"We're trying to answer the question: Can a computer game make you cry?" -- Electronic Arts' Neil Young to The Los Angeles Times on its deal with Steven Spielberg to develop video games
Come November, expect to hear a whole lot about Wal-Mart Stores (WMT). During the week of Nov. 13, a coalition of 400-plus national and local groups will mount hundreds of actions around the country to complain about the retail giant's labor and environmental practices. They're being coordinated by Wal-MartWatch, a new umbrella group that includes everyone from the Service Employees International Union to the Sierra Club, the United Church of Christ, and Sprawl-Busters.
This could mark the most furious assault yet by the chain's opponents. Hundreds of religious leaders will deliver sermons on the company. Local business and union leaders will hold town hall meetings to push legislation requiring Wal-Mart to shoulder more employee health-care costs. College groups and bookstores will hold seminars and teach-ins on "Wal-Martization." Wal-MartWatch is also helping filmmaker Robert Greenwald, known for his 2004 documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, hold 5,000 house screenings to publicize the Nov. 4 release of a satirical movie, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.
Wal-Mart isn't sitting on its hands. The company will sponsor an unusual academic conference on Nov. 4 to examine its own impact on the economy. Says Vice-President for Corporate Affairs Robert McAdam: "Our business model has proven successful for people who work for us and for our customers."
Hedge fund scams have come to this: The Securities & Exchange Commission has accused an Ohio stockbroker in federal court with collecting millions of dollars for a bogus hedge fund -- and then pouring some of that money into his coffee shop. Gregory Applegate, 46, of Ashland persuaded about 140 investors -- including retirees, secretaries, and a repair man -- to give him at least $5.8 million to invest in tax-exempt securities, the SEC says in a complaint filed on Oct. 7. Instead, according to the SEC, Applegate used some of the money to prop up his Friendzy's Coffee Shop. An additional $76,000 was allegedly diverted to the Ashland Community Arts Center, where Applegate's wife was executive director. On Sept. 14, Applegate admitted to running an "illegal and unethical investment scheme" as a "side business," FBI agent Joseph Williamson says in a court filing.
Applegate's lawyer, Dennis Bartek, says Applegate will respond to the complaint and has cooperated with investigators. And the coffee shop? Bartek asked the court to let Applegate sell it. But a federal judge has frozen his assets, and some former investors are trying to force him into bankruptcy.
Ralph, Tommy, Calvin...Barbie. With toy sales sluggish, companies that own characters for the kids' market have been looking for new sources of growth, in-cluding ex-tending their brands into luxury apparel for adults.
On Oct. 20, Mattel (MAT) intro-duced a line of high-end clothing to be sold at the chic Fred Segal store in Santa Monica, Calif., and in other boutiques. The clothing line takes its cues from Mattel's iconic doll. The toymaker teamed with a number of hot fashion labels -- including Anna Sui, Citizens of Humanity, and jewelry designer Tarina Tarantino -- to create items such as a sheer silk camisole with heart prints and vintage-style blue jeans with pink leather pockets. Prices run as high as $2,150 for a Judith Leiber evening clutch decorated with Austrian crystals and a Barbie silhouette.
Barbie isn't the first to join the fray. Walt Disney (DIS) says it does $200 million a year on designer Mickey Mouse sweaters, T-shirts, and such. Last May, Warner Bros. (TWX) introduced high-end duds featuring Tweety Bird. The theme? Natural blonde.
That's what Kevin Barnes, 36, a software engineer living in India's tech capital, Bangalore, is finding. Barnes, tech director for StorePerform Technologies, details on his blog, Code Craft (http://www.journalhome.com/codecraft), his troubles in landing programmers in the white-hot market. Top Indian engineers are world-class, he writes, but most are taken: "Anyone in India who can spell Java already has a job." And the market attracts legions of unqualified candidates, he says, making it harder to find qualified ones. The lesson? If you're looking for software talent in India, be prepared for rigorous recruiting.
The Florida real estate boom is fueling a mania over boat storage. Miami outfits that rent out boat slips have started selling space in a new wave of luxury "rackominiums," or dry storage spaces. They've convinced many boaters -- and speculators -- that expanding waterfront condos will erase about 1,800 boat slips. At the Dania Beach Boat Club, spaces for boats as long as 52 feet go for up to $300,000. In Ft. Lauderdale, Port Condominium & Marina sold 100 of 125 planned slips for up to $280,000 before its opening in late October.
When Joseph Galli took the helm of Newell Rubbermaid (NWL) in 2001, he was seen as a marketing wizard whose success at Black & Decker (BDK) and Amazon.com (AMZN) made him the next "can't miss" CEO. But Galli did miss -- badly. On Oct. 17, Newell's board announced his resignation "by mutual agreement" after 10 quarters of sliding sales.
Galli struggled to reposition Newell's myriad product lines as strong brands worthy of premium prices. He poured millions into marketing, buying ads on Monday Night Football and sending an army of MBAs into stores to demand better displays. That worked for higher-end lines such as Calphalon. But it was a costly mistake with commodity items like Rubbermaid containers. In September, Galli backtracked, closing a third of Newell's factories and laying off 5,000 workers. Interim CEO Mark Ketchum says the current strategy -- buying and nurturing premium brands and pruning low-margin ones -- should work. Newell just needs to find a better operator to implement it.
Quick: Which Major League Baseball team had the highest percentage of runs scored via home runs in 2005? Answer: The Texas Rangers. That comes courtesy of STATS, the Los Angeles number cruncher which, for better or worse, is behind an explosion of statistics in football and baseball broadcasts. The company, started by a pair of math whizzes in 1980, is feeding numbers to the Fox Sports broadcast booth during the World Series.
Based on STATS's record, some of those figures will prove prescient. For instance, STATS knew that the Chicago White Sox were the first team to notch four or more straight complete games by their pitchers in the same postseason series since the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series. Other data, though, seem like they are intended for mathematicians. STATS, which also works for CBS, was the source of the arcane observation during a recent NFL game that since Dan Marino's retirement in 2000, the Miami Dolphins have gone 41-13 when their passers threw one or fewer interceptions but 6-24 when they're picked off two or more times.
Before game time, 15 STATS employees -- mostly computer programmers and sports addicts -- think up questions and pull answers from a vast database. For each World Series game the researchers will dash off a pithy 10- to 12-page statistics report for the Fox Sports team. More data are sent to the booth as games progress.
"We try not to be too obscure," says Don Zminda, vice-president and director of research. The ideal nugget, he says, is one that "viewers can understand and sometimes gives a clue to what will happen next."
Japan has long been one of the developed world's most cash-driven economies: Bills and coins in circulation represent 14.5% of GDP, compared with 6.1% in the U.S. Japanese ATMs will cough up $18,000 at a go. In the U.S. the limit is often $500.
In July, though, the Bank of Japan recorded the first drop ever in the number of coins in circulation. One reason is the electronic cash stored in smart cards and mobile phones. Commuters can now pay for train fares by swiping their phones or cards against the turnstile. Some 23,000 restaurants and stores sell everything from rice balls to shaving cream using electronic payments. And nearly 6,000 vending machines accept e-payments.
The catalyst has been cellular operator NTT DoCoMo, which started selling phones with smart chips last year. This fall, both of its rivals are introducing e-cash handsets, too. In all, about 26 million Japanese now use smart cards and phones for small outlays, spending some $70 million a month in e-cash. In the digital age, Japan's love affair with cash may finally be ending.