"The consensus expectation for a pickup in economic activity is not unreasonable, though the timing and extent [are uncertain]" -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan For the first time in its history, Boeing is encouraging people from around the world to "name that plane." In a marketing alliance with AOL Time Warner (AOL) the public can go online to vote for Dreamliner, eLiner, Global Cruiser, or Stratoclimber as the moniker for Boeing's proposed super-efficient 7E7 jetliner, which could get the go-ahead by yearend. Boeing officials will announce the winner at the Paris Air Show next month.
The unusual contest is designed to generate some much-needed buzz for the new 250-seat plane -- something that has been lacking since Boeing dropped plans to build a superfast sonic cruiser in favor of a slower, more conventional 7E7 jetliner. "You can expect to see a whole new approach to how we tell the world about the airplane," says Rob Pollack, a Boeing vice-president.
So far, the public seems to favor Global Cruiser, followed by Dreamliner. But Boeing employees have drawn up their own list of favorite names. Against the backdrop of 35,000 layoffs in two years and the outsourcing of production and engineering, employees have come up with some names that will never make it to Paris. According to an e-mail workers are circulating, among the favorites are: Unemployment-Liner, Bottom-Liner, Global Snoozer, Off-Setter, Plant-Closer, Sub-sonic Cruiser, and End-of-the-Liner. The "for sale" ad might read like this: One 103-store record chain, great locations, huge selection of rock, jazz, and classical CDs, famous brand name.
But any buyer interested in acquiring Tower Records should beware: The legendary chain, which recently went on the block, also is saddled with $312.2 million in debt. Privately held Tower has suffered as discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) undercut it and as consumers download music free off the Web. Tower's 2002 sales were $982.8 million, down 9% from 2001. It also posted a $57.2 million net loss last year, its fourth straight. To pay down debt, Tower has closed a few U.S. stores and has dumped most overseas operations. "The company got into more debt than it should have," says Lloyd Greif, a Los Angeles investment banker who is searching for Tower buyers.
The West Sacramento (Calif.) company wouldn't comment on potential buyers. Some observers say candidates might include retailers that could push an array of merchandise, such as Viacom (VIA) Blockbuster (VIA) or Barnes & Noble (BKS). Both declined comment. Whoever buys Tower will face the huge task of getting it back in tune. It appears the Bush administration may have cybersecurity at less than red alert status. White House cybersecurity czar Howard Schmidt has told colleagues that he argued for a high-level Internet security post that would report directly to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. But that's not in the offing. Instead, the top Internet cop will report to a Robert Liscouski, who is a rung beneath Ridge.
Now, a disappointed Schmidt has quit to join Internet auctioneer eBay as its computer security whiz. His departure comes just four months after he replaced Richard A. Clarke, who left in February to be a private consultant. A few friends of Clarke say he bolted in frustration.
That's not the only problem: When various computer security jobs at other government offices were consolidated at Homeland in March, many cybercops at the FBI or other agencies refused to sign up. That has hobbled efforts to create a cybersecurity force at Homeland. "For the most part, it is vacant [slots] that have been transferred to Homeland Security, not analysts ready to hit the ground running," says Michael A. Vatis, a former top cybercop at the FBI. A White House spokesperson says cybersecurity is still a top priority. But Bush's war on cybercrime seems to be lacking both a general and soldiers. In a post-enron era, even tight-lipped Wal-Mart has decided full disclosure is the best policy. Its latest proxy notes four execs employed since at least 1999 are related to current or former officers. Highest-paid is Rollin Ford, an executive vice-president for logistics and son-in-law of Donald Soderquist, former senior vice-chairman and director. Soderquist left the board last year.
Wal-Mart's not alone. This proxy season, companies from Sprint (FON) to Charles Schwab (SCH) are revealing family connections. Car-parts supplier Lear, for example, discloses more than a dozen family relationships among the staff, including the son, daughter, and two brothers-in-law of the CEO.
What's behind the movement? There haven't been any changes in SEC rules related to such disclosures. "There's a heightened sensitivity to these kinds of transactions," says Beth Young, senior research associate at The Corporate Library, a business watchdog group. Now, shareholders can see how nepotism works in Corporate America. Doctors have long blamed lawyers for helping drive up malpractice insurance bills with overzealous lawsuits. Now, lawyers are getting hit with hefty hikes, too. The American Bar Assn. says legal malpractice insurance premiums are rising nationwide, 30% on average last year. "We've had to make cuts," says Wayne Hardy, a partner at Hardy, Hardy & McNicholas in Las Vegas, which laid off an attorney after the firm's rates this year jumped 19.4%, to $17,791.
Not surprisingly, lawyers blame the insurance companies. They say poor investments have forced insurers to raise premiums, and several firms have abandoned legal underwriting. Virginia's largest insurer, American National Lawyers Insurance Reciprocal, went belly up in February, leaving more than 14,000 lawyers looking for new coverage.
But there's another reason: Jury awards are rising, say ABA officials. In February, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a $1.2 million award, the state's largest-ever in a case involving poor legal representation. "The public is more aware that lawyers are insured," says Richard Reis, head of the Attorneys Liability Protection Society, an insurer of lawyers. Doctors might see that as sweet justice. As promotional stunts go, this one couldn't have backfired any worse for Microsoft (MSFT) The software giant's British Internet unit, MSN UK, dreamed up the idea of putting Web kiosks inside portable toilets to promote the online service at music festivals this summer. The group even put out a press release that detailed the "iLoo," complete with a schematic of what the portal potty would look like.
Almost instantly, the bathroom humor flowed. The project was dubbed the Pee-C. And wags wondered if this is what Microsoft meant when its ads asked: "Where do you want to go today?"
That was enough for the Microsoft brass to retreat quickly, saying the iLoo was just a "hoax." A day later, Microsoft recanted again, saying the project was real but flushed after the brass caught wind of it. Either way, the iLoo was an idea that never should have emerged from the water closet.