"They've heard our concerns; they are acting on our concerns." -- Reverend Donald Wildmon on Ford Motor pulling some ads from gay publications under threat of a boycott
While Delta Air Lines (DAL) and its pilots struggle over hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to keep planes in the air, a former executive is fighting to keep her lifetime first-class flying privileges. Former Chief Financial Officer M. Michele Burns has asked a bankruptcy judge to protect that perk, which she negotiated for herself and her family before departing Delta in 2004. In September, Delta asked the court to reject all such arrangements with former execs. Burns is the only one to file a challenge, arguing in a Nov. 30 filing that Delta "will incur few or no actual costs or expenses" by continuing to provide free first-class travel on Delta planes because "there generally are empty seats on [Delta's] aircraft."
In 2002, Burns was one of 35 top Delta executives whose pension payments were guaranteed, even if the airline terminated employee plans. And the ill-fated decision to sell all of Delta's fuel hedges -- just as prices began spiking -- occurred on her watch. Burns, who became CFO and later chief restructuring officer at energy company Mirant (MIRKQ), could not be reached for comment. But if Burns manages to keep her flight pass, she shouldn't expect a warm welcome from Delta workers on the ramp.
Maybe it's the steady clip of corporate profits and sales growth. Or perhaps everyone just needs a breather after a year of pretty glum news about war, hurricanes, and earthquakes. But there's a feeling in the air we haven't seen in a long time about the company holiday party. Here's a sampler of bashes that'll probably be more interesting than yours:
GOOGLE: (GOOG) Flush with hundreds of instant millionaires, Google commandeered Pier 48 on San Francisco Bay on Dec. 2. The theme: "Jetaway with Google Air." Multifarious rooms each portrayed a far-flung destination. Googlers drank and played darts with green-painted men in a Dublin-themed room, drank and sang karaoke in a Tokyo homage, and drank and danced in an ersatz London club. Details, fittingly, can be found all over the Web.
YAHOO! (YHOO) In a retro flourish, '70s funk act Earth, Wind, & Fire laid down the groove for about 7,000 employees (left). The theme was "Yahoo! Bayou," and Cajun cuisine seems to have sated the Yahoos in attendance. But one couldn't help gushing on a blog about the mashed potato bar, where caviar was a featured topping. A Yahoo rep assured us the band "rocked out."
NBC UNIVERSAL: Hollywood brass loves to reward worker bees with sneak peeks of hotly anticipated flicks. That's exactly what employees of NBC Universal, and "members of their immediate household," were promised: a Dec. 8 preview showing of Peter Jackson's much-awaited epic King Kong.
D.E. SHAW: Wall Street bankers are mum about what they will do with millions in bonus bucks. But we did learn that D.E. Shaw, one of the biggest hedge funds, will host Cirque du Soleil (right). Shaw owns FAO Schwarz and held last year's party at the retailer's famous Fifth Avenue location.
CDW: The computer seller is famous for its holiday parties, believed to be the largest in the Chicago area. It usually lays out $1 million for the event, flying in employees from various locations and putting them up for a weekend. This year? CDW will turn over its party budget to Hurricane Katrina relief.
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) has been on a charm offensive lately, trying to polish its image. The effort isn't playing in Peoria, however. In that quintessential American town, the buzz is all about the retailer's penny-pinching. Wal-Mart made front-page news in November by trying to cut its property taxes in East Peoria. Lured by a five-year tax holiday, the $288.2 billion company built a superstore in 1998 on what had been a vacant 19-acre lot. When the break expired, local authorities sent Wal-Mart a tax bill for $304,000 a year, mostly for local schools. Claiming its store's value has been overassessed, Wal-Mart is asking an Illinois appeals board to drop its levy by a third. A Wal-Mart official said the appeal is no different than a homeowner challenging a rising property tax bill. Harrumphed the Peoria Journal Star in an editorial: "The audacity of the world's largest company is breathtaking."
The tax flap comes only months after L.R. Nelson, a Peoria company that makes garden sprinklers, fired 100 full-time employees and sent their work to China. President Dave Eglinton says Wal-Mart wanted lower prices, and after Nelson lost its business with Home Depot (HD) to Chinese imports, the company couldn't risk a cutback by its biggest customer, too.
Sony (SNE), under fire for spreading spyware on music CDs, is spreading graffiti, too. Spray-painted, bug-eyed kids playing with Sony PlayStation Portables (PSPs) started popping up in November on buildings in New York, Los Angeles, and other cities. The slightly creepy, logo-free images sparked Web rumors that rivals such as Microsoft (MSFT) were trying to make trouble. But a Sony official confirms it commissioned the ads from professional graffiti artists at New York agency TATS CRU. Some disgruntled residents have been defacing the images. But Sony seems to be in the clear this time: TATS CRU co-founder Sotero "BG 183" Ortiz says the outfit contracts for the spaces it paints.
WHY READ IT: To track the nitty-gritty of media and entertainment going digital. Rafat Ali and Staci Kramer combine links to articles with original reporting.
NOTABLE POST: A confrontation between Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons and MoveOn.org, which thinks job cuts undermine the press's watchdog role: "[Noah] Winer tried to give FitzSimons the box of petitions. Holding a tape recorder, Winer asked repeatedly if he would meet with 'his customers.' FitzSimons looked at him and said, `No."'
For the second time in five years, 3M is tapping an outsider to fill its corner office. But this time the new CEO arrives with a lot less fanfare. On Dec. 7, 3M named Brunswick CEO George Buckley chairman and CEO. He succeeds James McNerney, who left St. Paul (Minn.)-based 3M last July to head Boeing (BA). Before becoming the first outsider to lead 103-year-old 3M, McNerney was in the running to head up General Electric (GE).
Buckley, 58, has a low profile even in the Chicago area. He joined Lake Forest (Ill.) - based Brunswick in 1997, from Emerson Electric, and rose to CEO in 2000. He beefed up Brunswick's pleasure-boat brands, which include Boston Whaler and Sea Ray. That helped to nearly double the stock price in three years.
But Brunswick is barely a quarter the size of 3M, which had sales of $20 billion in 2004. And lately, 3M has been hit by high materials costs. Buckley will have to figure out how to make this big boat gain speed.
They're silent hunters on your PC, stalking every Q, W, E, R, T, and Y as you type. Keylogging programs are the hottest tool used by cybercriminals to pickpocket bank accounts and personal data. The software is cheap, or even free, and widely available in underground chat rooms. Hackers and identity thieves have unleashed more than 6,000 unique keylogging programs in 2005, up from just 275 in 2001, estimates cybersecurity company iDEFENSE.
Most malicious keylogger software is installed remotely when unwary surfers visit corrupt Web sites or download applications such as file-sharing systems. It's programmed to send stolen info to databases, mostly offshore, where hackers sift through it for passwords, user names, and account numbers. "Keylogging can be used to steal anything," says Joseph Payne, president of iDEFENSE, a unit of network security outfit Verisign.
Indeed, the applications have been staggering. WareSight, a San Diego software company, sells 007 Keylogger Spy for $39.95. The motto on its Web site: "Investigate your spouse, kids, employees, and more..." One posted testimonial thanks the company for helping a husband find out his wife was sleeping with her boss. WareSight says its program doesn't steal anything because it's installed by the PC owner. In February, a student at Clements High School in Sugar Land, Tex., was charged with a misdemeanor for installing a keystroke decoder on the back of his teacher's computer. He recorded her typed answers to exams, deciphered them at home, and tried to sell them to other students. Another reason why handwritten notes may be the most secure way to communicate these days.
Tweens are turning up their noses at toys. But Hasbro (HAS) may have a winning strategy to lure back these 8- to 12-year-olds. Its researchers found they are fascinated with "toys" adults use -- cell phones, video cameras, etc. But parents often won't spring for the real thing. "So we try to empower [the kids], but in a safe way," says Sharon John, general manager of Hasbro's Big Kids division.
Take the new ChatNow Communicator. The walkie-talkie looks like a cell phone and lets kids send text messages, take pictures, and call friends within two miles. Sales are so brisk that a bidding war broke out on eBay (EBAY), where a set sold for $170 -- over twice suggested retail. Hasbro is also scoring with its $80 VCam Now video camera and I-Dog, a plastic muttthat adopts a personality when you plug in an MP3 player.