Monthly Archives: June 2002

Another Business Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, twenty-five years ago, my widowed mother dated the CEO of a public multi-national paper company. The company, Saxon Industries, was formed as the result of a series of mergers and acquisitions among small paper companies, and its first CEO had been one of the smaller companies� owners, a friend of our family named Mike Berman. Berman Paper Company had swallowed a larger company, become listed on the NYSE, and gone on to eat several other companies. Follow me to the end of this, because there’s a lesson here.
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As a friend and neighbor of Berman, my father had been the architect of the roll-up, and was still on the board of Saxon Industries at the moment of his untimely death. A CPA, Stan Lurie, was the CFO, although they didn�t call it that at the time. A reasonable time after my father died, my mother began dating Stan (who was married). A reasonable time after that, Mike Berman mysteriously ran his car into the side of a tunnel on a freeway in Westchester, and Stan became the CEO of Saxon Industries.

I never liked Stan.

Young and idealistic, I didn�t like business either. But I really thought Stan, in business or in person, was a slime ball. Of course I told this to my mother, who merely responded that I wouldn�t like *anyone* she dated, because he wasn�t my real father. That was one hundred per cent true, so I was on shaky ground with regard to moral authority, even though I believed I knew something.

For years, Stan tried to buy my affection and that of my young children. When my first child was born, he sent a sidecar of disposable diapers to my house (they were a novelty at the time, and his company manufactured them). Every time he and my mother visited our home in Phoenix (which was a geodesic dome heated with solar energy) from New York, he took my children shopping and to fancy resorts. In contrast, my husband and I didn�t even have a telephone in the house and were growing a vegetable garden with a compost pit.

Even our dogs knew Stan was a loser. We warned Stan that the male dog was a biter, but he arrogantly said �you�ll see, if I don�t show fear, he won�t bite me.� We had to cart Stan off to the hospital in his three-piece suit after Tiaba ripped into his leg.

Time passed, and computers became more common in large companies. Saxon Industries appeared to thrive, until one day my mother called and told me Stan had been indicted — for white collar crime. She was sure he had done nothing wrong. I was sure my moment of justification had arrived.

As the SEC investigations unfolded, it turned out that Stan had used the computer to falsify revenues by adding days to the year; days on which sales were booked that rightfully belonged to the following year. My mother thought that being indicted for this was grossly unfair. Stan, she said, had only been trying to save people�s jobs by keeping the company going.

The company quickly unraveled and ceased to exist. Stan went to a minimum security prison in Florida, with the Gucci heirs and other tax evaders. The shareholders lost everything. The vendors got caught in the bankruptcy. The employees filed for unemployment. I wasn�t one of any of them, so I felt vindicated.

What is the lesson from this? Nothing has changed. Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, and Worldcom are the Saxon Industries of today. A greedy CEO is a greedy CEO in the old or the new economy, and a cheater is a cheater � on his wife or on his shareholders.



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Over the glassed-in check-in counter

Over the glassed-in check-in counter was a lighted moving sign, flashing the words “computer displays,” followed by a date in 1996 and a random time. The sign, which was probably purchased as a way to tell visitors the rules of the establishment, had never even been programmed. The change machine was out of change, and the pop machine was out of pop. Who cared?

The lobby was a metaphor for the lost, ignored segment of society inhabiting this building: the Maricopa County Towers Jail. Very seldom do I admit that I’d like to blow up the government and start all over again. But for me, the part ineptly designated as the “criminal justice” or “corrections” system is a huge fundamental failure. There is no justice for most criminals, and nothing is ever corrected.

When was the last time you visited someone in jail? For me, it was never. Most of my friends and family don’t make a habit of going to jail, and I’m not a criminal attorney or a social worker.

But my former foster son is in prison for two years. For breaking and entering. But really for crack addiction. and more really, for untreated mental health problems.

He was making a brief appearance at the Maricopa County Jail to be sentenced for yet another offense before being transferred back to prison for two years, and his sister and I decided to visit him last weekend.

LJ lived with us for seven years, from the time he was ten and was removed from his crack-addicted mother’s house to the time he ran away from the group home I sent him to after discovering he was doing drugs in my house. During that time, the village that is my friend/family network helped me try to raise him. We tutored him, diagnosed him, counseled him, medicated him, sheltered him, and loved him. We gave him “every advantage.”

But we didn’t get him early enough, and he was streetwise enough to con us into thinking he was becoming a nice middle class kid when actually he was still hanging around his old neighborhood.

Eventually, he got caught trying to support his drug habit and got sent to jail. After repeated non-compliance with the terms of his probation, he was sent to prison. Heartbroken, I put him out of my mind until he landed back in the jail and started calling us collect to speak to us.

So here we were, Amanda the newly-enrolled college student (his younger sister) and I, on a Sunday afternoon, stripping off our rings and earrings and anything else that could set off the metal detector, cooling our heels until the big iron door groaned open and we were allowed in.

We hadn’t seen Jerry in two years, and we both burst into tears when he sat down opposite us in the visiting area(no hugging, no kissing, no putting hands under the table). He seemed cheerful enough, but he was wearing stripes, just like in a movie. He told us that there were no classes in the jail, and no jobs, because jail was supposed to be temporary.

He had been away from prison for two months for this new trial and sentencing, which had interrupted his progress toward the GED. And now that he was being “page twoed” (brought back from prison to stand trial for more offenses), he would probably not be allowed to go back to “his yard” when he got back to the prison.

The new yard would be a medium security, rather than a minimum security, yard, and he would not be allowed to go to school or work for six months. I saw his life slipping by, waiting for various trials and sentencings to occur, serving the time until he could continue his education.

Worse, when he moved from jail to prison, the mental health benefits he previously “enjoyed” (he had gotten evaluated although not treated) were no longer in force.

I’m usually a pretty resourceful person, but between the bars and the barbed wire, the stripes and the searches, I was stymied. Lamely, I offered to send him a personally selected “great books” program so he could at least further his education by reading. Amanda couldn’t even speak.

When we left, we were both drained and bummed. Almost a year in jail and prison had already passed for Jerry, and two more were to come. What would happen to him when he got out? Who would employ him? What skills would he have? How would he live? Already he was referring to prison as “my yard;” he was comfortable there, with his three hots and a cot.

As if to underline the difference, we raced off to where we were comfortable: Houston’s.



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The AOL Buddy List is

The AOL Buddy List is going big time. As usual, teenagers started it and the rest of us are catching up. My niece has had a buddy list since she got on the computer five years ago, and she got my brother going. Although somewhat of a Luddite, he still thought it was cool to know when your friends and family were online so you could �chat� in real time. I fought this friends and family chat stuff madly, because I already had an onslaught of email every day that resisted even the most disciplined processing.

But a scant few years later, I have my own list of clients and friends that I IM all day as I sit at the computer doing my business. They include my two daughters in the Bay area and my stepson in Boston, whose wife is expecting a baby, as well as the owner of an interactive agency and a CIO-type. Many of them wouldn�t be caught dead on AOL, so they are using the more �sophisticated� products: MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. None of these Instant Messenger products interchange with or talk to each other, so most people have several accounts.

I know who is online, no matter what product they use, even if I don�t use it myself, because I have a special piece of software on my computer called Trillian, which aggregates all the different IM clients into one integrated list. I know who is online all day, and who checks email once. Because I�m online so much, I often catch the slackers who dial in for an hour while they are deleting their daily doses of spam.

IM gives its users enormous satisfaction, and I think I know why. It gives the writer immediate gratification, a sense of real connection, and nobody uses it for advertising (yet).

Sending an email is like leaving a voicemail or writing a letter: you don�t know when the other person will receive your communication. In some cases, this is good; the asynchronous nature of email was a huge convenience for people who batch process information. These folks could read and respond to all their emails at 3 AM without offending anyone.

But for people like me, who like instantaneous responses, instant messaging is much more fulfilling. You can ask someone a question, and if they are actually online, they will answer immediately. And you can sit on a conference call and simultaneously IM your mother, killing two birds with one stone.

The other neat thing about instant messaging is that it vanishes from your computer. It doesn�t accumulate in your Inbox, like a silent reproach for your inattention, or in your Deleted Items folder, where your boss can find it and accuse you of giving away trade secrets. It�s like knocking on a door and finding someone home — or not. You can just go on to the next house.

Thus, instant messaging has become big in business. It will be part of other tools, including file-sharing and video conferencing, and packaged as collaboration solutions. And collaboration solutions will be the next big productivity advance for the enterprise, much as desktop productivity was.

But there�s a difference between desktop productivity suites and collaboration solutions. Desktop suites made things easier for individuals; collaboration solutions make things easier for groups. This is important because it acknowledges something I first read in a poem by John Donne: �No man is an Islande, entire of itself�� (That would be Meditation XVII)

Apparently, Instant Messaging is being *demanded* of companies by their employees, who have gone around internal systems and are using the common IM clients to pass messages to the guy in the cubicle down the hall, as easily as to the guy at the Pakistan sales office. Much of what is happening in offices thus happens outside the firewalls, the secure access systems, and the other stuff CIOs have spent money on for years. What is more, it doesn�t leave a record or an audit trail.

In marketing, this kind of product acceptance is called �pull� � it is widely used by pharmaceutical companies running ads on TV that say things like �ask your doctor if Celebrex is right for you.� It is the most effective form of marketing there is, and it�s the reason companies also support Palm Pilots and I-Paqs: employees bought them and used them with or without company approval.

�Pull� only happens when you have a product the customer *really* feels he needs. If anyone had remembered that, we would have avoided many of the dot-com failures.



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What were *you* doing on

What were *you* doing on Tuesday night? Myself, I was kickin’ it at the Snoop Dogg concert. Ya shoulda been there, bro. Ya woulda been stunned.

There is a whole other “music” out there that those of us who are mired in the old culture never see. This music speaks to urban youth, especially to the disenfranchised. It expresses their lives and their attitudes and their anger. It tells the story of how kids from the ghetto become their own bosses, take control of their lives. It�s probably not a story most of us want to hear, and it�s not told in the most politically correct language. But if we want to understand what our kids are learning, we should probably be listening. In this spirit, I took my foster daughter, Amanda, to see her first concert.

Although the concert began at 8, the Dogg himself did not come on until 10:30. It takes about two hours to get the audience high enough and worked up enough to appreciate him.

The youthful audience, all colors, sizes and shapes, wanders aimlessly around the theatre during the opening acts, buying drinks and smoking pot. Nothing new here except the pot; at most concerts the audience arrives late and mills around through the opening acts. However, at most concerts, the kids get high first, before they go into the venue. How did I know they were smoking pot? It was everywhere in the air. No one made a pretense of hiding it. I come from an era in which if you brought a lighter to a concert, you could have been busted. Now, the legalization of marijuana would just codify what is already happening.

While we got in shape for the Dogg, two local rap groups, Ten Commandments and Poker Face, got to show the disaffected audience their stuff. The guys from Ten Commandments stomped lamely around the stage grabbing their private parts (or was it holding up their baggy pants?) and yelling into the mikes. I’m not sure the listeners understood one word of what they were saying, because they didn’t enunciate –at least not in a language I could understand — nor did they appear to realize how a microphone works, but they rapped with incredible energy. They were definitely pissed about something.

In between acts, the local hip-hop station’s DJs, two fat white guys in shorts, reminded us why we came: “Didja come ta see tha Dogg?”

More important: here at this concert there were *no* musicians and, by normal standards, no music. Not one single person, not even in the Doggy All Stars, plays a musical instrument. Instead, the rappers talk while a turntable-ist, or DJ, plays records that he starts and stops with his fingers. This is called, for obvious reasons, “scratching.” It produces a compelling sound and a hypnotic beat to which the rappers rap.

Finally, after an eternity during which I fought sleep, the Dogg himself came on. In case you have never seen him up close, Snoop Dogg (the artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg) is a tall, slender, black man with very carefully braided hair. He wore about ten pounds of gold chain around his neck, with a replica of a police badge as a pendant. He not only smoked dope on stage, he blew the smoke in the audience’s face and announced that he was high.

He travels with an entourage, the Doggy All Stars, that takes the stage with him, and –I guess — accompanies his raps.

Apparently, Snoop is in the middle of a trial for possession of marijuana during a tour in Ohio. One of the last living gangsta rappers (after the death of Tupac Sahkur and Notorious B.I.G.), Snoop was also accused of being an accomplice to a murder in 1995, which set his career back somewhat. In his biography (, I found out that music had “saved him from a life of crime,” which I took to mean that now that he’s famous, he’s harder to convict of the crimes he continues to commit.

But as soon as he takes the stage he is charismatic. The audience snapped to attention, rose to its feet, then rose to stand on the chairs. They knew every word of every song, including the ones in which Snoop announces the purpose of women, which is to perform fellatio on men.

Half of the audience was female, and I asked my foster daughter how young women felt about these lyrics. “Oh, they don’t think it’s about them,” she said casually. “He’s singing about ho-s, not about us.” Whatever.

I think I understand. It certainly wasn’t about me, either, but I was really glad to be there.



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Last week-end, I went to a yoga retreat

Last week-end, I went to a yoga retreat ten miles down a dirt road in the middle of the national forest that surrounds Sedona, Arizona. Amid the glorious red rocks and the Korean-influenced vegetarian food at the Sedona Healing Resort, about twenty of us tried to make it to enlightenment without wine, TV, cell phones, radios, and protein. (After day 1, someone went into town and brought back chocolate, thank God).

The theme of this retreat was “Remembering Your True Self.” Part of the retreat consisted of journaling, answering the question “Who am I?” In order to get to that question, we had to answer several others, including 1)who would you like to apologize to, 2)who would you like to forgive, 3)what was the worst part of your childhood, and 4)what are you really done with.

The point of this exercise was that we carry small things with us for a long time, and often we’re not even aware of the burden we have been carrying. But that burden determines who we are.

The question of “Who am I?” came up again this week in another, very dissimilar context: a workshop Stealthmode Partners sponsored called “Creating a Corporate Culture.” Joelle Hadley, one of the best management consultants and presenters I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen many), was leading the participants through some formulas for productive and successful cultures.

I know I will not get this exactly right, but here’s an approximation of one of them:
A + (S+K)+G =IRPP, which means that an employee’s attitude, plus the sum of his skill sets and knowledge, plus a set of defined goals, adds up to the internal rate of personal productivity.

This attitude stuff is important, because we all bring our attitudes with us to work every morning. A corporate culture is made up of the attitudes of all the company’s employees. And our attitudes are, in most cases, subconscious and negative.

That means either we don’t know who we are (we don’t remember our true selves), or our concept of who we are is negative.

It’s hard to build a productive workplace or a personal relationship on unacknowledged or negative self-concepts. No wonder most companies end up swamped in office politics, petty infighting, and lost productivity. Joelle told us that employee surveys reveal 76% of the workforce is either “just showing up” or overtly hostile to the company that pays the bills (think Dilbert). There’s always a corporate culture, but it often doesn’t serve the corporation.

What’s the cure? According to Joelle, managers must bring their whole selves to work. This means abandoning the “game” face most of us use at the office, and really connecting with colleagues and employees. Apparently, attitudes, even long held, can be changed if a manager (managers are unbelievably powerful) contributes to an employee’s self-esteem rather than destroys it. And employees who have higher self-esteem make greater contributions to the company.

The five biggest motivators for employees are personal praise, written praise, promotion for performance, public praise and motivational meetings. Notice that money does not figure in these top five. No one wants to answer the question “who am I?” as “I am a paid mercenary.” But most people get only routine, impersonal feedback from their colleagues, and no praise for jobs well done.

Most managers take very little time to connect on a personal level with their employees. In fact, because of all the EEOC rules and the harrassment and diversity training that’s out there, I bet most mangers are *afraid* to talk to their employees. Unfortunately, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner.

I have always brought my whole self to work. I haven’t had a choice; I’m out of control. In teaching college, it worked. In public relations, it sometimes did not. At Intel, it *really* did not. Intel’s corporate culture regurgitated me after a year. They didn’t have to fire me; I quit.

Now, as I am helping startup companies, I understand that if you begin with a corporate culture that encourages employees to bring their whole selves to work, you eventually develop a work culture that’s as strong as(or stronger than) a family. During the dot-com era, many companies had cultures that were so strong they kept people at work for days and nights on end. Articles appeared in magazines criticizing these companies for trying to replace the family. Yet the people who worked for dot coms felt ownership in the companies and were willing to give their best efforts. Now, the pendulum has swung the other way as companies once again downsize through a recession.

Imagine the other people on the retreat with me remembering their true selves in Sedona. Then the retreat is over, and they’re back at work. They have done all the work to remember who they are, and perhaps they have actually brought their whole selves to work. After all that effort, no one notices. Bummer. Back to the game face. I’m outta here.



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