Archive for March, 2005

Want to invest socially responsibly?

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

It’s a growing trend to invest in socially responsible funds (called SRI). But you need to watch carefully if you tend towards the liberal side, according to this story in the Utne Reader. Mutual funds that claim to be socially responsible might number McDonald’s, ExxonMobil or Halliburton among their listings.

SRI is about investing in things that support your values–whether that means investing in funds that refuse to insure same-sex couples, or investing in funds with environmentally friendly companies. Hey, this is probably a more rewarding way to invest than pretending you don’t have any.

Learn more; check out these sites: www.socialinvest.org, www.socialfunds.com, and www.responsibleinvesting.org.

Cisco goes wireless

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

So Cisco has joined the wireless generation–apparently considerably after some startup companies. Recent eWeek report says they’ve admitted they’re going to be adding wi-fi capabilities their routers and switch products. The article makes it sound as if Cisco is losing market share and is doing this as a catch-up tactic (though they apparently had agreed to go wireless with their Ethernet boxes some time ago).

Well, you know, it’s hard to be the big guy in town–especially if your reputation isn’t that of a trendsetter. Little upstart startups can out-imagine you without a lot of trouble if you’re focused on serving the slower-moving giant companies of the world rather than on being cutting edge. (How Microsoft manages to do both is part of its secret.)

But for us peons in the trenches, it’s just good news to know that the big guys are committing to wireless. Means we’ll soon be even less tethered to our desks. I, for one, am delighted.

"All-natural deordorizer also kills germs"… No, for real this time

Sunday, March 27th, 2005

I cannot believe this. The Japanese–perhaps in their tiny country, this is a case of necessity being the mother of invention–have invented a totally organic compound that literally deactivates deadly microorganisms in garbage dumps–and eliminates the worst of the smell.

Think about that for a minute. It’s green. It’s good business. And it’s good for the world.

Flies no longer hang around garbage dumps treated with this mixture–called Effective Microorganisms, or EM–made of lactic acid bacteria, fungi and yeast microorganisms. It’s being used in agriculture, horticulture, cattle breeding, fishery, forestry and water purification in more than 100 countries. The Red Cross in Thailand used it to eliminate the smell from corpses on the beach after the tsunami.

Another of the wondrously inspiring stories I get to read in the magazine “Ode” (which replaced the one I used to subscribe to called “Hope”). If you want to get some brilliant ideas for good businesses, check it out.

And how smart of them! They write a small column describing the exciting content of their stories–from a past issue. And then of course give you directions on how to order it. Good marketing for a good magazine full of good news.

RANKING 99 – If you want to start a small business, this magazine is full of brilliant ideas. If you run a midsize enterprise, read it for ideas on new ways to use your existing products and services. The stories in here are ample proof that you don’t have to be big to be a huge success. Love the one about the bell-ringer who was fired because he didn’t have a grade-school diploma and went on to… Oh, go ahead. Read it yourself. It’s a good one.

Apologizing–Affording music–Changing how businesses deliver

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

I made this mistake that I have a tendency to do whenever the opportunity presents itself–I identified Hyundai as a Japanese automaker in a blog entry I posted below. I fixed the last entry after the blogmaster of a very interesting new blog SellToJapan pointed out my error. I know that Hyundai is Korean; how come I can’t seem to remember it? This new blog will help other cultures learn the nuances of doing business in Japan–a not inconsiderable challenge, given the in-some-cases extreme cultural differences.

Hyundai–the Korean automaker–has done something very exciting. As I wrote below, they’re installing XM satellite radio as standard factory equipment on all models across all Hyundai lines. XM radio, in case you haven’t heard about it, I predict is eventually going to put a lot of the monopolistically run mainstream stations out of business. Crappy reception in my area, for example, means I can’t even listen to many of the regular stations–and I’m not in the boondocks for heavens’ sake. But worse, I don’t even want to listen to what’s playing on many of those stations.

Variety. Choice. BIG things in music. It’s really frustrating when you can’t find music to suit your tastes. And buying CDs is not the answer–who likes all the cuts on a CD that you bought because you loved one or two songs by the artist? Pretty rare. iPod’s got something great going on–but it’s pretty expensive for the average consumer to ante up minimum 300 bucks and then start buying all the songs he/she wants. Yeah, I got on the iTunes store one day (my kids–bless their hearts–chipped in and bought me an iPod for my recent XXXth birthday) and thought, wow, only 99 cents a song! This is great–I’ll get all the songs I love.

Well, by the time I’d spent 30 minutes, I’d collected enough songs that I’d've been slapping down another hundred dollars (if I’d actually completed the purchase)–and those were just the songs I could think of right at that moment. XM radio charges a small monthly fee, no set up charge, and you have, I don’t know, a hundred some stations to choose from. No reception problems (though only if you’re within range of the satellite I guess–a couple of Blogcritics readers pointed out that Europe and Asia don’t have XM yet).

All of this points to a trend that businesses must find ways to deliver their services more affordably. Look at how Netflix has positively stolen the show from giant gobbler-of-small-indie-outlets video store BlockBuster. All Blockbuster can do is try to imitate–it’s whole business premise is out the window.

I predict we’re going to see a lot more of this kind of thing. I can’t wait to see the next one–businesses are going to need some really creative thinkers, and we consumers are going to be the winners.

The East setting the standard again

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

Fantastic news for music-loving drivers. If you haven’t yet heard much about XM radio, get ready to be overwhelmed. It’s the next big thing for sure. And now Hyundai is the first automaker to launch XM Satellite Radio as standard, factory-installed equipment in every vehicle across its entire model line-up.

Where the Japanese–and increasingly, the Koreans–go, so usually go the rest of us. the first time I heard about XM radio, I was drooling. What with the generally uninspring–and sometimes downright crappy–music being played on mainstream radio today, somebody had to give us an alternative eventually. The folks who invented XM are doing a great job so far. Here’s a site that’s got XM fans exchanging info with each other.

Use the free trial to try a lot of the different XM stations. You’ll find a tremendous variety (with some variation in quality), but generally you get a whole lot more worth listening to than on your regular car radio.

Outrageous exec payoffs–performance be damned

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

What makes a person into a top executive? Brains, high-profile degrees and accompanying support networks, daddy or mommy’s money, luck, sharp political skills, etc. etc. Take your pick. Whatever combnation gets a guy (or the rare female) into the top office, that exec has a ton of responsibility.

Love this high-level dictionary definition of responsibility: The social force that binds you to your obligations and the courses of action demanded by that force.

In the trenches, that might mean that a lot of people’s jobs depend on them. Your mistakes may be highly visible (unless you blame someone else or otherwise disguise them). Financial stakes are high.

Or are they? When we say the stakes are high, we usually mean the wins are big, and if you lose, the loss is big. Here are some amazing statistics on executive windfalls from companies that were doing poorly:

“Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Carly Fiorina, recently muscled out of her job over lackluster performance, walked away with an exit package worth $42 million. Boeing Co.’s Harry C. Stonecipher, pushed out over an affair with a female employee, nonetheless is eligible for retirement benefits of about $600,000 per year. Franklin D. Raines bowed out under heavy pressure in December following accounting problems at Fannie Mae. But the firm says he is now owed $114,393 per month in pension benefits. “

Well, think about the job of president of the United States. Not too many people have what it takes to get there–even fewer actually want to take on that profoundly life-altering responsibility. Ex-occupants of that job also get huge retirement benefits regardless of how things went under their watch.

Since these rewards in so many are clearly not related to performance, maybe they’re just for having the chutzpah to take the job in the first place.

Hmmm. Still wouldn’t catch me signing up.

Is "Free" the wave of the future?

Monday, March 21st, 2005

Open source programmers–this formless, nameless group of bright minds out there hacking on the side and creating interesting software applications that people can use for free–are now being wooed by the likes of eBay, Amazon and now Google. Write programs for Google and get public recognition for your contributions, says the giant search engine company.

I recently started contributing to a project that reminds me of this. BlogCritics.org is a communal project that works closely with Amazon. Contributors, who write for free, can receive free music CDs, free concert tickets, free books and more in return for reviewing them on the site. Amazon gets tons of free publicity, all the book and music publishers get free reviews, and the reviewers get free merchandise and free publicity.

What is the world coming to? The free exchange of services and products to benefit both people and companies? A bartering model made global by the Internet. Hmmm. Maybe when inflation and joblessness reach epic proportions, we’ll be more ready to handle it than we thought.

Courting capital in Cleveland

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

A lot of people think Cleveland is a great place (I’m clearly one of them since I’m from Chicago and I’ve lived in Cleveland by choice for more than 3 decades). And some of us are actively engaged in promoting this city for all its business citizens are worth. Met with another one yesterday, Don Larson, founder of Capitalist Cleveland.

His premise is that making money is good. That we should all be doing more of it. And that there’s a boatload of good news always going on in Northeast Ohio. Check out the site–and download and listen to some of the interviews of NEO business execs that Don conducts on his radio show. Hard-workin’ entrepreneurs and others who are making it happen here.

Air traffic up, forecast is dim–Europe owning US carriers?

Monday, March 14th, 2005

Japan and other countries own a substantial portion of the United States national debt, according to my financial advisor. A little scary to think what might happen if they all decided to call it in at the same time.

And other financial guys are saying air traffic is going up (faster, in fact, than capacity), but as indvidual fares continue to drop and interest and taxes don’t, the airlines are headed for serious red ink in a couple of years. Now comes the European Union insisting they should be allowed to fully own some of the U.S. air carriers that are looking for investments.

I’m a great believer that the leveling effects of globalization are all-told a good thing. But I can just imagine how hard it might be for a CEO and board of directors to give up control of their company to a foreign investor–unless of course the financial rewards were so sweet the pain would fade quickly.

Would we passengers experience a change in customer service–good or bad? What about prices? I don’t know, but I think that executives in more and more countries are all beginning to think more alike than not. Maybe it just won’t matter after all.

How to boost your Wi-Fi Signal

Monday, March 14th, 2005

If you’ve begun, like me, to rely on this once-innovative, now-nearly-a-necessity product and you sometimes have issues, here’s more than you (a non-techie who has to do this stuff) ever wanted to know about wi-fi–and some hintsInformationWeek > on “Boosting Your Wi-Fi Signal. Hint: neighboring wi-fi routers on the same channel, and even wireless telephone handsets can interfere. The story lists some equipment you can buy to extend your range.

Some places that have installed wi-fi aren’t quite ready for the people who show up and want to work there. But it’s early yet. Remember when cell phones were a novelty? But wi-fi is different–it’s going to be putting people together physically. I look for good things to happen.