Amazon spokesperson saidthis was a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to staff since 2018. They said it is also augmented by a comprehensive benefits package worth thousands of pounds a year, and a company pension plan.
But staff say it is too low for the type of work being done and given the current economic crisis, especially at a company that just posted $121bn (£100bn) in revenues in the second quarter of 2022 alone.
“When we heard the news, it was shocking,” said one worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury. “It’s ridiculous. Inflation is [forecast to reach] 13%, and our salary increases barely 3%.” The worker rents a house with her husband for £1,350 a month without bills. “My salary is £1,600. … I’m lucky I’m married, otherwise I’d be homeless.”
Some staff are seeking a pay rise of £2 an hour from the tech giant.
Another worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury said they were “petrified” about how they would survive this winter. “We had a scenario recently where someone was living in [an] Amazon [warehouse],” he said. “If I’m honest, I can probably see that happening again.
“I can see people staying in the canteen all the time because they can’t afford to go home.”
The worker is protesting against the poor pay offer, as well as conditions that lock staff in cages for entire shifts at the warehouses, from where they pick items to be delivered to customers. (Amazon says the workstations are to protect workers from moving robotics.)
“It’s a Chinese sweatshop in the UK,” said the second worker at Tilbury. “It’s how they set up their model.”
The worker has struggled with his mental health while working for the company. “I’ve realised how bad Amazon is for my mental health,” he said. “The anxiety of going into work, knowing you’ve got to do the same stuff day in, day out, is horrible.”
That concern is echoed by a worker at an Amazon facility near Bristol, who has worked there with his wife for three years. “It was good initially,” the worker said. “There was a lot of safety consciousness, and the targets were pretty reasonable. But now they’re just pushing it higher and higher, and exploiting people.”
Around 100 Amazon staff at Bristol staged a sit-in at the company canteen on 10 August – action for which they say they were docked pay by management at the site. “The vast majority of people went back to work at that point, because at the end of the day, as much as they want to fight for it, they have to think about themselves financially.”
The Bristol warehouse worker says that managers used to stop employees from lifting heavy items from bins on high shelves in the warehouse without a ladder. “If you overstretched yourself for 10 hours, you’d end up with a bad neck and a bad back,” he said.
That has subsequently changed as staff said they felt pressured to meet ever-escalating demand. Staff pushing carts around the warehouse used to be limited to using one cart at a time for safety reasons; now it is claimed managers turn a blind eye to staff pulling two carts at once. “They don’t say nothing because all they care about is getting the work done as fast as possible,” he said. “Safety just goes out the window.”
He says he has personally lifted items weighing up to 25kg by himself, despite rules saying anything heavier than 15kg should be lifted by two people.
A worker at an Amazon facility in the north-west of Englandsaid that managers at his warehouse similarly ignored rules around not running on site and lifting down heavy items from high areas in an attempt to meet targets, which at his site require two items to be picked every minute.
Amazon declined to respond to specific claims.
Martha Dark, director at Foxglove, a non-profit organisation working to highlight issues within tech companies that supports Amazon workers, said: “None of the workers we’re supporting wanted to protest.
“They’re desperate and can’t survive on these wages. Meanwhile, Amazon threatens to dock pay and send workers to HR for revealing the truth about life in the warehouse.”
She added: “Amazon needs to respect workers’ rights to organise, stop penalising people who are fighting to survive and provide a real pay rise now.”
Two workers said they plan to leave the company because of the conditions and pay. However, some hope to stay put – to change things.
“If a lot of us who are experienced leave Amazon at this point they’ll get a new group of people in who they can mould into this depressing way of work,” said the Bristol worker. “That’s the problem.”