"The economy, bolstered by a marked swing in inventory investment, is expanding at a significant pace." --Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan What is it with Palm Beach and elections? The Florida county that became infamous in the 2000 Presidential election for its confusing "butterfly ballot" has now gone high-tech, with $14.5 million worth of new touch-screen computers. But it's still making a mess of the democratic process.
Voters in Mar. 12 municipal polls reported so many screwups that a city council candidate threatened suit. A five-hour delay resulted from poll workers failing to bring in the vote-recording electronic cartridges from unused machines. Counting couldn't start until all cartridges were in. Some voters reported frozen computer screens, which meant a slow rebooting process. Others said they were unable to vote for the candidate whose name they were touching on the screen.
County Democratic Party Chairman Monte Friedkin blames Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore, on the job since 1996, for having too few workers with too little training. And if this is a preview of things to come, he can't imagine what'll happen in the state primaries in September and the governor's race in November. "It's going to be a nightmare," says Friedkin. LePore responds that it all went better than 2000, that "the system worked," and that software glitches will be fixed by fall. Let's hope. If you can't dazzle investors with chart-topping performance, try good behavior. That's the new gimmick of many in the mutual-fund industry who are signing up for a seminar, "Good Manners are Good Business."
While etiquette training is common on Wall Street, instructors say this is a first for mutual-fund salespeople. With last year's net new sales of equity funds down 90% from 2000, they need all the help they can get. The three-hour class is actually a cocktail party and a meal, at $1,200 per dozen participants. Since it launched in February, about 100 people from funds such as Zurich Scudder, Evergreen, and Van Kampen have attended.
Beyond table manners, seminar creator Rochelle Lamm teaches introductions and other niceties. Many have "upended their careers by not handling themselves well around alcohol" or "sawing away at a hard roll with a knife," says Lamm, who recently saw a salesman slather mint jelly on bread instead of his lamb. "That doesn't establish you as having the sophisticated savoir faire of a seasoned executive." For more than a decade, Ms. magazine was a money-strapped commercial venture that didn't take ads. The reason: It was hard to rail against, say, the beauty industry while running mascara ads with emaciated models. Then again, Ms. had never been a big hit among such advertisers anyway.
Now, the feminist bible founded by Gloria Steinem in 1972 is changing its tune. The Feminist Majority Foundation, a women's group that took over Ms. in November, wants the now-nonprofit magazine to pay its way. That means developing the Ms. franchise for conferences, new subscriptions, donations, and ads. Ms., which relaunches this spring with 125,000 subscribers, will accept select ads from other women's rights groups. As Foundation Executive Vice-President Katherine Spillar puts it: "We don't want an ad on every other page." She says 10 out of 160 pages is reasonable, compared with the usual 50:50 ratio.
For magazines struggling during a protracted ad drought, the idea of choosing who gets to grace your pages may seem optimistic. But Spillar points out Ms. isn't bound by profit motive. And it has another edge over rivals: It's tax-exempt. Does an MBA change a person's values? According to a new study, the answer is yes--and perhaps not for the better. The nonprofit Aspen Institute found that students enter B-school with relatively idealistic ambitions, such as creating quality products. By the time they graduate, these goals have taken a backseat to such priorities as boosting share prices.
Sound a lot like MBAs Jeffrey Skilling (Harvard, 1979) and Andrew Fastow (Northwestern, 1987) at Enron? Indeed. The study included 1,978 MBAs who graduated in 2001 from 13 leading B-schools. It asked what a company's priorities should be: 75% said maximizing shareholder value; 71% chose satisfying customers; 33% said producing high-quality goods and services. Only 5% thought environmentalism should be a top goal; just 25% said creating value for their communities.
But two years earlier, when the students started B-school, 68% cited shareholder value; 75%, customer satisfaction; and 43%, quality goods and services.
MBAs also said they would leave companies whose values they can't stomach rather than stay and try to change them. "The Enron fiasco is showing that there are going to be serious cases where an organization's values are disputed, or disregarded," says Jennifer Welsh, Oxford University lecturer and manager of the research project. "We want them to stick up for their values and try to resolve the conflict."
One sure way to get MBAs keen on ethics: Put a number on how much good values add to earnings. Priscilla Wisner, a professor at Thunderbird who links corporate responsibility to profitability, says until that happens, B-schools are unlikely to go beyond the stray ethics course. That means the philosophy MBAs live by is less likely to be "Doing well by doing good" than "Show me the money." Samsung's (SSNLF) attempts to market cell phones to women in Europe and Asia have hit a snag. Its svelte new A400 model, with a tiny rose engraved on the casing, comes with a built-in calculator that lets women compute their fertility cycle, daily calorie intake, and body mass index. The $360 Ladyphone is popular in Western Europe, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea. (A gender-neutral version, without the extra features, also sells well.)
But the Ladyphone is raising hackles in Norway. Inga Marte Thorkildsen, who at 25 is the youngest member of Norway's Parliament, is considering legislation to ban the phone, saying it constitutes a threat to women. She cites a "general pressure on young girls to care about their bodies in a very unhealthy way," that's exacerbated by the means to constantly monitor their body fat.
A spokeswoman for Samsung Europe says the phone is "just providing what the market wants." After lean sales in 2001, Samsung had better hope it is, and that it doesn't create a generation of anorexics in the process. Need quick relief in today's troubled job market? This year's deluge of grad school applications means university admissions offices are hiring--temporarily, anyway.
While the numbers seem small on a case-by-case basis, they add up when multiplied by every swamped grad school across the country. The University of Pennsylvania's education school, for example, where applications are up 40% over last spring, has hired six temps to process them. Columbia's School of International & Public Affairs--where applications are also up 40%--has hired four. "This year, we needed extra hands on board," says Admissions Director Robert Garris.
In this job climate, we'll take any signs of hope we can find.