"You would have been better off last year if I had regularly snuck off to the movies during market hours" -- Warren Buffett, telling shareholders about the disappointing performance of Berkshire Hathaway stockEDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top
Soul-Searching at Time Warner
WITH ITS STOCK UP 280% IN THE PAST TWO YEARS AND PROFITABILITY RESTORED AFTER YEARS OF LOSSES, life has been good at media giant Time Warner. But high-minded Chairman Gerald Levin has lately been pondering how to make the party last. His view is that to prosper long-term, big corporations have to stand for something beyond their products and services.
So Time Warner is trying to find out what, aside from business, it stands for. This curious exercise in corporate self-affirmation began last May when Levin created a Values & Human Development Committee on the board to come up with a set of values for Time Warner. Now that the world's largest media company knows what it's about, it's making sure its minions know, too.
The new gospel will be spread by a video and a forum for 1,000 executives. For a hotbed of creative media types, the statement is pretty dry stuff--to wit, "strive to be the world's most respected and successful media company." Says one co-author, Atlantic Group chief Val Azzoli: "It seems obvious, but it had never been written down." Now Levin will see if Time Warner is as good at corporate culture as it is at pop culture.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top
Match Your Helix, Raise You a Genome
PITY GENE-SLEUTH J. CRAIG VENTER: For nearly a year, critics have pooh-poohed his claim that Celera Genomics, the company he set up with Perkin-Elmer in Rockville, Md., would succeed in its daring plan to decode all human DNA by 2001. Add the Mar. 15 boast by his government/academic rivals at the Human Genome Project that they'll largely reach that goal by early 2000. Finally, throw in some skepticism from Britain's Sanger Centre, part of the Genome Proj-ect consortium.
In the Mar. 19 issue of Science, Sanger researchers said the Perkin-Elmer gene-sequencing machine Venter uses offers "no immediate gain" in speed. And William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences--Venter's ex-partner--dissed the venture as "vaporware."
Small wonder that Venter sighs: "It seems to be me against the world all the time." He insists that the Human Genome Project's sequence will be lower in quality. Besides, he says, the Sanger scientists, now using the Perkin-Elmer sequencer, have barely scratched its potential. Indeed, his rivals--though pessimistic that the Perkin-Elmer machine will help Venter meet his 2001 goal--actually plan to buy scores of them.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top
A Mutual Fund with a Union Label
EVERYONE ELSE HAS A MUTUAL FUND THESE DAYS, so why not a labor union? The International Association of Machinists says it plans to launch what it claims is the nation's first union-sponsored mutual fund, IAM SHARES Fund.
The idea, says IAM President R. Thomas Buffenbarger, is to help members diversify their retirement portfolios while boosting union influence in corporate affairs. IAM expects employers to offer the fund, to be managed by State Street Global Advisors, as a 401(k) option for its 730,000 members. IAM SHARES will invest in 232 large companies employing IAM workers, such as Boeing, Lockheed, and UAL. Those chosen, says IAM, also closely track the S&P 500, making IAM SHARES, in essence, an index fund. That diversity is desirable because the union has found that members have too much of their 401(k)s invested in their own companies.
IAM also wants the fund to push for corporate-governance reforms. One goal: tying executive pay to employee satisfaction, a controversial idea just adopted at UAL, parent of United Airlines, where union members own 60% of the stock. As yet, there are no plans to offer the fund to nonunion members.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top