Thursday, December 20, 2012

Herbalife is a pyramid scheme

The business world is full of buzz today with Bill Ackman's accusations that Herbalife is nothing but a pyramid scheme.

I agree with him.

The similarities to what Herbalife promotes to what Quixtar/Amway promote is just way too similar to be a coincidence. Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) companies are just nothing but a scam except for those at the top

I've never dealt with Herbalife, but I did have a brief encounter with Quixtar right when Amway was trying to convert their business model to the Internet.

Anytime a business has it's focus on developing a 'downline' or has their focus on developing a network below you, red flags need to be flying and 'bells and whistles' need to be going off in your mind. Or if the only way to obtain their products require you contacting an 'independent distributor' should provide some pause.

That last part is the only way to obtain Herbalife products. Doing so requires you to fill out a lengthly form to get any information. You can't see any current products. You can't talk to anyone. You just fill out a form and go from there.

The same thing was how my experience with Quixtar was. I was a young and dumb kid in the very early 2000s and was sucked in by their promise of developing a network with people below me who's commissions would flow up to me. I was 18 at the time and of course the $200 or so I blew over a six month period only went to people above and I saw nothing of it. It was virtually impossible to get people below me and I quickly lost interest, saw the whole situation for what it was and chalked it up to a semi-expensive lesson at the time.

So Herbalife is just another one of those MLMs that promise riches for everyone involved, but any money that is generated by those at the bottom just flow upwards to the top. Do yourself a favor and don't get sucked into Herbalife, Amway or any others that are bound to pop up in the future!

An end of world prediction you can take to the bank

Look, the world is not going to end tomorrow (December 21, 2012).

The Mayans never predicted the world would end. At the heart of the matter is that all that happens is the end of the 13th b'ak'tun and the start of the 14th based on the Long Count calendar.

However, people get fired up over stuff like this and since the news media has to fill airtime with stuff - nonsense such as this gets a ton of exposure. It causes people to develop some form of hysteria and begin doing nonsense such as prepping. Their time and effort could be better utilized doing just about anything else.

So tomorrow is going to come and go without incident. I promise The sun will come up on Saturday and life will go on and we can all start watching more college football bowl games.

But here is a second promise that I can guarantee will happen. Someone somewhere will come up with another 'end of days' prediction. People will freak out. Nothing will happen.

It could be some crazy guy like Harold Camping. Or some unknown person who will make an 'interpretation' of some obscure ancient text. It will get picked up by the Internet or some news reporter looking for a story and become a big deal.

The best thing you can do is ignore it. Don't propagate the madness and nonsense. You will save yourself and your fellow humans the embarrassment of the inevitable failure.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You are not changing the world

This really gets me fired up.

People who claim they are changing the world without doing anything that changes the world.

I see this all the time. Frequently it's people who introduce something on their website as the latest-and-greatest business technique. Or networking plan. Or social media campaign/tool/platform. Or whatever. It's usually something that's already been done before that's been repackaged or made cumbersome and nobody really wants anything to do with.

It might be the latest start-up that is introducing some new program or product that makes the claim they are changing the world. Of course, it's the last time I hear about that company and what they have to offer - and they end up going away once they blow through their start-up money.

You change the world by doing something for someone that needs help. Dig water wells in Africa. Work to end hunger in your home town. Tutor underprivileged kids in the afternoons.

Stop acting all high, mighty and arrogant. Having confidence is a good thing. Pretending you are changing the world when you aren't is a waste of everyone's time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I hate ATSs

It's true. I hate ATSs.

An ATS, for those that don't know, is shorthand for Applicant Tracking Software that most companies use for their hiring process.

On the surface, they are very well intentioned. Companies set them up to announce to the world what their openings are, give descriptions about those openings and provide a generally uniform way for applicants to apply.

Unfortunately, for the applicant, the process of using these systems to apply for jobs are often unwieldy, cumbersome and occasionally a pain in the ass to navigate.

Oh, and sometimes, they just straight don't work.

Here are my top four issues with ATSs and what can be done to improve them:

  1. While it is annoying to spend 45 minutes to an hour entering all of my general information into one while applying - I shouldn't have to repeat this if there are multiple positions that interest me or I'm qualified for. I don't mind customizing a cover letter for every position, but my work history, education and contact information isn't going to change! There are a lot of companies that make you go through this every time and after doing this once, it's going to take an amazing position to make me do this again at the same company. A simple fix is to save all of this information with a profile and it automatically populates this information with an opportunity to edit information as necessary.
  2. ATSs that only work in Microsoft Windows and with Internet Explorer. This is 2012, not 1997. Coding your ATS so that it only works with those parameters is lazy and your company misses out on a ton of potential candidates. See here for more information.
  3. The resume black hole. Just as it is simple for companies to collect information from applicants using ATSs, I am amazed by the amount of companies who don't send any information to the applicant regarding their application. No confirmation of receipt of the application. No update as to where you stand in the application process, even after a candidate has been selected. I don't expect a call from a real human being telling me they won't be interviewing me or have selected someone else (although that would be awesome and amazing if it were done). At the least, send an automated email explaining where the applicant is in the process! It's not hard!
  4. Instead of dealing with an ATS, just go to my LinkedIn profile. All of the information a firm wants is there. Are you hiring? You can find me here!
Happy job hunting!

Failed promotions are not Darden's problem

Darden Restaurants is citing failed promotions and a backlash to their response to the new health care law as a result of a projected decline in revenues for next year.

Darden isn't the first company to make moronic statements regarding the minimal changes they will face due to the health care law, but that's not their problem.

Failed promotions is also another scapegoat for projections for decreased revenues.

Their real problem is cutting corners in ways that are painfully obvious to their customers.

I used to frequent their main restaurants, such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse each a few times per year. Certainly not all of the time, but enough to have a good feel for how things go from a customer's perspective.

The changes were most pronounced at Olive Garden, but still noticeable at the other two restaurants. What was going on? A sharp decline in the quality of the food while also increasing their prices. Reduced skill in the staff. A tiresome atmosphere and less attention paid to cleanliness throughout the establishments.

I'm not a food expert by any means, but if these problems are noticeable to me, I'm sure there are others that notice these things too and have taken their dining dollars elsewhere.

These problems are easy to fix and don't cost much money. Hopefully Darden is smart enough to notice these issues and takes the necessary steps to correct. Otherwise, their decline may continue and keep getting worse.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Corporations can't horde all of the cash forever

CNN is reporting that corporate earnings are at the highest share of GDP ever. Conversely, wages for workers are at the lowest share of GDP ever.

None of this is a surprise. Companies have been hoarding cash, slashing their workforce and being stingy with pay raises (maybe a few percent per year, instituting no pay raises or even cutting salaries) for years, frequently using the 'down economy' as an excuse.

Combine that with companies spending millions on lobbying to get billions in tax breaks and it's easy to see how they have ended up with so much positive profits on their balance sheets.

But I suspect that will be changing in the future. First, it's just not at an equilibrium. Shareholders will demand something to be done with all of that cash and profits. Return it to the shareholders in the form of dividends or increase investments.

Secondly, the federal government is in need of revenue. They will raise the corporate tax rates, cut loopholes or some combination of the two.

Plus, as the economy continues to improve, companies will have to increase their hiring as demand for their services or products increase. With an increased demand for employees, wages will rise.

So both of these situations will change. Earnings in relation to GDP will fall while wages will rise. Will it start in 2013? Most likely, but we most likely won't see a dramatic shift until there is a sustained hiring boom.

The Daily's flawed business model

It is being widely reported today that The Daily is being shut down. It's pretty apparent why that is the case.

The business model was not sustainable.

Now to be clear, I think they were on the right track with how they were structured, but just didn't execute correctly.

The Daily was structured originally as an iPad only app that was closed off from the rest of the Internet world. No other devices could access the stories. No sharing stories with friends via social media.

Eventually they opened it up to the iPhone, then Android Tablet and Kindle Fire, but it wasn't enough.

Too high of costs ($30 million per year) plus too few paying customers equaled a demise.

I only read The Daily once on a relative's iPad, a few months after it came out, and I actually enjoyed it. There were plenty of good stories and good information. I don't remember if they had any in-app advertising, but they either needed some or a better way to increase revenues.

In addition, aside from the initial announcement and surrounding buzz, plus the one time I used it, I don't recall hearing anything else about it. It was an 'out of sight, out of mind' type situation. They needed to get some kind of advertising out there about themselves, or better yet, make previews of articles widely available. I'm sure that if I saw enough previews for good reading, I'd find a way to subscribe.

Also, make it available everywhere! I know they were trying to be exclusively on mobile devices, but I just don't think we are there yet. Being able to log into my account through their website so I could view stories would be great!

But alas, it is not to be. Great concept. Poorly executed. Hopefully, whoever follows, learns from The Daily's failures and is a success!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cities are getting smart about getting scammed

The Economist has a commentary about how the Atlanta Falcons are looking for a taxpayer subsidy in the neighborhood of $300 million to build a new stadium.

Now, that $300 million won't pay for the entire stadium. Just 30 percent, as plans are to spend $1 billion to build the new stadium.

I don't begrudge NFL team owners for trying to get money from their local area for new stadiums or renovations of their current stadiums. It's never a bad idea in business to get someone else to pay you for something you want.

But local cities are starting to catch on. It used to be, that teams would threaten to relocate if they didn't get a new stadium paid in part by the local governments. But economists are also putting out reports about the lack of economic benefit that new stadiums bring to cities, considering the large amount of funds governments put into the stadiums.

That threat of relocation is still there, as teams such as St. Louis, San Diego and to a lesser extent, Jacksonville, are threatening to  move if they don't get their ways. But the problem, is that there are view viable markets for the team to move.

Los Angeles is really the only place a team could move to - with a new stadium. San Antonio has a dome that is waiting for a team, but it likely will need well over $100 million in renovations to make a new owner happy.

So where does that leave Atlanta? I don't think they go anywhere. I don't think they get a new stadium with any public money, especially with their stadium being just 20 years old. If Arthur Blank wants a new stadium, he is going to just have to scrounge around in his pockets for more money to cover the costs himself.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Oh Groupon!

It is being reported by Yahoo! that Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is about to get canned by his own company.

Getting fired sucks. I can't imagine what it would be like to be fired by a company that I founded. If the reports end up being true, it certainly wouldn't be the first time this happened, and it certainly won't be the last time it happens.

However, if it hasn't been made clear by anyone who has a clue about the 'daily deals' industry, their time is over - at least how the industry is currently structured.

Do a quick Google search on the experience that companies have had when they utilize these deals. Sure, it may be great for a particular business or a one time, small deal but most businesses have had a negative experience.

Even when I had my own business, there was a short time where I was hounded on a daily basis by Groupon, LivingSocial and the others, to sign up and have a deal. However, I had done my homework and there was zero upside and it would have been nothing but a money loser for me. I think most businesses have experienced that and I was smart enough to apply those lessons to my business.

Speaking of LivingSocial, when was the last time you saw a commercial for them? It used to be every commercial break (sometimes more than once a break) on nearly every channel. I think now, it has been six months or more since I last saw their commercials aired.

That being said, I see only two ways forward with this particular industry. First, if there is going to be a national model, there can only be one or two companies - and they can't take 50 percent of the revenue from the merchant right off the top (after the discount is applied). They must take a smaller cut from the merchants to even have a chance of getting some of those companies back.

Otherwise, it's going to just be some local model that is run by a local business. I've primarily seen local newspapers and TV stations getting in on this business. They likely do this because they are able to take a smaller cut of the revenue from the merchant because it includes something along the lines of advertising - so it's more of a win/win for the media company and the merchant.

I'm sure the 'daily deals' industry isn't going anywhere, but unless the firms such as Groupon and LivingSocial change, folks like Mr. Mason are not going to find themselves in the industry much longer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Where to go

I've spent the last several weeks assessing myself and what I want to do with myself going forward. I've attempted to network with anyone I can, in order to solicit help in that - and I've been able to find some answers.

Utilizing my experiences and expertise, I feel best suited to do something with business operations. I've had a knack of seeing what is going on in a company I have been involved with and finding better ways of doing things, while saving money at the same time. There have been times I've been successful - such as fixing the cafeteria system when I was on the school board or overhauling the operations of the store I was most recently at (to the most my boss would allow).

However, as basic as this sounds, I want to be able to do the job that I was hired to do! I don't mind being given direction, tasks or other things in order to accomplish my goals, but don't stand in my way. Don't ask for my input and then blatantly ignore what I have to say. Don't prohibit me from doing things that make a positive difference! You hired me to make the change! Stopping me from doing that only reflects negatively on yourself.

Along those lines, I also want to work for and with others that know what they are doing! I'm not saying that myself or anyone else has to be the smartest person in the room - but at least know what's going on. Know your strengths and weaknesses. I want to work with others that know when to step back and let others handle situations. Is that asking too much? Probably - but it's something to strive for.

That being said, where do I end up? Middle management for a company? Seems like a logical place, but I also want a path for advancement. Consulting appears to be a good path as well - but I need some contacts there.

I'm also willing to travel and work remotely. Living in Pensacola yields few opportunities locally (let me know if you know of any!), but we have good air service here and I have a great Internet connection, so there are no problems there.

I'm networking pretty much non-stop now, so feel free to contact me! Let me know not only if you are able to help me, but if I am able to help you! Spread the word and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What happened?

I've been spending the past day and a half trying to figure out what exactly happened. Why was I let go?

I was not given a reason when my former boss said they were moving on. The CFO of the company was there as well and briefly explained some benefits I would receive, but her body language and tone of her voice told me that she was not pleased with what was going on (I did not get the chance to get to know her too well, but we were friendly and she helped me out when I needed her assistance).

In addition, I was too blindsided to even ask why I was being let go. I turned over my keys, indicated where a couple of things were, and that was it. Halfway on the drive home, I just said to myself 'What the hell just happened there?' I've been thinking the same thing ever since.

Were there performance issues? None that I can think of. Had there been any, I would have expected my former boss to say something like 'Hey, I really need you to work on X' or 'You are struggling with Y, let's figure out a plan to get better in that area.' But there was none of that.

I spent about four months there, but those four months were spent cleaning up tens of thousands of square feet of indoor and outdoor space, rearranging floor space and improving the pricing strategies all in order to make things better for the staff and customers.

I'm just trying to figure out what to do going forward. Do I try to contact my former boss and obtain an explanation? One of my former staff members called me yesterday to see what happened, and I told him I didn't know. He indicated to me that my former boss gave them 'some politically correct answer that didn't make any sense' and that 'everyone was wondering who was next' and 'morale was terrible.'

How do I also frame this in cover letters and resumes? It's one thing if there was a reason given and I could explain that I learned from Z event or A reason and so forth. But there is none of that. If anyone has any tips, I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What's next?

It's been a tough two years for me professionally.

I left my corporate job to focus solely on my business.

My business failed shortly thereafter.

After that, I found a great volunteer gig for a local affiliate of a well known non-profit. It even turned into a part time paid position! But it was short lived, as my wife and I had decided to relocate.

However, I turned that part time position into a management position with the same non-profit, just a different affiliate where we moved to. Awesome! Things are looking great!

Yesterday, I was informed they would be moving on without me. I wasn't given a reason why. I was too blindsided to even ask.

I've learned a ton about business and myself along the way, but I just don't know where to go from here. I know there are brighter days ahead.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Don't kick the can down the road

CNNMoney has an article out today regarding businesses trying to figure out who they are and what they do during down economic times.

Now, if a business has to spend any amount of time trying to figure out who or what they are during any economic condition, they have to be concerned. But let's disregard that just for the sake of argument.

When businesses find themselves in a challenging time, among one of the things they do is cut research and development. The first item in the article discusses this, and it is very true. It's low hanging fruit and the immediate results of that research is not to be reaped. But the problem is that when the down turn ends, there are a reduced number of products in the pipeline to be rolled out.

Plus, it opens the door to your competition catching up and passing you. If you need to trim the budget in tough times, R&D is not the place to do so. All you do is kick the can down the road a bit without solving the initial problem.

If you do need to cut costs, find where the fat is. Before you do layoffs, can you discover if your people  are not focusing on the right things? Can their time and efforts be directed elsewhere to increase revenues or decrease costs?

Can your manufacturing costs be reduced just by improving the process your products are produced or assembled? Can it be done quicker and with fewer steps? Don't just cut corners by reducing the quality of your inputs (your customers can always tell).

At the end of the day, don't take the easy way out when trying to get through challenging times. Keep up the R&D expenses. Don't lay people off, instead better utilize their talents to get more for your bottom line. Find other ways to reduce costs other than just the quality of the inputs.

These won't guarantee your businesses survival, but when the downturn ends, you will find your business in a much better position moving forward.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why your small business no longer needs a website

There is no need for you to create or maintain a traditional website for your small business anymore.

Now, that does not mean to eliminate all presence of your business from the Internet. That would be suicide. But there are a couple of  reasons why you should ditch the traditional website and fully embrace social media.

Those reasons would be time and money.

If you have ever set up, or tried to set up a website, you know how time consuming that can be to get the perfect look and to get everything working properly. Sure, a lot of hosting sites provide templates, and even let you customize basic layouts, but that still takes a lot of time.

Then you have to pay for hosting. Depending on what your needs are, it could cost a few dollars a month or a few hundred dollars a month.

The simple and easy way to avoid all of this would be to get your business all over social media.

Facebook, Twitter and blogging are all excellent ways to get and keep your name out there. It takes very little time to set up a Facebook page, Twitter account and blog (Blogger and Word Press are the easiest ways to go).

Plus, all of those are free. It takes 15 seconds to compose a tweet or Facebook post. Perhaps a bit longer for your blog if you have more information you want to put together and share.

When I had my small business, I never even had any of my customers asking me for what my webpage was. I connected with them via my Twitter account and Facebook page. That way I could keep my customers informed and directly answer any questions they had or address any of their concerns. They never had to find me...just contact me through Facebook or Twitter and I could get back to them very quick.

So do yourself a favor. Ditch the time consuming and expensive webpage. Fully embrace social media. You will have much more time and money to focus on your business.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why you should not buy Facebook stock...yet.

Facebook officially goes public tomorrow, with an initial price of $38 per share. That price has largely been set due to initial demand and absolutely nothing to do with any form of rational thinking.

Yes, there are going to be some very wealthy people tomorrow both on paper and in their pockets. Those that are wealthy on paper are those that have a lot of Facebook shares and those that have their pockets overflowing with money are those that sell some or all of their shares tomorrow.

Here is the problem. Facebook pulled in only about $1 billion in revenue last year. That is no number to sneeze at, but with their IPO price of $38 per share, that values the company at about $104 billion dollars. Is their P/E ratio really worth being at 104?

Google's P/E ratio is 18.9. Apple's is 12.9. Even non-tech giants Johnson & Johnson and General Electric hang out at 17.4 and 15.3 respectfully. Sure, those companies have been public companies for much longer, and have even had significantly higher P/E ratios then they do now (especially Google and Apple).

So yes, Facebook's stock price will probably even rise tomorrow and perhaps into the next week as people trip over themselves just to get a piece of the action.

But the price will fall. It has to. Unless Facebook comes up with an amazing new revenue stream over the next several quarters. Once the P/E comes under 25 or so, it would be worth looking into owning.

That is, unless the company is one of so many other tech companies who were the hottest thing going and is no more - and is beginning to be passed by some new kid on the block.

Come tomorrow, take a pass on Facebook. Wait until their revenues come up, or the stock price falls then jump in. One or both of those will happen, and that, you can take to the bank.

A post about procrastination

I'll get to it tomorrow...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Think about the short term but focus on the long term

I have always been annoyed by something in the world of business. It's not a new problem. In fact, I'm not even sure how many people even realize it is a problem. However, it is something that should be looked at more and something should be done about it.

There is just way too much focus on company quarterly earnings reports.

I suspect that a lot of this is being driven by the 24/7 media cycle we find ourselves in these days. The media talking heads that are on all of the tv networks, business websites or bloggers such as myself need stuff to write and talk about. It is easy to talk about companies quarterly earnings because it gives great talking points about where the business currently stands, and provides contrast against prior quarters.

Add all of this to 'meeting analysis' expectations' and it becomes easy to see how companies can shift focus to maintaining the good news every quarter - and maintaining a good stock price. When those expectations become too much, companies can turn to various shady practices to keep the good times rolling, but they will inevitably get caught.

That is why I believe companies should continually maintain focus on their long term plans, strategies and growth. Yes, short term thinking is obviously needed, but don't let it overtake focusing on the long term.

However, companies must maintain their focus on the long term. By doing so, short term plans will take care of themselves. Yes, there will be quarters of disappointing news, but it happens to all companies. Don't lose sleep over that and keep looking forward!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The coverup is worse than the crime, Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how former Arkansas football coach had an issue with credibility. Sure enough, there is another situation, that has some similarities to what I wrote about.

This time around, it was announced yesterday that the Scott Thompson, CEO of Yahoo, has been caught padding his resume. Today, the board member in charge of hiring Thompson is not going to run for re-election to the board. There is only one step left in this story to have yet happen.

Thompson must resign from his position or the board should fire him.

As it stands, Thompson has zero credibility with any of his employees. Or at least he would have none with me if he were my CEO. His deception is telling all of his employees that it is OK to lie to get ahead.

While it appears on the surface that he is qualified to be the CEO of a large company, if he is willing to lie about the credentials that he has, what else is he willing to lie about?

Yahoo has been a company that has been in trouble for a long time. They need a leader that not only people within the company can depend upon, but those outside. Thompson is not that leader.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What a company doesn't say, says everything

I had the opportunity earlier today to speak with Jessica Miller-Merrell about the "resume black hole." She was soliciting feedback from job seekers for a column she was writing and wanted to know if someone had any experience with this issue.

While I don't know what her column says in it's entirety, I would like to talk briefly about this and one other issue where those who interview for a position, never hear anything back from the company after that interview. I've experienced both situations, and those are both things that reflect poorly on the company.

When applying for a position for a company, I almost always receive an automated e-mail acknowledging that the company has received my application. What happens next is always disappointing: Never hearing anything ever again regarding that position.

I understand I'm not always the best candidate for a position. I understand I'm not always going to be asked to interview for a position. But if this is the case, at least send me an e-mail telling me that I will not be asked to interview.

The same thing goes for the second issue I am talking about: Interviewing for a position and that is the last you hear from the company. This has happened to me on a number of occasions, but I'll detail perhaps the worst.

I traveled out of state to interview with a well known company. They told me I was going to be meeting with eight different people, and the process would take most of the day. Not a problem. I was all set.

So the interview comes and goes and everything seemed to go great. I know I was not the only person considered for the job, but I felt confident about my chances. After I returned home, I sent out thank you notes to everyone that I had interviewed with. Then nothing.

No response from anyone. No acknowledgement that the company had ever made a decision either in my favor or against.

When either situation happens, it makes me wonder if the company can't even appropriately deal with potential employees, how do they treat their current employees? It certainly can't be all that well and it tells me a lot about that company - and it is not good.

Doing the simple things goes a long way towards making your company look great. Just by properly informing candidates that they are no longer being considered for one position, makes it much more likely they will come back to you when you have other positions available.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Now what Facebook?

Today, it was announced that Facebook now has 900 million users.

Now what?

Obviously, the growth that the company has seen since it's inception is going to slow then at some point stop and even decline. The world only has so many people with an Internet connection. In addition, since the company is going public sometime within the next month, they are going to have to find ways to grow.

Since the user base has a ceiling that they are most likely closer to, than further away from, they have to find a way to keep increasing revenues and growing.

Their acquisition of Instagram is one way of helping. Expect to see a lot of that in the months and years going forward. Buying up companies that are doing things that either compete against or complement what you do can not only stave off the competition, but allow you to move into new areas to stay fresh and relevant.

But they must also keep innovating. Sure, a lot of people get mad when they make cosmetic changes, or introduce new ways of displaying your information, but they must keep doing this.

Facebook must avoid becoming the next Kodak, AOL or even MySpace. My personal experience with MySpace largely ended when pages became too clunky and would not load properly - if they loaded at all. I don't see that becoming a problem with Facebook, but you never know.

In the case of other large, infamous and seemingly unable to be conquered companies, becoming stagnant and arrogant is what dooms those companies. There are always smaller, more nimble companies looking to take the big guy on the block down. They can't all be acquired. A lot of them fail and fall by the wayside.

However, at some point, Facebook will become the next MySpace. Technology changes. Personal interests and desires change. Facebook won't be able to keep up with that, but someone new in town will.

But to stave that off, they must remain nimble and make smart acquisitions along the way. I think Facebook can, and therefore, they have a pretty good future in the short term.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It does get better

I participate in several Twitter chats each week, and while one was going on, I saw someone who said something to the effect of 'I'm jobless and depressed.'

It was a short tweet, but it got the message across. I don't know what the particulars of this person's situation was, and my attempts to find out more to try and assist went unanswered.

But my personal experiences can help you, if you find yourself in a similar situation. The loss of a job or business may feel like the worst thing to ever happen in the moment, but it can be a great opportunity to move on!

I lost my business a bit over six months ago. I was crushed, but I'm only in my 20s. I have a long life ahead of me. I just didn't know where to next proceed. I took a couple of months to not only unwind, but make sure all my legal obligations were taken care of. Once I had that all finished, I needed to figure out what to do next.

If you also lose your business, do the same thing. Make sure your legal obligations are fulfilled before moving onto the next thing. If you lose your job, take a week or two to just unwind, decompress and run through the five stages of grief.

From there, make sure you get your resume in order. In my opinion, a functional resume is best as it puts your skills up front and most likely to be seen when recruiters scan your resume. But what else do you do with your time? It may take months to find your next gig, especially if you are trying to change industries.

The answer is simple: Volunteer.

Find a non-profit that is operating near where you live. They are always looking for help. Whether it is making phone calls, raising funds, trying to reduce costs, public relations and the list goes on and on. Just 10 or 15 hours a week can make a difference not only for that group or organization, but it can help put you in a better mood if you are still down!

In addition, it is a great way to network locally! In addition, you keep your skills fresh and perhaps pick up some new skills you can use moving forward. You may find your next career through the work you do as a volunteer, especially if you meet local business leaders. Or, you may find that the work you are doing for the non-profit is fulfilling and perhaps that becomes your next career. You just never know.

I am currently working for a local non-profit. I certainly enjoy the work, and I have been able to network significantly. I also am keeping my skills fresh and current. I'm not quite sure yet where all of this will lead me, but I am moving on and by doing what I am doing, you can too!

Monday, April 16, 2012

40 hours a week is enough

CNN has an interesting article out today regarding Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The article goes on to explain how and why it is OK to have a tech job, yet only work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This is something I have been thinking about, not only based on what I see others post about on Twitter, but my own experiences.

I've come to the conclusion that outside of a few exceptions, there is no good reason to work beyond 40 hours a week. It doesn't matter if you are the CEO of a major corporation, in an entry level position or somewhere in-between.

Those exceptions could include some kind of disaster to the place of work (fire, flood or other natural disaster) and many many hours are needed to get the business back up and running. Or there is a chance to add a client or other business to your company and you want to make a great first impression.

But these should be exceptions and not the rule. If you are putting in more than 40 hours a week, you need to examine why. Is your boss being unreasonable? Do you need to hire more people to handle an increased work load? Can you not trust the people who work for you and as a result, you need to put in more hours (and replace those you can't trust)?

If you are working more than 40 hours a week on a regular basis, what is that doing to your life outside of work? It's widely reported that people need eight hours of sleep per night, so right there, that is 1/3 of the day. Then you have to not only get to the job, but get home (assuming you don't work at home). After that, what about family life, friends, and anything else just to maintain a normal sense of balance.

The more you work, the more all of that gets cut into. A quick google search will tell you about the lives and families that have been destroyed because someone worked too much.

Think about it. You only live once. Do you want to live to work, or work to live?

Why is everyone so offended?

There is a trend going on that is confusing to me. It is something that seems to have been building over the last 10 years or so, and in my opinion, is just out of control.

Everyone takes offense to anything anyone says anymore.

Got that? It's a bit of a mouthful, but let me give an example about what I am talking about, why I think it is happening and what can be done about this problem.

First, Person A gets asked a question about something, or is talking about something that either directly or indirectly attacks person/group/organization B.

Second, Person/group/organization B, or people who are affiliated with or identify with B get all up in arms about what person A said, claiming it to be amongst the worst thing they have ever heard and want boycotts or that person to resign/be fired from their position.

Third, Person A backtracks by giving a half-hearted apology (or if it was 'agregious' enough, they do resign) and then Person/group/organization B is largely over it.

But finally going forward, you usually hear Person/group/organization B taking shots at Person A whenever they get mentioned.

Why is this happening? It is largely a culture of the 24-hour per day news cycle and the explosion of social media. News organizations need material to fill their shows (and to justify their existence). Everyone has smart phones, so anything that used to be said in private or in confidence, ends up on the Internet almost immediately, which then gets picked up by the major news organizations.

In addition, with major cuts being done in the media, plus the rush to 'be first,' many in journalism just go for the lowest hanging fruit. Making scandals seem much more of an issue than what they really are is something that helps keep people going.

The most frequent thing I see, is in politics, whenever a politician or someone in the political arena says something and it manages to 'offend' someone else. The Hilary Rosen 'controversy' from last week is just the latest. I'm sure there will be two or three new things to come along this week, and what Rosen said last week will be forgotten before too long. Sports and other newsmakers are also areas that attract a lot of this type of attention.

So what can be done? First, grow a backbone! If you are in the public eye, you better have some thick skin. If you don't you are in the wrong place. I know people say stuff about me behind my back (even sometimes in front of me) and I just don't care.If it's a difference of opinion, I respect that. If people try to offend me it won't work, because I don't get offended easily. I like to think I have a thick skin and other people need to develop one.

In addition, as I said earlier, a lot of what people say now gets made public. People have been saying these things since the dawn of time, but with technology, people now know about it. It won't change going forward, so just get used to it.

Finally, don't worry about the latest controversy! If you have nothing better to do than just worry about what someone in the public eye said that might be interpreted differently, then maybe you need to find something else to do with your time. Perhaps even work to expand your horizons and views! Don't worry. At the end of the day, everything will be okay!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The coverup is worse than the crime

It's said that character is defined by what you do when nobody (or most people) are not watching.

For those that don't pay attention to sports, former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was fired on Tuesday. In the world of sports, most coaches get fired for the team not doing well. Quite the opposite in this case as Arkansas was one of the top teams in the country the past several seasons.

So why would a university fire a coach who was doing so well? By lying to his boss about the details surrounding a motorcycle accident he was involved with.

Sure, it was embarrassing that it was discovered he was riding with a woman half his age, while his wife and four kids were some place else. But a lot of people in high profile positions have affairs and survive.

But when the boss started investigating and asked Petrino what was going on, Petrino should have told the truth, but he didn't. Then when it was revealed that Petrino hired the woman he was having an affair with, over 158 other applicants, that raised some serious red flags (not to also mention the throwback to the days when the boss would hire the secretary who couldn't type).

At that point, the athletic director didn't have choice but to fire Petrino. Having been discovered that he hired his mistress would have probably come out at some point (if not publicly, people within the program would have found out - if they didn't know already). But the athletic director was also lied to about what really happened.

Had Petrino come clean to his boss early in the investigation (or even before one was started), he may not have saved his job. But he would have been able to at least take the high road - if there was much of one in this case. By trying to cover up his actions, it made the final decision to be fired that much easier.

As the links to the articles above showed, his character was largely questioned already. By now, his character is in tatters and he may never coach again. Learn from this, so that you don't kill your career. The lesson, as always, is that the coverup is indeed worse than the crime.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Self sensor...but to a point

There is a ton of information on the Internet regarding your online image. Everyone has heard about not putting anything 'risky' on your Facebook, Twitter, ect. accounts. But how far should you go with not making certain information available?

I think we all can agree that putting pictures of yourself doing who knows what at that kegger you attended while in college is not the best of ideas.

But what about your personal thoughts and opinions? This blog post is my own opinion on the subject, and I'm sure there are people who will disagree with what I have to say in it. Should it disqualify me from a potential job as a result?

No, and here is why. I'm a person, not a machine. I have thoughts, opinions, dreams and desires. The whole package that is me is unique. Nobody else is the same. Sure, I have similar thoughts on things as other people, but nobody thinks the exact same way on all subjects as I do. It is what makes me an individual.

As a result, I don't mind sharing my thoughts on the latest political happening, sporting event or news making item. If I make a snarky comment about a politician, or a team that is the rival of my favorite team, why should that matter to an employer? If I have to be a drone and keep those thoughts to myself, chances are, I'm not going to be happy at your place of employment (and you likely have an unhappy group of employees).

Keep in mind, I'm not going to be showing up to work on a daily basis and telling everyone and their brother what I thought about last night's election results or my latest thoughts on religion. There is no need for that in the workplace. Idle water cooler chat about a team blowing a 3-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning? That happens everywhere all of the time and to pretend it doesn't happen at your place is naive at best.

As a manager or HR director, if you run across a potential candidate who may share some political/sports/news opinions on social media outlets that are different than yours, don't dismiss them out of hand. You likely already employ someone who has different opinions than yourself and they are a good employee. If you are a good manager or HR director, you will know before you hire them how they will fit within their organization based on many many other factors then some random thoughts on social media sites.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Here is how to lose a large pool of potential candidates

In an effort to network and reach out to others, I participate in a few Twitter chats. I do this not only to learn about what other people are saying and thinking, but to also share a few nuggets of knowledge that I have.

I was in one last night and notice some excellent answers being given by someone who works in HR at a US based automaker. Following the chat, I exchanged a few tweets back and forth with her, and she provided a link to the career website for that company.

After not having the best experience at the last conglomerate that I worked for, I was not expecting to find much of anything that I may have liked. However, I encountered a major problem before I could even see what kinds of jobs they had to offer.

When I pulled up the webpage, I noticed that nothing was formatted correctly, poorly laid out and just a major mess. Since I use the Safari web browser, I occasionally encounter this problem. So, I tried Firefox, since that will fix all problems I come across with Safari.

Except I then had the exact same problem.

Since I was not sure quite what the problem was, I sent a tweet to my contact at this company, and explained the problem. Her response: "Hi Rob, currently our ATS for job openings works best with Internet Explorer right now."

Seriously? This immediately brought back my failed attempts to apply for another major company that handles prescription drug plans when I had similar issues with viewing and applying for jobs within their company.

But with web browser usage somewhere around 53 percent being Internet Explorer...these two companies are missing out on up to 47 percent of their talent pool by letting their jobs sites be only accessed by IE. I'm not sure who is making these decisions within the companies, but if I were CEO, and I discovered this, someone would have some explaining to do!

So if nothing else, make sure your job website can be accessed by multiple web browsers. If this was 1997, I might understand. However, being 2012, access by multiple browsers over multiple platforms is a requirement!

Monday, April 2, 2012

You and your management team are killing your company

Yes, you and your management team are killing your company.

By no means does that mean your company is in imminent danger of collapse or failure, but you must take a hard look at what you are doing to improve your companies long term chance of success.

All too often, I see managers doing what they think is best by toeing the company line by checking the box when it comes to how they manage their teams. From being a gatekeeper regarding information going up or down the management ladder, doing what is required regarding employee evaluations or just hanging out in the corner office and not engaging your team.

By living in the box, you don't see the forest through the trees. You really have no idea what your employees on the front lines are experiencing on a day to day basis. Sure you see the numbers, but you don't see what is really going on. C-level executives never see what is going on because they rarely see the front lines, if they ever even go see what goes on at the ground level. First level managers are too busy fighting one fire after another to truly see what goes on with their people. Middle management tends to act as a go-between.

Here is what you can do to help get through that mess: Meet with your people! Far more often than you are doing now!

If you are C-level, especially in a large company, go meet with your front line workers. I'm not talking by sitting in a room with 200 of them and have a Q&A session once a month or quarter (but if you are doing that now, keep this going). Go on the front lines. Work on the assembly line. Sit in a cubicle with procurement. Engage those workers. They are the ones who know what happens on a daily basis and you need to know what they are experiencing. They have the answers to the problems your company doesn't know it has. Try to spend 8-10 hours a week by meeting and working with these employees. Your time will be well worth it in both the short and long run.

If you are a first-second level manager, not only should you have a brief conversation daily with each of your employees, but you should sit down to review goals and aspirations far more often than once or twice per year (mid-year and end-year reviews). Have a half-hour meeting every two weeks to discuss issues and see how personal and organizational goals are progressing. This keeps those goals front and center and it makes it much more easy to make changes as the year progresses if necessary. In addition, you will have a greater working knowledge of what is going on, and will have to go fight fires less often.

Middle management needs to take a hybrid approach to the above. Meet and work with the front line workers, but also engage regularly with the managers you oversee. Make the changes you learn about from those engagements and meetings, and use your position to make sure those above you are able to make those changes happen. By being actively engaged in your company, you make yourself that much more valuable and more likely to move up to the C-level. Just passing emails back and forth and not getting out there doesn't makes you less valuable to the organization and more likely you have hit your ceiling.

So get out there and engage your people. Checking the box and doing the minimum might be enough to make everyone happy. However, it won't let you be informed and aware of things that could be going on that need your attention can make your company suffer. Engagement can make your company better, make current and potential customers take note and improve your company's long term prospects!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Like most companies that are a part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 3M is a conglomerate. Formerly known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, the company was added to the DJIA on August 9, 1976.

They make a wide range of products including adhesives, fire protection, car care products and hundreds of other categories covering thousands of products.

Without a doubt, their huge portfolio of products and patents are a huge strength for 3M. They continue to develop new products and continue innovations at a great rate. In 2009, they were awarded on average, more than one patent per day. In addition, while being so diverse, they don't depend on any one area for a significant percentage of their revenues. This helps them as a company, get through any downturns that will happen to various units.

Just as having so many products and patents are a strength, it is a huge weakness as well. They have to spend a significant amount of time and money, looking for trademark infringers and dealing with those that they encounter. Plus, they can't rest on their laurels, and must keep investing in R&D. R&D is not cheap, but is necessary in good and bad economic times.

Continuing to build on their product lines by innovating and expanding where they sell their products continue to provide ongoing opportunities. Along those lines, they have great opportunities by buying firms that will enhance their product offerings, expand their categorical offerings and keep the company fresh.

Major threats continue to be generic knockoffs or counterfeit products being developed by other companies. This costs time and money not only fighting these companies and products, but they also lose out on sales for their products. In addition, material costs for products continue to vary widely. This can be mitigated by obtaining long term contracts with suppliers which lock in price and as a result, bring consistency to their pricing.

Overall, the company is doing well. They must continue to innovate and avoid complacency that can set in, especially with a large company. Due to their diverse nature, it helps the company as a whole avoid major troubles whenever a particular unit faces a downturn.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A fun new project

Over the next four to six weeks, I am going to be rolling out an analysis of major companies.

I plan to start with the Dow component companies, since most people who would read this would be familiar with most, if not all of those companies.

I will be using publicly available information, my own personal experiences with the company (when available) and my own business experience in developing an analysis of these companies.

Think of it as a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). There will be a lot of constructive criticism and praise where needed. No mudslinging either, unless it is absolutely warranted.


Friday, February 10, 2012

The problem with Super PACs, and what to do about them

I don't think anyone knows what the full ramifications of the Citizens United decision will be on this year's Presidential election.

In the just over two years since the decision by the Supreme Court, we have not had a full election cycle to digest what would happen as a result of that decision. The 2010 federal election cycle was well underway, so while there were far more consequences for the general election, as opposed to the primaries.

But we are beginning to see what is happening and what may happen before the general election this November. Mitt Romney was the beneficiary of heavy Super PAC spending before the Florida primary, in his defeat of Newt Gingrich. The Koch Brothers and friends have indicated they will spend up to $100 million just to defeat Barack Obama in the fall, and his main opponent isn't even known yet! More recent, Obama himself has announced his support for his Super PAC allies to get to work.

There is no way that anyone who donates a significant amount of money is not going to be expecting something in return. Even though the candidates are not allowed to coordinate their efforts with the various Super PACs, anyone who believes that isn't happening, needs to pull their head out of the sand. Obama and Co. may be putting forward that their campaign is all about the small donors like you and I, but he is going to get far more money in support from the Super PACs.

Quid pro quo will obviously be in play for whoever wins in November. Most of it will come in the forms of favorable executive orders, or more discretely, favorable legislation that gets through Congress.

I don't think Super PACs will go away any time soon, at least until another Watergate happens (and trust me, it will happen at some point). So what to do about them until that point?

The only viable thing I see at this point is sunshine. Something needs to be done to force donors to be made public quickly. Announcements on various Super PAC's websites as soon as they receive money from whoever makes the donations. In advertising, large donors names need to be a prominent part of the advertisement. Any other ways to make donors public quick and very visible is good. It helps show who is trying to buy the election.

Getting rid of all of the money that flows into politics will probably never go away. But as I mentioned above, nothing of significant change will happen until some new Watergate happens. Watergate will happen someday, if it is not already happening now.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

It just keeps getting worse for Kodak

Kodak announced this morning that they were completely getting out of the digital business. It seemed like they exited this arena many years ago, but they made the move official today.

Sure, there will still be Kodak cameras available for sale, they are just licensing their name to other companies.

I owned a Kodak digital camera for a couple of years, and it worked pretty well for me. But the problem, was that they didn't do anything to differentiate themselves from every other company that was churning out digital cameras. Sure they had a boatload of patents, but as a casual end user, most other companies' products worked just fine for me.

But Kodak's complacency over the past 30 or 40 years has crushed them, and it has finally caught up to them. This is not unique among large companies and in fact, is a problem that most large companies have - but more on that in future articles.

Kodak will continue to get smaller while they try to figure out how to reinvent themselves and become relevant again. Sure, they can focus on photo printing, but printing will continue to be just a shell of what it once was, even just a decade ago. If Kodak ever hopes to make themselves great again, they will need to not only eventually shift back to digital, but become a leader in that area.

Kodak did not get into their current position overnight, and it will take a long time to get back on top. By acting nimbly and smart, they can reinvent themselves and become a major company once again.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Come on Apple!

You can do better than this.

Reports from the New York Times have shown awful work conditions at Foxconn, one of Apple's major suppliers in China.

Apple is sitting on $100 billion. Just sitting there. Collecting nothing but interest.

While they sit around and think about what to do with it, perhaps they can invest 0.001 percent in upgrading their supply chain. $100 million could go a long way to fixing these problems.

Firstly, it is impossible to know what the agreement is like between Foxconn and Apple. But I am sure there are some provisions within the contract that mentions working conditions. If not, Apple has all of the leverage in the world to make those changes immediately.

Look, I have no problem with Apple outsourcing their work to China or wherever they choose to do so to maximize their business opportunities. But the public relations hit that Apple is taking is not going to be worth it in the long run, unless they make some sweeping changes.

They can immediately fire Foxconn and go with other suppliers in China or some other location. This would be the most dramatic change and likely erase the negative press they are getting. Obviously there are huge logistical challenges with this, especially with significant supply chain disruptions, but they may be able to pull it off.

What they will probably do is force Foxconn to make changes to how they treat their employees. It will likely cost Apple money in increased enforcement of working conditions and wages, but it would just be the right thing to do.

The company won't miss the money, they can make the lives of thousands of workers better and improve their image with customers and potential customers around the world. Step up Apple. Do the right thing.

Oh Groupon

It was announced earlier this afternoon that Groupon had lost $42.7 million dollars in their first quarter as a public company.

Among many reasons, it didn't help that they had an effective tax rate of nearly 1600 percent. Sure that is due to various rates due to expansion expenses in various locations across the globe. But they will need to bring that down significantly in the near future.

However, I foresee a lot of problems going forward for Groupon.

For those that do not know, Groupon and a whole host of other companies (Living Social is most prominent), customers sign up to receive emails regarding specials for various businesses in their area. In most cases, it is for at least 50 percent off of products and services.

It is great for the customer, especially if there are offers that appeal to them on a regular basis. It can be good for a business to increase foot traffic or move product.

But many businesses just lose out when it comes to these types of products. Here is one story and there are hundreds more just like this.

When I had my business, representatives from Living Social dropped by on a regular basis wanting me to run deals, especially towards the end. I was already getting my ass kicked. I didn't need to take a greater beating.

I tried to get the reps to give me solid scenarios where I would actually be able to break even. They couldn't do it. The closest was for them where the customer would pay $10 for $20 worth of product, excluding liquor.

From there, Living Social would take 50 percent, or $5. Then they had all of these other ancillary and processing fees, that would end up yielding me around $2.70. I would take a loss no matter how much alcohol I could move. My costs were not around 15 percent. I never had a chance of breaking even, let alone making a profit. Groupon is very similar in nature.

If they are to ever achieve long term success, they will have to change their business model to attract and retain more businesses. Far too many have been chased off after losing too much money, time and reputation from experiences gone bad. If there are no businesses using Groupon and the like, there will be no customers.

Groupon needs to listen to more to their former customers like what I linked to above. If not, this type of business will go the way of

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Panic in Greece...Ahhhhhh!

Worries about the Greece economy put pressures on stocks today.

Tell me how many times you have heard about that. Then tell me how many times that has actually made you worried.

For me, I don't even blink. I think that has been mentioned two or three times per week, every week, for the past 18 months or so. Yet the U.S. stock market is near its all time highs. Sure there are troubles economically in Greece, but there is no need to freak out.

Greece did not get into their economic troubles overnight. They will not get out of their trouble overnight. It will take time, perhaps longer than 'analysts' want, but eventually Greece will get their problems straightened out.

There is no need for the average person to follow every single thing that happens with the Greece economy. Sure, if you conduct business in Greece or have other financial interests, definitely stay in tune with what happens. Otherwise, keep a casual eye on what goes on there.

Business writers need to have something to write about. Every minor thing that could possibly happen in the long road to recovery will send someone into a panic. Trust me, there is no need for panic - everything will work out for the positive in the end.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why I am writing what I am writing about

I was miserable.

I spent several years working for a giant corporation and I was nothing but a number. I did not like what I was doing and foolishly didn't think there was a good way out or to improve my situation.

So, that lead to a mistake. A big one. I bought what I thought was a good business, but it lead to me being bankrupt at the age of 28. And without a job.

As a result, I am going to try and find my way hopefully doing something I enjoy. This is a good start.

I plan on writing about several things. Politics, economics and globalization will be the main focus. I will also write about my experiences in the professional and political worlds that will give some credence to what I am saying.

Why am I qualified to write about these topics? I grew up in a middle class family outside of a 'Rust Belt' city. I ended up obtaining a Bachelors degree and M.B.A. from a Big 10 school. I've worked for a Dow component company. I had an internship for another through a small company. I've not only worked for a small company, I've owned my own small company. I ran for public office twice, and won twice.

Needless to say, I have done a lot and experienced a lot. I want to put that to good use. I will say things that go against the conventional wisdom and will probably be controversial at times. But there is no use in trying to hide my thoughts or censor myself for no good reason. Enjoy what you read. Hopefully you will learn something. I would love to hear your thoughts.