"That might not be a bad thing. We don't want these people reproducing." -- Mark Haines, host of CNBC's Squawk Box, on news that 11% of CEOs say golf is more important than sex He's ba-a-a-ack. The Sock Puppet, the wisecracking TV pitch-critter thrown out of work when pet-supplies site Pets.com went bust, has found a new job--pitching car loans to people with poor credit.
He's getting a six-figure fee for the gig, according to his agent, Brian Hakan, whose licensing outfit controls the rights to the famous mascot and has licensed them to 1-800-bar-none, a loan company in Pleasanton, Calif. The connection: The has-been hound knows that everybody deserves a second chance. "He's a lot like our customers--good people who ran into bad times," says the company's ceo, Jim Crouse.
The ads may just be the beginning of a comeback. Hakan is talking to a Hollywood producer about a Sock Puppet sitcom. Don't laugh. At least one casualty of the dot-com bust is getting back on his feet...oh, wait, he doesn't have any. Fans still show up in proper tennis whites. Concession stands dish up strawberries and cream. Ah, Wimbledon, a trip to another era. Including, it seems, its prize money. While the men's singles champ will take home $756,000, for women it's another story. At the tourney's end on July 7, she'll get $700,000, according to the All England Club, the private society that stages Wimbledon.
Wimbledon and the French Open are the only two unequal payers among the four majors. The Australian Open balanced its prizes this year. The U.S. Open did so 30 years ago.
Yet it's women's tennis that's hot. U.S. Open officials are even discussing a first--moving this year's women's final to prime time TV. That follows a Serena vs. Venus final at the French Open that pulled in twice the viewers of the men's title match, even though NBC ran the showdown on a two-hour delay.
Says Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation: "I'd say they're just a bunch of stubborn old guys over there." There's a new phenomenon gaining momentum in the corporate world: the elevator speech. Self-help gurus advise that in these downsizing times, those who want to stand out should have a 15-second self-promo speech at the ready, just in case they find themselves unexpectedly face-to-face with the boss.
The extemporaneous sound bites, once used by entrepreneurs to pitch startups should they run into a venture capitalist, have now caught on outside Silicon Valley. And not just in elevators: also at job interviews, networking events, and with people and companies pitching ideas or products. Even singles are coming up with 15 seconds of catchy self-expression.
Corporate trainers report a surge in interest. Craig Harrison, a Berkeley (Calif.) motivational speaker, has seen demand for his elevator-speech seminars jump 35% in the past year. He advises people to hit hard on the value of what they do, not just who they are. For example, he suggests a software engineer should say, "Hi, I'm the Claude Monet of software. My masterpieces are written with zeros and ones" before introducing himself.
It does get attention. Then again, maybe not the kind you want. Digital camera sales are heating up. This year's top sellers, ranked by researchers NPD:
OLYMPUS D-510 ($300)
Special battery lasts through 5,400 photos
HP PHOTOSMART 318 ($195)
Not much in the way of frills, but relatively cheap
OLYMPUS C-3020 ($490)
Has panoramic, black-and-white, and four scene modes
SONY DSC-P50 ($288)
Can apply color-reverse effects to images
SONY MVC-FD75 ($333)
Boasts an impressive 10X zoom lens
FUJI FINEPIX 2600 ($288)
Can record a 20-second silent video
Data: NPD Group, ZDNet, Consumer Reports, CNET, company reports With Americans cutting back on flying, it seems they're turning to comfy road travel instead.
Recreational vehicles are hot, with sales and rentals booming. RV sales nationwide are up 20% over last year, and manufacturers are seeing a huge backlog in orders this year. "I wish I'd ordered more," says Larry Johnson, sales manager at Palm RV Centers in Fort Lauderdale. Sales at his dealership are up 25% over last year, to $2 million. A leading RV manufacturer, Monaco Coach, says it has seen a surge in better-performing diesel RVs in the $150,000 to $200,000 range.
The buyers--mostly baby boomers--seem to want it all. Besides icemakers and washer-dryers, consumers are asking for convection and microwave ovens, computer workstations, and even surround-sound CD systems and satellite dishes.
And if they get to feeling claustrophobic? No problem: Among the most popular features are movable walls that allow users to open up the vehicle and expand the space once the motor home is parked. The music biz may soon gain an unlikely ally in its crusade against piracy: the cable guy. Several cable companies, including AT&T Broadband, Charter Communications (CHTR), and Cox Communications (COX), are moving away from old fixed-rate pricing plans that allowed users to download endless data.
Instead, they're replacing them with limited billing options that could end up curbing how much time users spend swapping files on Napster successors such as KaZaa and Morpheus and result in fewer songs available for download. That could mean less illegal copying.
One new pricing plan being considered by AT&T charges for overtime, similar to the way cell-phone companies bill customers for exceeding monthly time limits. Another plan that Charter has used for two years caps modem speed: The faster the download, the more you pay. Cox is testing a similar plan in Las Vegas. At an average cost of $45 a month, broadband is perceived as too expensive by many consumers. Subscriber growth slowed to just 12% in the first quarter of 2002, the worst on record.
So cable companies plan to lower the cost of simple broadband access plans to as little as $25, then charge bigger users more for extra time or faster downloads. Currently, 1% of AT&T's customers use 16% of its bandwidth, yet pay the same flat rate as occasional users.
Many of those are avid music downloaders. And that's why the entertainment industry is so excited about any possible disincentives. Says Ted Cohen, vice-president of new media at record label EMI: "Tiered pricing won't help artists or labels get paid, but it's a step in the right direction." One way to get CEO pay under control? Make sure the boss knows he's being watched by someone who owns a good chunk of the company stock. A recent study examined the CEO pay of 1,648 companies. It found:
12.5% That's the average cut in CEO pay when the amount of stock held by the largest outside shareholder is doubled.
5% That's the average reduction in CEO pay that results from doubling the stock held by the board's compensation committee.
"Once the board becomes a stakeholder in the firm, rising CEO compensation starts to personally pinch the board members," says study co-author Praveen Kumar of the University of Houston. "Worst-off are going to be firms with no directors with shareholding stakes. Their CEOs feel relatively constrained.