`We've heard redefinitions for EPS and EBITDA. They now mean `eventual prison sentence' and `earnings before I trick the dumb auditor."' -- Patrick McGurn, vice president, Institutional Shareholder Services. At a time when companies are chiseling away at health benefits, substance-abuse treatment remains a perk for employees.
The problem is, many workers are leery of taking advantage of free rehab for fear they'll be branded the office junkie or souse, according to a new study of 1,100 employees by the Hazelden Foundation, a Minnesota-based recovery center. The survey found that 20% of workers believe that packing it off for 28 days of treatment would cause them to suffer fierce consequences: derision, demotion, even termination. They also say they would avoid asking about the benefit for a family member. William Moyers, Hazelden's vice-president for external affairs, says this should be a big concern for companies, since 70% of substance abusers hold jobs and cost U.S. businesses $200 billion a year in lost productivity.
What can human resources do? Advertise the benefit to employees, Moyers says, and assure them that calls for help will be treated confidentially--not as new material for office gossip. Many CEOs deserve smarmy reputations, but they're not always the bad guys. Thousands of Boston janitors went on strike Sept. 30 trying to boost their $39-a-half-day pay. So a handful of chief executives offered to help. "These people are living on the margin, and they're not talking about a lot more money," says Arnold Hiatt, a former CEO of Stride Rite (SRR), who is raising a $500,000 strike fund. The CEOs of John Hancock (JHF), FleetBoston Financial (FBF), and State Street (STT) also pledged company funds to boost janitor pay.
Unions are delighted. But not everyone appreciates the gesture. Unicco Service, the largest of several janitorial companies affected by the strike, dismisses the CEO overtures. "The only effect they've had is to confuse things," says spokesman James Canavan. He says the offers won't prevent thousands of layoffs if Unicco gives in to demands for health insurance and full working days. Its janitors typically work just three to four hours a day.
The pressure on Unicco to settle is building. On Oct. 9, the Massachusetts governor threatened to cancel the state's $2 million contract with Unicco otherwise. Young people thumb their noses at daily newspapers. Booooooring. Only 39% of people in their early 20s read one, vs. 58% of baby boomers. And when they do, it's more likely to be an alternative weekly.
After fretting for years, newspapers are trying to do something about it. They're launching spin-offs, special sections, and Web sites. They want young staffers to set an agenda that tilts toward music, sports, and sex.
In one of the boldest examples yet, the Chicago Tribune (TRB) plans to launch a tabloid, called Red Eye, by early November. The 25 cents, five-day-a-week morning paper, named to suggest the always-on-the-go lifestyle of its hoped-for readers, will be sold on newsstands and out of bright red vending machines. Using news from several Tribune Co. papers, plus special content from young writers, it will aim to offer tight, bright reads on the news of the day and fun stuff to do in the evenings, says Red Eye's 34-year-old general manager, John O'Loughlin.
It's meant as a quick read for the train or bus. No story will jump to another page. Notes Christine Wood, head of a Newspaper Assn. of America program that helps papers reach young readers: "The content must be written by youth for youth." Yeah, but will it lure them back from the Net? The long stretch between Labor Day and Thanksgiving used to be pretty bleak for retailers. That's changing as Halloween sales climb: from $2.5 billion five years ago to $6.9 billion in 2001.
Now, big retailers are pushing the Halloween trend more than ever. They have put up store displays earlier this year (in the first week of August) and are offering a range of new products. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is selling adult-size costumes for the first time. PETsMART (PETM) and Petco Animal Supplies (PETC) have added new disguises for birds, cats, and dogs. (Dress your pets like the angels--or devils--they are or add a haunted house to your aquarium.) Even Williams-Sonoma (WSM) brought out a $249 Kitchen Aid mixer in bright orange--a perfect complement to the $16 ghost, cat, and pumpkin pancake molds.
To encourage home decor, Pottery Barn introduced an eight-page Halloween-only catalog insert this year, with black chandelier shades and ghostly candles. "We're really going after Halloween in a big way," says spokeswoman Leigh Oshirak.
Despite the retail hoopla, spending on Halloween isn't expected to be much more than last year: $44 a person, according to the National Retail Federation. Consumers are plenty spooked even without Halloween. Since BusinessWeek first profiled her in July, Karyn Bosnak, a twenty something Brooklynite with a shopping addiction, has achieved a dubious distinction: smashing success as an online beggar. Her Web site, www.savekaryn.com, asks strangers to send her $1 to help pay off her $20,000 in credit-card debt.
Now, after BW's story and subsequent TV appearances, a feature in People magazine, and more than a million hits on her site, Bosnak is close to her goal. She has just $1,664.80 to go after collecting $12,500, cutting her own costs, and selling her Gucci bags and Prada shoes on eBay. Bosnak posts goofy daily updates detailing her scrimping. "Today I made turkey soup from the leftover turkey I made Sunday. But...I put red cabbage in the soup instead of green cabbage, so now I have purple turkey soup," she wrote on Sept. 30. "Anyway, the soup is going to feed me for weeks." She also has racked up a host of critics, including www.dontsavekaryn.com, who ridicule her and offer to help if, say, she'll volunteer in a soup kitchen. Bosnak may have the last laugh though--she says she has a literary agent and has been approached about a movie deal. For some time, ambitious pols have been using their once-obscure posts of state attorneys general to take on Corporate America--while generating lots of headlines for themselves. Led by Eliot Spitzer of New York, they've become a near-constant presence on cable news shows.
Now, they're poised to take up residence in governors' mansions across the country. Much to the chagrin of business groups--who see many of them as excessive litigators curtailing free commerce--voters are presented this November with a tidal wave of AGs. Six current or former AGs are gubernatorial candidates. Among them are Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, who is still suing Microsoft (MSFT), and Janet Napolitano of Arizona, an aggressive pursuer of Big Tobacco, big drug companies, and big SUVs. "These are some of the best friends the trial lawyers ever had," grouses one business lobbyist. Two others are running for the U.S. Senate. Of the eight, six are ahead or even in the polls.
Will they make a splash if elected? If history is any guide, the answer is yes. Although few have made it to higher office, those who have succeeded have done well. One AG-turned-governor was a fellow named Bill Clinton, in 1978. He was followed in 1984 by John Ashcroft. Looks like there's ever more truth to the joke that "AG" really stands for "aspiring governor."