I knew there was something amiss in "The soul of a new Microsoft" (Cover Story, Dec. 4) when I read that J Allard was the visionary behind the Zune. The Zune is a poor attempt to copy a wildly successful product and is four years too late. Does that make Allard a visionary?
The fact that Allard, 37, posed as an 18-year-old at a video arcade is symptomatic of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) core problem: It is desperately trying to be something it is not. Zune, Xbox, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player are all second-grade products, a result of Microsoft's trying to chase the real visionary companies such as Apple (AAPL), Sony (SNE), and Netscape.
Microsoft is filled with smarts. Its stockholders might rather see the company invest this amazing brainpower in competing with the likes of Oracle (ORCL), IBM (IBM), SAP (SAP), and Symantec (SYMC). Leave Apple and Sony alone, and let them make the world a happier place.
As a longtime user of Microsoft products, I believe that using innovative and Microsoft in the same sentence is an oxymoron. For example, Microsoft recently introduced a new browser. It took five years to come out, and the most notable feature is tabbed browsing, which has been available in Firefox browsers for years. I have yet to read one positive review of the Zune. Last but not least, the company's soon-to-be-released behemoth operating system is being delivered more than a year late. While I'm sure it will have many good features, the real innovators are moving their applications online.
After seeing the success of the Nintendo 64 and Sony (SNE) PlayStation, J Allard persuaded his deep-pocketed employer to build a game console, too. Surrounding himself with nine iPods and an Apple G5 computer, Allard persuaded his boss to build a similar product and service and call it Zune, not to be confused with iTunes. This thinking is about as "edgy" and "innovative" as pushing the button on a copier machine.
As a practicing physician in New York City, I read with interest "Duane Reade: An LBO on the critical list" (Finance, Dec. 4). In addition to the myriad business mistakes described in the article, one very important error was missed: a poorly run pharmacy department.
Among the big chains, it is my practice's experience that Duane Reade causes us the most hassle, whether we phone, e-mail, or electronically transfer the script. Patients tell me of long lines and unpleasant service. I am probably not the only doctor who raises an eyebrow when asked to call Duane Reade. While the pharmacy business is not as good as it used to be, it does drive people into the store to buy soda.
Ira Daniel Breite, MD
According to comments made by recruiters in "China MBAs: Most likely to fall short" (B-schools, Dec. 4), Chinese MBAs are weak in the following: confidence, self-expression, risk-taking, taking charge, and decision-making.
This would be a strong indictment perhaps if these folks were going to be working in John Wayne's America. But they're not. They're going to be working in places like Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Tianjin, where other skills they do possess may be even more important.
In order to manage a Chinese operation, Mandarin-language skills, social competence, consensus-building skills, and a boatload of local and cultural knowledge will be crucial. The Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton MBAs with whom the Chinese MBAs were compared in the article seldom have these traits. And it would have been most interesting if the researchers had not pooled the responses from "both Chinese and [foreign] multinational companies with operations on the mainland." I'd bet a dim sum lunch that the differences across those two groups of recruiters would have made for interesting reading.
Professor John L. Graham
Paul Merage School of Business
University of California
It comes as no surprise that Chinese B-schools don't pass muster with corporate recruiters. Their reliance on rote learning and submission to authority also characterizes Chinese K-12 education. This kind of pedagogy ranks Chinese students ahead of their American counterparts on international tests, but the results call into question the validity of the negative inferences made about U.S. schools.
As a small-business owner, I have personally dealt with several manufacturers that have instituted the Six Sigma system ("Six Sigma still pays off at Motorola (MOT)," The Corporation, Dec. 4). It may be good for manufacturers, but as a distributor of their goods, it was bad for me.
At each company, customer service declined, becoming less responsive and more rigid and unfriendly. Return policies became very restrictive. Customer service and field sales personnel were cut, and their duties were pushed onto distributors with no margin increase to compensate for the increased overhead. Their attitude became: "I will increase my bottom-line profit, and I am not concerned about the effect it has on you." Six Sigma is entirely one-sided, and there is no spirit of cooperation.
Claude E. Beeler Jr.
As one of US Airways' most frequent customers, I found the quote from [Delta Air Lines Chief Operating Officer] Jim Whitehurst ("We are in bankruptcy because we have been losing in the marketplace") to be both historically accurate for Delta and predictively accurate for US Airways Group (LCC) ("Flight plan," Managing, Dec. 4). I hope investors and the general public learn what customers are finding out about US Airways: It is falsely masquerading as a low-fare carrier, with disintegrating levels of customer service and flying value.
Doug Parker's model of what an airline should be is diametrically opposed to what customers require and well below what nearly all other American carriers are willing to offer. US Airways is removing first-class seats, increasing capacity controls and blackout dates on a dramatic scale, and raising fares unjustifiably.
Parker and his team will be unable to succeed without a Delta acquisition because fewer and fewer passengers are willing to follow them.
Brian F. Gagan
As a veteran pilot with 27 years at Delta, I'd like to add a few things to your article. The present management team has basically no airline experience. These people are Wall Street bottom line MBAs. So Delta looked at the only group of employees with no representation or influence on operations: retired pilots.
My monthly check from Delta went from $5,100 a month to zero. This is how Delta treats the people who flew their passengers safely for, on average, 30 years. The most professional and dedicated group of employees has been eradicated from the payroll, but the MBAs think it looks great on their r?sum?s. At some point a CEO or bankruptcy judge should do what's morally right even if it doesn't look good on the bottom line.
Ben M. Camp Jr.
As president of an online women's organization, I have been extremely dependent on e-mail for communication ("*!#?@ the e-mail. Can we talk?," Workplace, Dec. 4). However, I sensed something lacking in each exchange. Our biggest challenge was that our staff is global. An employee in Kentucky needed a way to communicate with a staff member in Paris.
Our solution came through Skype Technologies (EBAY) and free conference calling. Now members of the staff speak with one another at least once a week. We can effectively accomplish twice the amount of work, and I am able to leave my BlackBerry in my handbag .
President and Founder
Wild Women Entrepreneurs