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"The debate is too much on the risks, without putting them in balance with the benefits." --Sidney Taurel, chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly, on the drug safety issue

Uncle Sam has quietly relaxed security restrictions that had crimped the flow of skilled foreign workers and overseas students into the country. On Feb. 11, the State Dept. extended the duration of visa security clearances for students and persons working in sensitive technical fields such as nuclear engineering. Now, security clearances for students could last four years, up from the previous one-year limit. The clearance for temporary workers has been extended to a maximum of two years.

Leaders in the education and business communities have been urging the government to ease the restrictions, which they say contribute to a decline in top-notch talent. In 2003, the number of student visas issued by the U.S. slid 8%, to 215,694, after falling 20% in 2002. Foreigners make up about half of U.S. graduate science and engineering students. Last year, the number of workers with advanced degrees or skills admitted to the U.S. plunged 65%.

"It will help fight this perception that it's hopeless and hard to get a visa," says Peggy Blumenthal, vice-president of the Institute of International Education, a student-exchange advocacy group. It seems the U.S. is putting the welcome mat out again.

Stephen Hilbert, the founder and former head of insurance conglomerate Conseco (CNO), has always had a taste for the high life: Thoroughbred racehorses, vintage cars, fine wines. Now the public will have a chance to own a slice of that life. During two days starting on Feb. 25, some prized Hilbert possessions will be auctioned off on the grounds of Le Ch?teau Renaissance -- his $25 million, 35-acre former spread in Carmel, Ind.

Items include a 1956 red Ford T-bird, once owned by Madonna; numerous Napoleonic items, including his letters; and some 600 bottles of vintage wines. The public will also find handmade cufflinks and paintings, including two by Edouard Cort?s and one by local rock star John Cougar Mellencamp.

How did it come to this? In October, an Indiana court ruled that Hilbert owed the company $72 million in interest on unpaid stock loans. Hilbert has appealed the judgment, which has been stayed. If he wins, the auction proceeds will be his. Conseco also won a court order allowing it to foreclose on the house. Hilbert and his wife, Tomisue, a former exotic dancer, agreed to move rather than be forced out. Conseco declined to comment, and Hilbert did not return calls.

Want to lure candidates to your board? Make donations in their name. Although only 10% of companies have programs that match their directors' charitable gifts, says consultant Towers Perrin, those who do are an influential bunch, including Altria (MO), General Electric, (GE) IBM (IBM), and McDonald's. (MCD)

Gift-matching provides a powerful noncash incentive for candidates involved in philanthropy -- and for whom a salary is often just a tax burden. GE matches directors one-to-one up to $100,000 and donates $1 million to the charity of a retiree's choice -- as it did to Columbia University in 2002 on behalf of Gertrude Michelson.

Unlike practices at scandal-racked outfits such as Fannie Mae (FNM), Tyco (TYC), and Enron, which raised conflict-of-interest questions for giving heavily to directors' favored charities, these matches usually have a cap of $100,000 a year. Small enough for critics and a nice perk for both directors and nonprofits.

And the 2004 Award for Overall Product Placement goes to...Pepsi (PEP). Online magazine Brandchannel.com, produced by Interbrand, has released its own version of the Oscars for brands that had starring roles in 2004 films. Pepsi earns top honors for scenes in seven movies that topped the box office for at least a week. The award for most press coverage: Audi. Its concept car had nearly nine minutes of screen time in sci-fi thriller I, Robot, drawing media mentions in 40 countries. Apple (AAPL) grabs the Lifetime Achievement Award for Product Placement with Macs in dozens of films since 1986 -- from the slasher flick Seed of Chucky to the romance Something's Gotta Give.

Hanging on to the corner office is getting harder. CEO turnover at 1,000 large companies jumped from 44 departures in 2002 to 97 in 2004, says a survey by public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller and executive trainer RHR International.

Boards, less tolerant of failure, are giving CEOs an average of 18 months to prove themselves. "Boards are viewing everything with an eagle eye," says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief research officer at Burson-Marsteller. She predicts that in 2005 directors will cut laggards loose even faster.

Piloting mutual-fund researcher Morningstar through an auction-style initial public offering will keep CEO Joe Mansueto busy in coming months. But if he wants to take a break, he can do so with Time Out Chicago, a weekly magazine he'll help launch on Mar. 3.

Mansueto, 48, is a 50% partner in the new glossy, sharing ownership with Time Out New York. Like the quirky, nine-year-old New York version, Time Out Chicago will offer arts and entertainment listings -- with lots of cheeky commentary. It's the first step in expanding the U.S. presence of London's Time Out Group; Mansueto says he's interested only in the Chicago edition.

Mansueto, who started Morningstar in 1984 in his one-bedroom Chicago apartment, lost out to Tribune Co. (TRB) in the bidding for Chicago Magazine in 2002. His history in publishing goes back to high school in northwestern Indiana, when he worked as a sports stringer for a local paper. "I'm a magazine junkie," he says. Now he has a solid fix.

David Geffen, CEO of DreamWorks SKG, will admit to something that few among Hollywood's glitterati might: When he started out he "really didn't have any big plans." As a boy in Brooklyn, he never dreamed he would someday own an independent music label, help start a movie studio (with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg), and become one of America's top philanthropists. No, that wasn't in the cards. BusinessWeek Editor-in-Chief Stephen B. Shepard spoke with Geffen on Feb. 17 as part of the Captains of Industry series at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y. Some edited excerpts:

If he were just starting out:

I wouldn't go into the entertainment business. It's too expensive to make the product. The chances of hitting a home run are smaller and smaller and smaller. I would go into computers, the Internet business. I would like to be one of the guys who invented Google (GOOG). That sounds like a good job.

Dealing with piracy:

The film business has been smarter about pricing [to discourage piracy]. The record industry, when the cost of manufacturing went down, raised prices. That was a big mistake. The soundtrack of Jaws costs more than the DVD. The movie business priced DVDs correctly. Every six months, it lowers prices.

Early troubles at DreamWorks:

A couple of times we were on the verge of bankruptcy. When we made Sinbad we lost $125 million. We just didn't understand how challenging it was to start a company -- where you have to put your entire infrastructure in place with no product going through it. Also, the cost of making [and marketing] movies escalated beyond anything we imagined.

Animation vs. live-action films:

The animation company has a market cap of over $4 billion and the whole company has a market cap well over $5 billion. The animation business is infinitely more profitable.

Walt Disney's problems:

Over the past 10 years, Disney (DIS) has been a sieve in which incredibly talented people have either been fired or left because of the atmosphere there -- beginning with Jeffrey Katzenberg.

How he invests:

I met Eddie Lampert [whose fund now controls Kmart (KMRT)] when he was 25. In 1991 I gave him $200 million to invest. He has compounded annually since then at 30% a year. So you can figure that out for yourself.

Hillary Clinton for President in 2008:

I hope not. She can't win, and she's an incredibly polarizing figure. I think ambition is not a good enough reason.


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