Tag: Business

A Good Idea to Enhance Presentations

Posterous tipped me to a cool blog by Charles Hewitt this morning. Hewitt blogs about Internet marketing stuff. The post that was top-o-blog this morning was a good idea about improving the watchability and usability of PowerPoint presentations.

Hewitt suggested including a sidebar on the master slide that would contain thumbnails of key visuals and links to other slides to which viewers might want you to return during a presentation, along with a single-click way to return to where you were before the diversion.

Very nifty idea. My guess is that with Apple's Keynote, you could make this even more dynamic.

Someone Muzzle the Analysts, Please

Google's stock has dropped 10% in the past three trading days. The reason? Google committed the unforgivable sin of missing projections made by a handful of people whose behind-the-scenes manipulation controls the stock market in ways that are both indecipherable and unconscionable.

These "analysts" noodle over spreadsheets, talk to "inside sources", survey the competitive landscape and then predict what a company's stock will do. They are nothing more than oddsmakers. But if a company dares to make a decision that results in a near-term stock price that falls below what these know-littles project, it is a lead-pipe cinch guarantee that its stock will get hammered. it doesn't matter if the decisions are wise in the long term, or if they create great future value and positioning: the touts promised 2.3% year-over-year earnings increase and you only went up 1.9%, so you must be in trouble. Down goes the stock.

Back in the days when I followed this stuff more closely, I remember times when an analyst said about Apple one quarter that they needed to increase the percentage of gross revenue they spent on R&D and that based on the fact that they hadn't, their earnings would reach a certain level. They exceeded that level but didn't change the policy. The stock dropped anyway. The next quarter — I'm not making this up — Apple did as the guy suggested (though not because he suggested it, I'm sure) and he took them to task for moving too quickly to increase R&D investment. The stock dropped again.

None of these folks is smart enough to run a company like my little consulting biz let alone a giant like Apple but their "insights" have more to do with the price of the stock than does the value of the underlying company. It's ridiculous that we put up with this crap and that anyone pays attention to them. I say do away with them and let the market forces decide a publicly traded company's value in a fair marketplace with a level playing field.

If Business Doesn’t Learn to Count Social Costs, They Will Destroy America

We must find a way to incorporate into our valuation of businesses the social costs of their policies, particularly environmental and labor. Absent such accountability, companies will continue to destroy the humans over whose lives they have such significant control. And the socio-economic fabric that is America will continue to decay with increasing rapidity until we indeed lose our Way of Life.

There is an old saw that describes someone as knowing the "cost of everything and the value of nothing." There seems to me to be a corollary in big business and, often, in government where leaders seem often to know the cost of labor but not the value of responsible behavior.

This thought has wandered around in my mind gathering new examples and evidence for some time. I was finally moved to write about it this morning by a column by Joe Nocera in the New York Times that my buddy Tony Seton shared with me. In that article, Nocera says that the recent shocking dismissal of HP CEO Mark Hurd had as much to do with the fact that he was universally hated by virtually all of the company's employees as it did with the red-herring sex-and-expense-report-padding "scandal" that was the publicly cited reason.

One rank-and-file worker Nocera talked to said Hurd "…was a cost-cutter who indulged himself." Nocera cites long-time industry analyst Rob Enderle as reporting that "…in recent internal surveys, nearly two-thirds of H.P. employees said they would leave if they got an offer from another company — a staggering number."

The HP employee-loyalty problem is perhaps the best-publicized current example of the socially unconscious and unconscionable management of the vast majority of America's businesses, particularly big companies. The problem is systemic and endemic and probably not reparable. At its root, the problem is capitalism, but that's a bit too simplistic to be useful. I believe it is possible to create a society built on capitalist economics without the accompanying runaway social injustice this country has witnessed for the past 30 years. It just hasn't been tried yet.

Under capitalism, the cornerstone of which is the private ownership of the means of production, business has one goal: maximizing profits. There are basically only two ways to increase profits: decrease the cost of producing products or increase the price of the products. Competition and social pressure often prevents following the second course of action. Thus a CEO like Hurd focuses on cost-cutting that is often described as "brutal" as was the case with his approach. He was undeniably successful from an investor's perspective: the company's stock price doubled on his watch.

The problem is, cost-cutting is almost always focused in one place: reducing jobs. Firing people. Laying people off. Demanding that those who remain in the workforce do more with less and necessarily reduce the quality of their lives. And damn the social consequences and costs of any of these steps. Those are not the company's problem. So the burden falls on society (read, the government) to deal with. But it can't do so at no cost, so it has to act like a business and increase its revenues (read, taxes). Which causes the conservatives who are by nature pro-business and anti-government to go apoplectic. Meanwhile, the rapidly disappearing middle class sits on the sidelines helpless, unrepresented in government, unemployed by business focused solely on the bottom line.

This cycle is in many ways identical to the fact that businesses who make products from raw materials extracted from the earth without regard for the cost of those resources themselves, only on the costs of extracting and converting them to their purposes. In this case, the natural resource is humanity. And although it is eminently renewable, it is not inexhaustible. More importantly, human resources are a visible and active participant in the economic processes of which businesses are also a part. When any part of that fabric — whether business or labor or government — is damaged, the entire system suffers. And it is the linkage among those three elements that businesses in America ignore. To their great peril, I suggest.

I'd be surprised if I didn't have more to say about this important topic. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me on my blog.

There Goes the VuduHood

Besides being a dumb business idea in its own right. WalMart's decision to acquire online video distributor Vudu creates for the swallowed-up company one less fan. Me. 

Not that anybody cares. But I have a hunch my "me" is going to be multiplied millions of times.

See, WalMart is a fundamentally despicable business. Despite their last year or two spent burnishing their image, they are viewed pretty broadly as being unsympathetic at best and hostile at worst to their own employees. This is to say nothing of the huge number of jobs they displace, local businesses they bankrupt, traditions they trample, and channels of distribution they destroy.

Vudu is now a division of this awful enterprise. As a result, they are no longer on my bookmark list and I won't patronize them again. As I said, nobody will probably care about me. But if there are a few million like me out there, things could get dicey. Let's hope.