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Robba Benjamin: Casting A Wider Net

In Business This Week: Headliner

Robba Benjamin: Casting a Wider Net

Robba Benjamin has come a long way from hawking powdered health drinks for vitamin maker Shaklee. Now Benjamin, 51, is on a mission to transform data-networking giant Cisco Systems as the heads of its new consumer-products group.

On Jan. 8, in its first major foray into consumer networking, Cisco was to announce a broad set of partnerships and licensing agreements with the likes of Sony, Panasonic, AT&T, and MCI. The electronics makers will add Cisco technology to gizmos like cable modems and set-top boxes, while service providers will offer high-speed Net access that works best with Cisco-compatible gear. The combo may make life harder for Cisco rival 3Com.

Benjamin, a former Sprint marketing exec who joined Cisco last August to head its consumer push, caught network fever years ago while helping a thrift boost its customer service through technology. She says she aims to "extend the Net revolution into the home." Given today's hunger for Net.anything, that idea could go down more easily than a protein shake.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top

Snap, Crackle, Coup?

UNHAPPY INVESTORS WERE CLAMORING FOR CHANGE AT KELLOGG, and on Jan. 5, they got it. The struggling cereal giant announced it was elevating President Carlos Gutierrez, 45, to chief executive officer, replacing Arnold Langbo, 61, whose seven-year tenure has included a steady loss in market share and a string of earnings disappointments. The decision came at an unscheduled board meeting on Jan. 4, but one Kellogg director insists that "there's no way we threw him out." Gutierrez, a 23-year Kellogg veteran, promises to boost performance by spending more on advertising and new convenience foods. Prudential Securities analyst John McMillin applauded the change. "This is a company badly in need of new ideas."EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top

Texaco Women Get a Settlement

IT'S SMALL POTATOES COMPARED WITH THE $176 MILLION SETTLEMENT that ended a racial discrimination suit against Texaco in 1996. But the oil giant's agreement on Jan. 6 to pay $3.1 million to 186 female employees who were underpaid from 1993 to 1996--the largest such deal ever reached, the Labor Dept. says--suggests that the feds are trying to step up efforts to combat gender bias in the workplace. The company, which notes there was no federal finding of labor law violations, was targeted by Labor after a 1995 audit. Routine examinations of federal contractors such as Texaco increased from 10 in 1993 to 40 in 1998, says Labor.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top

Raising the Bar on Medicare

IT MAY BE ONE OF THE MOST UNPOPULAR IDEAS IN WASHINGTON--but it won't go away. On Jan. 5, a commission on reforming Medicare again proposed upping the eligibility age from 65 to 67. The switch would save $620 billion over 30 years. The idea has been floated before. But a higher eligibility age was shot down in 1997 by the seniors' lobby and employers. The idea stands a slightly better chance this time, but only if the panel also proposes allowing early retirees to buy into the program.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top

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