"I can look back and say, of course, there were things I would do differently." — BP CEO John Browne, who will step down at the end of July—a year earlier than planned—reacting to a report linking BP's lack of emphasis on process safety to its deadly Texas refinery blast in 2005
Apple (AAPL) may be facing scrutiny from the SEC and Justice Dept. for backdating options. But CEO Steve Jobs is getting nothing but good news from another one of his holdings. Jobs is Walt Disney's (DIS) largest individual shareholder. Since the close of the sale last May of his majority-controlled Pixar Animation Studios to Disney for Disney stock, the value of his 6.7% stake in the media giant has grown by almost $1 billion.
A few weeks ago, Disney even threw in a little walking-around money, issuing a 31 cents-a-share dividend that gave him $43 million more. In all, Jobs's stake in Disney is now worth $4.9 billion, far exceeding his $955.6 million stake in the computer company he co-founded.
None of this is likely to change Jobs's mindset at the office. At Apple, he famously takes only $1 a year in salary and hasn't received stock options since 2001, although he has received a substantial share grant. At Disney, according to the company's Jan. 12 proxy filing, he has declined the $65,000 annual retainer, the stock options, and the $60,000 in stock grants that Disney awarded last year to each board member.
No word yet on whether Jobs, a father of four, will accept a different kind of annual perk from the company: $15,000 worth of Disney treats—from free theme park tickets and cruises to Mickey Mouse tchotchkes.
Two reports by Moody's Investors Service show just how high retiree costs have become for big municipal employers. The health-care and pension payouts for retired police, teachers, and other workers are two of the fastest-growing expenses for cities, Moody says—and an increasing focus for the financial firms that analyze and invest in their debt. Only about 60% of the cities surveyed have the funds to cover 80% or more of their retiree obligations.
Retiree costs as a percentage of annual municipal operating funds:
Detroit: 18% ($311 million annually)
Tampa 17% ($58 million annually)
Atlanta 15% ($69 million annually)
New York 8% ($3.8 billion annually)
Data: Moody's Investors Service, BusinessWeek
The proof is in: Almost everyone procrastinates. Looking at every procrastination study he could find, Piers Steel, a human resources professor at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business, has concluded that about 95% of us procrastinate at times, with 15% to 20% being chronic offenders.
Behind all the dilly-dallying is lack of confidence about finishing the job, boredom with the task, and a human tendency to go for immediate reward over long-term gain. Steel even came up with an equation: Utility = E x V/A x D.
"Utility" stands for attraction to the task, which depends on a combination of one's expectation of finishing it (E), the value in completing it (V), the task's immediacy (A) and one's distractability (D). "Anything that offers a distant reward for immediate effort, especially if we find the effort boring, we will put off," Steel says. A common ploy for avoiding work at the office, he says—reading each e-mail as it comes in.
The betting odds in the auto biz are that hydrogen fuel cell cars won't be ready for the roadways in real numbers until the next decade. But a few of them might be racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in just two years. Peter DeLorenzo, publisher of gadfly Web site Autoextremist.com, is trying to put together the Hydrogen 500, a fuel-cell car race at Indy by 2009.
If DeLorenzo pulls it off, Americans would see a real-life demo of cars running on fuel cells—which strip electrons from hydrogen to power electric motors. Race teams, driving the cars at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour, would have to keep the nascent technology going for the full 500 miles. The race would serve as a live test lab for a technology that many see as the next leap in powering automobiles. The Indy 500 used to be a place to pilot new technology (including, when it was an innovation, the rearview mirror) until racing leagues mandated that every car meet strict specs.
There is some support for DeLorenzo's idea. He held a meeting in Detroit on Jan. 10 and got the ear of execs at nearly every major carmaker, including GM Vice-Chairman Robert Lutz. But cost is an issue. One GM insider says it would take "tens of millions" to run this race. Hey, the future isn't cheap.
Is surging demand for ethanol helping to create a tortilla crunch south of the border? Mexican consumers, particularly the poor, have been complaining loudly over tortilla prices, which are up as much as 60% since January, 2006. Mexico's Banco de México has charged dominant local corn flour suppliers to tortilla makers with price manipulation. In response, the industry blames high energy prices and corn shortages caused by the U.S.'s recent hunger for ethanol.
Critics of the corn flour oligarchs, though, point out that ethanol comes from yellow corn—not the white variety that generally makes tortillas. The ethanol frenzy, they say, is being used as a pretext to raise white corn prices.
Speculation may be a factor. But the government has helped create a shortage by exporting precious white corn and encouraging farmers to use it as feed.
As producers and consumers argue, Mexico has placed an order for 650,000 metric tons of corn to drive down tortilla prices. More than half will be white corn imported from the U.S.
Clint Eastwood climbed Mt. Suribachi twice last year with his World War II flicks, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (which just won a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign-Language Film). He's having a harder time on the shoals of Monterey Bay. Eastwood is part owner of the storied Pebble Beach (Calif.) resort, which has been trying for years to expand its facilities and add a fifth golf course.
Since Eastwood's local TV appeals helped push through an initiative for the expansion in 2000, the $200 million project has been stalled by regulatory problems. Last year, staff members of the California Coastal Commission, which oversees shoreline construction, recommended that commissioners vote against the plan.
Alan Williams, project manager at Pebble Beach, says he has already cut the number of houses from 890 to 38 and is shortening the driving range and moving the equestrian center to try to save one-third of the 17,000 Monterey Pine trees threatened by the project. The commission could vote in March on zoning for a project go-ahead, says Mark Stilwell, Pebble Beach's general counsel. That still won't put Eastwood and his partners in the clear: Environmentalists say they'll sue if the plans are approved.
As landfills overflow and garbage must be carted ever farther afield, a system devised by Transload America in South Orange, N.J., is handling some of nearby Long Island's trash in a fresh way. It creates cylindrical bales that cram everything from food scraps to construction debris into a fourth of the original volume. The system shreds and squeezes garbage, then rolls it up like a sleeping bag before shrink-wrapping it to be hauled away by truck or train. Transload says it's the first outfit in the U.S. to create cylindrical bales, which are used more widely in Europe. "Traditional square bales tend to retain fluid in the corners, which makes them heavier," says CEO David Stoller, "and prone to leaks and smells."
Fans of management gurus such as Peter Drucker and Tom Peters should check out this daily blog, a feature of 800 CEO Read, an online bookstore with 10,000 corporate and organizational customers, including B-schools. Entries range from excerpts (The Executive Almanac is currently featured) to assorted factoids like the average age of U.S. car owners (62 for Buicks, 41 for Volkswagens). Authors' podcasts are also available, along with the parent site's best-seller list. Among today's chart toppers? The Houdini Solution and Why You're Dumb, Sick & Broke...and How to Get Smart, Healthy & Rich!
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says that her parenting skills have helped her succeed in her career. Is that your own experience?
"Being a parent is tougher than work, and the stakes are much higher. Having five children keeps you humble. Kids also remind you that no matter how many mistakes you make, the key is to keep showing up." — Stephen Burke, President, Comcast Cable (CMCSA)
"I nurture my two children based on their unique differences and strengths. I try to develop employees using the same approach—helping them capitalize on their distinct qualities." — Julia Stewart, Chairman and CEO, IHOP (IHP)
"Parenting skills are leadership skills. You have to make decisions and stick to them, have patience and a sense of humor, and find some fun in what you're doing." — Debra Lee, Chairman and CEO, Black Entertainment Network