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Perception, Reality, And Ikea

It comes as no surprise to read "Ikea" (Cover Story, Nov. 14), on the ascent of Ikea as one of the premier retailers in the world. Through shrewd design, sourcing, merchandising, and marketing, it has found itself a large niche that appeals to the masses worldwide.

However, it is a sad commentary on the state of retailing to read in various articles in your publication that the most successful retailers are ones such as Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT), and Ikea. Gone are the days of giving your patronage to the store that can provide the best shopping environment, customer service, and quality, well-made products. It seems the only thing everyone cares about nowadays is where to buy the most "cheap stuff" for the lowest prices. This is happening to every service industry.

Steven Happel


Your article never mentioned the quality of Ikea products -- or lack thereof. I bought three rooms of their catalog products several years ago. First they were missing parts, now they're falling apart. If my children still lived with me, the products wouldn't have lasted even this long.

Ray Branisel


My heart goes out to those recent college grads strapped with six figures of debt incurred by college tuition and living expenses while acquiring their college education ("Thirty & broke," Special Report, Nov. 14). In the '70s, I was able to put myself through college by working in the summers and part-time during the school year. With the price of tuition now, that is impossible. Instead of investigating alleged price-gouging by oil companies, we should investigate price-gouging by colleges and universities. Students should not have to work 30 years to pay off their tuition.

Gregg McConnell

Newbury Park, Calif.

As another broke 30-year-old, I thought this week's article hit home. With the assumption that paying off my $20,000 in undergrad loans would be easier with boosted earning power, I decided to go back for an MBA. I refused to assume the debt required to enter the best local program. I chose instead a more affordable program administered by a small school in a sleepy East Texas town.

Still, I find myself wondering, will my choice of a less prestigious program hurt my career, even as my bank account (sometimes) stays in the black? Will I ever own a house? How will I move to another city when my degree is done? Will this degree pay off? When?

Courtney Benjamin


My wife and i expect to finish our graduate degrees (JD/MBA and PhD, respectively) with about $180,000 in student loan debt. If we stick to the prescribed repayment plan we will finish paying off our loans when we are 63, just two years before we're eligible for Social Security. As daunting as that is personally, I fear for our public colleges. They increasingly rely on alumni giving to make their budgets work. If alumni are strapped paying off loans, how will schools make ends meet?

Greg Sower

Salem, Ore.

Your article both shocked and appalled me, not because it has echoes of my own story, but because of the level of indulgence and lack of financial self-discipline I saw in the young adults this article profiled. I, too, am 27 and $74,000 in debt from my graduate school education. Because of my debt, I have learned to put my credit cards on a "time out" -- and not purchase big-ticket items like computers, electronics, cars, or houses. And yes, I am putting off marriage and children. However, I do not feel entitled to a job, so I work very hard, and any extra money goes toward paying off those loans. A little self-discipline would go a long way for our generation.

Julia Rymer

Lakewood, Colo.

Being a senior only one month from graduation, just reading your headline, I began to imagine myself 30 and broke. After reading your story, I realize that there are people out there just like me, some even worse, who are getting through repayment just fine. My attitude about "life during repayment" has changed considerably.

Ben Cooley

Elk River, Minn.

The education I received at my local community college, St. Petersburg College, was just as good as I got at Mount Holyoke College -- and for a fraction of the cost! My advice to young people is to avoid college debt as much as possible: Attend your local community college, live at home with your parents, get rid of unnecessary expenses, and try to have an employer pay your tuition. IBM (IBM) paid for my entire MBA degree, including the cost of books.

Karen M. Linz

Dunedin, Fla.

Dear Mom and Dad: I will never be able to convey how appreciative I am for the huge sacrifices you made in paying for the majority of the cost of my college education. The only way I can truly thank you is by returning this favor some day to my children.

Neal W. Bonner

Ellicott City, Md.

"Thirty & broke" implies that the cost of a college education is unmanageable. The truth is that there are choices, not unlike buying a car. You can buy a $50,000 car or a $15,000 car; they both perform the same function. You can pick from the best schools regardless of the costs and the uncertain payback, or you can reduce your financial risks by carefully selecting a more affordable college. Both types of schools perform the same function; they even use the same books. The kids in your article made poor choices and now are paying for it.

James Walsh

Oak Lawn, Ill.

Although we found "Computer Associates: Clearing a cloud" (Management, Nov. 21) a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of the company's progress and challenges, we disagree with the assertion of some management experts that board members who were in place during the troubled years should be automatically removed.

The actions of Lewis Ranieri, who joined the board in 2001, and former Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), who joined in 1999, have been essential to CA's turnaround. As the lead independent director and later as chairman, Mr. Ranieri played a critical role in launching the independent Audit Committee investigation into the company's accounting, which led to the removal of many of the company's top managers. And as a member of the Audit Committee, Senator D'Amato was instrumental to the success of that investigation.

Mr. Ranieri also led the negotiations with the government that resulted in the deferred prosecution agreement. His guidance and active involvement in the business helped ensure stability during the period when the company was without a permanent CEO. Furthermore, Mr. Ranieri and Senator D'Amato were key participants in the company's efforts to attract outstanding new leaders, including CEO John Swainson. CA's shareholders will be well served by their continued contributions.

Dan Kaferle

Senior Vice-President for

Corporate Communications

Computer Associates

Islandia, N.Y.

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