Archive for the 'Business' Category


Sunday, March 1st, 2009

The $500,000 Limit Is Not Enough — good article from Eliot Spitzer on ways to get crazy CEO pay under control.

WalkAway, Hyundai

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Uh, wow. Just saw an ad for Hyundai Assurance, a program that lets you return a newly financed/leased vehicle within a year if you “lose your income.” It’s a white-label for a program called WalkAway, a name which has an oddly threatening tone to my ear. Anyway, between this and Chrysler’s new “Employee Pricing Plus Plus,” I wonder how long it will be before they throw in 1,000 shares of the automaker’s stock with each new car purchase.

Tesco v. Walmart

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Tesco: ‘Wal-Mart’s Worst Nightmare’. Be nice to see somebody put Walmart on the defensive. I like the concept, too (even used the branding as an example in a focus group, as I recall…)

Stippling is Your Friend

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Lord knows what havoc Rupert Murdoch will wreak on the Wall Street Journal now that he’s clinched that prize, but I for one hope he doesn’t tinker with one of the paper’s trademarks: its stippled portraits.

And you know what? I bet Angelo Mozilo agrees with me.

That would be the guy who’s chairman of Countrywide Financial. Depending upon whom you ask, he looks like this:

WSJ portrait of Angelo Mozilo
(From WSJ)

or this:

(From NYT)

I think everyone this side of George Hamilton would agree the former is much more flattering.

Of course, Mozilo wasn’t entirely manhandled by the Times. Consider this improbable bit of that story:

Mr. Mozilo has ridden this remarkable wave to immense riches, thanks to generous annual stock option grants. Rarely a buyer of Countrywide shares — he has not bought a share since 1987, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings — he has been a huge seller in recent years. Since the company listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 1984, he has reaped $406 million selling Countrywide stock.

As the subprime mortgage debacle began to unfold this year, Mr. Mozilo’s selling accelerated. Filings show that he made $129 million from stock sales during the last 12 months, or almost one-third of the entire amount he has reaped over the last 23 years. He still holds 1.4 million shares in Countrywide, a 0.24 percent stake that is worth $29.4 million.

“Mr. Mozilo has stated publicly that his current plan recognizes his personal need to diversify some of his assets as he approaches retirement,” said Rick Simon, a Countrywide spokesman. “His personal wealth remains heavily weighted in Countrywide shares, and he is, by far, the leading individual shareholder in the company.”

So let’s review. He hasn’t purchased a share of his company in two decades. In the last 12 months, he sold $129 million and now has under $30 million in stock — yet his “personal wealth remains heavily weighted in Countrywide shares.”

Now I’m not one to quibble, but he sure was a lot more “heavily weighted” a year ago, before he decided to cash out over 80% of his then-holdings. Why the bum rush for the exit?

Tanning bill come due?

You Can’t Do It When You’re the Help

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

There’s a Home Depot on one of the streets I walk pretty frequently, and there are signs on the exit doors that amuse and puzzle me:
Home Depot sign: if you use drugs, don't bother to apply

The signs are amusing because I find it hard to believe there are many jobs at Home Depot for which being stoned would be a huge impediment. How much of your faculties are really required to haul shit around, anyway?

Granted, I say that as someone who’s never been properly stoned, so let’s move on to the next point: why there? Why is it so important to have this message known that a huge, bold signs are placed on the exterior doors? Wouldn’t a message on the application itself be just as effective?

Also, is this just a Lincoln Park thing, or do they do this at every store? I could almost believe it was national more — seems more like a marketing message, then. (“Hey, shoppers — check out our zero tolerance!”)

In any event: curious.

What More Could You Ask? Well, I’ll Tell You…

Friday, June 16th, 2006

I read a couple stories in the past few days that really left me wanting more…

From WaPo, a story on U.S. government efforts to staunch copyright infringement abroad included this nugget:

The intellectual property industry and law enforcement officials estimate U.S. companies lose as much as $250 billion per year to Internet pirates […] entertainment and other copyright exports — worth about $626 billion annually, or 6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product — are as important to today’s American economy as autos, steel and coal were to yesterday’s.

A quarter-trillion is an astonishing amount, yet the Post offers nothing to back it up other than “industry and law enforcement” (which is it?) estimates. We all know how trustworthy those can be; about this time last year I noted the MPAA’s propensity for fuzzy math. You’d think the people at the Post would be critical enough to say “that’s almost 40% of your business. How did you arrive at that figure?”

Similarly, I found the most interesting part about the NYT’s story on Google’s Oregon data centers to be not the nature of the construction (or their location), but this:

The fact that Google is behind the data center, referred to locally as Project 02, has been reported in the local press. But many officials in The Dalles, including the city attorney and the city manager, said they could not comment on the project because they signed confidentiality agreements with Google last year.

Doesn’t anyone find it odd that public employees, acting in their official capacities, could be party to confidentiality agreements? How can Google — how can anyone — get away with muzzling administrators via contract? Why doesn’t the Times have time to ask?

On Work, in English and Otherwise

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Yep, sucking at the updates again. Go me! At least this time, I have a fairly good excuse: I’ve been just swamped with stuff for a new client. For example, I went to bed at 7a this morning, after rising at 10a (!) on Sunday, because I have been totally putting in the hours. Since this project is being billed by the hour, yay me.

Speaking of hourly work, I noticed something interesting on the walk to the bank today. There’s a take-out pizza joint a block from here, and they’ve put up three signs in the windows, each of which reads simply “Estamos empleando.” I asked, and this means: help wanted.

Now, for a bit of context, I would point out that I am not living in an especially Hispanic part of Chicago — not as far as I know, anyway. There certainly aren’t a bunch of billboards in Spanish as there in certain other parts of the city.

So why not put the sign in English, or perhaps both languages? I think two explanations are most likely. One, the owner/manager/hiring person has a personal preference/bias for Spanish-speakers, for whatever reason. That’s possible; I don’t know. Either that or, two, they don’t think English-speakers would even bother to apply.

I don’t know their motivation, but I do know I was in that place awhile ago and saw a worker leave with a pay stub. He had a girl waiting, and as he left the back he glanced at his stub and said to her: “Ouch. $70 for 12 hours.”

“Ouch” is right. That hurts no matter what language you speak.

And I Thought Payday Loans Were Bad…

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

I’ve been reading Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick in fits and starts, and yesterday on the train I settled down to get in a few pages. I think I surprised a few people with a quiet “holy shit!” when I hit this passage (p.240, emphasis added):

A new [Brazilian] president, Fernando Collor de Mello, assumed office and appointed a young economist, Zélia Cardoso de Mello (no relation to the president), as finance minister. She proceeded to test some new theories, including one that held that there was too much money in ciculation, that it belonged to too few people, and that they were doing too much speculating with it. Because of this, her theory went, not enough money was being invested in industry. This was generating inflation and stagnation.

So, she thought, let’s take some of that money and give it to the government (which doesn’t have enough, right?). On a sunny spring day in 1990 she went on television to declare a bank holiday and seize 80 percent of the cash in the country. The government laid hold of savings accounts, checking accounts, certificates of deposit, company funds, the works. Every Brazilian, no matter what his assets, was left with $800 or 20 percent of his holdings, whichever was less. If someone had, say, $1,000 in a checking account, he now could spend $200. The lady said she’d give the money back, corrected for inflation by an official index, in twelve monthly installments, starting in a year and a half.

Chaos doesn’t being to describe the reaction.

Wikipedia says Brazil had inflation “exceeding 2,700% in the period of 1989 to 1990.”

Check Costs

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Last year when I made mock billboards for Big Print Bank, I made sure to include a reference to payday loans. Ever since my Finance 350 prof required us to calculate the APR on those suckers, I’ve been mortified by the whole industry.

Today I found an interesting tidbit [via] that underscores the whole problem (emphasis added):

The [payday] loan usually ranges from $100 to $500 and requires a fee that can be up to $25 for every $100 borrowed. Annual percentage rates on the loans can be more than 400 percent.

About 170,000 North Carolinians have tapped payday loans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. The center said that about 99 percent of the loans go to repeat borrowers, and that the average borrower ends up paying $800 to obtain $325 because of the interest cost.
— “Final payday lenders depart N.C.

On Good Terms

Monday, April 10th, 2006

You know, I’m much less of a Google fanboy than I once was (for causes, see also: Chinese Censorship, Google’s Role in) but I still find plenty to admire in the company.

Take the recent revision to the terms of service for their Google Maps API. In announcing the change, Google provided a helpful “diff” page in which they highlighted the changes in red:
cropped capture of Google ToS document, with some words underlined in red

This customer-friendly move shows respect for our time in a way that far, far too few companies bother to do.

For example, contrast that approach to the one taken by PayPal, which by coincidence also recently updated its terms.

PayPal requires the user to signify his/her agreement to the new terms rather than simply changing them unilaterally, which I applaud. But my admiration ends there. Here’s a sample from the screen in which PayPal requests acquiesence to the modified agreement (scaled to 80%):
PayPal form

See that first 5-line textbox? It contains over 7,100 words, including a line mentioning that the privacy policy (among other documents) was updated in March 2006. They break out the privacy policy in the lower box, which weighs in at nearly five thousand words. Of these, how many are changed? Not a clue.

This sort of customer-hostile behavior lends a lot of credence to the perspective that PayPal doesn’t really want its customers to actually read the revised terms. Whether this is due to an attempt to slip in new provisions or just plain apathy about usability is less clear.

I know it’s an open secret that nobody reads the fine print before they click “I Agree”, but it would be nice if more companies followed Google’s example here.

McCaw Cellular is now AT&T Wireless is now Cingular is now AT&T Wireless (almost)

Monday, March 6th, 2006

Another day, another merger.

Fresh from gorging themselves on AT&T, team SBC will now try to fulfill their long-held dream of buying BellSouth, their partner in Cingular. Cingular, of course, bought AT&T Wireless about a year and a half ago, and just spent big money renaming those stores.

I hope they kept the signs. Should this new deal go through, there is a very strong possibility that Cingular will revert to the AT&T Wireless name.

…at least until Verizon buys them all.

OK, I Googled It. Now What?

Friday, February 17th, 2006

As I’ve said before, I don’t catch too many TV commercials. So forgive me if I’m a little behind the curve on this one.

Tonight I saw a Pontiac G6 commercial that ended with a Google screenshot and a (Matt Dillon?) voice-over: “But don’t take our word for it. Google Pontiac and discover for yourself.”

Immediately following that commercial was a GMC spot recommending I visit to find out how well their “professional grade” vehicles stood up to the competition.

I don’t know if it’s pride or desperation that has GM highlighting ostensibly neutral third parties (hey, beats “wee” trucks that drive underwater) but I welcome it. As usual, though, they could use a little help on the execution.

Because while the Blue Book site might be self-explanatory, I’m really mystified as to what we’re supposed to get out of a Google search for “pontiac”. When I did it, I got the following results:

  • Pages about Pontiac, MI and their Silverdome
  • A page about the “Pontiac Grille” in Philly
  • Several pages about classic Pontiacs
  • An ABC review of the Torrent, which Google excerpted thusly: “Hitting the market with little fanfare, the Pontiac Torrent is versatile and functional — but its interior is less than luxurious.”

That, plus there was also a sponsored link for “Pontiac vs. Mazda:” (Maybe that’s Ford’s payback for the Kermit thing.)

So what does GM expect me to discover from these results? That at least the old cars have a big following? That ABC doesn’t know what they’re talking about? Or maybe just that I should have clicked through to the second page of results…

P.S. Stay tuned for Pontiac’s next ad: “Don’t take our word for it. Google Fight and see for yourself…

Ford’s Way Forward

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

Ford to cut up to 30,000 jobs
by Dee-Ann Durbin, Associated Press

DEARBORN, Mich. — Two weeks after he became Ford’s president of the Americas in October, Mark Fields assembled a team to study the company’s brands. He told its members not to report back until they knew what Ford, Lincoln and Mercury stood for.

They never returned.

OK, I made that last sentence up. But it’s what I expected when I read the article.

A Big Load, Indeed

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

When did truck commercials become spam?

Maybe it’s just because I don’t watch much TV, but I was really struck by how stupid some of the claims are getting. There’s the Jeep spot where a family drives underwater, the “peeing” — what is it, Mazda?, as well as the Ford commercial that implies you will become impervious to rattlesnakes if you drive a “Ford tough” truck. (Though I must say I would rather watch animatronic snakes die than hear that quasi-country guy who sings “I’m a Ford truck man.”)

These are just the latest exaggeration of an old trend. In the past, pickups have been shown towing icebreakers and fully-loaded tractor-trailers, all of course with the disclaimer that the activity shown was completely fabricated. I know commercials lie, that’s no big surprise, but usually it’s a more subtle, implied lie: drink this beer and chicks will love you. Microwaved cake is tasty. Cartoon bears use toiler paper. And so on.

But, seriously, where will it end? Now that cartoonish truck commercials are the norm, I look foward to the commercials that bend space and time, perhaps showing how the S-10 played an important part in splitting Pangaea, and each F-150 will be able to tow asteroids (chains not included.)

Dear Pontiac,

Thursday, October 13th, 2005

Hey there! How’s it going? Heard it’s been a mercurial year there at GM, what with the success of the somewhat embarassing employee discount program, and the plummeting sales of SUVs and all.

But hey, I’m not here to talk about systemic problems related to staggering healthcare costs, legacy facilities, logistical/supply inefficiencies and inflexible labor unions. I’m here to talk about something of real substance: your ads.

Thing is, I — and I’m shocking myself here — I kinda like ’em! I like the funky music choices, I like the fact that you a) show the cars in black on black and then b) tend to use some sort of effect in each ad to obscure the car, so I don’t have to actually see it.

I even like what you’ve done with the names. You’ve finally pulled the trigger on the Aztek, for which we’re all grateful, and now you’ve released the “Torrent” — nice one!

Yes, Pontiac, your marketing is really starting to shape up. Now at last you’re free to focus on, you know, actually making good cars.

Good luck with that!