"Ah, Viacom. You're either doing a business deal with them or being sued by them." — Google CEO Eric Schmidt addressing the National Association of Broadcasters convention on Apr. 16 about the $1 billion copyright infringement suit filed by Viacom against Google in March.
Last year, Thomas Brown's Second Curve Capital hedge fund was a standout performer. One of its three investment portfolios posted an eye-popping 68% gain, and together the value of its holdings ballooned to $734 million, up 78%.
But now Second Curve is getting swamped by the wave of troubles in a sector in which Brown, a former Wall Street analyst, claims expertise: banking. Second Curve made a big bet on lenders that grant loans to people with shaky credit histories, and on a student loan processor—one that stands to lose big in the Sallie Mae (SLM) buyout.
The wager on the subprime market and on other financial stocks put the hedge fund down about 30% as of Mar. 31, say people familiar with the New York-based fund. Then, on Apr. 16, the shares of college loan servicer First Marblehead—Second Curve's second-largest holding—got pummeled, falling 23%. Investors pounded the Boston-based college loan processor on news that JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC)were taking part in a $25 billion buyout of Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student lender. (First Marblehead's stock has bounced back a bit since then.) Both Chase and Bank of America are customers of First Marblehead, and some on the Street fear that it could lose business once the buyout is completed.
The next two weeks could be pivotal for Second Curve, which permits investors to redeem their money every six months. Those investors have until Apr. 30 to say whether they will do so when the second quarter ends on June 30. So far, Brown says, he hasn't gotten any redemption requests. The hedge fund manager, also known for his influential bankstocks.com Web site, is confident his investors will stand behind him. He claims his seven-year-old fund has weathered two other similarly disappointing quarters in the past without incurring mass defections. "People know our style," he says. "We have partners who look to give us more money when our performance is down."
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, spoofing critics' perceptions that the agency has been too friendly to phone companies at the expense of cable, as part of a comic routine at the Federal Communications Bar Assn.'s chairman's dinner on Apr. 9:
"Hi, you've reached the FCC. If this is AT&T (T), please press 1 for our merger-approval hotline. If you're calling from a Vonage (VG) phone, please hang up and dial from a Verizon (VZ) phone. If this is the cable industry and you're calling about a waiver, your call is very important to us. [Extended pause.] Goodbye."
Shopping mall magnate and onetime Sotheby's (BID) owner Alfred Taubman, 83, may be a convicted felon, but he's continuing to insist on his innocence in his just-out autobiography, Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer (Collins, $24.95). Writing on his business triumphs, Taubman is heavy on the boilerplate. But he gives a juicy personal account of the Sotheby's-Christie's price-fixing scandal that sent him to the slammer.
Taubman argues he was framed by Sotheby's ex-CEO Diana "Dede" Brooks (who pleaded guilty and did six months' house arrest) and former Christie's London honcho Christopher Davidge (who was granted immunity) after the pair cut deals with prosecutors. Taubman wound up behind bars. In an interview with BusinessWeek, Taubman scoffs at the notion that Dede Brooks fixed prices on his instructions. "She's not someone who ever took anybody's orders," he says. "I don't think she ever did anything I asked her to do." Neither Brooks nor Davidge could be reached for comment.
In the book, former Inmate 50444-054 also offers entertaining glimpses of his 9 1/2 -month stay at a federal prison in Minnesota during 2002-03. His cellmate, who was convicted of drug dealing, wanted the billionaire to adopt him, regularly waking Taubman in the wee hours to press his case.
Why write the book? "For my friends and nine grandkids," he says. "The younger grandkids never knew why Pops went away, and I want them to know." If a star-studded book party at New York's Four Seasons Hotel is any indication, Taubman's social life hasn't suffered much: The 400 attendees included Lightyear Capital's Donald Marron, Donald Trump, and Henry Kissinger. "I don't think they all showed up just to get a free copy of the book," he says.
Feel the urge to start your own mobile network? Probably not. But Sonopia, a Silicon Valley startup, has just launched a business that allows organizations or groups of friends to become virtual carriers with just a few clicks. Even before the service went live on Apr. 2, more than 700 groups had signed up. "It's the democratization of mobile communications," says Sonopia CEO Juha Christensen, who once ran Microsoft's (MSFT) mobile-phone software unit. Nonprofits, hiking clubs, even families can set up their carrier group at the Sonopia Web site (sonopia.com).
The plan delivers a rebate to the group of 5% of monthly subscription fees. Sonopia sets the rates, which are comparable to those of major mobile carriers, keeping costs low by employing low-cost techies in Ukraine and buying capacity wholesale from Verizon. (Users need phones that work with Verizon.) "I love it as a model," says David Chamberlain, the principal wireless analyst at consultant In-Stat. "Big companies have a hard time addressing very small niches, and that's what this is." And Verizon, he says, can now get to people "who are not yet using mobile."
Public relations giant Edelman just got a crash course on the perils of instant communication. On Apr. 13, Senior Vice-President Steve Rubel was sending his musings out to the world through the online service Twitter, which lets users instantly post to cell phones and Web sites (BW—Apr. 2). In his post, Rubel quipped that his free copies of PC Magazine go "in the trash." Oops. PC Editor-in-Chief Jim Louderback shot back a response via the PR site Strumpette, noting that one of Edelman's "top execs had stated, in a public forum, that my magazine (and by extension, my audience) was useless to him." He vowed to cancel the free subscription, writing that "in the future...I'll probably be somewhat less inclined to take a meeting with one of Edelman's clients." What did Rubel have to say about that? "Louderback taught me an incredibly valuable lesson," he told BusinessWeek. "I think he's a hero." The editor has accepted his apology, he says, "and we're going to meet for a nice drink next week."
Do Asian Americans want their MTV (VIA)? The question has intrigued media companies as the group's population figures have soared, clocking in at 14.4 million at last count, in July, 2005. MTV Networks got in the game that summer, eventually launching three channels: MTV Chi for Chinese Americans, MTV Desi for Indian Americans, and MTV K for Korean Americans.
But MTV is pulling the plug on all three at the end of April, citing the challenges of its distribution model, which gives viewers access only through a monthly subscription to an ethnic channel package costing a hefty $29 or so. "MTV had a huge advantage with its brand," says Jeff Yang, an Asian American consumer strategist for market researcher Iconoculture. "But if you weren't already subscribing to these bundles of channels, you weren't motivated to do so." MTV says it's "discussing ways to continue to serve our Asian American audience."
Now the U.S. arm of ABS-CBN, the Philippines' largest broadcaster, is taking its turn—with MYX. Just launched, it's available through satellite-TV provider DirecTV (DTV)in major cities nationwide: $25.99 a month for a package of Philippine channels and $4.99 à la carte. MYX hopes to reach 15-to-24-year-olds with Asian American VJs and a playlist that mixes American artists with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Philippine fare.
Executives in Redwood City, Calif., are betting that the content will attract a broader audience than MTV World's segmented channels did. And parent ABS-CBN, which has run a popular Philippine channel in the U.S. since 1994, has built-in subscribers and an insider's understanding of the market, they say. Asian community ties helped MYX sign up Asian American artists like Black Eyed Peas member apl.de.ap to promote the channel.
All this may not be enough to lure Asian American millennials, a particularly wired group, to subscription TV. "The Internet is their native ground," says Iconoculture's Yang. "The biggest competition may be YouTube."
U.S. foundation grantmaking reached $40.7 billion last year, and a spate of new charity magazines, all with urgent one-word titles, have cropped up. (AWARE, described by its publisher as "Martha Stewart Giving," comes out this month after a 2006 debut as Generocity.) "We're seeing tens of thousands of donors looking for tools to help them do their grantmaking effectively," says Steven Lawrence, senior research director at the Foundation Center. Industry watchers point to a similar jump in philanthropy titles during the dot-com boom. None, they say, survived the bust. Here, some of the latest hopefuls.
In his new blog for Harvard Business School Publishing, management guru Michael Watkins says he grapples with the problems leaders have dealt with "since the birth of human organization." In a recent post, Watkins, a co-founder of leadership consultant Genesis Advisers, helps readers figure out if they're "pyromaniac executives," managers with "impulse-control issues, who start the fires that waste so much precious time." Most of the blog's recommended articles and books have been written or co-authored by Watkins himself. Consider this site a fairly meaty free preview.
Are working mothers a secret economic weapon? A research report from Goldman Sachs (GS) argues that countries where women both work and raise children are best prepared to cope with the looming global pension crisis.
According to the Apr. 3 paper, when women have careers and children, they are doubly contributing to their nation's pension system—fattening today's retirement coffers with tax payments and bearing the next generation of workers, who'll carry tomorrow's pensioners.
The report, by London-based Goldman economist Kevin Daly, concludes that developed countries don't have to choose between babies and women in the workforce. In fact, in countries where women have the most babies, they also come closest to men in their rate of employment. Daly attributes this to cultural norms and government policies that make it possible for women to have both families and careers. Among the developed countries in the study, Scandinavia ranked highest in working motherhood, while Europe's Mediterranean countries came in last.
American women resemble their Scandinavian sisters, although they work a bit less and procreate more. Women in the U.S. have the highest fertility rate of any major developed country, with 2.05 children each. They trail U.S. men by about 12 percentage points in employment rates. (Swedish women, by comparison, have just a five-percentage-point gender gap with men.)
Women in Japan, a nation with one of the least favorable pension outlooks, work less and have fewer children. Japan's fertility rate is 1.27, according to U.N. estimates. The country also has a male-female employment gap of roughly 23 percentage points.
Although it's not as bad, the job gap in the U.S. could be narrowed, Daly says, by ending tax discrimination against second earners and by subsidizing child care. Daly says Goldman Sachs isn't taking sides over whether women should work or raise families. "We simply argue that couples should have the freedom to choose [what] suits them. And surveys [in developed countries] suggest more couples want both partners to be in paid employment than is the case currently."
Cornell University labor economist Francine Blau says the Goldman Sachs paper adds a fresh argument to the case for policies that support working mothers. "I'm surprised that more attention has not focused on these types of issues in considering the future of Social Security," she says.
Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is coming up. Are there surprises in store when kids come to work?
I used to take my kids with me to visit home sites on the weekend. One time my son stepped on a two-by-four with a nail in it. He lifted his foot up, and the two-by-four was stuck to it. It was his birthday, and he said, "Dad, this birthday sucks." They both work in computers now. — Jeffrey Mezger, CEO, KB Home (KBH)
We normally have a pizza lunch on take-your-kids-to-work day, and they get to ask the chief executive any questions they want. Once, when I was CEO, one of them raised his hand and asked me why I didn't pay his daddy more money. — Joseph Clayton, chairman and former CEO, Sirius Satellite Radio (SIRI)