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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ranking the Most Beloved CEO’s Ever(Part 2)

In part one we took a look at the first installment of “Ranking the Most Beloved CEO’s Ever” with numbers 11 through 15. You can view part 1 here.

Today with the second installment we will examine numbers 6 through 10.


10) William Henry "Bill" Gates III is the co-founder, along with Paul Allen of software company, Microsoft.  He is also an American business magnate, philanthropist, and author. Gates is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution. Although admired by many, he has also been heavy criticized by industry insiders for his business tactics, which have bordered on monopolistic. He is consistently ranked as one of the world's wealthiest people. Gates remains the largest individual Microsoft shareholder with more than 8 percent of the common stock.

Lately, Gates has pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established in 2000. Bill Gates stepped down as chief executive officer of Microsoft in January, 2000.  He now works full-time work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He also remains at Microsoft as non-executive chairman.

9) John D. Rockefeller - It’s difficult to put Rockefeller on this list. He was both a robber baron monopolist and a top notch philanthropist. Perhaps his conscience got to him in his later years. was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and revolutionized the petroleum industry.

He became well known for handing out dimes and nickels to the poor,  all while building a mammoth empire by destroying, undercutting, and buying up the competition. By 1879,  Standard Oil had about 90 percent of the market for refining petroleum and all but complete control of the U.S. oil industry. 

At one point Rockefeller had become the richest man in the world and the first American billionaire.  He spent the last 40 years of his life in retirement. He created the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy. By the time he died, in 1937, he’d given most of his money away to heirs and charities.

8) Walt Disney - Imagine a world without Disneyland, Disneyworld and Epcot Center.  Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, animator, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.  Disney’s first studio, Laugh-O-Grams, in Kansas City, Missouri, declared bankruptcy after less than two years in business. He managed to bounce back in the mid-1920s and set up a new studio in Hollywood. Today, the company produces annual revenue of about $35 billion.  Disney studios has gone on to create such iconic characters as Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Donald Duck. Disneyland has over 15 million visitors per year and Disney World has approximately 17 million visitors per year.


7) Ray Kroc - Is there a kid anywhere in the United States that hasn’t eaten at least one time at a McDonald’s? Kroc, a milkshake-machine salesman, joined McDonald’s in 1954 and grew it into the most successful fast food operation in the world. After initially agreeing to pay the McDonald brothers $2.7 million for the chain they founded, plus a royalty on 1 percent of gross sales, Kroc reneged. He never honored the royalty agreement because it wasn’t in writing.  By 1993 McDonald’s had sold more than 100 billion hamburgers. By 2011 McDonald’s had over 33,000 locations worldwide.

He set strict rules for franchisees on how the food was to be made. This insured that a Big Mac tasted the same in one part of the world as another. Kroc was included in Time’s 100 Most Important People of the Century.  He also owned the San Diego Padres baseball team beginning in 1974. It’s not an exaggeration to say that McDonald’s spawned a billion-dollar fast food industry.


6) Oprah Winfrey - The undisputed queen of daytime talk show, she had the ability to boost the sales of anything from books to scented candles or launch others onto a talk show of their own. That’s how powerful the Oprah Winfrey Show was. Her touch was like some sort of golden blessing. According to some, she is the most influential woman in the world.

One reason Winfrey is so successful at connecting with her audience is due to her willingness to be vulnerable. During her rein as talk show queen she has openly discussed many of the trials and challenges she has faced.

She is credited with becoming the first female black billionaire in U.S. history. Winfrey now she runs an influential, media conglomerate(Harpo Productions and the Oprah Winfrey Network) that publishes books and produces television shows, movies, and radio programs.

Next time we’ll take a look at the top 5 Most Beloved CEO’s ever. Who do you think will be on that list?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ranking the Most Beloved CEO’s Ever(Part 1)


Obviously, a list of this sort must be taken with much more than a grain of salt. The only folks really qualified to rank these titans would be the folks who actually worked with and for them. I suspect in many cases they’d have some very controversial opinions on each one.

I tried to think in terms of who broke new ground? Which CEO would garner the highest approval rankings? Created a positive culture for their workers? Provided the greatest example of business leadership?

The old saying, “To make an omelette, you’ve got to break a few eggs.”  Suffice it to say that on the road to earning millions (or billions) more than a few eggs were broken.

With that caveat firmly in mind, here is my list for the most beloved CEO’s of all time:

15) Donald John Trump is combination business magnate, socialite, best-selling author and television personality. He is the Chairman and CEO of the Trump Organization, a US-based real-estate developer. Trump is also the founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts, which operates numerous casinos and hotels across the world. Trump's extravagant lifestyle and outspoken manner have made him a celebrity for years, a status amplified by several forays into the political arena and the success of his NBC reality show, The Apprentice.

Trump’s ambitious expansion plans, both personal and business, led to mounting debt and ultimately bankruptcy. During the late 1990s Trump rebounded with a vengeance. By 2001, he had completed Trump World Tower, a 72-story residential tower across from the United Nations Headquarters. Trump currently owns several million square feet of prime Manhattan real estate, and remains a major figure in the field of U.S. real estate in the and a celebrity for his prominent media exposures.


14) Katharine Graham was an American publisher.  Her father bought the Washington Post at a public auction in 1933 for $825,000. She began working at the company in 1938. Known by some as,"Kate the Great".  She was at the helm of The Washington Post for over two decades, including its most famous period. Under her leadership, the Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers and broke the Watergate story. Between 1981 and 1991, when Graham retired, the Washington Post Co.’s stock price increased elevenfold. 


13) Lawrence "Larry" Page is an American computer scientist and internet entrepreneur who, along with Sergey Brin, is best known as the co-founder of Google. The founders of Google Inc. still manage to introduce humor and amusing perspectives into the business of running a $6.3 billion company.  As of April 4, 2011, he is also the chief executive of Google, as announced on January 20, 2011 his personal wealth is estimated to be $19.8 billion.  In 1998 PC Magazine praised Google as one of the Top 100 Web Sites and Search Engines. In 2000, Google earned a Webby Award, a People’s Voice Award among many others. In 2011, Page was ranked as the 11th richest person in the United States. Brin and Page also bank-rolled the low-budget independent 2007 film, Broken Arrows.


12) George Soros is an American currency speculator, stock investor, businessman, philanthropist, and political activist. Soros is chairman of Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Institute. He is also a former member of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Soros is considered one of the richest persons in the world, with a net worth estimated at $11.0 billion.  He has given $6 billion to various causes since 1979. These days his wealth is largely devoted to encouraging transitional and emerging nations to become 'open societies,' tolerant of new ideas and different modes of thinking and behavior.


11) J.P. Morgan - Today we think of J.P. Morgan as a leading financial services firm.  What many don’t know is that he was an actual person.  John Pierpont Morgan was an American financier, banker and art collector. He was dominant in corporate finance and industrial consolidation in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s. Actually some of his critics said he was in control of the nation’s high finance.

His dedication to efficiency and modernization helped transform American business.
So brilliant and successful was Morgan that he personally bailed out the U.S. Treasury twice!  Once during the depression of 1895, and again during the panic of 1907. 
Morgan was prominent in various areas: energy, subways, shipping, industrials. And railroads.  He had great success as well as several unsuccessful ventures. He perfected a process of taking over troubled businesses that was so good that it become known as “Morganization”.

Next time we’ll examine numbers 6 through 10 on this list. What do you think of the first installment? Can you think of anyone I forgot?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Who is Watching You? Is it Necessary?


Recently, my gym of the last 10 years closed down. This hit many of us pretty hard because our gym was an independent operation and many members had been there for over 20 years. Carl and Bob Medina owned Medina’s Gym for almost 30 years.

It was very much what you would call a family atmosphere.

Fitness, bodybuilding and weight training was Carl’s passion.  He was the guy who’d walk around the gym, offering advice both solicited and unsolicited. He also made sure his gym was ship-shape. If you left a weight on the bench, you’d hear about it.

Unfortunately, Carl Medina died in September of 2008 and Bob’s grandson was brought in to man the front desk during the weekday evenings and during the day on weekends.  Suffice it to say that fitness and weight training was not the passion of the younger Medina.  He was more into computer games.

During the period of time between Carl’s death and the eventual closing of the gym, a curious thing happened.  Without Carl around a number of gym members became slack in their behavior.  You would start to see equipment being left on benches, plates left on machines, etc. conditions that Carl never would have tolerated.

This reminded me of a recurring story about doctors and hand washing. It seems that when cameras were monitoring doctors behavior, they would wash their hands much more often than when no one was watching.

I mean if there is anyone who should recognize the benefits of washing their hands and maintaining a sanitary environment you’d think it would be doctors, right?

I was talking with one of my friends and she mentioned that you really find out about a person’s character by how they behave when no one is watching.  Why is that? I mean we all want things to work well, and it should be pretty much common sense that we all play a role in making that happen. So why is it necessary for adults to baby-sit other adults?

I guess that’s why we need business regulation. Left to our own devices we’d most likely destroy each other. Is this right?

Do you believe that it’s necessary for us to monitor each other or even better, why do so many of us tend to ‘back-slide’ when no one is keeping an eye on us?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

5 Biggest OMG Moments in Business


The world of business is rife with risk. No one would doubt that. We all know that in order to make a profit, you’ve got to take a chance. Sometimes, the business world can deliver a devastating blow seemingly from nowhere.  In reality many times businesses bring it upon themselves, other times they are merely victims of circumstance.

Here then, are a few examples of some all-time OMG moments in the business world:

The Tylenol scare
There’s a very good reason why much of our medicine today comes in tamper proof bottles. Back in 1982 seven people died after taking pain-relief medicine capsules that had been poisoned.

These poisonings involved Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules, manufactured by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which had been laced with potassium cyanide. The incidents created a nationwide panic and eventually led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter substances and to federal anti-tampering laws.  Amazingly, the case remains unsolved and no suspects have been charged. 


Stock market crash – 1929
A massive drop in value of the stock market helped trigger the Great Depression which lasted until 1939 when the increased economic activity created by the second world war got the U.S. economy back up on its’ feet. The Great Depression had devastating effects in virtually every country, rich and poor. Unemployment in the United States rose to 25% and in some countries rose as high as 33%.  As if a financial calamity wasn’t bad enough, The United States had to endure the Dust Bowl years from 1930-1936. During this period a million acres of farmland across the Plains become worthless due to severe drought and over farming.


If it ain’t broke
For some unknown reason in 1985 The Coca-Cola Company sought to replace its flagship soft drink, Coca-Cola with a new formula called New Coke. It was rolled out with much pomp and publicity but to the chagrin of Coca-Cola executives, the new drink was a dud. Public reaction to the change was devastating, and the entire campaign quickly entered the hall of fame for major marketing flops. I mean you would have thought that all of this was over something much more important than a soft drink. Go figure.


Bringing down one of the ‘Big 5’
The Enron scandal turned into the indictment and criminal conviction of one of the Big Five auditor firms, Arthur Andersen on June 15, 2002. Subsequently, the firm ceased performing audits and began unwinding its business operations. The Enron scandal was defined as being one of the biggest in U.S. history. Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstruction of justice for destroying many of the emails and documents that were related to auditing Enron. From this incident alone almost 100,000 employees lost their jobs. In one fell swoop Arthur Andersen ruined it’s credibility in an industry where trust is critical. With its’ image damaged beyond repair, it was never able to come back to its original operating capacity.


Cleaning more than carpets
While still in high school, Barry Jay Minkow founded ZZZZ Best (pronounced Zee Best), which for all the world appeared to be an immensely successful carpet-cleaning and restoration company.  I remember reading about this guy while I was in high school. I thought how brilliant he must be and I wondered if I could ever be as successful as he.

The truth is that it was actually a front to attract investment for a massive Ponzi scheme. It all came to a head in 1987, costing investors and lenders $100 million.

After being released from jail, Minkow became a preacher and a fraud investigator.  He even spoke at schools regarding business ethics. This too came to an end in 2011, when he admitted to helping deliberately drive down the stock price of homebuilder Lennar and was ordered back to prison.  What’s that old saying about a leopard changing his spots?

Can you think of some other all-time 'OMG' moments in business history?



Monday, December 19, 2011

WHICH IS MORE LIKELY?




WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?

The Occupy Movement gains steam and continues to grow and become a starting point for a worldwide economic / political revolution
OR
The Occupy Movement begins to fizzle out and lose momentum?


WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?

The U.S. economy continues to grow and recover nicely from the disastrous recession levels of 2008
OR
The U.S. economy does a double dip and slides back into the doldrums?


WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?

That President Obama wins a nifty re-election by overcoming the feeble economy and aggressive campaigning efforts of the Republicans
OR
That President Obama ends up a “one and done” president and loses a heated campaign to Mitt Romney?

WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?

We will begin to see some meaningful reforms from Wall Street and corporate America in general
OR
We will continue to see more of the same old same old(or it gets worse)?


WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?

Following the death of Kim Jong Il, North Korea begins more normalized relations with the greater world community; possibly even a reunification with South Korea
OR
Relations worsen between North Korea and the greater world community with increased nuclear testing, further repression and his son Kim Jong Un continuing in his father’s footsteps?


WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?

The European Debt Crisis will worsen.  Greece, Ireland, Portugal, France, Italy and other countries continue to suffer under crushing austerity measures with no end in sight

OR
The European Debt Crisis begins to ease a bit and respond favorably to the EU emergency measures that have been implemented?


WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?

The U.S. congress “sees the light” and begin to work together for the benefit of all Americans
OR
Pigs will learn how to fly?

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Pursuit of Happyness


Have you ever stopped to wonder how is it possible that we elect the so-called best and brightest from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc. and end up with such dissatisfaction at our voting options?

How do folks with the best education that money can buy turn out the worst, most inept, corrupt governments and business environments in recent history?

My point isn’t that these people are unintelligent. I assume they possess great intelligence. I also understand the need to remove money from politics.

Greed. I get it. Greed apparently trumps learning.

Well, if that is the case, let’s stop allowing ourselves to be blinded by these advanced degrees from designer schools because obviously that is not the answer.  While we’re at it I guess we can ignore the adoring spouse, squeaky clean children, and white picket fence as well.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to handle some of our countrys’ problems.  What we are missing is leadership. It’s true but not everyone will be happy.

What’s that old saying, “When you’re in a ditch, stop digging?” At some point your reality is what it is. I mean our grand parents and great-grand parents knew this with only a grade school education. They had a greater idea of what was really important.

What is it that we are missing?

Monday, December 12, 2011

America, Third World Country?

 Today I overheard a lady talking about Jane Fonda’s appearance on Piers Morgan. She mentioned that most Americans have never visited a “third world country” and that we soon may be living in one. It got me thinking, what really is the definition of a third world country and how would you know if you saw one?

During the “Cold War” period the three worlds would have looked like this:

First World: Countries that were both capitalistic and democratic. The first world includes the United States and its allies such as Canada, Japan and Australia. These are highly developed countries.

Second World: Countries, which are allied with or supported by “First World” countries. Many times these were communist-socialist states. The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China and their allies.

Third World: neutral and non-aligned countries.  Most of Africa, Latin America and Asia fell into this category.

French demographer, Alfred Sauvy, who is credited with coining the term wrote, "Like the third estate, the Third World is nothing, and wants to be something."

Although the strict interpretations of these labels are outdated, you’ll still here people refer to a country as a “Third World” nation.  That label is a pejorative description for poor and undeveloped in terms of economic, political and social structures.

With our overwhelming debt, never ending war entanglements, lack of political leadership, and the ever widening gulf between the 1% and the 99%, how close are we to “third world status?’

Is the American Dream on its’ way out or has it already left?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Preachers and Politicians…it must be nice!


I’ve always cast a jaundiced eye towards both wealthy preachers and wealthy politicians.  I know millions are loyal followers of both groups but it just never made any sense to me.  I mean whether you’re a politician or preacher, the idea is that you serve the public in some capacity.  If you’re serving the public, what’s up with all that wealth and the lavish lifestyle?

Recently both Bishop Eddie Long and Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain are two individuals from these groups who have recently been in the news.

Long is (was?) the head of a 20,000+ seat megachurch, drove a $350,000 Bentley, bought a $1.1 million home in 2005 and favors a lot of bling (gold necklaces and Rolex watches.)

And that guy wants you to tithe 10% of your income to the church?

Bishop Long has plenty of company: T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House, wears tailored suits, drives a brand new Mercedes. Both he and his wife Serita are regularly sporting stunning jewelry. His West Virginia home includes an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley.

If we go ‘old school’ there are many other wealthy preachers such as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Reverend Ike and Father Divine – I can’t knock the hustle. After all, P.T. Barnum gave us ‘heads up’ a long time ago.

And what about the aforementioned Herman Cain?

A week or two ago there was a rally for Herman Cain. He announced that he was suspending his political campaign. Personally I can hardly believe anybody showed up. I don’t get it.  Where do these folks come from? Don’t we all understand the foolishness of the political game by now?

This man is a multi-millionaire and we’re to believe that he’s got nothing better to do than run for a super-stressful position that pays about $400K annually? Even if you discount his ‘alleged’ affairs the whole setup makes very little sense.

And Cain is hardly alone: Mitt Romney has a net worth of $200M, Newt Gingrich has a net worth of $6.7M, and Rick Perry comes in with a net worth of $1 to $3M.

I’ve never trusted wealthy politicians or preachers.  I have no problem with wealth. I'd love to have a chunk of it myself; it’s just that my vision of both is that of a public servant. These days, it’s obvious that way too many politicians / preachers have made a career of serving themselves.

Like my friend said the other day, it’s as if the rich are driving a car and they’ve got the rest of us locked in the trunk.  The most galling thing of all is that we’ve been willing victims for the most part.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Death of the U.S. Postal Service?


The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service is planning on eliminating First Class delivery and next day delivery of letters and postcards. If these changes proceed their fastest service will be 3-5 days.   

Think about that. 

While every thing else in our world is becoming ever faster, the Postal Service is actually preparing to become slower. And get this:  The cost of a first class (or whatever they’ll call it) stamp will increase 1 cent. So we’ll receive slower service at a higher price.  What a concept. Hope you stocked up on those “forever” stamps.

With that being the case I have to ask: What purpose does the post office serve in 2011-2012?

The agency is considering shuttering 252 out of its’ 487 mail processing centers.  As a result, approximately 30,000 workers could lose their job.  Such a move would result in over 3 billion dollars per year in savings. Obviously, with losses annually in the billions, the current business model just doesn’t work. 

In 2012, what business model would work for the post office? What niche would make sense in today’s world?

People communicate differently today. Email, texting, Facebook, blogging. Think about it when was the last time you actually wrote a letter and mailed it to someone? When it comes to business transactions we also have quite a few alternatives to choose from: UPS, Fedex, email, online banking, EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer), paying by phone.

If you are of a certain age many of the staples you grew up with like typewriters, landline phones, cassette tapes, phonographs, and others have all pretty much bit the dust. When I was a kid we had to actually get up to change the channel on a television. Heck, these days most of us would lose our minds without our TV remotes! But, I digress.

This drastic overhaul of the post office would represent a different kind of loss. Some consider it a mainstay of America.

Is the post office more a matter of tradition or can it still serve a utilitarian purpose? 

One excellent utilitarian purpose that comes to mind is the delivery by postal carrier to far-flung suburban and rural communities.

In addition, some people still receive checks regularly in the mail, pay their bills through the mail, prescription drugs, receive and deliver Netflix, and other time sensitive material (magazines/newsletters) is all via the mail. It’s hard for some of us to believe but many people are happily living their lives without computers. Of course that means they can’t access all of this new technology.

One excellent point that I heard earlier today is that there is still a need for a universal delivery service – One example being, “How else would the IRS get in touch with you?” “What about jury duty notices?” I know. Not the cheeriest of examples but you get the point. Think about this: sending someone a letter of condolence. You really can’t do that via email.

How much do you think UPS or Fedex would charge to send a single letter? I’ve got to believe it would be more than 45 cents.

What do you think? Is it time to consider doing away with the U.S. Postal Service altogether? If not, what role should the agency play going forward?


Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Tale of 10 Cities


Recently Men’s Health Magazine had an interesting article on “America’s Saddest Cities” This got me to thinking about what makes a place a “sad” location rather than a more attractive one. 

The article focused in on things like: suicide rates, unemployment rates, and the percentage of households using antidepressants (how do you get a hold of that kind of data).

Factors That Can Make a Place ‘Sad’ or ‘Happy’:

Great Weather? Bright, sunny days always make people feel better. With that in mind, check this out: Three of the top ten cities are located in Florida so although it may be a key indicator it clearly isn’t the major factor. Besides, Fargo, ND was 3rd from the top of the list.

Employment Opportunities? I think we can all agree that it’s pretty tough to be upbeat when you’re unemployed.  When your entire city or town is facing high unemployment the whole community is down and out.

An Attractive Nightlife? This goes hand in hand with being employed. When you’ve got a little money in your pocket it’s great to go out with friends and loved ones to the movies, nice restaurants, or local shows and enjoy yourself. That’s all part of the “work hard, play hard” axiom.

Plentiful Assortment of Outdoor Activities?  Simply being outside and active is a guaranteed endorphin rush. Certain cities within the states of California, Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado in particular are known for encouraging an active lifestyle. Beautiful outdoor areas attract hordes of locals into hiking, running, biking, skiing, horseback riding, etc

Network of family / friends or support network? Going through a rough patch is bad enough. Having to endure it all by yourself is doubly tough. Do you have friends and/or family members around to do things with? What about a supportive church or work group? You know the old song, “I get by with a little help from me friends.”

Is The Crime Rate Low? What good is having a wonderful job and a nice place to live if you come home and find your place has been robbed? Same goes for trying to raise a family in a war zone. It’s a “no go”.

Is The Cost of Living Reasonable? I live the Bay Area of California so I can definitely relate. The Bay Area is a great place to live if you’ve got loads of cash. The rest of us do the best we can.

How stressful is it to live in given city or town? Well, if you’ve got issues with high crime and unemployment rates let’s just say the stress level is likely near the danger zone.


AMERICA’S SADDEST CITIES: TOP TEN
1. Las Vegas, NV
Axiom a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

2. Reno, NV
This one I understand. When I was a kid this place seemed so lively so full of excitement. I went there several years ago to visit a friend and my every thought was, “What the hell happened to this place?”

3. Miami, FL
Sun, sand, golf and apparently depression. I always thought this was a fun state. I guess the home of Disneyworld, Miami Beach, and the Everglades ain’t what it used to be. 

4. Birmingham, AL
Birmingham is the cultural and entertainment capital of Alabama. That’s great! But it also has the 10th highest crime rate in the country.  That’s really bad. What ever happened to good ole’ southern hospitality?

5. St. Louis, MO
How can you be bummed living in the home of the World Series champion Cardinals?

6. Louisville, KY
Home of the Kentucky Derby, Hillerich & Bradsby (Louisville Slugger baseball bats), Humana, Texas Roadhouse, UPS Airlines and Kindred Healthcare among others. Also one-third of all bourbon whiskey comes from this city.  My guess is that at least the economic component is on pretty solid footing.

7. Tampa, FL
Isn’t Florida the ideal location that seniors flock to when they retire or has that changed? Maybe it’s Panama or the Dominican Republic nowadays.

8. Memphis, TN
Three hours from the country music capital of the world, loads of BBQ, and Graceland. What more could you ask for?

9. Detroit, MI
This one we all understand. Going all the way back to the 1980’s when the Motor City lost its’ engine.  With the main economic industry way down, you just know that the housing market had to take a dump. I really hope this city makes a comeback.

10.  St. Petersburg, FL
See numbers 3 and 7.

A list like this is largely based on opinion so now I’ll ask you, what key factors make a city or town sad to you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do We Expect Too Much Perfection From Our Politicians?


Looking at all of the flack that Herman Cain has caught for his alleged indiscretions has me asking the question, “Do we expect too much of our political candidates?” I’m not talking about performance. What I’m referring to is the pristine personal lives many want them to follow.

Actually it brings to mind another question as well. Why the hell would anyone want to set himself or herself’ up for such ridiculous scrutiny? I know ego is the main reason but even an egomaniac has to have some limits.

I’m not condoning the behavior that he has been accused of engaging in but with humans being humans, clearly these sorts of things do happen.

I heard a quote a few moments ago that, “We want to elect a virgin to do a hooker’s job”. I love that quote but it really got me to thinking about our voting process.

John Edwards, Gary Hart, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Gary Condit, JFK, I mean would go on…and on…and on…and on some more but why bother? Would you prefer to ‘swim’ with a politician that you didn’t care for personally or ‘sink’ with a politician that you liked which would you choose?

In Europe, they find our puritanical values laughable. I guess they just expect a certain amount of human frailty in their political leaders.

Given all the problems that we have facing us in this country is it really that big of an issue if a particular politician had an affair, is gay or has a brain ‘fart’ during a debate?

If a political leader could produce great results but had a messy private life, would it really matter to you at the polls?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Works…What Doesn’t


Have you ever just stopped to think about things that should work but don’t?
Sometimes even though we know the stuff doesn’t work, we don’t even give it a second thought. It sucks but that’s just the way it is.

Car Alarms
Do car alarms actually deter theft? Every time I hear one these bad boys go off I run right out to investigate. I’m sure that you do too. I think they are a great invention but unfortunately they are so ubiquitous that they’ve become more of a nuisance than a deterrent.

Krazy glue / Gorilla glue / Super glue
I don’t care what anyone says; this crap does not work.  And yet I still buy it! I’ve seen that picture of the guy being suspended in mid-air by his hard hat. Supposedly one drop of this “wonder glue” keeps him firmly in place. Right. I can’t even get a coffee mug handle to stay glued on.

Mail-in Rebate Coupons
Remember these? You found an advertised store item that you really wanted. Let’s say it was priced at $200 but it was only $150 with the rebate coupon. The problem was that the steps to achieve the rebate were so onerous that the process just pissed people off. That’s why you rarely see them being offered anymore. Or is that just me?

3-D Movies
I’m talking old school 3-D. I haven’t seen Avatar or any other new 3-D movies. I’m sure they’re better than the old fashioned 3-D but what’s next: “Gone with the Wind” 3-D version?

Doberman Pinschers
Remember when these used to be the baddest dogs on the planet? Have they all been retired by pit bulls and Rottweilers? You hardly ever hear of them being used as watchdogs. You know why? I guess they don’t work any more.

Butt-Toning Shoes
Every time I see someone in a pair of these I start cracking up inside. Just because Joe Montana and Kim Kardashian advertised them was no reason to run out and get a pair. Not that there's any deliberate deception involved — walking on these things are like trying to balance on a wobble board. But sometimes it just boils down to another case of a company making claims that it can't back up.

Exhibit A: Reebok was just ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to pay $25 million in refunds for claiming that its "toning" shoes would strengthen and tone the thighs and butts of people who wore them. The FTC also banned the company from making similar claims in future advertisements.

Psychic Hotline
I really don’t need to discuss this one, do I? Remember Miss Cleo?

Cold remedies
Starve a cold, feed a fever. Feed a fever, starve a cold. Mom’s chicken soup. Echinacea.  Zinc supplements. Vitamin C. Antibiotics. Whatever.  I’m sure some of these are effective but let’s not go crazy here. It’s only the common cold, right?

Crash Weight Loss Diets
So if a friend swears that munching on grapefruit gets her into skinny jeans, or a coworker credits “the Twinkie diet” for his trim physique, should you try it too? Diet and exercise isn’t the sexiest option but like so many things in life the least appealing option is the most effective.

Banking Regulators
See mortgage meltdown circa 2008 -2011.

United States Justice Department
See “no one went to prison for the mortgage meltdown circa 2008 -2011.”

What other things can you think of that should work…but don’t?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Some Things In Life Never Made Sense To Me


Some things in life never made sense to me: American Idol, swimming in freezing cold water, women who complain about the seat being left up, and spending the night in a line camped outside of Walmart.

That last one is a most appropriate topic for this morning, otherwise known as Black Friday: the Friday after Thanksgiving.  It also indicates the point at which retailers are “in the black” or making a profit.

Now, I pretty much hate shopping in any form.  The whole camping overnight in chilly winter weather and then scrapping with a bunch of “wild—eyed” competitive shoppers is not my idea of a good time.

Supposedly the economy is lagging and unemployment rates are high so what’s up with all these rabid shoppers?

Every year we hear stories about people getting trampled when the doors open. This years’ top stories are a shooting at a Walmart in San Leandro and an incident of another Walmart shopper in the Los Angeles area pepper spraying other shoppers in an effort to gain an advantage I suspect. 

If it weren’t so sad it would be hilarious.

I always wonder, “What would happen if they gave a sale and no one showed up?” Oh well, that will probably never happen.

So many folks are standing in line hoping to score an ipad, an Xbox game, or perhaps a 50” television for dirt-cheap.  The problem is that I’m certain that each of these stores only has about 4 of each of these products in stock and by the time you get through the doors they will be out of stock of what you wanted.  Now there’s no way you’re going to go home empty-handed.  Enter plan B. You end up buying something else.

The retailers win either way, but what about the customer?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

7 Steps to Keep Your Business ‘Cash Healthy’


Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business enterprise. It is even more important than profit! Extending credit means taking on risk. There is no way to avoid it. In your efforts to grow your business consider what an acceptable level of bad debt would be. That’s right. Trying to avoid any bad debt will most likely actually limit your sales potential.  Here’s how to reap the best of both worlds:

Step #1: Make it a habit to contact your customers as soon as their invoices are coming due.  Just ask if you can receive a pay schedule.  It’s totally expected and the accounts payable department will likely have your invoice already scheduled for payment.  Of course, you will run into the old, “We don’t have a copy of your invoice.”  Be prepared to submit another copy ASAP. Hoping that a late payer will “get religion” and clean up past due balances happens rarely, not often enough to rely on; especially in a challenging economy.


Step #2: Avoid extending more favorable terms to a friend of the CEO.  My attitude on this scenario is that if the boss wants the transaction done like that, then fine. But I would make sure to get his or her signature approving those special terms. In addition, keep that signed copy for yourself ask backup just to make sure that it doesn’t “disappear”.  If it’s for your own company be sure to handle the account in a professional, businesslike manner. If your friend or relative can’t understand why you insist on following protocol, you’re probably better off walking away from the deal. You must establish credible ground rules up front to avoid disaster down the road.


Step #3: Maintain documentary proof of the debt. Believe me, you will have customers that claim they don’t owe you any money, or that they only owe a portion of the outstanding balance.  Hold onto purchase orders received (and signed) from the customer, signed quote letters, packing lists, proof of delivery, email communications, everything and anything that provides backup to the fact that service has been rendered as stated.


Step #4: Always get as much credit information as possible from your customer while you are completing the initial sale. When the customer is hot for your product or service they are much more willing to provide information that they might hesitate to give you later on.  You can also avoid hearing, “You didn’t need that on all the other orders!” as well.  Besides, you  can never have too much information if and when an account goes south. Structure your credit application to secure the data you need.


Step #5: Establish a system for determining when to place delinquent accounts for collection.  I had a manager that insisted we work our accounts to the ‘nth’ degree before referring them out for collection. That makes complete sense. When we referred accounts out to a third party for collection, it was rare that they collected a substantial amount of what we placed. Whatever your process before referring accounts, work it expeditiously and once satisfied get it off your desk and out for third party resolution! The longer you wait, the worse things will become.


Step #6: Unless you’re dealing with a familiar company, do yourself a favor and check the majority (if not all) of your customers’ references. Make sure you get enough information to at least make an informed credit decision. Ask for at least three trade and one to two bank references.  Be on the lookout for inconsistencies in the information that you receive. For example: Your prospective customer claims to have been in business for 15 years but none of their references report info back any further than 5 years.


Step #7: Providing additional services /products to a customer that is already past due on earlier orders. When a customer comes back to you for more business before paying earlier invoices, that is a perfect time to leverage their desire for more product (or service) as a way to receive payment.  I can’t count the number of times that I used a COD (equal to the past due amount) method
of delivery in order to get the customer his product and get their account brought current. A real win-win for everyone.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

REASONS WHY YOU ACTUALLY LOVE GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS


It’s not unusual to hear someone grouse about the intrusiveness of government regulations. All of this talk of “big-brother”, the “nanny-state” and government regulations’ strangulation of business goes on and on. Some of it is legitimate, no doubt.
But let’s acknowledge a few examples of how government regulation helps the consumer and protects us all from unscrupulous business practices.

America’s favorite coffee franchise got busted.  That’s right. In August the Massachusetts office of Consumer Affairs found out that Starbucks had been adding a surcharge of $1.50 for bags of coffee beans weighing less than 1 lb, and neglected to inform the consumer.  Starbucks had listed a blend of coffee beans as $12 / lb, but the were actually charging $7.45 for a half pound bag.


What about the passenger bill of rights? You know, the law that says airlines can’t kidnap passengers and hold them on a tarmac indefinitely. Before these sets of protections were enacted airlines could keep passengers in virtual “prisoner” onboard an airplane with no food, water or bathroom for hours on end.  Now, after 3 hours they have to allow passengers to return to the gate. If they don’t they can be fined as much as $20,000 per passenger. Don’t believe it? Just ask American Eagle. They were recently fined almost $1 million for violating this law.


Another example of successful (and necessary) government regulation: how about stop signs and stop lights?  Going back to the days of the horse and buggy, traffic in big cities was often heavy. Police officers had to be stationed at busy intersections full time in order to direct traffic. The stop sign was devised in an effort to reduce horse-and-buggy accidents in populated areas. With the coming of automobiles, the situation got even worse. The traffic light was seen as a way to adapt railroad signals for street use in order to control the flow of traffic. Just imagine automobile and pedestrian travel without either of these.


A final example of winning government regulation would be the “Card Act”. This act represents a huge turning point for today’s consumer. Consider the fact that Americans pay billions of dollars annually in penalty fees alone, on their credit cards, and you begin to understand the significance of this law. Finance website www.mybanktracker.com calls the 2009 “Card Act” one of the most effective consumer protection policies of the century.  Here are some of the highlights of this law:
  • The act limits when credit card issuers can increase interest rates.
  • Credit card issuers must notify consumers of significant changes in the terms on their accounts at least 45 days before they take effect.
  • The law places limitations on the marketing and issuing of credit cards to those under 21 years of age.
  • Predatory lenders are no longer allowed on college campuses.

The next time you hear someone complain about government regulation being a drain on our economy mention the benefits that intelligent laws provide for all of us. I’m sure that these people are happily benefiting from several that they simply take for granted.



Friday, November 18, 2011

The Next Big Threat to the U.S. Economy


In case you haven’t heard the news: student loans are now at a trillion dollars. Approximately 40 percent of these loans are past due.

Two thirds of new college graduates last year had student loan debt to repay. The average student leaves college with $25,000 in debt. You’re supposed to start repaying these loans 6 months after graduation. Now, if you can’t get a job, you’re likely going to need something like forbearance or a deferment. Getting forbearance is likely but the catch is that your loan interest rate will get increased. Ouch!

Consider the ramifications: students come out of school and they can’t get jobs. Let’s say the economy picks up in 3-4 years and folks can get jobs. There may be a certain group who are always a little older and behind the recent grads not to mention four years deeper in debt.

Universities and Administrators have gone on unprecedented spending sprees. Room and board has doubled in real dollars over the last 25 years.  Athletic centers, stadiums, gourmet chefs in the cafeteria. As a result, the price of education is rapidly escalating out of reach for most Americans.

You get out of college, and can’t get a job. How do you pay the loan back?  Many students owe $50,000, $100,000, $250,000 or more. Even if you have a good job, how do you pay back such an onerous amount of debt?

Student loans are the hardest thing to get out of. These debts cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. Another amazing fact is that even your social security income can be docked.

These are people who will not be able to afford to buy a first home, or maybe not even a car. Their credit will likely be destroyed for life. This is the last thing our struggling economy needs.

Back when I was in college kids were preyed upon by the credit card vendors who introduced us to Visas and Mastercards on campuses throughout the country.  Students have become “cash cows” to colleges and universities through these loan “programs”.

The cost of tuition has been rising faster than healthcare! Has the quality of that education risen along with the price tag? I doubt that it is even possible.

The one thing that these institutions count on is the fact that parents WILL pay to send their kids to college.  And all too often it has to be a ‘status’ school to satisfy the parents’ ego.

We’re still dealing with the ramifications of the mortgage meltdown and could very well be staring at an “education loan” meltdown. I hope this is not the case.

Think about it. Is this the way we want higher education to play out for future generations? How will this country compete if getting a degree becomes a giant ‘pay day loan’ scam?

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Makes Up Your Credit Score?


In today’s society, credit scores play a pivotal role in our everyday lives.  It could mean the difference between obtaining a low interest loan or even getting a loan at all! It can also be the determining factor in getting an apartment or many times getting employment.
To say the least, maintaining a healthy credit score is vital.

The top company in the field of credit scores is FICO. 

FICO is the Fair Isaac Corporation. As a consumer you have 3 FICO scores; one from each of the major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.  These FICO scores range from 300 to 850. The lower the number, the higher the risk and the higher the number, the lower the risk for a potential creditor.

In general, to be considered a solid credit risk it is best to be “north” of 720 as a minimum.

Information in your credit report is used within a mathematical algorithm to create your score. Theoretically your score will predict the likelihood that you will become seriously delinquent on your credit obligations within the next 24 months.

Each person’s credit score is made up of 5 factors:

35%  - Payment History. Your history of making credit payments in a timely manner.

30%  - Amounts owed. Total amount of debt being carried versus the total available
                  credit.

15%  - Length of credit history.  How long have you had open lines of credit? The
            longer your credit history is, the better.

10%  - New credit.  How often do you apply for new credit?

10%  - Types of credit used.  “The mix” of your credit including, lines of credit, and
            whether  or not it is installment or revolving credit.

Many people fear that closing an account will do damage to their credit rating.  The truth is that closing an account in and of itself won’t hurt your credit score because you will still get the value of that account whether it is open or closed. The account will continue to age even if it’s inactive or has no balance.

After 10 years closed accounts will get eliminated from your credit report.

The real key is how much open and available credit do you have compared to your current balance. This is known as your credit utilization rate. Folks with the higher credit scores, in the upper 700’s, are typically using only 10 percent of their available credit at a given point of time.

How Can I Receive A Free Copy of My Credit Report?

First of all, forget all those websites with the phrase “Free Credit Report” in them. The place to go is www.AnnualCreditReport.com.  You can obtain one free credit report each year.

Another option is to request a free credit report by phone (877)322-8228 and have it mailed to you. 

Lastly, you can simply write to: Annual Credit Report Request Service; P.O.Box 105281; Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.





Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Consumers rise up, large corporations take note, what does the future hold?


Bank of America is in Retreat. The nation’s second largest bank blinked last Tuesday. In case you hadn’t  heard, B of A decided to abandon its plan to charge a $5 fee on debit card purchases.

B of A was undoubtedly influenced by the decision of its’ two competitors – Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase – deciding not to charge similar fees to their customers.
           
Unfortunately for the banks’ their decision to squelch the $5 fee couldn’t put the brakes on ‘Bank Transfer Day’.  The November 5th movement encouraged customers of large banks to transfer their funds into local credit unions, and other smaller, regional institutions.

According to latest reports approximately 80% of credit unions enjoyed membership increases in October. The total number of new members joining credit unions was over 650,000 with $4.5 billion in new deposits.

Oddly though, some insiders say the banks couldn’t care less about the defection of smaller dollar accounts. In the end, they simply wind up getting rid of their least profitable customers.

Savvy customers know that the banks aren’t going to let an opportunity to raise revenue get away so easily. You’ve got to believe that more ‘hidden’ fees are coming in the future to make up for the debit fee loss.

By comparison, the uproar caused by the bank’s plan was almost equaled by the furor caused by the subscription increases levied by Netflix.

Netflix, the online and mail order movie rental company, raised prices up to 60% on their U.S. subscribers.  This increase led to a veritable firestorm of anger as thousands of customers have begun to rail against the pricing change.

Just think, in the not so distant past Netflix was the hottest ticket in town. How quickly things can change!

Users inundated the Netflix blog with posts and left thousands of comments on the company’s Facebook page.  To many customers the ploy reeked of a company attempting to wring a few extra dollars out of their pockets.

As a result, Netflix is getting hit with pretty serious losses as customers begin to defect and seek out less costly alternatives.  In a note to its’ investors, Netflix says that they are prepared to lose as many as one million subscribers. Ouch!

By leveraging social media, customers are banding together in order to do battle with corporate America on different fronts. These are true examples of the free market system at work.

When you consider the anger engendered by outrageous airline fees, it will only be a matter of time before they feel the wrath of today’s social media savvy consumer.

Can you think of any other industries that could be ripe for an uprising by fed up consumers?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are You Qualified?

 Chances are, that if you wanted a job as a Systems Engineer or a QA Manager or a Billing Processor you’re going to need to meet some job requirements. I mean you can’t just show up and get the nod, right?

My point is, no matter what job you pursue, you need to prove that you’re qualified for it. I see no such standard for holding political office and I wonder why. It seems especially critical in this day and age to establish some sort of standard.

I’ve heard it all my life, “Get out and vote! Many people have suffered and some have died for your right to vote.”  If they had any inkling about the characters we have to choose from I wonder if they would’ve still taken the risk.

A trend seems to have emerged over the last 25+ years in America: U.S. citizens have become increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied with their political leaders and the limited choices they have at the polls.

I mean when your options are tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum, it’s a little hard to get excited about Election Day.

What are the qualifications to become a mayor? Governor? Senator? President? What should they be? Is their a job description lying around somewhere?

These days, if you can afford the price of the ticket, or you have name recognition, you can get in and play.

Personally, wealthy politicians have always turned me off. Not that I have any issues with wealth per se but how can you trust them?  What are their true motives? It definitely ain’t the pay.

I was always under the impression that politicians are (theoretically) supposed to serve the public while in office.  My question is how do you serve people that you can’t even relate to?

Let’s take a look at some major political positions and the qualifications for each, shall we?

Mayor: Must be at least 25 years of age, a qualified voter, a member of his/her political party, and a resident of the territory for at least 1 yr. prior to the election

U.S. Congress:
To become a member of the House of Representatives one must be at least 25 years of age, have been a citizen of the US for at least 7 years, and be an inhabitant of the state they are running for representative in.

Senator: The three qualifications set forth by Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution for senators are: 1) each senator must be at least 30 years old,
2) Must have been a citizen of the United States for at least the past nine years, and 3) must be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state he or she seeks to represent.

Governor: The qualifications for governor vary from state to state as specified in each state's constitution. In general most states require that a candidate hold U.S. citizenship, meet the age requirement (usually 30), and be a resident or registered voter of the state for a certain number of years prior to the election.

President: The age and citizenship requirements as set forth by the US Constitution, Article II, Section 1 you must be a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution. Shall be eligible to the office of President; be at least thirty-five years of age, and been a resident within the United States for at least fourteen years.

If you were to sit down and create a list of qualifications for an elected official what sort of items would be on it?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Me and Bobbie McGee


Have you ever had to face an opponent that had nothing to lose? 

Somewhere in our lives we’ve all run across someone that we had a fairly serious disagreement with.

Now you may be quite upset but you notice during the confrontation that this individual seems more than willing to go to extremes in order to win the battle. You do a quick calculation and decide that you have more to lose by engaging with this individual, it isn’t worth it, and so you moved on and chalked it up to a valuable lesson learned.

Well, consider for a moment what it took for that person to reach that state of mind? I have considered it, and I’m beginning to wonder if current conditions within these United States could be pushing the limits of otherwise rational thinking Americans.

Consider for a moment the case of Mohamed Bouazizi.

Mohamed Bouazizi, was the Tunisian fruit vendor whose death altered the entire Arab world.

The Egyptian uprising began when Bouazizi set himself on fire.

On December 17th 2010 Bouazizi, doused himself with paint thinner and lit a match.  This act of desperation set off a series of street clashes that ultimately brought down the country’s autocratic ruler and inspired similar actions in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania.

When I think of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and the millions of others who sympathize with it, I begin to think of what happened in the Arab world. We tend to believe it could not happen here, but could it?

If you can’t get politicians to enforce regulations and policies that are in the best interests of the country, I feel there could be another force to intervene.  A force that none of us want to see.  Some spark could ignite that tinder and we could have an explosion.

The Occupy movements across this country are an example of citizens petitioning the government for redress. If none is forthcoming…then what?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When you have nothing left to lose nothing matters, not the law, not the government, not religion. Nothing.

Once you reach that point all bets are off.