2008-04-25: Even Strategy Pundits Miss It
Verticalization? What the heck is that? Do you mean absorbing your suppliers and customers/distributors? That's been tried before. It was an abject failure.
The problem with such strategies is that they don't work. They don't work because the executives who run the company cannot fully-comprehend every part of the business. They don't work because different segments boom and bust at different times, often for reasons completely outside of management's control.
One need only look to Unocal for an example of the folly of vertical integration. Because Unocal controlled everything from extraction (including oil fields in Angola during the civil war there) to refining and distillation, to distribution and marketing (including the "Union 76" brand of gas stations), they were unable to reflect good performance in one segment in their stock price. Why? Because another segment was suffering when one segment was thriving. Their eventual choice was to get out of the retail end and tie their fortunes to extraction.
Honestly, I wonder about some of the ideas that these pundits promote. Microsoft has been trying to push into the online area since the 1990s. Their MSN/Live Search is the default search for Internet Explorer, the most-used Web browser, while their MSN.com site is the default homepage. That they aren't number one in search means that users have to actively change their home and search pages to use another service. That makes it pretty clear that the problem is not one of scale, but of managerial strategy. Buying Yahoo! can only mean that the same managers who have proven to be incompetent at MSN will again prove to be incompetent with Yahoo! Give them two years and even Ask.com will be ahead of the combined company in market share. Some writers say, "Other analysts remain convinced Microsoft will either raise its bid or launch a proxy contest because it needs Yahoo's franchise to mount a more serious challenge Google Inc.'s dominance of the Internet's search and advertising market." But how does over a decade of MSN failures plus handing control of Yahoo! to MSN add up to anything but more failures?
Have you tried searching on MSN / Live Search? The results are deplorable. Even on MSN-owned sites, it is better to use Google than to bother with MSN's search results. And that is why MSN is sinking the way an unaware man sinks in quicksand. As for ads, both MSN and Yahoo allow advertisers to use "rich media" ads, which come between site visitors and the content they seek. Is it any wonder that their shares of ad revenues are declining?
If years of throwing resources from one of the biggest and richest corporations on the planet have not helped MSN / Live to vault over relatively small companies like Google and Yahoo!, spending 40 billion dollars to buy Yahoo! is not going to help. MSN has college kid with rich parents syndrome. No matter how the unit performs, nothing can harm MSN. The cure is the same as any other spoiled kid. Microsoft needs to tell MSN, "Here's X dollars. This is all you will ever get from me. Either make it or starve to death, but you won't get anything else." As cruel as it sounds, if MSFT got out of MSN's way, letting MSN completely run itself and sink or swim, then MSN would have a chance.
One consequence of the "vertical" strategy is that a single company wants to own the content, the properties on which the content is hosted, the advertising network that helps fund those properties, and the OS and/or software client (browser, IM client) through which the user views the site. It leads to walled gardens, similar to what AOL used to have. After a while, all the interesting content and users are outside the walls and the garden becomes a ghetto.
Why is investing in infrastructure so important?
First, because not investing in infrastructure raises costs and makes an economy less efficient.
Sometimes that's easy to see, as in the recent debacle where the need to inspect the wiring bundles on older planes produced massive groundings and delays for travelers on Delta Air Lines (DAL, news, msgs) and AMR Corp.'s (AMR, news, msgs) American Airlines.
This is where California's short-sighted refusal to build a high-speed commuter rail system to interconnect various communities throughout Southern California hurts our competitiveness. I know I cannot be the only person here who finds that available employment is too far away from affordable living areas. A high-speed link (with few stops) from far away cities like Barstow, Victorville, Moreno Valley, and Redlands would make it much easier to live there and yet to work closer to the center of Los Angeles.
Interestingly, it wasn't FDR's building program that got us out of the Great Depression (not that this mini-recession will be anything like that severe or long-lasting), it was World War II. The building program did have the effect of giving Americans honorable work instead of handouts.
If the goal is to make us more competitive with other nations overseas, it isn't just government-led investment that is needed. Companies need to start telling their investors that they are not going to be swayed by short-term swings in their stock prices, but will instead work to build up their companies for the long-term (which, in the long-term, benefits stockholders far better than "managing by the [quarterly] numbers").
It is true that uncertain scheduling due to shipping delays makes inventory necessary. That inventory raises the amount of capital needed for routine operations. In some other countries, this is less of an issue because suppliers are generally located close by their customers. Likewise, it is true that a big infrastructure building program can jump-start a local economy.
I do think that the author overstates his case. From the 1940s into the mid-1970s, most of the other industrial powers were dealing with damage to their infrastructure caused by World War II. The United States was undamaged, and its factories had pumped up to full strength to produce war goods. Afterward, they turned their output into the marketplace. The world was America's economic playground. In the late 1970s, with the OPEC boycott cutting off oil supplies, companies from countries like Japan, which had long dealt with resource constraints (and had learned efficient production and efficient products) were able to displace many long-dominant US industries.
A resurgent America could potentially regain some economic strength, but we must also remember that everything we do now is on borrowed funding. Much of our national (government) debt is held by foreigners, and our trade imbalance means that most of our private consumption is also financed by foreigners. Until we start to bring those things into balance, our economic status will continue to deteriorate.
Where do we start? By losing our awe and fascination with big. Big companies are part of the problem, because they have widely dispersed customers and employees, so they lose sight of their responsibility to those groups. Being left with managers, financiers, and occasionally stockholders as the groups whose opinions matter, larger corporations often do things that are harmful to their customers and employees.
Case in point: When "Big Blue" came to my area, they had red, white, and blue signs and banners throughout the store. "Made in the USA", the signs proclaimed. Then, in pursuit of lowering prices, they slowly replaced most of their US-made products with imports, so that we have people spending their money at Big Blue and wondering why their 30 year-old son still cannot get a job with decent pay and benefits. Given their need to continue growing and continue offering the lowest prices, Big Blue's strategy will eventually choke off the ability of their customers to buy their products. Economic death is the way ahead for their business model.
Case in point: One of the largest Detroit-area automakers was doing so well selling pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that they did not put enough emphasis or resources into building a line of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles or a line of reliable entry-level transportation vehicles that could be profitably sold at prices that our younger generation (working in retail and foodservice because there aren't many other jobs available to them) can buy. Now, with gas prices approaching $4 per gallon in some areas, that company is on the ropes, falling from second-highest sales in the US to third, and maybe even lower.
Indeed, that company is laying off a huge percentage of its workforce, while many of the executives whose blindness brought the company into this condition are still there. Yes, the CEO (a descendant of the illustrious founder) is out, but his decisions have caused thousands of others to lose their jobs as well.
Meanwhile, the corner pizza parlor sponsored your kid's baseball and soccer teams. When he got out of high school, they hired him after he spent the whole Summer driving to all the big companies within fifty miles, turning in applications. If you want your town to grow, you have to support your locally-owned and operated businesses. If you refuse to do this, your son will eventually bring his girlfriend home and move into your basement, because they won't be able to afford their own place.
Here's a quick little personal story: Big blue has a petition to build a superstore in my town. Any time you walk in, they try to corner you and get you to sign it. I was there because MJ needed $20, so I bought something and slid my ATM card.
On the way back, I needed to buy some food, so I stopped at one of the two stores I buy food from and got it.
What is different about these two stores? One is a relatively local chain (headquartered in Colton, CA), so I know that money spent there recycles in the community. The other one is an employee-owned chain, so I am also confident that spending money there recycles in the local community. On the other hand, buying from Big Blue supports Arkansas (and their foreign suppliers), but the price doesn't really flow into the local economy.
2008-04-15: The Dream Team--NOT!
Look what a Utah Republican has to say about the upcoming election:
The Democrats always seem to find ways to lose elections. This conversation was an indication why. Do they really not understand why the nation rejected people like Dukakis and Kerry? Are they so blind to that that they would seriously consider them part of the dream team? Yes. They are.
Between Obama and McCain, I?m actually split. I?m sure I wouldn?t like many of Obama?s policies, but I relate to him more generationally and sometimes that makes a bigger difference than politics. But if I had any inkling that any one of the people mentioned in the ?dream team? were going to be part of the cabinet, he?d never get my vote and I think that?s true of many. Hillary, even as veep, is poison to the Democratic ticket. Don?t walk?run!
I'd like to see two qualified candidates run on issues and ideals. I do not want to see a bitter and desperate former first lady fighting for her last chance to get back into that house she liked so much. As the current campaign has shown, we would see more mudslinging than ten "swift boat" groups could muster.
Here's a clue. The Presidency is not supposed to be a dynasty. Just because America put Bush Jr in the office eight years after his father left it does not mean that we have to put Mrs. Clinton in the office eight years after her husband left it. No one is entitled to the office by virtue of their family relationship.
The most important part is this one: "Hillary ... is poison to the Democratic ticket." If the party cannot see this, then they deserve to lose again and again and again. Unfortunately, the American people need to have a variety of parties and viewpoints represented in the Presidency, just as we need this in Congress. If winning one party's nomination is almost a guarantee of winning the presidency, then our whole nation has lost something.
Financial contracts are one of those areas where boilerplate, take-it-or-leave-it contracts are used to give one side of the agreement absolute power over the other. Issuers of credit cards take advantage of their position of power relative to individual consumers.
Note that these are some of the same financial institutions that are trying to squeeze smaller businesses, our focus of interest here, with transaction fees and passing on fraudulent chargebacks by customers that already have the purchased products in hand.
America's current financial crisis was caused primarily by misbehaving financial institutions and the regulators who allowed the misbehavior. The same kinds of one-sided contracts used against cardholders enabled the mortgage and credit crisis.
Part of the cure is preventing it from recurring. This means taking away the ability of bankers to abuse their power over consumers. This is another example of why "big is bad". Big banks, big corporations, and we all suffer. Small, locally-owned businesses (SLOBs) bring joy to a community.
2008-04-12: Financial Crisis Over? Not By A Long Shot!
This one is right on the money!
This is about a lack of confidence in our financial institutions that have let us down; in our regulators who failed to regulate; in our politicial system that failed to act; in our collective greed which apparently knows no limit; in ourselves for being stupid enough to actually believe there is such a thing as a free lunch when, in reality, there isn?t even such a thing as a free cookie.
And now, we are all paying for it and will be for some time to come.
I really recommend that you go and read that article. The author is sharing the kind of insights that people generally have to pay to hear. Guess what? Our banks and financial companies sold each other securities that were backed?at least in part?by mortgages. Not just subprime mortgages, even so-called prime mortgages were made for inflated amounts based on an overly-optomistic view that the price of real estate would always continue to rise at the rate it had been.
Can you say self-decieved? Because these were companies full of people who should have known that prices that go up always come back down. They really should have foregone some of the "upside" in order to insulate themselves from some of the "downside" risks that are now coming into fruition. We are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, in part because the people who should have known better and made prudent choices did not, and the regulators (whose job it is to make sure banks and other financial institutions make prudent choices) did not do their jobs either.
According to an article in the Guardian about the crisis,
Simon Johnson, IMF research director, presenting the report in Washington, described such bailouts as an essential "third line of defence", after interest rate and tax cuts, for governments struggling to prevent a deep recession.
He said the main risk to the global economy over the next year was the emergence of a vicious circle, as house prices continued to fall, dealing a fresh blow to the world's banks, and creating a damaging feedback loop.
"Sentiment in financial markets has improved in recent weeks since the Federal Reserve's strong actions with regard to investment banks. But we have seen how strains in markets can quickly become reinforcing, and the possibility of a negative spiral or 'financial decelerator' remains a possibility," he warned.
The blog Information Processing reports that experts expect total losses to approach one trillion dollars.
On top of falling demand, we can expect prices for necessities like food, utilities, and fuel to continue to rise. One commentator expects increases of up to 30% in the price of food later this year, just because of increased fuel costs.
So what can you, as a small business owner, do about it? Simple, prepare for hard times. When banks fold, cash is king, so make sure you have access to enough cash to keep yourself afloat for a week or two. No more than that, because cash also attracts crime, and believe me, if your family members are well-fed when people around you are hungry, even "good" people will hurt or kill to get your stash of food and cash.
If you have some extra (unused) land, offer to allow your city to operate a free "community garden" for the next two or three years. You want people in your local community, especially people who currently reside in apartments and cannot grow their own gardens at home, to be able to supplement their food budgets with garden produce. If you have it available, give some money and food to the local homeless shelters. They will be providing a vital service to help keep your community from being torn asunder by the bankers.
Get together with other local business owners to raise funds to donate to your city, so that the city can hire local high school graduates to clean streets, mow lawns, and repair low-income or senior housing. Form local non-profit groups to buy up foreclosed houses and offer subsidized rent to local families. The bankers got us into this, and it is true that it usually takes a war to get us out, but we can at least lessen the severity of this mess if we band together locally.
One other thing: if you have a choice between a locally-owned business and an out-of-area corporation, buy from the local company. Even more so if the product you buy is locally made. Here in Southern California, we have miles and miles of freeways with far-off suburbs where the local economy is based on local residents commuting to bring back income, which gets spent in big box stores, which send the profits back to their hometowns (and buy their products mostly overseas, which does not employ your brother-in-law that has been looking for work for three years). Once again, locally-made products, locally-owned sellers, you and your town win. Foreign products, out-of-area sellers, you and your town lose.
2008-04-10: Even Experts Can Be Wrong
Let us begin by reading this article, both pages of it.
The article's author lists some "myths" and goes about debunking them. We should shine a light on the misconceptions embodied in the article:
- Subprime loans are inherently bad.?He's right in saying this, but there is more to it than that. It isn't that subprime loans were bad, it is more about the details of the loan and the borrowers' financial situations. Something that most business publications will not discuss is the number of legally-questionable activities that went on in the mortgage industry. Since most subprime loans were also outside of the five-times-income guideline, they should not have been made. This in turn would have cooled demand once prices got too high for a neighborhood's average residents.
The thing is, most finance applications are both convoluted and one-sided. The rates charged, the terms, the payment schedules are all presented in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion. All consumer loans have these problems, but for many people, buying a home is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. If you buy a used car and pay on it for five years, only to find that you owe as much for the carcass as you thought you originally paid for the car, you generally have a chance at a do-over on the next vehicle you buy. On the other hand, if you get stuck with a bad mortgage, that can follow you for your entire life. As a result, consumers have little opportunity to become acquainted with the little tricks mortgage lenders use against them.
Furthermore, when real estate prices began to run away, the whole real estate and mortgage industry used it to stampede people into buying at those inflated prices, saying that the price may never be this low again.
- Low interest rates are always good.?From a borrower's perspective, low rates are always good. From a lender's perspective, high rates are always good. The balance between the two affects the economy. In theory, if Americans saved more money, rates would be lower and prices would be less volatile. In practice, lower rates stimulate more economic growth, until the point where there is so much debt floating around that inflation begins to rise (hence the author's reference to "overheating").
The low rates have been our economy's drug of choice over the past decade, like so many steroid pills for professional athletes: take this and you'll be better, stronger, faster .... Without the low rates, our economy has not been able to perform. Any competent financial observer should see this, so I truly wonder about the people running our financial companies and the agencies that regulate them.
- A massive taxpayer "bailout" is under way.?Yes, it is true that the feds were able to eventually sell many of the seized financial institutions and get back nearly as much as they paid, it was years before everything settled. Continental Bank in Illinois, at the time of seizure was so big that the government had no choice but to operate it and nurse it back to health. As a result, it no longer looks like the huge payout that it really was.
Is the bailout going to be huge? I have no idea, and I sincerely doubt that anyone else does either. I do know that the bailout seems to be targeted at preserving the lending institutions whose reckless behavior caused the whole mess, rather than at keeping families in their homes. Having seen some of this behavior up close, I have no sympathy for the big banks and their misuse of the legal system.
- Buyers are well-informed and rational.?Hello, have you ever been to a closing? A B.A. in business and some classes toward an M.B.A. still did not make the contents of those documents understandable to me. Most buyers cannot understand the paperwork, and have no power to make changes in it either. The documents definitely need to be slimmer and clearly written in plain English, with a summary sheet that is just as legally-binding as the rest of the contract(s). Further, the power differential between lender and borrower needs to be reduced.
Let me give you a clue: adjustable rate mortgages shift the risk of rate changes to the borrower instead of leaving it where it should be, with the lender. As a result, ARMs increase the risk of default. Prepayment penalties discourage buyers from putting all of their energies into retiring the loan, which also increases default risk. That is basic FIN313, which any business school grad should have taken, but which is not in the content of most high school or college curricula outside of business schools. Finally, tax deductions for mortgage interest discourage buyers from paying down their loans, which again, increases the risk of default.
Put another way, it is much like any other financial contract, in that consumers have no background to understand what they are signing, and lenders like it that way, because it helps them raise their take from the average borrower, at the risk of increasing the number of borrowers that default.
In short, it isn't just our government leaders that do not understand what is happening here. Most of our business publications have utterly failed to cover the systemic abuse that threatens our nation's economy, or the regulatory laxity that allowed it to happen. When a leading publication like US News cannot even admit that, we are in serious trouble.
Technorati Tags: economy, subprime
2008-04-08: Blogging And Your Small Business
First of all, blogging should not be regarded as merely another form of PR or advertising. Even as an official of the business, blogging should be personal. It needs to be you sharing your knowledge and experience, and your point of view as a principal in the business. If your blog is just going to be press release material, you are better off skipping it.
Blogging is a conversation between you and your audience. You should use moderation, but try to turn commenting on. (In our case, I have comments off because I am making some changes to our site. I expect to have it back on shortly.) By moderation, I mean that you need to have an actual person read the comment and determine whether it is germane to your topic and whether it is acceptable (that is, no personal attacks, illegal content, possibly libelous statements, advertising, or links to Internet badware). One thing to look at is whether the comment contributes to the discussion or leads to a mob.
Blogging, like any other kind of writing, takes time. If you are not willing to devote the time to it, don't start. Take the time to check your sources, make sure you are accurate in what you write. No one is perfect, not even the local newspaper, but try to be accurate and be quick to admit and correct your mistakes when you are not accurate.
In writing your blog, you have to remember that you are still a representative of your business. You have to be sure that you don't betray any confidences. You may have an employee or co-worker or even a customer or supplier that brings some personal problem to work, but do not talk about it on your blog. Can you imagine what would happen after "Joe" gets some help with his marital problems and becomes a model employee, until his wife finds your report of his infidelities on-line? (This also applies to your personal [not work-related] blogging as well.)
Blogging is about openness. If you cannot deal with people's frank opinions about you and your business, try knitting instead. You will find people calling you a hypocrite if you talk openly on the blog, but practice secrecy and deceitfulness in your business. If you are not willing to start letting some light into the dark corners of your business, you should not be blogging, at least not as a representative of your business. Go to Wordpress.com, Blogsome.com, or BlogSpot.com and start a personal blog instead.
One of the best examples of a corporate leader's work blog is Jonathan Schwartz's Blog of Sun. Under Schwartz, Sun has become a den of openness, with the Java OpenJDK, OpenSolaris, and even an open design for one of their CPUs. Schwartz publicly requested that the SEC allow him to announce financial results in his blog in parallel with the legally-required channels. (Not that Sun is 100% open, at least not yet, but this is a great improvement over their stance even a few years ago.)
I also enjoy reading some company "product evangelist" blogs, such as Jim Robertson's "Industry Rants" of Cincom Systems.
But I think one of the most important things to consider about blogging is whether you enjoy reading blogs and other online articles and commenting on them. I got into blogging because I so enjoy Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into Mark blog. Seriously, I was thinking about starting an online newsletter, and saw that my Gmail account was good for setting up a Blogger/BlogSpot blog. So I did. Sixteen months later, I have several active blogs, plus a few that are inactive.
One warning I have to mention. If you are just starting in business, you will certainly be tempted to try "blogging for dollars". There are a few who can make a living from the advertising on their blogs. I've had advertising on some of the blogs for over a year. I've probably earned $2.00 from it. In other words, don't make blogging your living. Live, blog, and yes, go ahead and accept some advertising, if you can still keep your integrity. But don't expect that your ads will pay your rent.
2008-04-08: Making Sense Of Job Sites
A Monster disappointment - Ads of the Weird - msnbc.com
Like most of the commenters, I too have a Monster account. I get a lot of work-at-home scams that send messages claiming to have come through Monster.com. And of course, the people that send me messages purportedly from Monster about using my bank account to process payments. (As if my $4 and change balance would give me the ability to do so.)
You see, when I search on Monster, I get:
- Expired or old jobs?Monster changed its searches a few years back, so that nearly all saved searches return "all jobs" that meet your search criteria, including those that are as old as 90 days.
- Jobs which I've already applied for?Monster allows employers to "renew" or "refresh" job listings. Some jobs mysteriously pop up to the top every few weeks, yet remain open for months at a time. If I, for some reason, decide to click "apply", I am told "you applied for this position on [some date far in the past]".
- Work-at-home scams?Maybe I actually can make a thousand dollars a day sitting at home in my underwear, like the ads imply, but I like to go to work, so that the family knows when I'm not working and available for interruptions and requests.
Actually, I think the issue (in both cases) is that the advertisers are their customers. Most applicants use the free versions of their services. They have to have us or they'll lose their customers, but serving us brings in no additional revenue (but does generate expenses).
Both Monster and CareerBuilder fail to work correctly with the Opera Browser. The CB team assured me that they were fixing the problem more than a year ago.
Actually, HotJobs seems to be the most reliable one recently. Not only can I see right away when a job was originally posted, I can see whether I already applied. I can quickly get rid of those openings in which the poster is merely trying to collect a list. (If a job stays open over 90 days, the poster is not really looking to fill the position.)
Again, I look over the list by starting with the city. I am not going to spend five hours a day anymore, commuting in Southern California traffic. Orange County and most of Los Angeles County are not going to happen, so I don't even consider them.
(Yes, I used to drive five hours a day to get to Pasadena and back. That includes starting before 5 AM, going 80 to 90 miles per hour until I hit the bulk of traffic on the I-210, and doing the bumper-to-bumper thing heading home. I used to spend about five hours getting home on Friday nights, and if I had to work a Saturday, that was a party day. I could spend three hours commuting instead of five.)
After I see that an opening is within a reasonable commuting distance, then I look at the date to see whether it is a retread (job that has been renewed to make it look better for candidates). After that, I check for the "applied" icon. Only then do I look at the job itself.
Why? Because some of the best-sounding jobs are retreads which I've already applied for months ago. I can spend eight hours going through the big three sites (and Dice, which has its own issues). By cutting out retreads, I can cut that to three hours, and it would be under two hours if the work at home scams were exiled to their own section away from people who are looking for real jobs.
Also, any recruiters, listen:
If you advertise a job on Monster, use the Monster membership/application system not your own. I am not about to sign up for an account with your agency. I already cannot remember all the usernames and passwords that I have. You have an almost zero chance of getting me to apply unless you use Monster/CareerBuilder/HotJobs/Dice's own system and application format. I may (if the option is there) use the site's tools to e-mail my resume to you. However, your best bet is to accept whatever the site puts out.
Technorati Tags: job-hunting
2008-04-04: McDonald's Syndrome
I think this idea deserves a separate article.
McDonald's syndrome is the tendency for someone to believe that because they did a similar job (even with the same title and pay) elsewhere, they already know how to do it in their new position in a different company. Because every company is a little different, with different processes, organizational priorities, and policies, much of what made a person a valued contributor in one environment does not transfer to another environment. Your value is not the fact that you know grill or any other specific position, but the way you work with others in that environment to achieve company objectives through your tasks in your position.
We see this in most businesses and most hiring situations, where candidates and managers both seem to believe that previous experience is the best indicator that a candidate will be able to perform. And yet, anectdotal evidence tells us that many of the people we hire are dismal failures. I contend that this is a predictable result of the process we use.
Think about the last time you were out looking for a job. You send out resumes, meant to emphasize any experience that was most similar to what the employer was seeking. You included a list of previous employment, with the responsibilities and tasks of those jobs. Everything you wrote was calculated to present the idea that you were tested and proven.
And yet, time after time, you get jobs that are not good fits for you. Why? I believe it is primarily because of two factors:
- Salesmanship?we have to "sell" the employer on the idea that this is the one that you want to hire. That means that some candidates are prone to fabricate evidence to make them seem better. Other candidates who would have perfectly acceptable performance are overlooked and ignored, because they are better "doers" than they are "talkers".
- Experience?we emphasize people who have held similar positions at similar pay scales, never really thinking about the fact that for a so-called permanent full-time position, someone that did the same job for the same pay elsewhere is probably not someone that should be hired. If you did the same job for the same pay under similar working conditions somewhere else, why did you leave and why aren't you trying to go back to that job?
Some of the worst performers you will ever meet can talk their way into any job they want. Even if they get fired at one place, they will make a couple of phone calls and be employed by that afternoon, often for higher pay than they previously had. Some of the best performers you will ever meet have no experience at all, or they've been out of work for three years, or perhaps they are changing careers. These are the ones who are motivated, dedicated, and willing to learn and to adapt.
I've worked with other IT staffers who would tell certain internal customers (co-workers that they were paid to support) things like "I knew when I heard about the problem that it had to be you." This is not an acceptable thing.
It turns out that in practice, the best candidate for any job is someone who is highly-motivated, and both willing and able to learn what is needed to be a top performer in that position. Having previous experience in a similar position is next to useless in most cases, something that both studies and observation have shown time after time.
NOTE: This is not meant to disparage McDonald's. I first began to use this term when I worked for a competitor and we'd hire people who had worked at McD's, BK, and other chains. In the four years I was there, we had zero successful hires from other chains (excepting Del Taco's location across the street).
2008-04-04: Understanding $100 Oil And The Recession
This comment to a blog article about the high price of oil is very perceptive, in a way that the financial media don't seem to be:
We've been fighting two wars for five years now near totally financed by debt and deficit spending. To boot, we passed out tax cuts instead of raising taxes to pay for our wars as we go. I.e., our leaders are trying to have guns and butter at the same time. The result is the all too predictable steep devaluation of the dollar against other nation's currencies
Enter stage left the mortgage crisis as the increased cost of petroleum and foreign goods work their way through the economy, leaving increasing consumers unable to maintain their mortagage payments.
How does the Fed respond? Inflate our way out of the mortage crisis; increase the money supply so fewer consumers will face foreclosures and bail out the mortgage lenders with government insured loans. Keep the bubble expanding.
But that just leads to further devaluation of the U.S. dollar against foreign currencies and predictably higher costs (in U.S. dollar terms) for imported goods and raw materials like petroleum.
I concur with his conclusion that the U.S. economy is being severely mismanaged. In fact, I think that is an understatement, because the mismanagement of the economy is almost completely due to the hands-off attitude that allows the largest, richest companies to run amok.
Until things change, those of us who have or are starting smaller businesses will suffer the consequences of the big guys' actions. This is another reason why America needs to shift most of its support to small, locally-owned businesses (SLOBs) and leave the "bigger is better" idea in the dust.
2008-04-03: Experts Think Recession Fears Overblown
Some signs of optimism on economy - Yahoo! News
(Note: I think Y! only holds articles for about two weeks, so if you are later than that, it will not be there.)
America's economic crisis is not about deadbeat borrowers or even overextended borrowers. It is about incompetence, mismanagement, and malfeasance from the top down in our financial companies. It is about the "look the other way" practices of the regulators who should have headed this off five to fifteen years ago. Thus far, none of the proposed remedies targets this, and therefore any relief will be temporary and will be followed by something even deeper and long-lasting.
It is disturbing when people at the highest levels of government and the financial industry believe that we can make it all better by bailing out the very lenders whose practices caused the problem, together with giving taxpayers a modest advance on next year's tax refunds. With brain-dead leadership like this, it is no wonder that so many investment banks are having to sell stakes in themselves to foreign entities. It is as if the last American brain cell has been exported.
What does that mean for OMBs, FOBs, and other SLOBs? It means that the government is taking money from you to give to the same big banks that caused the problems to begin with and which will not even think about funding the activities of your small business. If you have not yet done so, it is time to create a business and family survival plan that details actions that you will take to preserve yourself, your family, and your livelihood.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a chicken little. If our regulators did their jobs and rounded up the outlaws in the financial industry (as well as restoring the legal balance between consumers and corporations), we could quickly figure out where the trouble spots are, restoring confidence in the rest of the economy. I just don't see that happening. I expect a fairly deep and long-lasting downturn, maybe even a full year, not because of the fundamentals or the business cycle, but because we let the greed-party go on for too long. It could even linger a little longer, just because of lack of enforcement of depression-era laws meant to prevent just such an occurence.
Technorati Tags: economy, small business
2008-04-03: Important Political Message
I think a lot of people have it *exactly wrong*. If the only reason to support Clinton is because she's a woman, if the only reason to support Obama is because he's Black, if the only reason to support McCain is because he's a White male, then our country is doomed. The whole point of MLK's work was to stop judging one another based on irrelevant factors such as "accidents of birth."
I was born male. It's a good thing, but I could have been born female, and that would also have been a good thing. I was born Black in America. I could have been born as a part of any other ethnic group, in any other country. But I was born here, and I was born Black. None of those are reasons to vote for me as President. You vote for someone because they reflect your beliefs and values, pursue similar goals to yours, or best of all because they are dedicated to doing what is best for ALL AMERICANS, including those who have different plumbing or ancestry than theirs.
The classic picture of a candidate whose only real value was his ethnic heritage is Jesse Jackson. He never (to my knowledge) proposed to do anything to benefit all Americans. He never objected to the injustices that affect non-Black Americans. In short, all he had to offer was the fact that he is Black. That always was a horrible reason to vote for someone. (In saying this, I don't deny that much of the country chose candidates for just such a reason until fairly recently.) And that is why he was never a serious contender for the office.
Whether you support Obama or not, you have to admit that his appeal crosses ethnic boundaries. In fact, most Blacks refused to back him early. They waited until he showed strong support among other constituencies before they joined in. If he is to become President, he must remember to be the President of all Americans, and not just of Black Americans. He must remember to act in the best interests (as he perceives them) of all Americans. If he ever allows himself to become "the Black President," he's in trouble.
The same applies to McCain or to Clinton or to Nader or anyone else that is running for the office. If the only reason you support someone is because of factors that the candidate had nothing to do with (ancestry, plumbing, age), you may pick the most bumbling idiot in the
campaign. If you skip those factors and look at the person's values, beliefs, and objectives, whomever you pick is likely to be the best person for the job.
I'm Walt Hucks, and I approve this message. ;-)
2008-04-03: Schneier on Security: Outsourcing Passports
This is an illustration of the kind of idiocy that is running amok in Washington and other capital cities throughout our land. Why are we getting all of this advanced technology in our passports? Because we are told that it makes it faster to verify that we are not bad guys. We go to all sorts of trouble to come up with supposedly unforgeable identification documents, and then hire overseas companies with questionable security to produce them.
Yes, that inspires a lot of confidence that our leaders have some idea of what they are doing. Aren't you just thrilled with the knowledge that they are doing all this to protect little old you? It gets worse:
Officials at GPO, the Homeland Security Department and the State Department played down such concerns, saying they are confident that regular audits and other protections already in place will keep terrorists and foreign spies from stealing or copying the sensitive components to make fake passports.
From the original Washington Times article.
It isn't like there aren't domestic businesses, including SLOBs, that can produce these things.
Rather than being something new, I think it is a symptom of the lengths to which the government will go to strip jobs from everyday Americans and export them to barely-paid foreign workers. It goes beyond the current administration, because the Programmers Guild has been covering the way that the government has helped "high tech" companies export jobs since at least 1999.
I may work for them, but I don't trust them, and I sure don't speak for them.