"This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that we are not dinosaurs." -- Robert H. McCooey Jr., CEO of Griswold Co. and NYSE member, on the New York Stock Exchange going public on Mar. 8 as reported in USA Today
The wave of white-collar crime is paying off. The total collected from confiscated goods sold or auctioned off by the Justice and Treasury Depts., the two main branches that handle property seized in such cases, climbed to $926 million in 2005, from $627 million in 2001. Last year the government sold a Galveston (Tex.) beach house that had belonged to former Enron CFO Andrew S. Fastow for $595,000. It got $56,000 for the 1999 Shelby Series 1 sports car once owned by Kenneth Rice, who headed Enron's broadband unit. Both men pleaded guilty to securities fraud. On Mar. 23 the feds will auction off Asian rugs and vases from former Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), who pleaded guilty to bribery charges.
Just because the goods are hot doesn't mean buyers get a steal. In January, Los Angeles resident Betty Thomas paid $38,000 at auction for a 2001 Jaguar XK8 convertible that once be-longed to an exec convict- ed of insurance fraud. That's pretty close to what she would have paid a dealer. Thomas paid no taxes; the California Motor Vehicles Dept. tried to collect past registration fees, then backed down. Thomas gets a kick out of driving a criminal's former ride. "I keep thinking, 'I wonder if anyone will recognize it."'
Is Microsoft's (MSFT) next version of Windows a power hog? Two of the company's closest partners say the latest test version of Windows Vista, due out this fall, eats 25% more power than the current Windows XP. Translation: An average laptop using that version might conk out halfway through a flight from Los Angeles to New York. "The power management features and power draw are in rough shape," says an executive whose company has to mesh its equipment with the software.
That's not to say Microsoft and its partners won't fix the problem before Vista ships. "It's too early to determine precise comparisons," says spokesman Michael Burk. "But we're looking to deliver battery life that is on par with Windows XP." It won't be easy. Vista will offer a lot of eye candy, including 3D graphics and live news headlines. Those suck power. And the SuperFetch feature, which helps programs load faster, could be an oinker, too, depending on a computer's configuration. That's why Microsoft is pushing PC makers to use power-sipping flash memory in laptops. It's also hoping for a technological boost from chip and battery makers. Microsoft has time to fix the issue. Not doing so could mean a serious loss of market power.
Poker is white-hot on university campuses. Clubs flourish and students claim to be paying tuition, and more, with online winnings. So it's no surprise that poker skills increasingly turn up on grads' job applications. Gary Fraser, Dean of Students at the New York University Stern School of Business, says he's noted an uptick of card playing listed as an interest on students' r?sum?s. Players claim poker helps reinforce important strategic and analytical lessons, such as making decisions with imperfect information and predicting competitor behavior.
But this is one hand you should play carefully, advises Andy Chan, director of the MBA Career Management Center at Stanford University. Only list poker as a skill if you're at an advanced level. And be prepared to discuss it with interviewers in a way that seems unique. That's because, as skills go, this one is becoming commonplace: A 2005 study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that 50.4% of college males (and just over a quarter of women) gambled on cards at least once a month.
To the list of corporate scandal docudramas, add Who Killed the Electric Car? The 92-minute expos?, narrated by Martin Sheen and set for a June release by Sony Pictures Classics, claims big car companies made only token efforts to introduce electrics in the late 1990s. The saga focuses on the short, unhappy life of the EV1, which General Motors (GM) produced from 1996 to 2000. Despite rabid fans willing to camp out at car lots, EV1s eventually were collected (they were leased, not sold) and scrapped. GM says too few drivers wanted to plug in and recharge after only 100 miles. "We spent more than $1 billion to produce and market the vehicle," says a spokesman. "Fewer than 800 were leased."
WHY READ IT
This acidly funny "tech gossip rag," part of the Gawker blog network, entertains as it skewers everything Silicon Valley, from newly minted millionaires to product-launch hype.
It's the `I'm working on a screenplay' of Silicon Valley: Every regular Joe's got a dot-com startup, or at least a great rough draft they've been tweaking forever.... As service journalism to all the would-be startuppers out in the Valley, here's the checklist to confirm that yes, someone else had your idea, and yes, they did it better than you can."
The porn industry led the way into such new technologies as VCRs and pay TV. Could online micro-billing be next? Adult movie sites are charging users by the minute, as opposed to the subscriptions often charged by paid online media. Richard Cohen, founder of National A-1 Internet, the Philadelphia-based parent of HotMovies.com, says per-minute billing was a natural extension of his core business, phone sex lines. His typical online customer stays on about half an hour, paying 10 cents per minute. "Less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks (SBSX)," Cohen notes.
But there are reasons why this latest porn innovation may not migrate to mainstream media. Cohen and others can charge for a thin slice of an adult movie because people expect to pay for porn. That's not the case with other media, says David Card, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research: "I think charging by the minute is kind of unnatural for Americans. They don't like to watch the timer."
The Securities & Exchange Commission hopes that its plan to require better disclosure about pay packages will shame some executives into restraint. Don't count on it. A wide-ranging study from three professors at Wharton School and Stanford's Graduate School of Business finds that negative publicity about CEO pay hasn't led to smaller compensation awards. The authors studied more than 15,000 articles written about public companies between 1994 and 2002. They counted mentions of CEO compensation, categorizing them as positive or negative, and analyzed changes in pay for those execs two years after the reports.
The result? Some companies and executives made "cosmetic" adjustments in the options awards or cash pay compared with total compensation. But most CEOs kept their fat pay packages even after being skewered in print. "We didn't find the press had much of an impact," says David Larcker, a Stanford accounting professor.
Call it the Dennis Kozlowski $6,000 shower curtain effect. The study found the press fixates on the paychecks of big-company CEOs, partly for their entertainment value while missing exorbitant pay elsewhere. The press also often fails to adjust for factors such as company performance or the length of time over which stock options were accumulated.
Thus, the study recorded six negative articles after ex-IBM (IBM) head Louis V. Gerstner Jr. took home $115 million from stock exercises in 2001, during which IBM's stock price rose 42%. Meanwhile, Gregory Reyes, former CEO of Brocade Communications, (BRCD) largely escaped mention for the $370 million he received in total direct compensation that year thanks to a grant of more than 10 million stock options, as calculated by the study's authors using the Black-Scholes formula. Brocade's stock price fell 64% in 2001. The company declined comment.
Like humans, America's cats and dogs are growing fatter. Blame a lack of exercise and too many snacks. And like humans, those four-legged friends have been hit with a diabetes epidemic. An estimated one in every 200 dogs has the disease, and one in every 400 cats, according to veterinary studies. So maybe it's not too surprising that a big drug company, Abbott Laboratories, has just brought to market an at-home device to test the blood glucose of pets.
Until now, owners could monitor their pets' conditions by hauling them to the vet or by using a urine test or a blood-kit designed for people. The results of those tests can be wildly inaccurate. Abbott's handheld device, called the AlphaTRAK, is calibrated for cats and dogs. In just 15 seconds, it can gauge sugar levels from a few drops of blood, typically drawn through a pinprick to the outer ear.
The diagnostic meter, which Abbott is selling through animal hospitals, goes for $80, plus $1 for each test strip. That price may strain some household budgets. But with some 163 million cats and dogs in American homes -- and many of them apparently eating too well -- Abbott may not have the market to itself for long.