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"Freedom means freedom for everyone." -- Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose daughter Mary is a lesbian, opposing a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage Say this much for Barry Diller: The man doesn't run and hide when things go wrong. The oft-combative CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI
) has taken his lumps from Wall Street since second-quarter earnings on Aug. 3 missed analysts' revenue targets in IAC's key online-travel business. And Diller made things worse when he got testy under questioning during the post-earnings analyst conference call.
But in an Aug. 5 e-mail to IAC employees, which Diller provided to BusinessWeek, he took the blame for what he called a "lame" and "far too defensive" performance. Diller told workers the problem was that he and top execs set expectations too high at a November, 2003, investor day. "The higher truth is we did disappoint the estimates for growth set by our own hands," Diller wrote.
In a gesture that may please critics who fear Diller will make acquisitions that dilute IAC's stock, the note also signals that IAC's growth plans are focused on existing businesses, such as pushing into the nascent Asian e-travel market. But the road back to Wall Street's good graces may not be short or smooth: IAC shares, at $24.23, are still down about 43% from their peak in July, 2003.To see Diller's full e-mail, click here Finally, some good news for MBA graduates. Driven by an unexpected hiring surge from consulting firms and banks, an estimated 85% of graduates at BusinessWeek's Top 30 Business Schools secured jobs by graduation day, up from 65% last year. "We didn't expect a whole lot, but this year surprised us," says Matt Merrick, director of MBA career services at Harvard Business School. Salaries and bonuses also have edged up. Students say that the rate for a consulting slot is up about 5%, to $105,000 -- with a signing bonus of around $15,000.
Investment banks and consultancies -- which typically hire 65% of all top MBA grads -- seem to be gaining enough confidence in the business climate to boost hiring.
At Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, for instance, McKinsey took on 54 students by graduation this year, up from 40 in 2003.
Will it last? Consulting firms are planning more fall inter-views than last year. But most employers have moved toward "just-in-time" hiring in the spring instead of hiring in the fall. Students may have to wait a little longer to find out if they have jobs. Still, a delay is better than having to pound the pavement all summer. Is your cigarette genuine? A recent Government Accountability Office report says counterfeit smokes are now the item most often seized by U.S. Customs over knockoff handbags, watches, and apparel. While $5 million worth of bogus butts were stopped at the border in 2001, the total leaped to $45 million in 2003. The rise is mainly attributed to state and local tax hikes on cigarettes -- as much as $3 per pack in New York City. "[It's] a significant profit motive," says Jack Holleran of Philip Morris USA. (MO
Many of the bogus cigs hail from China, where organized crime has the wherewithal to produce and smuggle them for sale on the black market, says Jerry Bowerman of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
Help could come soon. The Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act would give the ATF the ability to sell counterfeits undercover and would lower the felony threshold for smuggling from 60,000 cigarettes to 10,000. Unfortunately for smokers, lowering taxes hasn't been discussed. Sesame Street's newest shingle is in Afghanistan. Episodes from the Egyptian version, translated into Dari, are playing at schools, women's centers, and orphanages. Koche Sesame, as it's called, teaches literacy and hygiene. Women's rights, too, are emphasized through the star -- Gulabi, an ambitious, pink female Muppet who dreams of a career as a doctor or lawyer. Since less than 2% of Afghans have access to TVs, community screenings in remote villages have been arranged. Next stop: Kosovo, where Sesame will air in November. Ever wonder how advertising execs can help sell bogus diet supplements or "safer" cigarettes? Apparently, it's "moral myopia," a condition that keeps them silent about ethical quandaries, notes a study of 29 ad agencies. The study says ad execs get so immersed in clients' corporate culture that they lose their objectivity.
There were exceptions: Some 20% of the execs said they discussed moral issues with co-workers and clients. Sounds good, but how much truth in advertising -- or in ad agencies -- is there anyway? He knew a genre had gone missing. Pulp fiction. Dime novels. Hard-boiled crime stories. He knew this damn world wasn't the same without it. His gut told him he had to bring it back. His name? Charles Ardai.
A skinny fella with the look of a mob accountant, Ardai had a plan and a partner, Dor-chester Publishing. Come September, Ardai, 35, who co-founded Juno Online Services, would pump out 12 pulp novels over two years, part of his Hard Case Crime series. Dames on the cover and everything.
Six novels would be from new authors, in-cluding Ardai writing as...Richard Aleas. Six would be reprints of classic writers such as Erle Stanley Gardner, who helped define pulp's heyday 50 years ago. Ardai figured people would pay $6.99 a book. Hell, it's a bargain, he told himself. "I want to give people a taste of the old books that will stand up today." Gutsy move, pal. You know those rrring, rrring, rrring sounds you hear before the friend you've just called answers her cell? Soon they could be history. Instead, you might dial the number and listen to Britney Spears singing Oops!...I Did It Again while you wait for your friend to pick up.
Something like that might be your first encounter with a "ringback tone." Having already signed up thousands of users in cell-phone-mad Asia, this new wireless service could be coming to the U.S. soon. Telcos including Verizon Wireless (VZ
), Sprint PCS (PCS
), and Nextel Communications (NXTL
) are all considering offering the service.
For a monthly subscription fee of only $2 to $5 -- plus, say, $1 for each song -- customers get yet another way to personalize their phones beyond the already popular ringtones -- those melodies phones play in lieu of ringing. Your best friend might buy a new Avril Lavigne ringback, with the lyric "Don't try to tell me what to do" for when her mother calls. And a caller who owes your friend money might hear Liza Minnelli's rendition of Money, Money from the musical Cabaret.
The idea is expected to appeal to teens especially. The worldwide market for ringbacks is projected to grow from $148 million last year to $2.4 billion by 2008, says consultancy Ovum.
Ringback tunes can be heard by callers from any kind of telephone -- wireless or not. And they don't have to be songs: They can be jokes, clips of celebrity voices, or even advertisements. Of course, for some people that might be a level of torture that rivals voice mail.