"Apparently, his heart simply gave out." -- Pastor Steve Wende of First United Methodist Church of Houston, on the death of former Enron Chairman and CEO Ken Lay
Union unrest may be building at United Parcel Service (UPS) over the way drivers' pension funds have long been managed. A group of UPS drivers in North Carolina has started a splinter union, the Association of Parcel Workers of America, to protest the structure of their pension plan, which co-mingles UPS contributions on behalf of its drivers with those of other trucking companies.
Over the past decade, some of those companies have gone belly-up, and the rebel UPS drivers say this means they are effectively subsidizing the pensions of drivers at these defunct companies. "I want the UPS workers to have a union and pension made up of UPS workers," says Van Skillman, a driver from Charlotte who is leading the APWA.
Through a spokeswoman, the Teamsters described the APWA as a "small, disgruntled group of workers" and said its internal polls show strong driver support for the Teamsters. It will be tough for the APWA to unseat the union, which has had a longtime presence at UPS. But Skillman insists that if a vote were held today among UPS drivers, "I guarantee we'd carry 18, and maybe 21" of the 25 states in the Northeast and Southeast his group has targeted for membership recruitment.
The Islamic prohibition against earning interest has largely stopped companies from selling bonds into the $750 billion pool of capital managed according to sharia, or Islamic law. But investment bankers are finding a way around the ban. On July 5 bankers from Merrill Lynch (MER) in London and Beirut-based Bemo Securitisation were wrapping up a $166 million sale of debt-like certificates for a Houston natural gas producer, East Cameron Gas. The certificates, believed to be the first sharia-compliant securitized market financing of U.S. assets, are structured so that Islamic investors effectively get a fixed rate of return (11.25% annually) while considering themselves owners of the underlying assets. An official sharia adviser issued a fatwa, or declaration, certifying that the instrument "will yield returns, Allah willing, that are lawful and wholesome."
The investors may well need divine cooperation. The certificates are backed by only seven wells, two platforms (both damaged by last year's hurricanes), and some drilling rights 20 miles off the Louisiana coast. S&P (MHP) preliminarily rated the certificates CCC+, a grade suggesting a 31% chance of default within two years. Still, the certificates attracted Islamic investors seeking alternatives to stocks. The deal, says Khalid Howladar, senior analyst for Moody's Investors Service (MCO), "is bringing this pool of liquidity to the attention of a lot of people."
From an e-mailed press release sent by Dave Overton of Boston-based Newman Communications:
Subject: Why the demise of Ken Lay?
One of the top reasons why CEOs get fired is "Denying Reality." ...One could argue in Lay's case that the truth he would be forced to confront (bankrupt company, displaced workers, destroyed nest eggs, prison, etc.) was so horrible, and so unavoidable, that his body simply shut down rather than confront a terrible reality.
Lay's death may be the equivalent of a child sticking their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing something bad. But a lot more final.
Mark Murphy is CEO of Leadership IQ, a Washington, D.C. based management consulting firm. Mark has some interesting thoughts on the demise of Ken Lay and how others can avoid his fate. Please let me know if you would like to speak with him. Thanks for your time.
While teaching English to German employees of HSBC about six years ago, British linguist and musician Marlon Lodge discovered that his students caught on more quickly when he set new vocabulary to music. Soon the bankers were singing lyrics like "irrevocable letter of credit" to Peter Gabriel's The Story of OVO. Now Lodge and his brother Andrew, a former oilman and also a musician, are selling CDs and MP3 downloads that offer language lessons using "earworms," musical phrases that stay stuck in the brain. Earworms Publishing issues audio lessons in six languages, including Mandarin, using a mix of jazz and pop composed by the Lodge brothers and others.
Soon after debuting on iTunes in January, Earworms' Rapid Spanish MP3s topped audiobook sales (ahead of The Da Vinci Code). And now Earworms has the top-selling language-learning product on Amazon UK. Thomson Holidays, a unit of global travel giant TUI Group, is selling the Rapid Language series through its Web site. And Earworms' audio CDs, available at British Borders shops, will soon be sold in U.S. branches. The series -- soon to include Arabic and Japanese -- will mix the professional with the pleasurable, says Andrew Lodge, so that students can "carry on a fluent, high-level business conversation or flirt effectively."
What do Fed chief Ben Bernanke and actor Patrick Stewart have in common? A 70% similarity in facial structure, according to MyHeritage.com, a genealogy Web site. As it gears up for its beta launch this week, the site offers matchups between users (who submit photos) and celebrities, drawing from an image bank of 3,200 famous people. Testing the site using pics of corporate types, BusinessWeek found the results far from convincing but reliably amusing: Oracle's Larry Ellison was matched with Johnny Carson, Martha Stewart with party-girl actress Tara Reid, and Google co-founder Larry Page with beautiful Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit. Donald Trump, fittingly, was a match with...Donald Trump.
Those obsessed with the Fed's next move will soon be able to trade (literally) on that preoccupation: On July 12 the Chicago Board of Trade will introduce an option that allows investors to gamble purely on the interest rates targeted by Ben Bernanke & Co. at their Open Market Committee meetings. (Existing federal-funds options are based on actual overnight loan rates, which fluctuate according to demand.)
Fed officials are likely to welcome the new instrument as feedback on how well the markets are translating Bernanke speak.
Matchmaking sites may be putting some heat back into online dating, as they try to revive a maturing industry. Revenue growth cooled to an estimated 7% last year, according to Web analyst Jupiter Research, after hitting a peak of 77% in 2003 (JUPM), with subscriptions stuck at 5 million. Now the numbers look better. First-quarter revenues were up 35% from a year earlier at Match.com, while eHarmony anticipates "significant" growth in 2006. Yahoo also expects gains for its Yahoo! Personals. All three raised basic monthly fees by 20%, starting last year, targeting those willing to pay more: people seeking serious relationships. (For an added $8.99 over its $30 fee, Match.com subscribers can also get personalized advice, from Dr. Phil.) Meanwhile, nonpaying users, once able to send notes to prospective dates, typically have had such e-mail privileges revoked.
The industry "has caught its second wind," says Jupiter's Nate Elliott. But permanent gains, he warns, depend on attracting new subscribers, "and you can't do that by raising prices."
Asked to name a team of specialists known for swooping into disaster zones to deliver relief, many of us could come up with Doctors Without Borders. But Telecoms Without Borders?
Known by its French name, T?l?coms Sans Fronti?res, this little-known communications SWAT team is often among the first to arrive after a catastrophe -- with laptops, routers, and satellite gear. TSF's 50 workers (15 salaried, 35 volunteer) have become a dependable geek squad for the international disaster-relief community. "Uninterrupted Internet communications are a lifeline for us," says Rajan Gengaje, a U.N. adviser who worked with TSF in the wake of the May 27 earthquake on the Indonesian island of Java.
Founded in 1998, TSF traces its roots to a homegrown volunteer network, Solidarit? Pyr?n?e, started 15 years ago by friends who grew up near Pau, France, where TSF is based today. Two of the founders, Jean-Fran?ois Casenave, now 51, and Monique Lanne-Petit, now 40, say that the idea for a telecom rescue group first took shape on an early mission. In Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, Casenave says, many refugees "gave us a piece of paper from inside their shoes with a phone number and asked us to call their families."
Thus was TSF born. Today it has a $950,000 budget, funding provided by organizations like London satellite company Inmarsat, Vodafone Group Foundation, and, recently, the U.N. Foundation. Because 24-hour mobilization is a TSF hallmark, volunteers must live near one of TSF's three offices (Pau, Bangkok, and Managua). The group has 60 missions under its toolbelt, including the 2003 earthquake in Iran, the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, and the 2005 famine in Niger. After the recent Indonesian quake, a TSF team, headed by Oisin Walton, 26, set up a comprehensive Internet, fax, and phone center for 110 rescue workers in the city of Yogyakarta.
TSF is now looking beyond emergencies. Staffer Benoit Chabrier, 25, for instance, is working in Niger, setting up Web connections before this year's famine season arrives to ensure that help comes quickly enough to do some good. "After four years of studying technology, technology, technology in school," he says, "I have found a social issue to put computers to use."