"We're going to put employees where our fastest growth [is]." -- Mike Maher, a Dell spokesman, on the company's recent disclosure that it now has more employees overseas than in the U.S. Former Yahoo! Chief Executive Tim Koogle, who left the Internet giant during a steep swoon in 2001, is back in a corner office. BusinessWeek has learned that in late March Koogle took over as interim CEO of Friendster, an online community that connects some 7 million people. A company spokeswoman says that Koogle is only a stand-in and that the company is searching for a permanent CEO. Although rumors swirl that Koogle, 52, could become the permanent boss, he declines to discuss the possibility.
Friendster, hatched in 2002, is a free service that maps out networks of acquaintances, letting people seek out dates or friends. It dwarfs social networking competitors LinkedIn and Google's Orkut. While the company puts some ads on its site, it still lacks a firm business plan.
That's right up Koogle's alley. He joined Yahoo before it had a business plan in 1995 and built it to $1 billion in sales by 2000. Koogle is betting he'll match that success, either from his perch on Friendster's board or as CEO. Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has been called the Warren Buffett of Arabia, for his knack for buying assets on the cheap. His 1991 bet on a teetering Citibank paid off royally. But will his $21 billion Kingdom Holding, based in Riyadh, become the publicly traded Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) of the Middle East? "It's on the table," says the prince, who is far better known than Kingdom Holding. "People have to be aware that, although Prince Alwaleed is behind this, there's an institution, too," he says.
While the 47-year-old Alwaleed says an initial public offering is at least three years off, he's launching a bold brand-building campaign in mid-April. Ads in the U.S. press trumpet Kingdom's investments -- including Citigroup (C), News Corp. (NWS), and the Four Seasons Hotels (FS) as well as industrial, real estate, and financial holdings around the Middle East.
Why wait so long for the IPO? Politics may be involved. Saudi observers say that Alwaleed, who represents a modernizing and largely pro-American line, is weighing a move into politics as the Al-Saud dynasty faces a generational transition. Here the prince would step onto a far more slippery stage than his role model in Omaha. Toss out the hair dye, cancel the face-lift. In America's job market, the wizened look is white-hot. Since February, when the AARP Foundation inked a hiring partnership with Home Depot, some 30 other companies have called up the senior-citizen powerhouse looking for a line to the same pool of workers. "The response has been huge," says Jim Seith, head of the foundation's employment program. And now, the 35 million-member AARP is drawing up plans to form its own hiring partnerships. Prospects include Busch Entertainment, Barnes & Noble, and H&R Block (HRB).
The flip side? The elderly are beating out unskilled youths for many of the lower-wage service jobs. Last year, the 55-and-over workforce topped 21 million. That's up 23% since 1999, when the economy was at full tilt. If millions in the massive baby boom generation postpone retirement, as many expect, the young could be competing against their grandparents for years to come. Want to know who's going to be the next President? Just figure out which candidate can boil down a complex issue and build a coherent argument. According to Requisite Organization International Institute, a management consulting firm in Gloucester, Mass., nine Presidential races studied were won by the candidate who scored higher on its communications formula. The institute, whose clients include Northern Telecom and MCI (MCWEQ), studies transcripts of debates to rate the politicians. It has Senator John Kerry edging out President Bush, 7 to 6.5 on a nine-point scale. The only year it failed to call a winner was in 2000: Bush and Al Gore tied. Slumping Burger King needs a winning pitchman for its new TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich, so it is turning to a kowtowing, chicken-suited actor for help. Burger King's offbeat Web site -- SubservientChicken.com -- invites Netizens to type in commands for the chicken-man. Tell it to do jumping jacks, for instance, and a computer selects the right video clip, showing the chicken "obeying" the order.
Silly? And how! But some 350,000 people have gener-ated 15 million clicks on the site in its first week. Look for goofy encores.
To serial entrepreneur Howard Yellen, it looked like a quick trip to the bank. In October, the 43-year-old founder of Professional Consulting Group and four other companies launched a short-term startup called Settlement Recovery Center. The idea was to help consumers get their piece of a $1.1 billion antitrust settlement between Microsoft (MSFT) and the state of California. Yellen figured the company would disband soon after the Apr. 30 filing deadline.
Not so fast. Yellen now says the San Francisco business has taken off and employs 55 people. In March, he filed to extend the Microsoft deadline indefinitely. And he thinks Settlement Recovery Center could keep going for years, far beyond the Microsoft case. "I don't have a clock with this company," he says. The plan: Offer services related to all class-action settlements. He notes that he got married two years ago after a 22-year courtship. So the man just may be growing roots. MBA programs provide the best preparation for executives, right? Wrong, says Henry Mintzberg, a prof at McGill University in Montreal. His forth-coming book, Managers Not MBAs, spares no top B-school but especially tweaks Harvard. Mintzberg's gripe? He says MBAs "are learning management utterly out of context." To his mind, B-schools isolate skills such as marketing and finance and fail to weave them together as a manager must do on the job. And he argues that case studies, popularized by Harvard, are lost on young MBA students, who must make judgments about unfamiliar companies with limited experience.
Harvard insists the case method prepares students to make fast decisions. Says ex-Medtronic (MDT) CEO William George, now an HBS professor: "If you don't respond quickly, the company could be in jeopardy."
Mintzberg argues his case by dissecting a chart from a popular 1990 book by David Ewing, Inside the Harvard Business School. It touts 19 Harvard MBAs who "made it to the top." History, notes Mintzberg, renders a grimmer verdict. Of the 19, just 4 are still unequivocal successes -- including Louis Gerstner Jr., who helped revive IBM (IBM). But "10 of the 19 seem clearly to have failed," Mintzberg says. He points to William Agee at Morrison Knudsen, Marshall Cogan at Knoll International Holdings, and Frank Lorenzo at Eastern and Continental Airlines, all of whom led their companies to bankruptcy. Is it unfair to pluck these 19 as a proxy for all HBS alums? Mintzberg writes: "If any bottom line gets closest to the ultimate performance of the MBA, this is it!"
At McGill, Mintzberg, 64, created a management program for older, part-time students and has helped run it since 1996. That's hardly enough time for his alums to build up their own records in the corner office. But Harvard grads will surely take notice if or when one of Mintzberg's grads falls flat.