Category: Business

Groundhog Day Redux in Michigan

When the classic comedy movie Groundhog Day came out in 1993 with Bill Murray, I never thought I’d ever develop a relationship with Michigan groundhogs.  In fact, I was very happy to think of groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) as a Pennsylvania phenomenon celebrated for seeing their shadows (or not) once a year.

Yet for the second year, I’ve had to trap a creature that has a cute face and persistent need to dig in my yard and chew on my deck wood.  Oh, and peer into my window at odd times defiantly. I mention this experience because it introduced me not only to the critters, but to the local company that captures them here, Critter Removal http://www.critterremoval.com.  They are actually called in by my condo association when needed.

I met Roger, the owner, after he captured two possums and thought they were the villains this year.  I had to alert him that the digging continued and he came out the following morning to explore the mystery with me.

Ah, ha, he announced as he pointed to the bite marks on my deck railing.  “That is the work of a woodchuck,” he announced.  “Let’s also look around a bit more,”  he then added, taking me for a walk around the yard, finally pointing to a trail in the grass that led to the fence and voila – another matching hole underneath to the other side.  “That’s how our culprit is getting in.  And that’s where I’ll catch him,” he announced.

And sure enough, just a few hours later I had a text with a photo of my groundhog in a cage.  Despite my thrill to see an end to the destruction of my yard, I was happy to know that Mr. Groundhog would be taken to a wildlife preserve.  And happy that Roger had a family business with his three sons and a website that educates  their clients on the wildlife impacting their lives and the company’s belief in humane treatment of little furry critters.  I’m hoping this is the end of my Groundhog Day repeat.  But if not, at least it is a repeating script with a happy ending for everyone.

Riding on the Woodward Line in 2016

Mass transit was so simple during the years I lived in New York City. There were great options – express buses, subways, even cars, if you liked traffic jams.   It was less simple in Los Angeles when I moved there in 1989 with my late husband, Tim Robinson.   You had to love traffic jams, before there weren’t  any real options for most commuters. The Los Angeles government was finally committing to a network of metro rail lines that would eventually include both subways and elevated trains and would connect the downtown with Long Beach, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena and other communities  Yet the public was skeptical it would ever happen.  When I started graduate school at USC Annenberg, I quickly got a study assignment to work with the LA transportation department and write a research paper about the value of such a mass transit line.  And yes, key parts of it were eventually finished to ease the clogged freeways.  A small step compared to New York’s extensive subway system, but a  good start.

Now that I’ve just recently returned to my roots in the Detroit metropolitan area (again from New York), the Free Press recently reported that crucial state funding has come through for a proposed Woodward Avenue streetcar line that would be completed by late 2016, a vital mass transit link between the booming downtown business district and the city’s New Center area, the cultural hub, three miles away.  Now that I’m  driving regularly to the New Center area,  I’ve learned how inadequate mass transportation is in the Motor City and the value of such a new line.

According to the Detroit Free Press, “…Backers of M-1 Rail predict that the three-mile line along Woodward will prove so popular that additional lines known as bus rapid transit will be added to grow into a metropolitan-wide system.”  Columnist John Gallaher wrote a column earlier this year about all the health benefits that will result in cities that move to mass transit. As a former Brooklynite who misses the option to hop on the subway, all I can add is hallelujah!  You can read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_Rail_%28Los_Angeles_County%29  and at http://www.freep.com/article/20140325/BUSINESS06/303250138/M-1-Rail-Finney

A Secret to High Energy: The 90 Minute Cycle

How many of us, whether entrepreneurs or cashing a paycheck, stay glued to our desks or assignments for hours, even sometimes working through lunch?  When we finally finish for the day, even when it’s late, how many resist the temptation to check office e-mail before dinner?

Tony Schwartz, chief executive officer of The Energy Project (www.theenergyproject.com) has studied stress and what keeps us at peak energy and concludes that most of us have it all wrong.  Less is more.

We actually have more energy and get more done when we take more breaks and, yes, even more vacations.  In fact, Schwartz cites studies that revealed we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes.  As he puts it, “Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves – the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.”

Schwarz recommends working in 90-minute intervals as a prescription for maximizing productivity.  A study of elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players, found the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.  They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.  Schwartz does his writing in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions – beginning first thing in the morning, with breaks between.  “I learned,” he said, “that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. “   The more rapidly and deeply he learned to quiet his mind and relax his body, the more restored he felt afterwards.  For more inspiration, try reading his blogs at http://www.theenergyproject.com/blog/author/tony-schwartz

Selling the Washington Post and Saving its Soul

The announcement last week that Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million dollars was at first shocking.  Questions swirled in the media. How could the Graham family ever give up control of this great institution they guided with such courage since 1933?  What does a Silicon Valley wizard have in mind for a legendary media company?  As I started to listen to news interviews, I calmed down.

Bob Woodward was optimistic that Bezos was a smart choice to bail out the Post. Former editor Len Downey, a friend of my late husband Tim Robinson (a Washington Post reporter and editor in the Watergate era),  predicted Bezos was an innovator who would apply his creativity to the issues facing newspapers.  I first heard Downey and Woodward on NPR radio.  This weekend Downey was on “Face the Nation” and told Bob Schieffer he was cautiously optimistic because Bezos bought the Post as a private company, so doesn’t have the restraints placed on a public company.  He could tolerate losses to invest in change and slowly make it profitable, similar to the long, slow development of Amazon into today’s goliath.

Yes, the handwriting has been on the wall for a long time – print journalism is in upheaval and the rise of the internet has forever changed its fate.   The New York Times seems to have the sad distinction of being the last great family dynasty surviving in a shrinking landscape.  What is the future? I’ve found some links that hold clues to the answer as this story continues to unfold (copied below). I’m rooting that this merging of journalistic tradition and Silicon Valley invention will gell and make the Washington Post even greater, just the way Amazon slowly changed the face of retail on the web.  We need that tradition of tough reporters questioning power and keeping it honest in a written format as well as electronic media, but we clearly need to find a new economic model for print.  Let’s hope Jeff Bezos will have the answers without killing the soul of a great newspaper.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/knowledgewharton/2013/08/08/112013/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324653004578650390383666794.html

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-08-08/why-jeff-bezos-bought-the-em-washington-post-em#p2

 

 

Getting to the Truth about Detroit’s Bankruptcy

In late July, the Detroit Free Press decided to “truth squad” what it described as the nuggets of facts, pseudo-facts, observations, opinions and insights put forth from the national media and commentators of all stripes about the Detroit bankruptcy underway.  Right off, the hometown paper wanted to tackle “two misconceptions” often repeated the past several weeks: The domestic auto industry and Detroit are synonymous, and that bloated pension benefits pushed the Detroit budget into ruin. http://www.freep.com/usatoday/article/2593001

Briefly put, the Free Press stated that the auto industry has not been connected financially to the city proper and its operations for decades.  And next, Detroit police and fire pension benefits are modest compared to other major cities such as Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo.  The article goes on to talk about the complexity of Detroit’s current fiscal crisis concluding “What’s more accurate: Like the fall of Rome or the causes of the Civil War, it wasn’t any one thing but a long, multifaceted process at play.”

I returned to my old hometown area last summer and I’ve found surprising optimism when I network with alumni at my alma mater, Wayne State University – located in the heart of a thriving midtown area.  My own past experience with renewal in some formerly crime-ridden and decaying areas of Brooklyn also makes me see possibility where others see disaster. Now a new book from the Brookings Institution Press also sounds an optimistic note on reviving our struggling urban centers across the country – The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy by Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz.  In a recent interview on NPR, Katz echoed the sentiments of the Detroit Free Press that the revival has already begun and adds that it is actually part of a national trend http://www.brookings.edu/research/books/2013/the-metropolitan-revolution

I hope readers will take a moment to follow both links above and get a clearer picture of my old hometown and see why I refuse to give up hope for the future!

Costco Bucks the Economic Trends – and Forges Ahead!

I’ve loved Costco ever since my days in California where my late husband and I entertained a lot, so loved to buy bulk, and also loved the discounts on gas in the land of never-ending freeways. Still, I never thought much about why Costco was so successful.  Now I’m finding from recent articles in Fortune (3/18/2013) and Bloomberg Business Week (BBW, 6/10/2013) that while the economy has many large retailers under-performing and also slashing wages, Costco has apparently found a secret to not only weathering the storms, but thriving:  It insists on still paying its employees a fair wage.  The BBW article made Costco its cover story with the headline “The Cheapest, Happiest, Company in the World.”

At a time when small businesses understandably are struggling with wages, even retail tigers like Wal-Mart Stores have kept wages low during the slow recovery.  Costco, on the other hand, is forging ahead by only keeping prices low, while paying its hourly workers an average of $20.89 an hour, not including overtime, according to BBW.  Costco’s CEO Craig Jelinek even put his company’s convictions in ink by urging Congress to increase the federal minimum wage.  “As long as you continue to take care of the customer, take care of employees, and keep your expenses in line, good things are going to happen to you,” he told BBW.

The Bloomberg Business Week article also notes that several other “conscientious companies” are faring well financially, including Nordstrom, the Container Store, Sephora, REI and Whole Foods Market, all known for treating employees well.  Meanwhile Fortune’s annual spring list of Industry Stars, ranking companies by reputation, showed Costco, Whole Foods and Nordstrom ranked high in their categories and overall. BBW notes that only time will tell if Costco’s success will affect the behavior of other companies.  Still, now that my love of entertaining is in full summer gear and I’m at Costco regularly, I feel great knowing that the employees waiting on me are getting a good wage for making me happy – and also boosting the bottom line!  What a wonderful concept.