Mumbo Gumbo

Photo by Ernesto Andrade.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Is Kraft Kwazy?

RIP – Two Major Dudes

Meet a Moralist

Rock On, Brother Gregg!

Is Kraft Kwazy?

Kraft is renaming its snack division “Mondelez” (mohn-dah-LEEZ) later this year.  Think Oreo cookies and Trident gum.  Ad agencies will have a challenge in front of them but should reap nice rewards from this gig.

RIP – Two Major Dudes

“America’s Oldest Teenager” Dick Clark (obit) and The Band’s Levon Helm (obit) recently left their worldly stages.  Clark helped to shape a generation of dance music and television.  Helm was the drummer and sometimes vocalist (“Virgil Caine is the name“) for The Band.

Meet a Moralist

Ever wonder what you would say to a moralist if you ever met one?   Find out how “Harvard’s rock-star moralist” Michael Sandel thinks about how we think. From crack addicts to Wall Street to skyboxes to Ronald Reagan’s jelly beans, this guy really covers some ground.

Read this one as David vs. Goliath.  Small publisher tries to kick a Goliath Amazon right where it counts by removing its product from the e-giant’s online store.  CEO  of same small company then calls Amazon a “predator”.  David should adapt.  Goliath is not likely to change.

Rock On, Brother Gregg!

Gregg Allman on his health,  “My heart goes into A-Fib and does those beats-you know instead of going du-dun, du-dun, da-dun, it goes ta-da-dat-ta-da-doot-doot.  There’s a little reggae in there somewhere.”  Although he’s “no angel“, gotta love this guy.  Rock on Brother Gregg!


Mob Hit?

Mob Museum Wall of Mobsters Photo by Kremerbi,

Strange Fascinations

The American public holds organized crime in an oddly high esteem.  This pop-culture fascination continues to translate well into various avenues of commercially viable entertainment.  Everyone knows that mob business is big business.  So it should come as no surprise that Las Vegas officials are betting on the fact that tourists will part with hard-earned dollars to connect with storied mafia lore and legacy.  In addition to the relatively safe bet of the headquarters move to downtown Las Vegas, there’s a riskier bet being made in this long-ignored area located just a short distance from the famed glitz and glamour of the city’s Strip area.

It’s no secret that Las Vegas has been the scene of a few mob hits over the years.  Owing back to the historically signficant headline news made by the likes of criminal elites Meyer Lanksy, “Bugsy” Siegel, and “Lucky” Luciano, Vegas rose from its desert sand beginnings to occupy a prominent perch on the mantle of organized crime history.  The criminal and entrepreneurial success of these and other gangsters has been romanticized in several well-known movies including “The Godfather”(s), “Bugsy”, and “Casino.”   The long-running HBO Sopranos series is proof that we just can’t seem to get enough of this stuff.

Risky Bets & Nice Touches

Now back to this risky downtown bet.  Build it and they will come.  Double-down.  The Mob Museum opened in downtown Vegas on February 14. 2012 on the anniversary of the infamous 1929 Chicago Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The Museum is organized as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, was opened at an approximate $42 million project cost, and is located in a 41,000 square foot building that once was the site of a Federal Courthouse.  Nice touches there, guys.

Interestingly, in addition to significant amounts of private funding, a healthy portion of the $42 million project total came from funds received from government and quasi-governmental grants. The project has some dissenters including Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute who says, “Either the taxpayers are going to end up funding a boondoggle, or the museum will draw tourists away from privately owned attractions in the area, and that is fundamentally unjust.” (Source – Mike Paola, Bloomberg News)

“An Offer You Can’t Refuse

So,”Sin City” braces for its next mob hit.  This one would be different from all the rest.  Everyone wins.  No one gets hurt.  The guns and bullets used in this mob hit could bring a much-needed shot in the arm for downtown Vegas.  Far from lethal, this hit could amount to a very well-timed and commercially beneficial flesh wound that helps the downtown tourist trade.

In true mob fashion, Mob Museum organizers are making what they hope is an offer we can’t refuse. Reach into your wallets.  Come up with just $18 for adult tickets and $12 each for the kids. $10 for Nevada residents.  In exchange, the Museum promises a highly interactive experience that was built based on information from a team of real-deal advisors including former FBI agents including Joe Pistone (alias Donnie Brasco), as well as other suggested mob informants and infiltrators.  The Museum website proudly hails, “All the Dirt. All in One Place.”

Important Warning & Disclaimer

Enter at your own risk, as the hits may just keep coming in Vegas if this bet pays off.

Bad Math

Global Perspective

“Despite America’s knack for ingenuity, the forces of change face some heavy crosswinds.   A wheezing economy, a dearth of college engineering students, sagging high school math and science scores, and sinking research-and-development investments have heightened concerns about the USA’s ability to compete with rising powers China and India. By Goldman Sachs’ estimate, the Chinese economy will overtake the U.S. economy by 2027 and almost double its size by 2050.”

Jon Swartz’s USA Today article goes beyond this quote to question how the U.S. economy can effectively compete when India and China reportedly graduate close to 1 million engineering students each year in comparison to about 10% of this total for the U.S..  This less than cheery assessment of the plight of our US economy deals with one part of the issue.

Workforce Shortage

There’s a back-story here that is also worth considering.  As if not scary enough that the U.S. risks falling behind in the so-called global “brain race” in technical fields, some experts and employers are increasingly pointing to what could be a very serious problem emerging within our already-shrunken manufacturing sector.  More specifically, it is a growing notion that a significant chunk of the U.S. manufacturing workforce may lack basic “shop math” skills.

“Shop math” encompasses such basics as arithmetic, decimals, and fractions, but can also extend somewhat into more abstract areas such as geometry, trigonometry, and yes, even calculus.  “You’d be amazed at how many people can’t read a ruler to one-sixteenth of an inch,” said Lee Cohn of Case Paper Co., when asked for his opinion in Jane M. Von Bergen’s recent Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Says Anthony Girifalco of the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center, “We want to get people back to work, and there’s a supply of bodies……There’s demand in the manufacturing sector. But how do you close the skills gap?”

Next Steps

As U.S. companies continue to see off-shoring as a lever of competitive necessity, the above “skills gap” could not come at a worse time.  Technological advances are sure to widen this gap, as the very nature of core work functions continues to change at an increasing rate.  The basic issue will come down to whether or not anyone is going to do anything that signficantly addresses the problem.

Major questions loom.  Will public policy makers step in?  Will manufacturers and other employers take new steps to educate employees?  Will educators, school districts, and universities step up with innovative solutions?  Together, these groups will need to find new ways to take the next steps toward a solution to this very real problem.

Right Incentive

“Best Buy says it will change its employee compensation model to revolve around customer service and business goals.”

Best Buy recently announced that it lost $1.7 billion in its Q4 ending on March 3rd.   The Minneapolis-based electronics retailer also revealed its plans for ambitious cost reductions and US store closings associated with its “Transformation Strategy”.  The earnings announcement highlights that significant restructuring charges have already impacted the company’s results.

Did Best Buy’s employee compensation model adversely affect its operations?  While we will leave that question for Best Buy to answer, the implication seems to be just that.   As reported by CE Pro, the header statement above may speak volumes and definitely provides for transition to our latest beyond-the-bottom line destination. 

From Clear to Obvious 

Let’s start with clear and work toward obvious.  What business in today’s still-brutal economy, let alone within the highly competitive arena of consumer electronics, can afford to pay its employees in a way that doesn’t encourage the right behaviors with respect to customer service and business goal attainment?  Answer: one that is extremely lucky or one that will not be around for very long.

It probably goes as far back as the stone ages that employees will tend to do things today that they understand will result in future rewards.  So, it becomes extremely critical for smart business leaders to identify the right behaviors and link them to the organization’s business objectives.  Conversely, companies who identify the wrong behaviors or struggle with strategic articulation may be headed for a whole heap of trouble.

Delicate Balance

Take sales and profits for example.  Both are without question good things, right?   However, try either one without the other and things can head the wrong way fast.

On the one hand, too much focus on rewarding revenue generation can spell big trouble.  It’s not too hard to imagine a scenario where sales associates are heavily commissioned on their sales while the bottom line suffers.  Absent a margin-based metric as a governor on this type of incentive, discounting can seriously erode profitability.

On the other hand, let the bean-counters rule with too much of an iron fist, and a company can wind up turning away all but the most enormously profitable of business opportunities.   Danger looms here.  Great profit margins on low sales can lead to maintaining a company address somewhere South of Breakeven Boulevard.

Marathon vs. Sprint

It becomes just as important for the Board and top management to determine for employees whether the race will be a marathon or a series of sprints.  Will consistent results over the long-term be rewarded?  Or is it a win at all costs mentality that is rewarded with each quarterly close?

It is well documented that excessive focus on short-term results can incent the wrong behavior. Here’s one classic example.  In its March issue, CFO Magazine reports a view that the Big 3 automakers may have several years ago intentionally over-produced and applied absorption accounting to store production costs in balance sheet parking lots.  Short-term incentives at work again?  Hard to tell for sure.  Gets kind of dark along these streets sometimes.

Joyful Sound

“If you are not available on Sunday, come and join us on our Wednesday Harlem Gospel tour!”

Photo byAviv ben Jehuda; Creative Commons licensed

This latest example of customer service flexibility comes to us directly from the Harlem Spirtuals website, where one can purchase adult tickets for $55 or a child’s ticket for $39. Be sure to select a language option of English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish, so you know what time to be at 690 Eighth Avenue. Your four hour tour experience begins there and includes a Sunday morning Gospel service as its marquee destination.

Apparently, tours like this have touched a nerve in the religious community. Meghan Barr recently wrote an AP article entitled “Where sacred meets profane”. The article does a nice job of capturing both the debate and the dilemma.

On the one hand, tourists from across the globe are flocking to neighborhood churches and may be seen as a disruptive presence. Pastors and ushers now have assumed additional responsibilities for managing the conduct of visitors.  Unwanted behavior can vary from dress code to early exits. Although not alone, Harlem’s historic Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is a frequent stop for the tours.   In fact, some local churches find themselves turning away visitors because they do not have enough room.

On the other hand, the tourists often drop their dollars into the weekly collection plates.  As the Barr article points out, the tourists may in some cases be filling otherwise empty pews and are doing their part to help keep these churches afloat during what may be increasingly difficult times. One thing that these churches share in common with secular business is the need to meet monthly operating budgets and fund future capital needs.

Some observers may distill this debate down to a commercialization of religion or an unwanted intrusion of tourism. Others may see it as a confluence of necessary evils.  Still others may even see it as an opportunity – not just in terms of making ends meet but as a chance to reach more people with the Sunday message and to provide the newbies with a sense of history.  There seems to be no common voice or easy answers on this one.  Should the churches partner with tour operators?  Should they even allow visitors?  Should they charge admission?  What about concessions and merchandise sales?

Too close to make the call?  From its pulpit of sorts, Bizsinc will suggest here that it sees this issue as largely a matter of governance.  When we view churches, we do not typically view them through a business lense.  However, churches are indeed organizations.  As organizations, they have boards of elders and trustees.  Typically also sitting at the table is the pastor (think CEO) and major committee chairs (including finance, ministry, etc…).  It is collectively their job to make the decisions that govern their church.  In this particular case, they may choose to receive some input from above, but it remains their job to make the decisions that best serve its constituents.  And no doubt they will.

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