"The ol' dollar -- it's gonna go down." --Bill Gates, in a Jan. 28 interview with Charlie Rose on recent currency fluctuations and shorting the dollar
Since leaving executive posts at America Online (TWX) in 2002, David Colburn and Myer Berlow have resurfaced at IDT, a phone company in Newark, N.J. The pair left the online service after the Securities & Exchange Commission and Justice Dept. launched probes into the accounts of AOL's ad deals. Colburn, ex-president of AOL's business affairs unit, and Berlow, ex-president of AOL's interactive marketing unit, cut many of those deals. Neither has been named in pending federal investigations. On Dec. 15, Time Warner entered into a settlement with Justice and a tentative settlement with the SEC, without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
While Colburn and Berlow are listed in IDT's phone directory, they're not on the payroll, says an IDT spokesman. Berlow says he is not involved with the company, but working on charities, including an anti-spouse-abuse group, with IDT Chairman Howard Jonas. He says he isn't working with Colburn. The IDT spokesman was unable to find out what Colburn is doing. Colburn did not return calls for comment.
It's hard to blame Microsoft (MSFT) Chief Executive Steven Ballmer for roiling one of India's largest public companies. But it's hard to ignore his role, either. On Nov. 17, Ballmer gave a speech to execs in Bombay. All seemed well when Mukesh Ambani, chairman of petrochemical giant Reliance Industries, introduced his Stanford University B-School classmate. Then Ballmer joked that neither he nor Ambani had the qualifications to address the group, since neither obtained his MBA.
Dropping out may seem like a small matter in the U.S. But in India, which puts a premium on education, it's a source of shame. Ambani had described himself as a graduate from Stanford -- even in annual reports. The company literature now says Ambani "pursued an MBA from Stanford University."
Ballmer's remark seems to have rattled Ambani. Immediately after the meeting, Ambani told a local reporter the company faced "ownership issues," confirming rumors of a rift between him and younger brother Anil, who co-runs the $16 billion Reliance. Since then, the brothers have fought over the family's 33% stake in Reliance, which could lead to a breakup. Spokesmen for the pair declined comment. And Ballmer? Now he's not talking.
Adriane Brown sees her latest appointment as something of a return to her roots. The newly minted chief executive of Honeywell's (HON) $4.3 billion transportation systems unit has always been fascinated by cars. When she was little, she would hang out in the garage and go to car races with her father. At Corning, she worked her way up to run the automotive-products unit. (GLW) But a few years ago, Brown left that earthbound business to take a management position in Honeywell's aerospace biz.
Now Brown, 46, is back in the automotive business. She says she has big plans for the unit, which makes everything from engine parts to antifreeze. "It's in how you expand," she says. For instance, Honeywell makes turbochargers used to boost car engines that could do the same for train or boat engines. The company's car filtration products could be used in water or cabin air filtration systems, she says. Brown might be back in automotive, but she's looking elsewhere for growth.
In Japan, few rituals are as tightly scripted as the send-off for the dearly departed. The typical Buddhist-inspired funeral involves a pre-cremation gathering, a memorial service, and a cremation ceremony. Despite the $22,000 price tag, most grieving families fork over the yen rather than risk being seen as cheapskates.
Now, though, there's another choice. Thanks to a handful of upstart mortuaries, the traditional funeral may go the way of the 39,000-point Nikkei. Tokyo-based Urban Funes, for example, offers a service for just $3,838. Sales in the year through September rose 50%, to $1.15 million. "The industry is facing radical reform," says Hajime Himonya, editor of SOGI, an industry trade magazine.
The business clearly offers growth dynamics to die for. More than 1 million souls departed for the great beyond in 2003, and that annual tally is expected to increase nearly 50% by 2020.
Discount funeral parlors have injected much-needed price competition into a $15 billion industry. The upstarts are forcing change at Japan's 45,000 old-guard funeral purveyors. Some rates have dropped by half, and "many funeral parlors have gone bankrupt from the recent price competition," says Midori Kotani, an industry analyst with Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. For Japan's graying seniors -- and their families -- the trend is welcome.
Broadcaster Fox Sports (FOX) has told Super Bowl advertisers to nix any direct reference to last year's Janet Jackson imbroglio during the half-time show. But Bob Parsons, president of Go Daddy Group, a top registrar of Web addresses, has found a way around the ban. He's spending $4 million on an ad he hopes will cause a stir. In it, a curvaceous actress goes before a government committee asking approval for a GoDaddy.com ad. She's wearing a top with shoulder straps, and one of them breaks. Fortunately, she catches it in time. "Maybe it should be PG-rated," says Parsons, with a wink.
Parsons' ad plan harks back to the go-go days of the dot-coms. The difference? Go Daddy has $102 million in revenue and $10 million in cash -- even after paying Fox. Parsons plans to watch the game at his Scottsdale (Ariz.) office, munching pretzels and waiting for hits to his Web site.
Who wouldn't want an interest-free loan? If you happen to be a devout Muslim, it's the only option. Paying interest -- riba -- is forbidden. That puts would-be homeowners who are Muslim-American in a bind. Saving to pay for a home in full when housing prices are skyrocketing is nearly impossible.
Now Koran-compatible "Islamic banking" is coming to the U.S. Leading the way is Devon Bank, a small community bank in Chicago owned by the Loundy family, who are Jewish. In January, Freddie Mac (FRE) agreed to buy Devon's Islamic home financing products, freeing up capital for a national expansion. Devon also is working with Fannie Mae (FNM) to develop Koran-compatible home mortgage products. Other banks are starting to offer Islamic services in the U.S., including the University Bank in Ann Arbor and HSBC in New York.
Devon, on Chicago's North Side, anchors a neighborhood that has shifted from Eastern European Jews to Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern Muslims. To meet customers' needs, the bank, which has $261 million in assets, spent two years developing financial products that could conform to Islamic laws and pass the financial scrutiny of U.S. regulators.
Under Murabaha, or installment financing, Devon buys a property chosen by a customer, then turns around and sells it for a price that includes projected interest costs. There is no principal and thus, technically, no interest. Islamic financing is nearly half of Devon's mortgage portfolio.
The bank also offers Koran-friendly financing for commercial real estate, business equipment, and letters of credit. "We are a community bank helping a community that's being underserved," says David Loundy, the bank's legal counsel. "In this case it's the Muslim community." Given an estimated 6 million Muslims in the U.S., that's bound to change.
Jay Leno and David Letterman are taking a beating from a meatball, a milk shake, and an order of fries. Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, with programs such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force -- featuring the three superhero fast-foods -- is the top-rated show on late-night TV in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old male category. The show whips Leno and Letterman in the Nielsen ratings by 26%. Advertisers were skeptical at first, but brands like Toyota (TM), Nokia (NOK), and Pizza Hut (YUM) have seen the light. Adult Swim accounts for 30% of the Time Warner network's total ad revenue.