Monday, October 30, 2006

People are so separated from each other

Fights and arguments are so common, that we wonder why. People regularly think the worst of others. Instead of giving others the benefit of the doubt, we assume that the other meant to attack, put down, or take advantage of us. In fact, that is not often the case.

We see it in flame wars in online discussion boards. Yet, a simple commitment to always be polite and kind soon puts a stop to this. If we would resolve to do this all the time, people would be more successful at everything they do.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What really is turning around a company?

This Week's Business Week had a cover story about how private equity companies are extracting unearned fees from companies they buy. In far more cases companies are being revitalized and renewed. Turning around a company is not easy, but neither is it new. American Standard was one of the great turnarounds of the 1970s, but successful turnarounds were extremely rare until the past 20 years. In the past, almost inevitably, a company in decline was irretrievably doomed. The existence of Chapter 11 in the US (most other countries only have some form more similar to Chapter 7), encouraged management (even if it is new management) to try to fix the company.

However, a true turnaround is not just cosmetic, but repositioning the company for future growth. Continental Airlines is such an example, and Chrysler certainly seemed to be that, though the changes may have not been deep enough.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Has "branding" been dumbed down?

Before most people thought of brands, the few who did saw them not merely as logos, but as a reputation with $ value to the company. However, as designers, ad agencies and others have entered the business with a creative perspective, they saw the brand as being defined by logo and presentation. Therefore, it became far more subjective. The core value of a brand has been obscured, and companies fail to maximize them. In some ways, when a private equity company buys a brand such as Pert from P&G, this is a more accurate measure of a brand than any logo (which can be changed at a moment's notice).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Whether in business, politics or in personal life, partnerships are difficult

The latest UN vote on sanctions against North Korea demonstrates how differing interests make any partnership difficult. While China and South Korea put stability first, the US wants to see the North Korean regime collapse. Since this means that the US and its partners have opposed objectives, there will never be strong, focused actions.
This applies to business partnerships and marriages as well. They are formed for one set of reasons, but it is rare that there is complete agreement on everything for ever.

Friday, October 06, 2006

People always underestimate the difficulty of anything they have never done

Not only common sense, but research shows that people think that anything they are not expert in, or have never done, is easier than it is. This makes it difficult for people to seek out and take advice. I have seen very recently how a CEO, who had a technical background, failed to respect the expertise of his CFO and CMO. As a result, the company got into major difficulty and is unlikely to survive.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The problems at Wal-Mart escalate

The company does not seem to be able to get out of its own way. We can expect to see continued bizarre reactions from the company. It is now shooting from the hip, and the instincts which served it so well in its C and D county days are completely wrong in the rest of the country. Whether is is the countries it enters, or the people it hires, the company is making misstep after misstep. I fully expect to see that looking back on this year, we will see it as the acceleration of the end of the company, while Target, Best Buy and others continue to be sure-footed.

Even as it hires people who do not fit the culture, it manages them poorly. It brings in people knowing they are different because it expects different ideas. Then it will reject them rapidly. The only people who will stay will be those who will be able to become like the existing management!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Is there a breakdown in the moral fabric of society?

Today, we hear about the third US school shooting in a few weeks. Someone, with no apparent motive, went into a school and killed a number of pre-teenage girls. We ask how anyone can do this awful thing.

We see in a survey from the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University that over half of all graduate business students have cheated.

The Sunday New York Times wrote that when the justices of the Ohio Supreme Court we faced with cases where plaintiffs or defendents had been political contributors, instead of recusing themselves, they all voted in favor of the entity which gave them money.

We hear that Representative John Murtha, one of the most respected, runs a "favor exchange," where members of the House trade their votes for "earmarks" added to bills wherein their constituents get additional pork.

US Universities, those critical academic institutions, unlike any others in the Western world, give preferential admission, even scholarships, to people who meet none of the academic standards required for a University - I refer to the professional athletes, especially football players, who go to the highest bidder. They also openly give admission preference to "legacy" applicants.

So we also see that Representative Foley, accused of inappropriate communication with underage boys, even though her was Head of the Congrssional Caucus on Children's ussues. To compound matters, we are told, that like Mel Gibon's apparent racist outburst, we should put it all down to alcoholism. It is difficult to see how alcohol could make racists or pedophiles out of people who were not to start with.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Are US Universities serving society with sports as brand driver?

The New York Times last Sunday carried an article talking about how the real student athlete is being pushed out by the "professional" college footbal player. This is the only nation in which individuals can get admission and scholarships to Universities on the basis of athletic ability. This must have a harmful effect on academic achievement by demonstrating to others that athletic prowess is more valued than academic performance.

I have never understood how anyone can be a politician

It seems to be a required skill to be able to hug someone publicly who has a few days before aimed poisoned barbs at you. Principles are secondary to contributions and power. I have never understood how people who are supposed to be fighting for what they believe can feel quite so comfortable compromising at every turn.

Are we acting in the public interest if we challenge the fairness of the system?

When an individual or a newspaper challenges some element of the system, that is "rocking the boat." It may reduce confidence in the system. Is it better to do that or to let it slide? We can tell ourselves that it is better to live in an imperfect system, than in one in which people have lost confidence.

Recently, The New York Times has two articles casting doubt on two elements of the legal system. It pointed out that in much of New York state, local courts were presided over by people with no legal training or even, it seems, common sense. As a result, there have been the most egregious miscarriages of justice, with innocent people being sent to jail on no evidence at all. Today, the paper pointed out that as judges across the country need larger and larger campaign contributions to win re-election, these campaign contributions are influencing judgements. It used the Ohio Supreme court as an example where judges are apparently siding with their contributors.

We can also doubt the democracy of the "first past the post" electoral system, the democracy of the Senate, where Montana has the same number of Senators as California, and the House of Representatives, where electoral districts have been so gerrymandered that few incumbents face a meaningful challenge. Are we better off being aware of that, or are we happier being in ignorance of the facts?