Sunday, December 18, 2005
Ben Franklin Bio Review
Published December 18, 2005
By J. A. Leo Lemay
University of Pennsylvania, $39.95, 568 pages, illlus.
THE LIFE OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, VOLUME 2: PRINTER AND PUBLISHER, 1730-1747
By J. A. Leo Lemay
University of Pennsylvania, $39.95, 664 pages, illus.
REVIEWED BY JAMES SRODES
Now we embark on a prolonged celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin. In mid-December the official Tercentenary Commission's traveling interactive museum show opens in Philadelphia and then moves on for an international tour that will last through 2008. A cavalry charge of biographies (mine included) floods the bookstores and one presumes public television will drown us in Ben -- 24-seven.
Yet, the most important event in this overdue examination of the man who made our American Revolution possible is that the first two volumes of a projected seven-volume biography, "The Life of Benjamin Franklin," have been released by the University of Pennsylvania Press and a third volume is slated to go to the editors in January. If you have enjoyed the popular Founding Father and Mother biographies of David McCullough, Joseph Ellis, Edward Morgan and others, this is where you can start feeding your interest in earnest.
The series author is J. A. Leo Lemay, a University of Delaware professor and the doyen of Franklin scholars. It is not too much to say that this literary journey through the bewildering hall of mirrors of Franklin's personality will solidify his sometimes underrated reputation as the first among equals among our national legends. As a series, Mr. Lemay's final output will do for the popular interest in our revolution and early founding what Douglas Southall Freeman's magisterial "Lee's Lieutenants" did for our fixation on the Civil War.
There is a difference between the two series and it is to Mr. Lemay's, and your, advantage. Freeman's multi-volume history, first published in 1942, told the stories of the main generals of the Confederacy by laying out elegantly written after-action reports of the important battles of that struggle. Even to sustain one's way through the subsequently shortened three-volume version published in the 1990s, you have to be a real groupie of the Lost Cause.
A more apt comparison might be to the previous gold standard of Franklin biographies, Carl Van Doren's 1938 biography which won the Pulitzer Prize and remained until now the first book a student of Franklin was advised to read. The difference is hardly discreditable to Van Doren whose research predated by 20 years the start of a systematic effort to collect and study the huge mass of documents Franklin generated during his life.
Yet as good as he was, Van Doren's nearly 800-page doorstopper is often thrown off stride by the sheer breadth of Franklin's personality, of his activities, of the contradictions in what the author called "this harmonious human multitude" of a man.
Just to get his arms around Franklin he would have to interrupt the flow of chapters to drag the reader back to some important insight or event that could not be included in previous pages. And that was just to deal with Franklin himself.
This is a good place to address the question that any reader of this review must be asking about now. Why on earth would anyone commit to buying (let alone reading) seven volumes at 40 bucks a pop about anyone?
As one of my early editors used to ask me, "The story of the Creation takes only 800 words, does your story deserve more?" The answer, happily, is yes. Mr. Lemay, who writes every bit as well as Freeman and better than Van Doren, tells more than the story of an important historical figure. In a seamless narrative Franklin is portrayed against the background of the life and times of other American colonials.
For those who view America's move toward nationhood as inevitability, Mr. Lemay has an important story to tell. With authority he charts how rapidly these at first exclusively English colonies underwent changes that transformed them into a new being and how violent and problematic that change was. Mirroring that upheaval, Franklin evolved too with the same bewildering rapidity and visible conflicts.
The story begins with Boston as it was just before Franklin's birth in 1706. A village of around 8,000 encircling an accessible deep-water port, Boston was the most important town in British North America and was destined to become the second most important city of the Empire next to London itself. It was to this shining city that Josiah Franklin and his young family came in 1693, to seek his fortune as a silk dyer and to follow his religious beliefs among the like minded Puritans who had run the Massachusetts Bay Colony for 70 years.
That Boston did not become our eventual capital is part of the story Mr. Lemay tells. Even at that early date the political, economic and cultural unity of these early colonies was fracturing along familiar lines of wealth, class, faith, new citizens versus old and, not least, a growing estrangement from the ties that bound them to Mother England.
Franklin was in the thick of things from his early teens until his death in 1790 at the age of 84. First be warned. This is not the Benjamin Franklin you are used to. Mr. Lemay's Franklin is not the twinkly, portly old gent in the bifocals who appears in television commercials hawking banks and brake linings. The Franklin who emerges in these opening chapters is remarkably strong and robust. He has a high opinion of himself and as a youth was a happy warrior in the fist-fights and rowdy behavior that apprentices of the times engaged in.
Young Ben was something of a brat and you feel some sympathy for his half-brother printer James Franklin, who often was driven to beat his bumptious sibling. Yet this is a Franklin who is on fire to succeed, to advance himself from his modest (but hardly poor) beginnings. Thus he early on begins to work on one of his great inventions, himself.
Volume One takes Franklin from his birth on January 17, 1706 to his marriage at common law to his much loved (but unfortunately still legally married) Deborah in Philadelphia in 1730. The evolution of young Ben from the spoiled, querulous renegade he admits (in his "Autobiography") to being into the knowledge-famished young printer on the make is an adventure story in itself. Put simply, Ben's noisy regard of himself and his skepticism of religion and authority had made him unwelcome in Boston. Yet the brat had become something of a prodigy, in large part by a prodigious campaign of self-education.
By the time Ben runs away from James Franklin's print shop and newspaper when he is 17, he is, by Mr. Lemay's account, already the best writer in the American colonies and a skilled printer to boot. Once in Philadelphia, the credulous lad is gulled into a trip to London that allows him to perfect his printing skills and mature a bit.
Franklin's return to Philadelphia, his purchase of his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and his marriage set the young man on the path he will follow into Volume Two and his evolution as the rising craftsman and promoter of civic improvements upon which his reputation is founded. Here Mr. Lemay sets out Franklin's life long struggle to curb his various passions -- his temper, frivolity and, of course, his sensuality -- and channel his inexhaustible energy into a life of public involvement and personal advancement. The second installment runs through 1747 to his retirement from printing so he can devote his life to his electricity and other scientific inquiries.
This is the period of Franklin's meteoric rise from lowly leather-apron-wearing craftsman to established tradesman and political figure. With some effort, Franklin learns to restrain his pushiness and watches with satisfaction as his various schemes for a library, fire protection, an insurance company, a college and a hospital are rewarded with political advancement and personal regard. Through it all, Franklin, the writer of political argument and advocacy, attracts a growing attention throughout colonial America.
Yet, Franklin's ingrained anti-authority attitude plunges him into the conflicts that beset a Pennsylvania being changed by floods of strange new immigrants and the constant threat of war on its frontier. At first Franklin focuses his struggle on winning a measure of economic justice from the colony's grasping proprietors. Ultimately he is led into his quest for nationhood for those fractious American colonies 60 years later. Even though I already know how the story turns out, I can't wait for Mr. Lemay's next volumes.
James Srodes is a Washington author whose latest book is "Franklin: The Essential Founding Father," published by Regnery.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Monday, December 05, 2005
Obit in New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1205.html
After the war (Walt Disney) worked as a cartoonist for advertising agencies. But he was always looking for something better.
When Mr. Disney got a job doing cartoons for advertisements that were shown in theaters between movies, he was determined that that was to be his future. He would say to friends, "This is the most marvelous thing that has ever happened."
In 1920 he organized his own company to make cartoons about fairy tales. He made about a dozen but could not sell them. He was so determined to continue in this field that at times he had no money for food and lived with Mr. Iwerks.
In 1923 Mr. Disney decided to leave Kansas City. He went to Hollywood, where he formed a small company and did a series of film cartoons called "Alice in Cartoonland."
After two years of "Alice in Cartoonland," Mr. Disney dropped it in favor of a series about "Oswald the Rabbit." In 1928 most of his artists decided to break with him and do their own Oswald. Mr. Disney went to New York to try to keep the series but failed. When he returned, he, his wife, his brother Roy and Mr. Iwerks tried to think of a character for a new series, but failed. They decided on a mouse. Mrs. Disney named it Mickey....
One day, when Mr. Disney was approaching 60 and his black hair and neatly trimmed mustache were gray, he was asked to reduce his success to a formula. His brown eyes became alternately intense and dreamy. He fingered an ashtray as he gazed around an office so cluttered with trophies that it looked like a pawn shop.
"I guess I'm an optimist. I'm not in business to make unhappy pictures. I love comedy too much. I've always loved comedy. Another thing. Maybe it's because I can still be amazed at the wonders of the world.
"Sometimes I've tried to figure out why Mickey appealed to the whole world. Everybody's tried to figure it out. So far as I know, nobody has. He's a pretty nice fellow who never does anybody any harm, who gets into scrapes through no fault of his own, but always manages to come out grinning. Why Mickey's even been faithful to one girl, Minnie, all his life. Mickey is so simple and uncomplicated, so easy to understand that you can't help liking him."
But when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, he found words for Mr. Disney. He called him a "genius as a creator of folklore" and said his "sympathetic attitude toward life has helped our children develop a clean and cheerful view of humanity, with all its frailties and possibilities for good."
But owners and managers of such concerns often lose sight of that fundamental truth. They fall into the trap of focusing on perpetuating financial results, winning the next contract or shoving another order out the door instead of meeting customer expectations.
To retain and hone the competitive edge that enabled them to survive and prosper in the first place, companies must resist the urge to cut costs and spend time and money on developing, implementing, maintaining and monitoring a concrete plan that promotes innovation.
That's according to David Wilemon, a professor of Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Wilemon has advised a slew of corporations and organizations, including Apple, General Electric and NASA.
In a recent interview, e-mail exchanges and an article in Whitman's Fall 2005 magazine, Wilemon said that to triumph over today's brutal economic realities, business operators must create a clear, useful process for allowing innovation to flourish.
Bolstering training, reorganizing or throwing more staff at product development will achieve limited results.Begin by asking yourself, does your company suffer from innovation deficit disorder?Symptoms include stagnation, a scarcity of new products or services, a lack of growth and profits, slow development cycle times, projects delivered late and over budget, conflict over innovation failures, and missed market opportunities. Check for customer dissatisfaction, low employee morale, loss of valued personnel and "systems overload."
If the answer to more than a few of these is "yes," savvy executives should then be asking themselves:What will happen to my company if we simply keep doing what we have been doing and don't innovate?What am I personally doing that gets in the way of innovation? Am I dominating meetings? Am I freezing out ideas from employees and customers?What myths am I perpetuating that block innovation and shelter us from reality? That our market will last forever? That we are the leaders in this industry? That the Chinese won't affect us?
While painful, there is a cure, Wilemon said.To begin with, consider calling a "time-out." Step to the sidelines and ask if the company is stuck in a rut doing what it has always done. Routine profits could evaporate literally overnight if you fail to innovate. "A major barrier to innovation is success," Wilemon said.
To break out of the cycle of self-perpetuation, Wilemon advocates that CEOs bring in from the outside a neutral person they trust to walk the management team through the process of creating a system to promote innovation and track the results."If bosses do it themselves, the process shuts down quickly," Wilemon said. With an outsider, "participants are less likely to create defensive routines to protect their turf.
Denial of reality is the worst enemy of a company which needs to be innovative."Another step requires going through the hard process of establishing a compelling vision of the company's future. "If you have a vision, all your decisions can be measured against it," Wilemon said. "A vision of what the company wants to become acts as a magnet for the company's energy and aspirations."
What is the dominant logic or mindset of your organization? Are you saying: Let's let our competitors develop it first? Or saying: We created this market, so we know it better than anyone?Make innovation a priority companywide. But dedicate a portion of your budget to pay for a manager who will lead a team charged with administering the innovation, product development and new market identification process.
Everyone in the company should know who is in charge of innovation. The innovation initiative should be judged by how well it teases out productive ideas. Create small project teams to shepherd the development process. Keep "small experiments" going to test new products, technologies, markets, and processes. Companies may even want to consider passing up some of the same old orders to pursue new opportunities that could pay off more in the long run, Wilemon said.Then keep asking yourself: How many ideas are shelved, and why? How many employee ideas are "pacified" - "That's a great idea guys, we'll look into it" - but you never do and no one hears from you again.
"People don't suggest ideas internally unless they get feedback, and no feedback from you is saying, 'We don't count on you much,'" Wilemon said.Use the process to determine which ideas are actually developed on their own merits or are pushed ahead because of internal office politics or bureaucratic inertia. How many ideas are partially developed, then lose momentum because something powerful pops up on the problem-solving radar screen? Are you embracing fads or actually innovating?
Without a specific plan to move forward, innovation projects get pushed aside and companies fall behind the pace of their markets. Once that happens, they have trouble catching up."The easiest path for more companies is simply to continue doing what they've been doing," Wilemon said. "Yet such actions reach their limits, which then calls for drastic actions. What companies should strive for is a continuous stream of innovation to keep it ahead of competitors."
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Great for Craigslist but Not for Newspapers
By MARIA ASPAN
New York Times, November 28, 2005
The number of users of online classified advertising services increased 80 percent this year, according to a report released yesterday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project based on data gathered by comScore Media Metrix.
In 2005, almost nine million of those visitors went to Craigslist.org, a 165 percent increase from 3.4 million last year. "It was a huge increase on top of a pretty large base to begin with," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project. Mr. Rainie said that Craigslist, which offers free listings for everything from apartments to furniture and personal ads, attracted more patrons by opening 15 city- or region-specific sites this year.
The report is bad news for classified advertising sources like newspapers, which have historically dominated the market. Mr. Rainie cited Craigslist's relief services after Hurricane Katrina as an example of its ability to meet the needs of a large, diverse consumer group. "One of the most appealing things to users of Craigslist is how adaptable it is," he said.
The power of Om
Meditation research is coming of age, as neuroscientists measure its surprising benefits
By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff
November 21, 2005
Meditation seems to energize the sleep-deprived. It seems to help with concentration. It even seems to bolster the very structure of the brain as we age.
Neuroscientists presenting their latest research at a convention of 34,000 colleagues last week had so much praise for meditation that it was starting to sound like a mantra. Their work fits into a growing body of data that tries to bring modern science to bear on age-old methods to quiet the mind.
Enthusiasts have long touted the health benefits of meditative practices such as chanting, yoga, and prayer. Now, using the latest high-tech tools of neuroscience and biochemistry, they are teasing out how those benefits work. And increasingly, they are focusing on how meditation may help not only the body but the brain.
''As time goes on, we're understanding this phenomenon in ever more advanced scientific terms," said Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute and a Harvard Medical School associate professor who has studied the body's ''relaxation response" for nearly 40 years. ''And why it's so important today is because over 60 percent of visits to the doctor are in the stress-related realm."
While some of the most striking studies have involved monks who were experts at meditation, the new research also backs up claims that garden-variety meditation can bring scientifically demonstrable benefits. Considered on the fringes of science just a generation ago, serious research on meditation now includes hundreds of studies examining its possible benefits.
Three of five researchers on a panel about meditation at last week's Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., were from Harvard. In recent years, academic researchers seeking to turn anecdotes into hard data have suggested that meditation may provide a broad array of benefits, from lifting depression to relieving pain to fighting flu.
Skeptics remain. Many of the studies are small and preliminary, and some depend on the meditators' own descriptions of what they feel, which could be biased by their desire for it to work.
When the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and a longtime collaborator with brain scientists, was scheduled to speak at the Society for Neuroscience conference, several hundred scientists signed a petition questioning his presence, and arguing that meditation research has not been objective enough.
But researchers say that that is their very aim: to improve the quality of the research, using new tools and better methods, to determine more conclusively what meditation really does. ''If we're going to make extraordinary claims, and claim that certain individuals can break the rules we have about human performance, the methodology has to be absolutely airtight," said Sam Moulton, a psychology graduate student at Harvard.
As the power of meditation gained credibility during the 1970s and 1980s, Moulton noted, researchers were looking mainly for physiological effects, such as blood pressure and heart benefits. ''Now, we're looking for mental effects." Monks are considered the superstars of meditation, but Benson and others say benefits can come from a spectrum of repetitive, mind-clearing practices that elicit the so-called relaxation response -- from swaying in prayer to saying the rosary to knitting.
Under that broad definition, about one-half of Americans perform some sort of meditation, mainly prayer, Benson said. Among the studies presented last week was one by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers, who scanned the brains of 20 people who meditated regularly. These people had four regions of cortex -- the rind of the brain, associated with higher functions like memory and decision making -- that were thicker than in 15 subjects who didn't meditate. In addition, the researchers found signs that one area of the cortex seemed to have aged less quickly than it did in nonmeditators.
The study did not look at whether those brain differences had a noticeable impact on behavior, but researchers are now doing follow-up work to assess that. The findings ''provide the first evidence that alterations in brain structure are associated with Western-style meditation practice, possibly reflecting increased use of specific brain regions," said Sara Lazar, of Harvard, the study's lead author.
In other Harvard-affiliated work, researchers reported that by using a device that can analyze every breath a person exhales, they could objectively measure the depth of relaxation a person had achieved. People who reached deeper states of relaxation exhaled more nitric oxide, a gas known to relax the smooth muscles in arteries, and aid blood flow.
''Our results provide initial evidence of how the relaxation response intervention and other mind/body approaches might lower blood pressure," said Jeffery A. Dusek, the study's lead author. ''In the near future, it may even be possible to use our new technique to determine an effective 'dose' of meditation for a given person, or to identify characteristics of individuals who best respond to the relaxation response intervention."
Another new study, from the University of Kentucky, found that meditation could offset the sluggishness of sleep deprivation better than a nap. Researchers tested volunteers on a button-pressing speed task, and found that even novice meditators improved their performance more after 40 minutes of meditation than after a 40-minute nap. Meditation helped even after a full night of sleep deprivation, the study found, said researcher Bruce O'Hara.
And Buddhist monks have demonstrated yet again that meditation can give them extraordinary powers of mind, according to work by Olivia Carter, also of Harvard. Her team tested the powers of concentration of 76 Tibetan monks, by showing them different images in each eye. Normally, people's brains flip between the two images every 2.5 seconds. But the monks averaged about four seconds per eye, and one monk reported focusing on one of the images for 723 seconds.
Ultimately, scientists aim to understand not only the powers of monks but the everyday experiences of an amateur like Philip Hresko, a 63-year-old Boston architect who began training six weeks ago at the Mind/Body Medical Institute out of concern for his heart health. Along with more prolonged techniques, he said, he has been learning to relax when he gets a spare 20 to 30 seconds.
''When I'm stuck in traffic, instead of gripping the steering wheel and getting upset, I might look through the skylight of my little car and count clouds or watch the birds flying," he said. Already, Hresko said, his high blood pressure has fallen, and he has more energy. And does he feel mentally and emotionally better? ''Oh, my God, yes," he said.
Carey Goldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To meditate:Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system, such as ''one," ''peace," or ''The Lord is my shepherd." Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale. Don't worry about how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, ''Oh well,"and gently return to your repetition. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising. Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.
SOURCE: The Mind/Body Medical Institute
Friday, November 25, 2005
By DAN ROBRISH
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The celebration of the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth is underway, launched by the re-enactment of his arrival in Philadelphia and the December kickoff of a traveling museum exhibit and other events.
“Philly’s Got Benergy!” is the tagline for promoting the celebration, which officially started Oct. 9 at an event portraying Franklin’s arrival in Philadelphia as a 17-year-old runaway.The centerpiece of the plans to celebrate the Jan. 17 anniversary is an exhibit running from Dec. 15 to April 30 at the National Constitution Center called “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World.”
“He’s a founder who still winks at us. He’s the most modern and contemporary of all the founders,” said Richard Stengel, the Constitution Center’s president and chief executive.Stengel said the exhibit includes a variety of opportunities to learn by doing, including a 25-foot sailboat that visitors can climb aboard to learn how Franklin charted the gulf stream. Besides such hands-on displays, it has more than 250 original Franklin artifacts and more than 40 video animations.
The exhibit will head to museums in St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta and Paris after appearing in Philadelphia. Notable in its absence is Boston, where Franklin was born and raised; Boston’s Museum of Science said it could not host the exhibit because it is opening a large “Star Wars” exhibit instead. Other events featured as part of the yearlong celebration will include an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a specially commissioned piece by the Philadelphia Orchestra and a special performance by the Philadelphia Ballet.
Franklin was born on Jan. 6, 1706. But in 1752, when the old Julian calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar by Britain and its colonies, time skipped ahead 11 days — making the old Jan. 6 the new Jan. 17.
The celebration is being led by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a consortium including the American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania.
If You Go...BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TERCENTENARY: Go to www.benfranklin300.org and click on “Calendar” for a month-by-month listing of events, or call (215) 557-0733. Most events take place in 2006 but some concerts, lectures and exhibits are scheduled for November and December. At www.ushistory.org/franklin, click on “Quick biography” for an overview of Franklin’s life and achievements.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Did you know that the first [Plymouth Colony Pilgrim's] Thanksgiving was a celebration of the triumph of private property and individual initiative?
William Bradford was the governor of the original Pilgrim colony, founded at Plymouth in 1621. The colony was first organized on a communal basis, as their financiers required. Land was owned in common. The Pilgrims farmed communally, too, following the "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" precept.
The results were disastrous. Communism didn't work any better 400 years ago than it does today. By 1623, the colony had suffered serious losses. Starvation was imminent.
Bradford realized that the communal system encouraged and rewarded waste and laziness and inefficiency, and destroyed individual initiative. Desperate, he abolished it. He distributed private plots of land among the surviving Pilgrims, encouraging them to plant early and farm as individuals, not collectively.
The results: a bountiful early harvest that saved the colonies. After the harvest, the Pilgrims celebrated with a day of Thanksgiving -- on August 9th.
See whole story at http://freedomkeys.com/thanksgiving.htm
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
By JAMES FLANIGAN
New York Times, November 16, 2005
IF there is one place where the idea of the ownership society is taking hold, it is America's colleges and universities. More than 1,600 colleges offer courses in entrepreneurship, up from 1,050 in the early 1990's and a mere 300 schools in the 80's.
Experts see the surge reflecting profound changes in the American economy. It is a response to globalization and the fact that "two billion people in the world want to do the same job you do," said Paul Merage, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who endowed the business school at the University of California, Irvine, this year with $30 million.
Mr. Merage, who invented the microwavable frozen snack Hot Pockets, demanded that the curriculum at the newly renamed Merage School of Business stress innovation and ways "to grow a business."
Prof. Thomas O'Malia of the University of Southern California also sees uncertainty driving the spread of own-your-own-shop education.
"There's no job security," said Professor O'Malia, program director at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship, a specialized unit within U.S.C.'s Marshall School of Business. "If the average corporation must recreate itself every 3.4 years, you need to think about controlling your destiny."
Students, however, seem driven less by fear than ambition - even passion.
Maya Gowri, for example, who organized a nutritionist practice at a hospital in her native Chennai (formerly Madras), in India, and came to the United States to earn a doctorate in biology from the University of Kentucky, is happy that she also studied two years and paid about $70,000 in tuition to earn a master of business administration degree last year from U.C. Irvine.
The M.B.A. studies "taught me about function and marketing and helped me find a business partner to raise finance," Ms. Gowri said. With a few employees and a fellow Irvine student, Charles Hsu, as a money raiser, she has begun Discovery Services International, which performs research for small biotechnology companies.
Another student, Emily Chan, is in the final leg of a three-year part-time program of study for a business master's at U.S.C. while holding down a job planning auto plant locations for the Toyota Motor Company in Torrance, Calif. It is a good job, Ms. Chan said, but her real ambition is to develop ideas about animal feeds into a business of her own.
Ms. Chan, who rescues injured dogs, has developed a formula for feeds that she says help animals recover. So she is going to classes at night and on weekends and paying about $80,000 over three years to earn the degree.
"I've always had the passion but not the confidence to get started," Ms. Chan said.
At her stage in the master's program - called "feasibility" - she works with other candidates to see if her concept can work as a real business. In fact, Ms. Chan needs to sell the product in a commercial market - as opposed to just doing a college experiment - or she will not pass the feasibility course, said Professor O'Malia, who likes to call the entrepreneur program a boot camp.
At Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the program sounds more like athletic coaching.
"Half of what I teach is technique - how to organize, control cash flow and such," said Prof. Fred Kiesner, who teaches management and entrepreneurship there. "The other half is to get inside your heart and soul and mind and say: 'You can do it. Don't fear failure. If you're not risking failure, you're not stretching to try something new.' "
At U.S.C.'s entrepreneurship center, students are taught a distinction between management and entrepreneurship. "A good manager thinks efficiently of how to go from A to B," Professor O'Malia said. "But entrepreneurs are a little like Columbus, thinking effectually how to go into the unknown."
Often entrepreneurial success doesn't involve derring-do as much as forming alignments and reducing the need for capital. "Entrepreneurship is about organization, not lone-wolf operators," said Christine Beckman, professor of organization at the Merage school.
Two University of Southern California graduates, one from 1989, the other from 1998, illustrate the point.
Todd Smart, attending the university in the 80's, heard a visiting insurance man say that his business was being hurt by poor service from car-towing companies that were paid $600,000 a year. So Mr. Smart asked for a chance to do the towing, traded his car for a tow truck and started gathering up crashed vehicles.
As business grew, he did not use his new company's capital to buy more vehicles but had his drivers buy them, creating new small-business owners and allowing greater expansion of the towing company.
"What I learned in business school," said Mr. Smart, whose companies now tow 500 cars a day in the San Fernando Valley, "is that the cash-flow account is more important than the profit-and-loss statement."
When the other student, Todd Stennett, graduated with an M.B.A. in 1998, he and his wife, who have two children, owed $82,000 in credit-card debt. But Mr. Stennett saw opportunity in a federal policy encouraging small companies to commercialize government technology, like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's powerful lasers for mapping land.
Mr. Stennett could not afford to buy a $1.5 million laser, but he lined up scores of land-surveying businesses as customers whose contracts helped him pay for the equipment. He also joined bush-pilot outfits to help the surveying.
"Our relationships with partners are critical to our success," Mr. Stennett said, as his company, Airborne 1, reaches $5 million in annual revenue.
To Andrew Policano, dean of the Merage school, the benefit of entrepreneurial training nowadays is that it encourages original thinking.
"Innovation is what all corporations want today," Mr. Policano said. "Chief executives coming to our campus want graduates who will tell them what the business should be in five years."
Sunday, November 13, 2005
New York Times
By TIMOTHY L. O'BRIEN
Published: November 13, 2005
WHEN James E. West was 8 years old, he propped himself on his bed's brass footboard one afternoon and stretched to plug the cord of a radio he had repaired into a ceiling outlet. It was one of his first experiments. Mr. West's hand sealed to the light socket as 120 volts of electricity shimmied through his body, freezing him in place until his brother knocked him from the footboard and onto the floor
Like more storied inventors who preceded him, he was quickly hooked on the juice - even as he lay shivering from that first encounter. "I became fascinated by electricity after that, just completely fascinated," recalled Mr. West, now 74 and an award-winning research professor at Johns Hopkins University. "I needed to learn everything I could about it."
Over the past several decades, he has secured 50 domestic and more than 200 foreign patents on inventions relating to his pioneering explorations of electrically charged materials and recording devices. According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, an organization in Akron, Ohio, that counts Mr. West among its inductees, about 90 percent of all microphones used today in devices like cellphones, acoustic equipment and toys derive from electronic transducers that he helped to develop in the early 1960's.
Inventors have always held a special place in American history and business lore, embodying innovation and economic progress in a country that has long prized individual creativity and the power of great ideas. In recent decades, tinkerers and researchers have given society microchips, personal computers, the Internet, balloon catheters, bar codes, fiber optics, e-mail systems, hearing aids, air bags and automated teller machines, among a bevy of other devices.
Mr. West stands firmly in this tradition - a tradition that he said may soon be upended. He fears that corporate and public nurturing of inventors and scientific research is faltering and that America will pay a serious economic and intellectual penalty for this lapse.
A larger pool of Mr. West's colleagues echoes his concerns. "The scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength," the National Academy of Sciences observed in a report released last month.
"Although many people assume that the United States will always be a world leader in science and technology, this may not continue to be the case inasmuch as great minds and ideas exist throughout the world. We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost - and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost, if indeed it can be regained at all."
A COMMITTEE of leading scientists, corporate executives and educators oversaw the drafting of the report, entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." To spur American innovation, it recommends enhanced math and science education in grade school and high school, a more hospitable environment for scientific research and training at the college and graduate levels, an increase in federal funds for basic scientific research and a mix of tax incentives and other measures to foster high-paying jobs in groundbreaking industries. The report cites China and India among a number of economically promising countries that may be poised to usurp America's leadership in innovation and job growth.
"For the first time in generations, the nation's children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did," the report said. "We owe our current prosperity, security and good health to the investments of past generations, and we are obliged to renew those commitments."
The Industrial Research Institute, an organization in Arlington, Va., that represents some of the nation's largest corporations, is also concerned that the academic and financial support for scientific innovation is lagging in the United States. The group's most recent data indicate that from 1986 to 2001, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all awarded more doctoral degrees in science and engineering than did the United States. Between 1991 and 2003, research and development spending in America trailed that of China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan - in China's case by billions of dollars.
Mr. West's personal journey has involved overcoming school segregation and racism, a reading disability and the downsizing of Bell Labs, the legendary New Jersey research center where he once worked, and he fantasizes about a day when children hold inventors and scientists in higher esteem than hip-hop stars and professional athletes.
"We need to bring the view back in this country that we're willing to make investments for the future because everything that's in the cellphone and the iPod today was known 20 years ago," he said. "I think scientists and inventors are a very peculiar breed in that we're not in it for the money - we're in it for the knowledge."
IT all begins with a tingle of curiosity. "If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger," Mr. West recalled of his childhood. "I had this need to know what was inside."
That need links Mr. West to a rich tradition in American life and civilization. Benjamin Franklin, his kite lofted into the sky to coax electricity from the clouds, is the totemic American inventor whose financial acumen gave him time to ponder and then spout a series of inventions that included a stove, catheter, glass harmonica, bifocals and, of course, the lightning rod - which he declined to patent so it would be freely available to the public.
No less a figure than Abraham Lincoln regarded the patent system, and the protections it offered for what he called the "fire of genius," as one of history's signature achievements. Shortly after President Lincoln's death, Thomas Alva Edison filed a patent for his first invention, an electric vote recorder. Edison became widely heralded not only as the creator of a longer-lasting light bulb and the phonograph but also as the inventor of the invention factory.
When the conglomerate that eventually became General Electric began buying out Mr. Edison's operations in the 1890's, it represented the beginning of the corporate absorption of the inventive act. "Edison marks the end of the individual inventor and the precorporate phase of invention," said Randall E. Stross, a contributor to The New York Times who is also working on an Edison biography titled "The Wizard," which Crown Publishing plans to release in 2007.
In 1932, a year after Edison died, corporations secured more patents than individuals for the first time, and a year later the Census Bureau eliminated "inventor" as a job class, according to Technology Review, a trade publication. During the golden era of corporate research and development that followed Edison's death, G.E., DuPont, AT&T and eventually Lockheed, Eli Lilly, Intel and other corporate giants came to dominate innovation. And as that happened, some tensions arose between corporations and independent inventors and researchers.
While tipping their hats to the scores of breakthroughs that have emerged from corporate labs, inventors also say they are concerned that bottom-line pressures at many companies may cause pure research to be eclipsed by innovation tied to rapid commercialization - leading to routine refinements of existing products rather than to breathtaking advances.
A tug of war has emerged between individual inventors and corporations over proposed legislative changes in patent laws, with the inventors arguing that possible revisions would benefit the business giants. Corporations have argued that the system is equitable but flawed. Dean Kamen, an inventor whose creations include the wearable insulin pump and the Segway transporter, recently testified before Congress, calling for changes in the patent system that also preserve protections for individual inventors.
Despite those tussles, Mr. Stross says he believes that recent technological advancements have helped to move innovation out of the corporate sphere and to "give the lone inventor access to inexpensive tools and resources to once again be master of one's own lab."
Robert S. Langer, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a biotechnology pioneer, says that he shares the concerns raised in the National Academy of Sciences report but that he remains confident about the country's prospects. "While I think we can always do better, I am optimistic about the spirit of innovation in this country," he said. "I think we hold a lead, but no lead is unassailable."
For Mr. West, whose career has spanned stretches in creative havens like Bell Labs, inventing has meant brainstorming sessions with fellow tinkerers and long hours walking the corridors of his own mind. "I spend a great deal of the hours that I'm awake within myself," he said. "You never want to stop doing it, especially when it's a pleasure. It's vital to my existence and I couldn't live if I wasn't an inventor."
Ilene Busch-Vishniac, a Johns Hopkins professor and inventor who has collaborated with Mr. West for more than two decades, most recently on acoustical research, called him the quintessential explorer. "For an inventor to be successful they have to think outside of the box and propose things that are wildly different," she said. "Secondly, you need to be able to figure out how to do the tests that evaluate whether something is plausible. Jim is great at both of those things, but especially at figuring out the tests."
Mr. West began testing his limits at an early age, defying his family's wishes that he become a dentist and setting his sights on a doctorate in physics. To dissuade him, his father introduced him to other African-American friends with doctorates - all of whom had failed to land university posts and held blue-collar jobs instead. Still, Mr. West pressed on, coached by a series of mentors, memorizing text and numbers to mask his reading problems, building on his mathematical gifts and eventually enrolling as an undergraduate in physics at Temple University.
AFTER a summer internship at Bell Labs, he invented a pair of headphones; enthralled by his lab work, he decided to forgo his physics studies and to stay on at Bell Labs, where he developed microphone technologies and explored a range of interests in acoustics. When Bell Labs became part of Lucent after AT&T reorganized, the scope of its research operations shifted, and Mr. West eventually moved on as well. At Ms. Busch-Vishniac's invitation, he joined Johns Hopkins in 2000.
Although he walks with a slight limp caused by a series of lower back surgeries, Mr. West looks much younger than his age. Like all inspired inventors whose fertile imaginations make them both researchers and artists, Mr. West also still manages to bring a Zen-like focus to his endeavors. "If I'm concerned about what an electron does in an amorphous mass then I become an electron," he allowed. "I try to have that picture in my mind and to behave like an electron, looking at the problem in all its dimensions and scales."
He and Ms. Busch-Vishniac are currently analyzing solutions to noise problems in hospitals, and they are mentoring two local high school students and a Johns Hopkins graduate student who have joined their team as young inventors. The graduate student, Emily Nalven, 22, said she decided to join Mr. West after taking classes with him.
"Even on the days he didn't lecture, he came to class, sat in the front row, took notes and spent his time after class answering student questions," she said in an e-mail message. "One day, I asked him something about sound waves and he answered my question, then came back the next day with an even more detailed explanation to ensure that I truly understood."
The seeds of future inventions are sown in these kinds of interactions, but the possible erosion of fertile academic and financial soil in America concerns Mr. West and many others in science.
"The inventiveness of individuals depends on the context, including sociopolitical, economic, cultural and institutional factors," said Merton C. Flemings, a professor emeritus at M.I.T. who holds 28 patents and oversees the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program for inventors. "We remain one of the most inventive countries in the world. But all the signs suggest that we won't retain that pre-eminence much longer. The future is very bleak, I'm afraid."
Mr. Flemings said that private and public capital was not being adequately funneled to the kinds of projects and people that foster invention. The study of science is not valued in enough homes, he observed, and science education in grade school and high school is sorely lacking.
But quantitative goals, he said, are not enough. Singapore posts high national scores in mathematics, he said, but does not have a reputation for churning out new inventions. In fact, he added, researchers from Singapore have studied school systems in America to try to glean the source of something ineffable and not really quantifiable: creativity.
"In addition to openness, tolerance is essential in an inventive modern society," a report sponsored by the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program said last year. "Creative people, whether artists or inventive engineers, are often nonconformists and rebels. Indeed, invention itself can be perceived as an act of rebellion against the status quo."
THOSE who keep an eye on corporate behavior say they think that sober-minded risk taking - and the support of daring research for research's sake - also needs to be on the strategic menus of more companies. "When inventors work independently, the invention itself is seen as an opportunity, whereas in the corporate world accidents are seen as failures," said Peter Arnell, a marketing consultant who coaches companies about innovation. "When people exist outside of the corporate model and have vision and passion, then accidents and getting lost are beautiful things."
Nathan Myhrvold, part of Microsoft's early brain trust and the former head of its heavily endowed research arm, founded Intellectual Ventures, a fund that he says spends "millions of dollars" annually to support individual inventors in long-term projects. Mr. Myhrvold started his fund about five years ago after he retired from Microsoft; he now backs about 20 inventors in such fields as nanotechnology, optics, computing, biotechnology and medical devices.
"As far as we know, we're the only people who are doing this - which means we're either incredibly smart or incredibly dumb," Mr. Myhrvold said. "There's a network of venture capitalists for start-ups that have created thousands and thousands of businesses, but very little for inventors."
Mr. Myhrvold says that most public and academic grants are for investigating well-defined research problems - and not for backing, as he does, "an invention before it exists." His staff of about 50 people files about 25 patent applications a month on behalf of inventors and his fund. He and his staff also help inventors refine ideas, pay for their time and labor and share ownership stakes in projects with them.
"We all love the goose that lays the golden eggs but somehow we've forgotten about the goose," Mr. Myhrvold said. "This decade I'm hoping will be the decade of the invention."
Whether or not a new inventive age is coming in America, Mr. West says he plans to continue doing what he's always done. He and Ms. Busch-Vishniac debate, regularly and vociferously, the merits of their respective ideas. But both say their debates are authentic exchanges of viewpoints, not games of one-upmanship.
"You can't have a big ego and be a great inventor," Mr. West said. "You constantly have to be listening and evaluating."
Even though he is halfway through his eighth decade, he is pursuing other new projects - collaborating with a colleague at Georgia Tech, for example, to explore improved methods of teleconferencing. Inventing, he says, is the intellectual bicycle that he rides each day.
Looking back over the years, Mr. West says he has often gone down the wrong intellectual path. But, he says, that's just how inventors do their thing.
"I think I've had more failures than successes, but I don't see the failures as mistakes because I always learned something from those experiences," Mr. West said. "I see them as having not achieved the initial goal, nothing more than that."
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Blog This By Henry Jenkins March 2002
A few months ago, I was at the Camden Pop!Tech conference, and the guy sitting next to me was typing incessantly into his wireless laptop, making notes on the speakers, finding relevant links and then hitting the send key-instantly updating his Web site. No sooner did he do so than he would get responses back from readers around the country. He was a blogger.
Bloggers are turning the hunting and gathering, sampling and critiquing the rest of us do online into an extreme sport. We surf the Web; these guys snowboard it. Bloggers are the minutemen of the digital revolution.
"Blog" is short for "Web log." Several years ago, heavy Web surfers began creating logs-compendia of curious information and interesting links they encountered in their travels through cyberspace. Improvements in Web design tools have made it easier for beginners to create their own Web logs and update them as often as they wish-even every five minutes, as this guy was doing. Blogs are thus more dynamic than older-style home pages, more permanent than posts to a Net discussion list. They are more private and personal than traditional journalism, more public than diaries.
Blogger.com, one of several sites at the heart of this phenomenon, now lists more than 375,000 registered users, adding 1,300 more each day. Users range broadly-from churches that have found blogging an effective tool for tending to their congregations' spiritual needs to activists who see blogging as a means of fostering political awareness, and fans who use blogs to interact with other enthusiasts. Most often, bloggers recount everyday experiences, flag interesting stories from online publications and exchange advice on familiar problems. Their sites go by colorful names like Objectionable Content, the Adventures of the AccordionGuy in the 21st Century, or Eurotrash, which might leave you thinking that these are simply a bunch of obsessed adolescents with too much time and bandwidth.
Yet something more important may be afoot. At a time when many dot coms have failed, blogging is on the rise. We're in a lull between waves of commercialization in digital media, and bloggers are seizing the moment, potentially increasing cultural diversity and lowering barriers to cultural participation.
What will happen to democracy in the current media environment, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few publishers and networks? Media scholar Robert McChesney warns that the range of voices in policy debates will become constrained. The University of Chicago Law School's Cass Sunstein worries that fragmentation of the Web is apt to result in the loss of the shared values and common culture that democracy requires. As consumers, we experience these dual tensions: turn on the TV and it feels like the same programs are on all the channels; turn to the Web and it's impossible to distinguish the good stuff from the noise. Bloggers respond to both extremes, expanding the range of perspectives and, if they're clever, creating order from the informational chaos.
At the risk of egotism on my part, let's imagine what happens when bloggers get hold of the online version of "Digital Renaissance." Some may post links to the column calling me a pretentious ass. Others, if I am lucky, may feel that I have some interesting insights. My arguments for grass-roots media may be taken up by conservative and progressive sites alike but framed differently depending on the bloggers' own ideological agendas. Once this column appears, my authorial control ends and theirs begins. As these words move through various contexts, they assume new associations and face direct challenges, but they also gain broader circulation.
Ultimately, our media future could depend on the kind of uneasy truce that gets brokered between commercial media and these grass-roots intermediaries. Imagine a world where there are two kinds of media power: one comes through media concentration, where any message gains authority simply by being broadcast on network television; the other comes through grass-roots intermediaries, where a message gains visibility only if it is deemed relevant to a loose network of diverse publics. Broadcasting will place issues on the national agenda and define core values; bloggers will reframe those issues for different publics and ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard.
It may seem strange to imagine the blogging community as a force that will shape the information environment almost as powerfully as corporate media. We learn in the history books about Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph but not about the thousands of operators who shaped the circulation of messages, about Thomas Paine's Common Sense but less about the "committees of correspondence" through which citizens copied and redistributed letters across the colonies, about the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist blockbuster Uncle Tom's Cabin but not about the teenagers who used toy printing presses to publish nationally circulated newsletters debating the pros and cons of slavery. In practice, the evolution of most media has been shaped through the interactions between the distributed power of grass-roots participatory media and the concentrated power of corporate/governmental media.
As the digital revolution enters a new phase, one based on diminished expectations and dwindling corporate investment, grass-roots intermediaries may have a moment to redefine the public perception of new media and to expand their influence.
So blog this, please.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
October 26, 2005
Got an Ailing Business? He Wants to Make It Right
By CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH
Lots of people call Wilbur L. Ross Jr. a vulture investor. He finds that ridiculous. If one must liken him to a bird, he says, then make it the phoenix, the mythical creature that repeatedly rises from its own ashes.
"Vultures pick off the flesh and leave the carcass to rot," he said, during a conversation in the Manhattan offices of W. L. Ross & Company, his investment firm. "We help dying companies survive and grow."
Maybe so. But can he do that for Collins & Aikman, the bankrupt auto parts supplier, or for the many other parts suppliers - possibly including Delphi, which recently sought bankruptcy protection - that he acknowledges are on his radar screen?
Clearly, he thinks he can. This month, W. L. Ross and the Lear Corporation announced a joint venture to buy ailing auto parts companies, and combine them into a global auto parts powerhouse. Mr. Ross said his company would own a majority of the venture. Lear, which is contributing its business of car interiors, with about $3.5 billion in annual sales, and other investors would own the rest.
The yet-to-be-named company plans to buy Collins & Aikman, and is looking at some operations that Visteon, an ailing parts supplier, transferred to its former parent, the Ford Motor Company. "There's no reason why we can't be a $10 billion or even a $15 billion player," Mr. Ross said. His track record is certainly good. Starting in 2002, Mr. Ross began rolling the remains of five bankrupt steel companies into the International Steel Group, which he sold to Mittal Steel in April for $4.5 billion, about a tenfold profit, he said.
In 2003, he began turning the remnants of Burlington Industries and some other textile companies into the profitable International Textile Group. And last year he began turning ailing coal assets into the International Coal Group, which he is in the process of taking public.
"I'd never bet against Wilbur Ross," said Robert S. Miller, who was heading Bethlehem Steel when Mr. Ross bought it and now heads Delphi.
Mr. Ross's game plan for his nascent auto parts conglomerate, he said, is to take it public quickly. And even investors who have steered clear of automotive supply stocks say they are looking forward to it.
"The company he envisions is small enough to avoid antitrust issues, but big enough to be a real player," said Timothy M. Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management. "I'd buy stock in that kind of company."
Still, Mr. Ross is buying into a $75 billion global car interiors industry that is operating at about 65 percent of capacity, that has huge pension and health care costs and that has been rife with bankruptcies and earnings disappointments.
By the time Mr. Ross began buying steel companies, their previous owners had transferred their pension liabilities to a Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation that was then robust. But the auto parts industry has not resolved its pension obligations.
Moreover, ever since the guaranty corporation took on Bethlehem Steel's pension liabilities, it has struggled with its own record deficits, and may be less inclined to assume the pension problems of the auto parts makers.
Mr. Ross, who assumed Burlington's underfunded pension plan, says he expects the guaranty corporation to accept more pension plans. Even if it does not, he says, he will buy only companies whose pension liabilities can be offset by cost cuts elsewhere.
"Unlike health care, with pensions you know what your costs will be, so you just do the arithmetic," he said.
Other drags on earnings are harder to calculate. Automakers have put great pressure on their suppliers to cut prices, even as the suppliers face ever rising costs for labor and petrochemical raw materials.
Nor is increasing demand from Asia likely to bolster prices. South Korea, China and other Asian countries have local parts companies serving their automotive industries.
"What investor wants to buy a company that sells plastics to G.M. when plastics are going through the roof while the prices G.M. pays go down?" asked Robert D. Barry, an analyst at Goldman Sachs who recommends that investors be cautious about all auto parts suppliers.
The answer, of course, is Wilbur Ross. Mr. Ross concedes that "the industry model is broken," but says he can fix it. Some of his plans are obvious: buy flailing companies at rock-bottom prices; eliminate duplicate staffing and inefficient plants; and negotiate better labor contracts.
But some are less intuitive. He plans to pump a lot of money into product research, for example. "This industry should be overspending on R & D, but the companies responded to the pricing pressures by cutting back on it instead," he said. Mr. Ross said he was particularly interested in safety systems, and in new uses for nanotechnology, the science of manipulating very small particles.
W. L. Ross recently teamed with Masters Capital, a hedge fund, to buy up nanotech companies. "A lot of technologies don't exist here yet," he said. "But they will."
Mr. Ross is also certain that a huge company has a better chance of locking in its prices for raw materials, and of exerting influence with its automotive customers.
Even though parts for car interiors are a commodity in the sense that many suppliers can bid for the business, winning bidders do have some sway over customers. The tools and processes they use cannot be quickly replicated by their rivals.
Moreover, the parts themselves are bulky, which makes it uneconomical for automakers to buy parts that must be shipped long distances. Indeed, automakers have lent Collins, for one, millions of dollars - money they are unlikely to get back - to keep parts flowing to their factories.
"Automakers who pushed their original supplier over the brink will be more likely to give concessions to a new company," Mr. Barry of Goldman Sachs said.
That may also be true of unions. Mr. Ross negotiated flexible work rules and productivity-linked pay at the steel companies, but he preserved jobs and many benefits.
"He's tough, but he brings as much credibility and integrity to the bargaining table as anyone I've dealt with in the last three decades," said David McCall, District 1 director of the United Steelworkers of America, who negotiated most of the International Steel Group contracts.
Mr. Miller of Delphi said Mr. Ross honored severance promises made to executives at Bethlehem. "He is a brilliant negotiator who does his homework and recognizes those points on which the other party cannot give ground," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Ross is counting on labor's help. He noted that the health care concessions that the United Automobile Workers granted to G.M. are highly unusual outside a bankruptcy. Although Mr. Ross signed the Lear deal before the G.M. agreement became public, "We were betting that it would happen, and that the unions will offer similar concessions to the parts makers."
He is also betting that the union's flexibility on health care will extend to negotiations about pensions. "Historically, health care has been the most sensitive issue," he said.
The recently enacted bankruptcy law may also help Mr. Ross's prospects, in that it makes it harder for bankrupt companies to pay huge bonuses to executives. "The incentive for executives to hide out in bankruptcy is gone," he said, "and that will hasten their decisions to sell."
For now, Mr. Ross is not going after Delphi, although he readily conceded that "parts of Delphi are certainly interesting."
Mr. Miller said that on July 1, the day he joined Delphi, Mr. Ross called to express interest in investing in auto parts. "I told him it was premature to talk," Mr. Miller said. But he said he would welcome calls when Delphi was in better shape.
"Wilbur likes to invest in industries that are out of favor, and auto parts are certainly in that category," he said. "But he wants assets that have gone through bankruptcy, had the barnacles stripped off and the liabilities resolved."
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
CHALLENGE Although BuyCostumes.com has been selling costumes successfully year-round online since 1998, President and CEO Jalem Getz is ruefully aware that few consumers realize it.
Fact is, the overwhelming majority of consumers only shop for costumes once a year -- at Halloween. "The sales ramp up starts in August," says Getz. "Sales get rolling in September, and on October 1st a list switch goes on. We're going just gangbusters peaking just a few days before Halloween."
By November, BuyCostumes.com's satisfied customers have moved on with their lives. Aside from the few who desperately need a Santa suit, chances are most have forgotten entirely about the site.
The best way to build a known-brand destination site is with year-round consistency. Getz's problem is that, aside from highly targeted keyword buys on search engines (such as "Easter Bunny Costume" every spring), he couldn't justify paying for year-round advertising and PR campaigns to keep the general BuyCostumes.com brand top of mind with consumers and affiliates.
Instead, they had to find a way to create such a high-impact presence during their big two-and-a-half-month selling season that sales would consistently grow year after year after year. How do you do that?
CAMPAIGN The team concentrated their efforts on five specific tactics, each of which they projected would be responsible for at least 10%-20% of the revenue pie.
-> Tactic A. Strong Affiliate Relations
BuyCostumes.com offers a slightly lower affiliate commission than competitors, and just like consumers, affiliates are in danger of forgetting about the site during the slow season. Plus, management set "extremely tight" rules about the types of email marketing affiliates could use, which cut the potential pool even further.
The marketing team had to work extra hard to compete for affiliates' investment and attention:
o No commission chargebacks, ever.
Affiliates get to keep their entire commissions, even when customers request refunds. Getz notes he's only able to make this offer because costumes don't attract high fraud; the site uses a great fraud detection system to stop problem orders before they go through (and are commissionable), and lowered bookkeeping and admin expenses make up for extra commissions.
o Contests with exciting prizes
Although Getz acknowledges that what affiliates really want is "money," every June BuyCostumes.com announces its new line-up of affiliate prizes. Depending on your commissionable sales, you can win anything from a t-shirt to a Mini Cooper car.
"It's absolutely worth the investment for us because it's one more reason to contact affiliates." More contacts equals more relationship building. And even in this day and age of virtual business, personal relationships make a huge difference.
o Allowing all types of search marketing
According to MarketingSherpa's 2005 Affiliate Marketing Report (link below), 51.1% of merchants restrict search marketing for affiliates due to fears of PPC arbitrage, optimization competition, and/or brand diffusion.
However, many affiliates -- especially the individuals and mom 'n pops (versus the big rewards and loyalty sites) -- rely on search. In fact, 49% of surveyed affiliates told us they would not work with merchants who banned paid search.
Getz authorized his team to keep affiliates happy by allowing them to use any and all search marketing tactics, even including bidding on brand and trademark terms. Getz's in-house search marketing team focuses their efforts on mop-up activities, handling obscure and less profitable terms overlooked by affiliates.
"We drop out and let affiliates make the money. It's easier for us to manage when affiliates don't go after the words we do."
Getz justifies this radical departure from accepted wisdom, "I'd rather have my marketing people sitting down with new relationships than sitting all day bidding on keywords. And to be honest, I don't think an agency would cost less than our affiliates cost. These are small entrepreneurs making adjustments every day all day long. They're working hard because it's their money on the line. I think they can beat any agency out there."
-> Tactic B. Portal & Search Engine Deals
"Our portal relationship with MSN is massive," notes Getz. However, MSN and other portal deals are "outrageously expensive. It's a big, big risk, but we believed our business is a category killer. We have 10,000 products -- more than any competitor -- very high conversion rates, and very high retention rates. We can compete against Amazon in our space."
The team negotiates hard to get the most for their money, including requiring in-person meetings with portal reps who they spend a million or more with per year. "You must meet with higher-level people, go out to dinner with them, schmooze them. Show them there's two sides. We bring as much value to the table as they do. If your customers come to MSN in October and you're not featuring the world's largest costume retailer, they're going to go to your competitor."
Along with relentless a/b split testing of all creative, especially text-link wording and horizontal vs vertical banners, the team split overall online ad tactics depending on the nature of the deal.
o If it's a CPM or flat rate deal, they go for high clicks. So they might use terms such as "sexy costumes."
o If it's a CPC deal, they go for high conversions. So copy would focus more on factual information targeting serious costume shoppers. They also use dayparting to moderate bids and exposure depending on the time of day and day of week. "We adjust CPCs and raise bids automatically during higher converting times."
-> Tactic C. Public Relations Stunts
"We've done some crazy stunts," says Getz. "One October I dressed up in a different costume every day and customers could vote to choose the next costume I wore."
The team hired a PR firm the first year to get the ball rolling. Then they took PR in-house. "It's myself, a couple of interns, and a marketing director," says Getz. He selects staffers to appear on TV and radio spots based on their ability to convey a passion for costumes. "It's not that I'm not passionate, but I'm not that exciting when it comes across talking in interviews."
The PR team have created a list of more than 4,000 media contacts, but they never ever send out a generic mass release to the list. Each media outlet is treated differently. And competing media outlets, such as major morning news shows, are offered different exclusive features.
These pitches usually start with a call (and sometimes costume mailings) to show schedulers in August for spots in October.
-> Tactic D. Past Customer Reactivation Programs
Although Getz's team tested direct postal mail and email campaigns to third party lists in the past, they've pulled back to what's guaranteed to work -- email and catalogs to former customers.
The team has tested segmenting the customer file by type of past purchase and sending catalogs with varying covers. For example, someone who bought only kids' costumes might see a photo of a child on the cover.
They've also tested alternating the personalized cover offer based on when the customer purchased in the holiday sales cycle the past year. The goal is to get customers to purchase earlier so there's less chance of a competitor snagging that costume sale during peak season.
Past customers who opted-in during the check-out process also received about a dozen emails per year. The majority of these efforts arrived during the top sales season. Off-season names only received a little email (just enough to clean the list of hard bounces and unsubs.)
BuyCostumes.com hoped this would their more profitable on-season messages get past filters (ISPs will slam down their gate if you have too many bad addresses per thousand names.) Also, you can't accurately forecast response if you don't know what percent of your names are still live accounts.
-> Tactic E. Year-long Tests to Raise Conversions
Enough shoppers visit BuyCostumes.com off-season for the team to continually test and refine the conversion process. Getz wanted to avoid the all-too-common mistake many eretailers make of launching a major site revamp just in time for the peak season. If your revamps fail, you're in big trouble.
His design team focused their tests on the most critical pages of the conversion process, especially all stages of the shopping cart.
But metrics can only tell you what people are doing, not how they wish your site was different. So Getz's team added an ongoing survey to the home page of the site. (Link to sample survey below.)
To encourage responses, the survey offer is centered above the fold, with a $5 discount incentive, and a note saying "no email registration required." Every week to 10 days, the marketing team changed the questions they asked. However, the one thing they never asked was, "How did you find this site?" Why ask stuff you can find out using your site logs?
Instead they asked questions such as "Are you shopping for children's or adult's costumes?" Then they compared the data to actual sales results to see if there were any disconnects. For example, of 50% of shoppers claimed to be looking for kids' costumes, but only 25% of sales were for kids' costumes, that might indicate inventory or search problems.
RESULTSLast October BuyCostumes.com was ranked as the top four apparel sites in terms of visitors. During one week, only eBay apparel surpassed its traffic. (Getz says triumphantly, "Tell that to the Gaps of the world!") The MSN deal alone drove 9.5 million potential shoppers to BuyCostumes.com that month.
The site's affiliates account for 20-25% of sales off-season and can ramp into the 30s for peak season. Super affiliates (loyalty and rewards sites) didn't blink at the rewards offers, but the site's thousands of smaller affiliates loved them.
Getz notes that you should not mistake an affiliate's small company size for small sales potential. His top selling affiliate for last season was an individual who almost hit the million dollars in sales required to win the Mini Cooper.
BuyCostumes.com's parent company, BUYSEASONS, won a 2004 Commission Junction performance marketing award for "inspiring greatness in others" based on the tactics it used to build affiliate relations.
Creative tests on portals have shown that text-link copywriting tweaks you might consider inconsequential can have profound impact on clicks and click-value. The team has also learned to vary their copy every day on portal pages that get heavy repeat visitors. A line that works well one day may not catch attention when repeat visitors see it for the second day in a row.
PR works better every year as the team build ongoing relations with reporters and mass media schedulers. For example, last year the Today Show did a BuyCostumes.com fashion show, Regis did an exclusive plug for BuyCostumes.com's high-end kids' costumes, and Good Morning America ran news segments on the site's poll of which presidential candidate's Halloween mask was selling the best. (It was Bush's.) Site staff also did a "staggering amount of radio interviews."
Catalog tests have proven that while it's worth segmenting your customer database for a few generic cover variations, it's probably not worth creating zillions of different covers. The team has cut down to two different catalog covers (one for people who spend mostly on kids, the other for people who spend mostly on adults.)
CyberSource - the online credit card processing security service BuyCostumes.com uses to reduce fraudhttp://www.cybersource.com
Commission Junction - the affiliate management service BuyCostumes.com uses for all affiliateshttp://www.cj.com
PPC Management - the search marketing bid management tool BuyCostumes.com uses to handle its in-house campaignshttp://www.PPCManagement.com
Monday, October 24, 2005
"Philly's Got Benergy!" is the tagline for promoting the celebration, which officially started Oct. 9 at an event portraying Franklin's arrival in Philadelphia as a 17-year-old runaway.
The centerpiece of the plans to celebrate the Jan. 17 anniversary is an exhibit running from Dec. 15 to April 30 at the National Constitution Center called "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World."
"He's a founder who still winks at us. He's the most modern and contemporary of all the founders," said Richard Stengel, the Constitution Center's president and chief executive.
Stengel said the exhibit includes a variety of opportunities to learn by doing, including a 25-foot sailboat that visitors can climb aboard to learn how Franklin charted the gulf stream. Besides such hands-on displays, it has more than 250 original Franklin artifacts and more than 40 video animations.
The exhibit will head to museums in St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta and Paris after appearing in Philadelphia. Notable in its absence is Boston, where Franklin was born and raised; Boston's Museum of Science said it could not host the exhibit because it is opening a large "Star Wars" exhibit instead.
Other events featured as part of the yearlong celebration will include an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a specially commissioned piece by the Philadelphia Orchestra and a special performance by the Philadelphia Ballet.
Franklin was born on Jan. 6, 1706. But in 1752, when the old Julian calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar by Britain and its colonies, time skipped ahead 11 days - making the old Jan. 6 the new Jan. 17.
The celebration is being led by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a consortium including the American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TERCENTENARY: Go to www.benfranklin300.org and click on "Calendar" for a month-by-month listing of events, or call (215) 557-0733. Most events take place in 2006 but some concerts, lectures and exhibits are scheduled for November and December. At www.ushistory.org/franklin, click on "Quick biography" for an overview of Franklin's life and achievements.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Friday, October 21, 2005
By: ALEXANDRA DeLUCA - For the North County Times
CARLSBAD ---- After more than 15 years as a successful Los Angeles lawyer working on high-profile cases and representing clients such as the speaker of the California Assembly and the H.J. Heinz Co., Larry Goldenhersh decided he was ready for a change."I really felt that, while it was a very high honor to protect the companies that were inspired by the visions of others, I wanted to focus my energy on creating something myself," he said.
Today, Goldenhersh, 50, is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Enviance, an Internet-based system for the collection, distribution, analysis and reporting of environmental, health and safety data based in Carlsbad. Goldenhersh said that founding the company in 1999 was "the best decision I ever made."
"There is nothing like breathing life into your own vision," he said. "It's up there with having children and deep powder skiing."Growing up in St. Louis, Goldenhersh was sure he would follow in his father's footsteps and become a lawyer. After earning a bachelor's degree from Duke University, he graduated from law school at the University of Virginia and moved to Denver to begin a yearlong clerkship with Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who later presided over the trials of Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
"He struck me as a person of the highest moral and ethical standards," Goldenhersh said. "He taught me the art of working very hard and very efficiently."An avid skier, he went skiing about 35 times during his year in Denver.After his clerkship, Goldenhersh was recruited by Los Angeles firm Irell & Manella."It seemed like a wonderful place for a young lawyer to start," he said. "I handled a lot of very substantial disputes for multimillion-dollar, multinational companies."Goldenhersh's experience at the firm gave him the vision for Enviance.
"In my practice as a lawyer, I had many occasions to deal with big corporations confronting the realities of (environmental) regulation burdens," he said. "I knew that the compliance space had hugely expansive problems that needed to be solved."Still, the decision to start his own business was not an easy one for Goldenhersh."I think one of the biggest challenges was deciding to leave the very lucrative and safe confines of my practice and go into the chilly waters of entrepreneurship, where anything can happen," he said.
So far, the gamble has paid off: More than 750 facilities use Enviance's subscription service, which automates the practice of compliance while significantly reducing cost and increasing efficiency. Enviance's customers include Fortune 1,000 companies such as DuPont, which uses Enviance to develop its Toxic Release Inventory reports, and American Electric Power, which uses Enviance to manage the reporting on its greenhouse gases.Ý"I never doubted for a moment that if we executed well, we'd change the game," he said.
"We have really made a difference using the Internet that will reflect itself for years to come in more efficient business and a healthier planet."
Aside from founding a successful business and helping safeguard the environment, Goldenhersh said his greatest accomplishments are his marriage (he and his wife have been married for 21 years) and his three children."I'm most proud of my relationship with my family," he said. "I'm very lucky. I get up and I can't wait to go to work every day, and I can't wait to get home every night."Although Goldenhersh makes time to regularly practice kung fu with his 16-year-old son, his busy work schedule leaves him with little time for skiing. Not that he minds."This is not a business," he said. "This is my life."
Contact freelance writer Alexandra DeLuca at Alexandra.L.DeLuca@gmail.com.www.enviance.com
Tips from the topLarry Goldenhersh, founder, president and chief executive officer of Enviance, offers these keys to career success:-- Have confidence in your vision.-- Have eternal optimism and absolute confidence.-- Take baby steps toward achieving your vision.-- Have patience and linear execution.-- Always hire people who are smarter than yourself.-- Maintain your creative spark and intellectual curiosity, and hone your skill set.
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Monday, June 20, 2005
Can you join us for this CRITICAL meeting Friday?
PLEASE forward this along, OK?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For more: John WrenJune 20, 2005 cell phone: (720)495-4949 Denver IDEA Café is Now a Meetup.Com Group, Plans World-Wide Growth. Starting this Friday, June 24, 2 p.m. IDEA Café will be a monthly Meetup.com group. June Denver location: Panera Bread, 13th & Grant in Denver. Speaker: Kevin Mullikin, Internet Marketing Consultant who for the last 5 years has helped Colorado attorneys and law firms increase the effectiveness of their websites, and increase the amount of qualified traffic they receive to their website, http://www.kevinmullikin.com/ Details at http://ideacafe.meetup.com, or call (303)861-1447. John Wren, founder of IDEA Café (originally the IDEA Association) said, “This Friday will be the "pilot" for our new monthly meeting format, I hope you will join us! Our goal is to have an IDEA Café in every major U.S. City by the end of the year, in every major country by the end of 2006. Please RSVP at http://ideacafe.meetup.com, especially if you CAN NOT attend this month so we can notify you where the meetings will be held next month. We hope to make this the #1 networking event for people who are starting new careers and new businesses, new projects and new campaigns.” Wren continued, “Since 1994, we have invited successful entrepreneurs to share their experience and to do brainstorming. Now we also give out information about how to start or join a Franklin Circle for ongoing support. “Ben Franklin formed the first Franklin Circle in 1727. The unique Franklin Circle format has been cited by Training Magazine as a good example of modern adult self-directed learning group, it may have been Franklin's best invention!” John Wren is a business consultant and adult educator. Since 1979 he has helped hundreds of startups, and he led the first IDEA Café in 1994 as a way to promote his TV show “John Wren’s Journal.” See www.JohnWren.com or contact him at (303)861-1447 or JohnSWren@aol.com.
What is Meetup.Com? See http://meetup.com
"What's driving all this togetherness? More than anything, an emerging generation of Net technologies. They include file-sharing, blogs, group-edited sites called wikis, and social networking services such as…Meetup.com, which has helped everyone from Howard Deaniacs to English bulldog owners in New York form local groups. Those technologies are finally teasing out the Net's unique potential in a way that neither e-mail nor traditional Web sites did. The Net can, like no other medium, connect many people with many others at the same time." -- Rob Hof, BusinessWeek ### John S. Wren, M.B.A.Grassroots Educator & Consultant for StartupsBusinesses, Projects, Careers, and Campaigns960 Grant Street, #727 Denver, CO 80203 (303)861-1447www.JohnWren.com ........................ JohnSWren@aol.com
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Hear a conversation with Frankfurt on how the tide of 'B.S.' is changing our understanding of truth. "
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
'I'd studied International finance at the University of Washington, but only lasted three years in the corporate world. In those days large corporations were run like ant hills and I just couldn't stand it.'"