"If President Bush nominates me, and the Senate confirms his choice, I would have every intention of serving." -- Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, on a fifth term At first, the United States Playing Card Co. didn't mind seeing its jokers in the deck of cards featuring the Pentagon's most-wanted Iraqis.
Then the cards became the war's coolest souvenir. Other card companies started copying the deck. On e-Bay, prices for them reached $200. That's when USPC cried foul, sending a dozen cease-and-desist letters to copycats. "That joker is our intellectual property," says George White, USPC vice-president. USPC now reprints the deck itself. It sold 700,000 in 11 days through greatUSAflags.com.
But caveat emptor, collectors: The Pentagon printed 200 decks on thin paper with square corners. The thicker copies have rounded corners.
Perhaps USPC's initial patience is understandable. The military is one of its best customers. USPC even made cards for World War II POWs: When soaked in water, the cards revealed an escape map out of Germany. The first time an engine in his private plane set off an alarm, forcing an emergency landing, CMGI Chairman David Wetherell thought it was a fluke. The second time, he asked GE Aircraft Engines and planemaker Bombardier Aerospace for a refund. They refused, and he sued.
The parties settled out of court in mid-April. Wetherell will get his money back, and neither GE nor Bombardier admitted to any liability. But the suit could still have some embarrassing fallout for GE. Court documents show the aircraft engines group knew in 1998 that its CF-34 engine could experience fluctuating oil pressure readings at high altitudes, and that this could lead to emergency landings. It took GE 3 1/2 years to find the cause, develop a solution, and offer a free fix, even though regional carrier Mesa Air Group had the problem several times during that period. GE spokesman Rick Kennedy says this was not a safety issue and that the Federal Aviation Administration agreed.
Customers wanted action, even as GE investigated. "I'd worry about sharing this at this early stage....I suggest we do a little more internal staffing before we dump this turd on the table," wrote GE engineer Anthony Scianna in a Jan. 12, 2000, internal e-mail. Just 13 days later, a Bombardier e-mail cites a complaint from Slovenia's Adria Airways: "The problem has been known for too long now and we request a more effective action." Kennedy says GE wanted to fully understand the problem before recommending a fix.
In October, 2001, GE proposed a solution: retrofitting 190 planes with a new oil pump over two years. About 80% of the planes now have the new part. Deposed Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Marie Messier, once a flamboyant media mogul, is a working stiff again. The man who once hosted soirees at his $17.5 million apartment and schmoozed with starlets is now crunching numbers for publisher Hachette Filipacchi in its bid for Seventeen magazine, BusinessWeek has learned.
Messier, 46, has kept a low profile since his July ouster. So investment bankers were shocked when, at a recent presentation by Seventeen publisher Primedia, Messier shuffled into the back of the room carrying a loose-leaf notebook. Hachette and Primedia declined comment, but sources close to the Seventeen sale say Messier, once a Lazard Fr?res banker, is now a consultant. Messier couldn't be reached for comment.
It's not so surprising that Messier is trying to earn a living. He was kicked out of his Vivendi-subsidized New York apartment, he has been denied severance, and he has five kids to feed. Collective bargaining may never be the same. In a first for a private law practice, 18 Phoenix lawyers have unionized, joining the Teamsters.
These new union members don't enjoy the lofty salaries often associated with corporate legal work. Attorneys at the Phoenix office of Parker Stanbury start at $50,000 a year, although they say $80,000 would be more in line with market rates. With thousands of lawyers out of work, "we realized we were powerless," says Heath Dooley, organizer of the March vote. "We wanted a hard-nosed, get-your-hands-dirty type of union that would get results."
The lawyers' complaints go beyond money. Parker lawyers dispense basic legal advice over the phone at dirt-cheap rates. Attorneys must meet aggressive productivity quotas, but they don't have private offices or a law library. Parker outside counsel Wayne Hersh says this is the price of offering legal help to those who otherwise couldn't afford it.
Alfred Carlton Jr., president of the American Bar Assn., says that as firms target budget-minded clients, more lawyers may find themselves without the perks they once took for granted. While the Parker case has drawn inquiries from other firms, Carlton isn't sure the unions will catch on. "Lawyers are, by nature, contrarian and individualists," Carlton says. But then again, so are the Teamsters. Maybe Gates and Ballmer shouldn't try to be Strunk and White. Turns out the spell- and grammar-checking software that Microsoft grand pooh-bahs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have been cranking out since 1997 is no replacement for the 1959 bible of good usage, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.
According to a University of Pittsburgh study, users rely too heavily on Microsoft Word. They either overlook errors the technology misses or change correct grammar the software highlights as suspect. In the study, 33 graduate students proofread a business letter -- 19 with the spell checker on, 14 with it off. With it off, students who had high verbal Scholastic Assessment Test scores made five errors on average, and students with lower scores made 12.3 errors. But with the checker on, students with high SAT scores made 16 errors on average, and students with lower scores made 17. "People tend to trust computers too much," says Pittsburgh professor Dennis Galletta.
The folks at Microsoft say that the checker is meant to be a tool, not a catch-all. "It's not a total crutch," says Chris Pratley, group program manager for Word. "We still can't write the whole thing for you." Maybe that'll be in the next version of Word. Move over, Volkswagen. Make way for Peugeot. The snappy Peugeot 206 overtook VW's once-indomitable Golf compact as the best-selling car in Europe last year. Now the region's No. 2 auto maker, France's PSA Peugeot Citro?n is close to edging out reigning champion VW in unit sales of cars and light commercial vehicles in Europe.
Peugeot's market share in passenger cars climbed to 16%, while VW's dropped to 18% as of February, says the European Automobile Manufacturers Assn. Europeans have fallen in love with Peugeot's sporty styling, peppy diesel motors, and improved quality -- all of which have narrowed the gap with German rivals. "When it comes to the quality of French vs. German cars, there is very, very little difference," says analyst Neil King of Global Insight.
Even if Peugeot sprints past vw, it won't be easy to hold the lead. VW and others are launching new models this fall, including a restyled Golf. But with Peugeot investing big in Asia and Latin America, VW may have more to worry about than losing its European crown.