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Sunday, August 28, 2011

LOVE AND ADMIRATION


What companies, if any, do you admire? Why do you admire them? What is there to admire in a corporation? Do they possess qualities similar to those of people that you admire?

When we consider the traits of people that we admire descriptive terms such as: perseverance, the ability to remain calm and cool during hard times, being open minded, or being able to adapt to different situations come to mind. Can we translate such attributes to a corporation? Maybe.

Sometimes it’s a case of an iconic figure who sets the pace for the corporation as a whole.  Business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates immediately come to mind.

I remember back when Jack Welch was chairman and CEO of General Electric, it was the most admired company in the country. Now, perhaps not so much. What changed?

I recently took a look at the FORTUNE’s 2011 list of the most admired companies in the world.  I’ve glanced at these lists over the years and it just got me thinking: What companies do I admire and why?

Personally I love companies that have a reputation for quality or for treating the customer well. Prime examples of that are Nordstrom’s or Coach Inc. Another criteria would be financial strength although I’d have to question HOW any company built its’ coffers. I’m thinking Exxon and Walmart here. I’m not throwing stones, just throwing it out for thought and discussion.

What about the most innovative companies? To me Apple is tops in that category. What about company’s that make the best use of their assets?  Which company’s are considered to be the most socially responsible?

These days I am impressed by organizations that provide me with a memorable shopping experience.  I started using Zappo’s in the early 2000;s to buy shoes. Who would have thunk it, buying shoes via the internet? Somehow Zappo’s made it all work beautifully. 

I’ve been grocery shopping all my life, but somehow Trader Joe’s has figured out how to turn a mundane chore into something I actually look forward to. Apple seems to have a knack for providing products/services that you never even knew you needed before they made it.

Years ago I remember watching a story on either 60 minutes or 20/20 about a manufacturing plant that suffered a devastating fire. It just about gutted the building. The owner of the business made an amazing decision. He decided to continue to pay ALL of his employees their regular salary during the rebuilding process.  

The owners’ position was that he already possessed great wealth($750 million or so, I believe) and there was only so much he could ever want to spend his money on.

Imagine that. Instead of going all “Gordon Gekko” about the situation, this man opted to take the high road. I really admire that.

Another example. The Spungen family founded their Chicago ball-bearing business in 1941. When the company owners sold their operation they made a decision to share the wealth with their employees.

In 2008 they were bought out by a Swedish company and instead of keeping all of the money to themselves, they gave away 6.6 million dollars to about 230 of their former employees.

Some employees received a few thousand dollars while others got six figures.
The checks were based on years of service.

In a  final example, an Australian mining magnate named Clive Palmer gave 50 Mercedes-Benz B-Class 180s sedans to his most-valued employees as a Christmas bonus. He also gave all 750 of his longtime workers a holiday trip to Fiji. The final touch: He also threw in a $2 million holiday party.

He said he wanted to thank his staff for the $200 million in profit his company earned from a nickel refinery he had recently purchased for about $10 million. His holiday gift-giving earned him the nickname “St. Nickel.”

These examples send a powerful message: that workers play a large role in creating wealth and that they should share in the spoils.  Once again, I personally find this to be an admirable trait.

I personally believe that there are times when people get the admired player and the dominant player confused. If you’re the dominant player in your industry, that’s great but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you possess admirable qualities. Think Standard Oil back in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A winning combination for me would be a company that was successful, possessed a great reputation for quality, set a high standard for performance but also had a conscience toward both employees and the larger community.

Here’s a quick peek at the top 10 companies on FORTUNE’s list:

Apple
No mystery here. Whether we’re talking itunes, iphones, ipad, ipods, Apple is clearly an example of an innovative, creative company that is constantly setting super high standards and then raising the bar from there. "firing on all cylinders."

Apple is simply amazing. They constantly release great new products while continuing to set the bar high for tech companies across the board.  They are truly game changers.

Google
Where would we be without Google? When a company or product becomes a verb, that’s when you know it’s a game changer. Searching for some vital or esoteric bit of information? No problem. Just “google it”

They maintain top position as the king of search. The company is also spreading through its deep dive into devices with its free, open-source operating systems.

According to Google, they activate devices loaded with their Android operating system at a rate of over 10 million every month!

Berkshire Hathaway
I don’t know if this ranking is more about the CEO or the company as a whole. Clearly Buffett is an iconic figure whose reputation precedes him in all business-related matters.

This company is synonymous with its CEO Warren Buffett. He remains an admired leader, both for his judgments about stocks and for having built a huge operating company besides.

Buffett has developed a practice of picking up stocks when they're out-of-favor, betting on them to rise when trouble recedes. His most recent purchases have included Johnson & Johnson, Burlington Northern and Bank of America.  And we’re talking tens of billions investment dollars.

Southwest Airlines
This one really confused me. One reason is that I’m used to airlines being vilified and additionally simply because I don’t know a heck of a lot about Southwest.

Since it started offering low-cost flights in the 1970s, Southwest Airlines has been a more consistent performer than most airline companies. Recently, airlines in general have been receiving a black eye in the press for tacking on fees to compensate for rising fuel prices, but Southwest has remained one of the world's most admired with its’ “No Change Fees” and “Bags Fly Free” policies.

Southwest generated strong earnings in its most recent quarter, with profits up 13% from a year earlier. According to Morningstar analysts, “Southwest is the healthiest company in the airline industry”.

Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble is the world's largest consumer-products company, with annual sales around $79 billion. P&G has been ranked first in its industry every year that it's been in the survey since 1997.

P&G's products, including Tide, Crest, Charmin, Bounce, Downy and many other household staples, form a strong foundation to weather volatile prices down the supply chain.

Coca-Cola
Coke is a beverage colossus to put it mildly. They have continued to expand across China, and has earned positive attention for its environmental efforts by conserving water.

With a portfolio of more than 3,500 beverages including diet and regular drinks, fruit juices, waters, sports and energy drinks, teas and coffees, milk and soy-based beverages.

Coca-Cola also continues to stand as one of the world's great brands, in a league with corporate giants like Nike and GE.

Amazon.com
In December, Amazon announced that the 3G Kindle was its best-selling item ever. Who knew? I still remember the good days of the dot-com bubble when Amazon had yet to record a profit. Everyone wondered if they ever would. Well, wonder no more.

From a personal point of view I really enjoy the shopping experience I receive via Amazon. Books, DVD’s and small appliances are my usual products of choice when I head to their website.

Meanwhile, Amazon has invested in new technology and continues to see growth. Soon, Amazon.com will begin operating an app store for Android.

FedEx
I still remember when this company was known as Federal Express.  This is another example where the company has become a verb. Sending  a package out for overnight delivery became known as “fedexing” it. Built in 1971 in Memphis, TN.  Before Federal Express hit it big back in the 1980’s I don’t recall anyone pushing to have packages shipped overnight. That was a big time game changer.

Microsoft
Still living in the shadow of its’ iconic founder, Bill Gates, Microsoft continues to operate as a dominant player in the computer industry. In the past couple of years Microsoft has rolled out strong new products. Search engine Bing, Xbox Kinect, and its Windows Phone 7, are a few examples of Microsoft’s expansionary ambitions.

According to Microsoft, it has sold 300 million licenses for the Windows 7 operating system to date.

McDonald's
I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s for about 20 years but I have to admit that given the fact that they are a large corporation with a huge target on their back, they continue to grow and innovate. Whenever someone discusses the evils of fast food, who is the big satan that receives the most blame? You guessed it: McDonald’s.  Consider the implications of having to operate in that kind of environment.

Even amid an enduring fast-food backlash it’s difficult to attack a company that consistently produces healthier new items on the menu: salads (with Newman's Own low fat dressing!), wraps, oatmeal, and apple dippers.

Plus, the chain constantly adds to its Dollar Menu, catering to those who are feeling the pinch of the recession.

McDonald's also operates a wide range of charity programs, including teacher awards and youth basketball games. You’ve got to give them credit.

What companies do you admire and why?  What companies have you admired in the past and which ones do you admire today?


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If I'd Only Known Then What I Know Now


Hindsight is always 20/20. If you don’t believe me, just ask any economist.

I remember as a kid grown ups would always ask, “What you want to be when you grow up?”  I always gave some song and dance about wanting to be a doctor or a cop.  That always went over pretty well.

Since I was constantly getting the question,  I thought I was supposed to have an answer.  How the hell should I know? I’m just a kid. Okay, that answer wasn’t actually an option.

Well, now I'm a grown up and although I still don't technically know what I want to be, I've had enough life experiences to have sober reflections on lessons I've learned along the way.

Of course all of us would love to go back in time to apply our 'today' knowledge to 'yesterday'.  Unfortunately, the best any of us can hope for is to keep learning as we get older, and try to pass along what we have learned for the benefit of others. Most of them probably won’t listen, but what the hell? 

For the longest time, I bought into the old myth that the secret of life was to go to school, get good grades, stay out of trouble. Yadda, yadda, yadda.  But now, I think everyone realizes that in the real world nobody has EVER been hit it up about their GPA or SAT scores.

Like most people, there are some things that I wished I had known years ago(ages 14-21) that I know now. Here are a few of them:

A lot of what seems important to you now, really doesn’t matter. When I reflect back on many of the things that I got excited over, agonized over or wasted my time and energy on, so much of it was for nothing.  Make a list of what truly makes you happy, concentrate on those things and let most of the other stuff(baggage) go.  Chances are, the list is pretty short.

Waiting for the “perfect” time to do something is largely a waste. More than likely (I’m thinking 99% of the time) you’ll never do it. Whether it’s traveling to a foreign land, starting your own business, losing weight or just cleaning out the garage. If something sounds like a fantastic idea, act on it NOW! Tomorrow never comes. There is no such thing as the perfect time.

Now, that doesn’t mean that some times are not better than others. Perhaps you want to save a certain amount of money before you take that trip of a lifetime or there is a certain time of year that logically works better for you to do something.  That, I understand. Thank god I learned this one fairly early in life. Step out on faith, even if you have to go it alone. This is a great opportunity to learn and develop.

Buying the latest electronic gadget, hottest automobile or following the latest fashion, is a useless pursuit, although a profitable one…for merchants. In work or in life, the important thing is to be an original. There’s nothing wrong with owning an ipad or the latest shoes.  The bigger issue is, “Why did you buy it?”  Ask yourself how you will feel when the next new item comes out on the market. Are you strong enough to think and act for yourself? 

Learn to pick your battles. Don’t fight, argue and make a big deal over petty issues.  Of course, you need to know which issues are petty in the first place! You will age yourself prematurely and chase away friends and family. On the other hand, you will attract other losers like a moth to a flame.

Enjoy your work, work hard and do your best, but don’t make work your life. I never quite understood this.  I always viewed work as a means to an end. Not an end in and of itself. I work in order to afford the things that give my life greater pleasure. For some lucky individual’s their work isn’t just work…it’s who they are.  But most of us don’t have that innate sense of what we were meant to do.  Quite a few of us don’t have some overwhelming passion that also happens to allow you to earn a living doing it.  For most of us we need work to make money in order to live. There’s nothing wrong with that.  But at the end of your life I doubt that you will lament not having finished that report at the office.

Try not to argue with ignorant people. I am constantly amazed and amused by folks who get riled up over issues that they have not even slightly researched.  Or better yet, don’t want to be bothered with the facts. I mean, if someone is happily ignorant on a certain subject, do you really want to waste a ton of your time engaged in a debate with them? I didn’t think so.

Avoid whiners. Another time suck. Unfortunately life ain’t fair. ‘nuff said.

Your health is your greatest asset. Without it all the wealth in the world won’t mean much. Protect your health: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep.  I know I sound like some old man. Sorry. I’m just sharing the knowledge. You can thank me later.

Many “experts” are anything but. See my second sentence at the top about economists. Don’t believe the hype. Do your own research. Develop and trust your own instincts.

Figure out who your real friends are--fast!. I mean friends, not associates. There are people that you associate with because of school, work, church, situations where you an they just happen to share the same space.  A friend, on the other hand, is someone that you willingly spend time with.  A friend supports you when you are down, is not jealous of your success and always inspires you to do your best.  A true friend will tell you something hurtful for your own good. Find out who your real friends are and cherish them.

Trying to please other people largely a waste of time.  We’ve all tried to do it at one time or another, fail miserably and it drives us crazy. A few people truly cannot be pleased. Ever. Accept it. Most people will have some issue with just about everything you either say, or try to do. Seek their input, weigh the best option and move forward. If anyone questions why you did what you did, explain it honestly and let them know you considered their point of view.

There’s an old song called, “Garden Party”. The singer’s name was Ricky Nelson. Back in the 1950’s he was a huge teenage singing sensation. Anyway, in the 1970’s he gave a concert at Madison Square Garden and wanted to sing his current songs. His fans were angry. They wanted to hear his old 1950’s hits. On “Garden Party” Nelson sings, “It’s alright now, I’ve learned my lesson well, you can’t please everyone so you have to please yourself”.

Be true to yourself. It’s a great filter. What do I mean by that? By being yourself you will attract people who are truly interested in you, not someone that you are pretending to be.  On the other hand you will repel, or filter out the folks who just aren’t in to you. It works out perfectly.  In the end, would you rather be a fake someone else or a wonderful, genuine, “you”?

What are some things that you know now that you wish you had known years ago?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's Not My Fault...and it Never Will Be!


Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people. We all understand this intuitively. But somewhere along the line, perceptions changed. I wonder, what was the tipping point?  At what point did we as a society decide that whatever the heck happens, “It’s not my fault because(insert silly excuse here).

Doesn’t anyone believe in accidents(or bad luck) any more?

In this new “blameless” society, we want the freedom to make choices. But we don't want to take responsibility for those choices. We don't want to deal with the consequences.

For example:

1) A judge in Brazil has ordered McDonald's to pay a former restaurant manager $17,500 because the man gained 65 pounds while working for the fast food giant.

Apparently, McDonald’s has been sued many times in the United States by people who blame it(not themselves) for their weight gain.  I always assumed it was common knowledge that fast food often leads to obesity.

2) How about the 14 year old girl who, along with her mother, sued MySpace for $30 million dollars? It seems that the girl (while pretending she was 15) met a 19 year old guy on MySpace, they chatted and she gave him her cell phone number. They talked and eventually went on a date to eat and a movie... she wound up being sexually assaulted by him.

They are suing MySpace, apparently for not having the necessary safeguards in place to prevent a lying 14 year old from sneaking out and hooking up with older men.

The topper is that the 19 year old sued MySpace too! His position: If it wasn’t for MySpace, he would never have found himself in a situation where he would have sexually assaulted a 14 year old girl...

3) A mother in Derby, England blames her daughters’ school for the fact that all three of them, ages 16,14 and 12 became pregnant. I wonder what role ‘mom’ figures she played in this whole scenario…or if she has even given it a second thought.

4) A New Jersey couple, whose son was struck in the chest with a line drive, has sued the maker of a metal baseball bat used in the game.

As it turns out the young man, Steven Domalewski was pitching when the ball slammed into his chest and stopped his heart. He was eventually resuscitated but now has brain damage and is severely disabled.

An attorney says Domalewski will need millions of dollars worth of medical care for the rest of his life.

Tragic? Yes. But to charge the bat manufacturer with negligence? That’s just wrong.

5) Jennifer Lea Strange, 28, a mother of three, was one of 18 contestants trying to win a Nintendo Wii gaming console by drinking the most water without going to the bathroom. The contest was called "Hold your Wee for a Wii."

Strange died from water intoxication, after participating in this radio station sponsored water-drinking contest. A Sacramento County jury awarded $16.5 million to her family.

This brings to mind the recent tragedy that took place in Yosemite park.  Three hikers were swept away at Vernal Falls after having been warned to get away from the raging waterfall. 

I’ve been up to this particular location before and trust me, you don’t need anyone to warn you to stand back. Your common sense should suffice.

Just before the hikers fell in, another witness said he saw a man in his 40s leaning out over the waterfall, holding his 6-year-old daughter!

After this tragedy I heard some individuals call for Yosemite to erect more safety barriers. Now, if those folks felt bold enough to climb over the barriers already in place, what makes anyone think they would respect additional safety measures? 

I’m wondering if and when the legal suits will commence in this case.

What are the side effects of this sort of irrational thinking?

People always have and always will do some incredibly stupid things.  The difference is that years ago it was understood that sometimes sh*t happens.  And most folks usually accepted that fact.  Not so much anymore.

Too often people seem to want to use the legal system as a fallback to a lack of common sense and rational thought.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What is News? Who Decides?


A couple of weeks ago Alex Trebeck was staying in a San Francisco hotel when he tore his achilles tendon while chasing an alleged burglar down the hall.  It really made me think about useless news stories that we are constantly pummeled with.

Here’s my point. If you are in charge of the content for a 30 minute or 60 minute newscast that means that certain stories will get left on the cutting room floor.  How does one decide what news items to include?

I know that he’s a big star and all but while we’re hearing about the mishap of “Mr. Jeopardy” I can’t help but wonder what important news story is not being told? Somewhere something vitally important is taking place and we may never catch wind of it because we’re being inundated with the latest news regarding Lindsey Lohan, Donald Trump, or the latest runaway bride.

I found out about a real life example of such a story swap while watching a movie called IOUSA

In this movie, Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition and David Walker, former Controller General of USA were on a countrywide tour to sound the alarm regarding the nation’s debt / deficit crisis.

While on tour, they were schedule to appear on that evenings’ news broadcast hopefully raising the issue to an even higher level.  As it turned out that story was bumped in favor of a story regarding someone who swallowed a diamond engagement ring! 

Now you tell me, “Which story was of greater overall value to the viewing public?”

I remember when San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was injured in a home plate collision a few months ago. I was shocked when a local station LEAD OFF their newscast with that story.  I know media is all about the pursuit of ratings but it makes me wonder what the heck is going on?

Another troubling aspect of the average newscast is that they all essential lead with the same 2-3 stories and with rare exception cover the same items throughout their broadcast. Shouldn’t there be greater competition for the most important, compelling and interesting stories?

Thank goodness for organizations like Project Censored or BBC News to provide a wider lens from which to receive relevant news.

Can you imagine what a different landscape the television news industry would be if every station had entirely different news stories within their broadcasts?  That would create some serious competition for eyeballs!

I guess that’s why so many people get their news off of the web these days.