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"We are not going to do anything stupid." -- Google CFO George Reyes, to AP, countering speculation that the company will change its philosophy after missing analysts' earnings estimates

Big news on the cholesterol-fighting front: In a little-noticed statement in early January, Pfizer (PFE) CEO Henry McKinnell held out the possibility that Pfizer would make a crucial product it is developing for raising good cholesterol, or HDL, available for use with other companies' heart drugs. That's a major change from Pfizer's clearly articulated plan to develop the drug, torcetrapib, in a single pill including its $12 billion statin Lipitor, which is prescribed separately to lower bad cholesterol. Critics slammed Pfizer, saying some patients who could benefit from the HDL drug don't need Lipitor.

Now McKinnell is singing a different tune. At a Morgan Stanley (MWD) conference he said Pfizer would consider making torcetrapib available with other statins. A spokesperson says Pfizer never ruled that out. But Jami Rubin, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, says Pfizer's position has shifted and is likely "a reaction to political pressure from the [FDA] and the medical community." Also a factor, perhaps: Roche is developing a stand-alone HDL-raising drug. If Roche succeeds and Pfizer doesn't adjust, it may be at a disadvantage.

You can take the mogul out of show biz -- but if you're Barry Diller, it's hard to stay away. With his hiring of British TV exec Michael Jackson on Jan. 29, the CEO of Internet retailing giant IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI) is trying to tap the small but fast-growing world of online entertainment. Jackson, who created shows like Trading Spaces, wants to create or buy programs with links to Diller's shopping assets, such as Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster, and Match.com. (Imagine a music video that clicks over to ticket sales for the performer.) Within hours of his hiring, investment bankers were scrambling to pitch ideas. What's Jackson targeting? "We'd like to look for a site like AtomFilms or IFilms," which produce three-minute animated and live-action shorts. IFilms was recently bought by Viacom (VIA). AtomFilms CEO Mika Salmi says IAC hasn't rung -- "but if they do, we'll add them to the others who have called."

Jackson says Diller's interest was piqued by a rush of online production, from AOL's airing of the Live Aid concert to JibJab Media's political shorts. "It's a real business with real revenue in subscriptions and advertising," says former Nickelodeon studio chief Albie Hecht, whose new Biggies Broadband creates online shorts. That's something Diller can relate to. -Ronald Grover

Union leaders rail against Wal-Mart Stores, but new research suggests that workers' anger doesn't blind them to a bargain. Tom Hayes, a principal at New England Consulting Group (NECG), analyzed two market-research surveys that included 50,000 responses -- and were not financed by the store. Hayes found that 60% of union members had visited a Wal-Mart in the past month, vs. 57% of all shoppers.

Hayes says Wal-Mart has more unionized shoppers than any other retailer -- more than double the number for Sears (SHLD) and 40% more than for Target. Says Hayes: "The savings are too much to resist."

The AFL-CIO, which has led efforts to unionize Wal-Mart's stores, contests the findings. Jason Judd, a spokesman, points to union-sponsored research that shows members shop at Wal-Mart much less frequently than other stores. He also notes that NECG hosted a 2004 Webcast advising clients on how to do business with Wal-Mart, and recently hired Tom Muccio, Procter & Gamble's (PG) former liaison to Wal-Mart. Hayes says Muccio wasn't involved in the research and NECG doesn't work for the retailer.

How much do you really want to know about your health? If the answer is everything, and fast, consider a $3,400 blood test. Biophysical Corp. in Austin, Tex., hopes its Biophysical250 will undercut blue-chip executive physicals popularized by such institutions as the Mayo Clinic. A health-care worker comes to your home to draw about two tablespoons of blood. It is scoured for more than 250 protein biomarkers that signal the presence of disease or disease risk factors. Results come back in about two weeks. The test doesn't cover diseases for which there is no cure, such as Huntington's, multiple sclerosis, and Lou Gehrig's. For that depressing verdict, you'll have to ask your doctor.-Catherine Arnst

thehousingbubble2.blogspot.com

WHY READ IT

For real estate schadenfreude. It's a magnet for Jeremiahs who feel vindicated by the sudden softness in housing.

NOTABLE COMMENT

From "mr. d": "Home prices have likely already begun a long sickening slide. That means the value of your home is going to fall, year after year after year, seemingly without end.... That means you will be trapped in your current mortgage for the next 30 years, even if you or your spouse lose your job. Arrange your finances accordingly."

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are sold as a tonic for skyrocketing health insurance costs, forcing careful spending and getting doctors to compete on price. About 3 million people are covered by the high-deductible policies, three times as many as a year ago, says America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. And now President Bush wants to expand HSAs as part of a plan to lower health costs. But detractors fear that HSAs lure the young and healthy, leaving traditional insurers saddled with big payouts for the old and sick.

Now naysayers have some data to make their case. The General Accountability Office reports that a three-year-old U.S. Postal Service HSA plan is drawing younger and healthier workers. The average age of union members choosing the plan was 47, vs. 62 for those in a preferred provider plan. HSA users also were more likely to say they were in "excellent" or "very good" health. The GAO didn't have enough data, though, to say if they spent less on drugs and doctor visits.

On Feb. 24, the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., will open its 16th annual leadership conference. That's hardly newsworthy: There are hundreds of such confabs, and yes, Rudy Giuliani seems to give the keynote speech at every one.

But this one's a little, um, different. The theme this year: "followership." It's a discipline that emphasizes independent thinking among those not in leadership roles. This is a field that hasn't gotten its due -- partly because of the term itself. "It has lots of negative connotations, like being sheep and being herded," says Barbara Kellerman, a research director at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Kellerman, who last year launched what is probably the first university class devoted to the topic, is trying to change that. She's teaming up with others, including Ira Chaleff, an executive coach and one of the forum's organizers. Chaleff hopes the conference will help develop a community of scholars and perhaps produce a professional journal on followership. It's also a way to shift focus to the other half of the equation. "There's a dynamic that plays out between leaders and their followers," he says. "Instead of being a balancing force, they [followers] often become a colluding [one]."

While there's truth in that idea, there's still plenty of work to do to make this a full-fledged crusade. For one, the concept of followership seems hard to define. "I would defer to Ira on this," says Ronald Riggio, the institute's director. "That's a sand trap," says Chaleff when asked exactly what the term means, despite writing The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to & for Our Leaders (Berrett-Koehler, 2003). "I tend to steer around it." Clearly, this is a movement still in search of a leader.

It's getting easier for college kids to get career advice from reality TV. The Opening first appeared last fall on mtvU Über, an MTV Networks (VIA) channel beamed to campuses. Each five-minute episode follows a day in the lives of recent grads at their first jobs. Now, thanks to a deal with MonsterTRAK, a student-recruitment unit of Monster.com (MNST), viewers can go to mtvu.com and apply for jobs in featured industries. Clips from the show can be seen online, or via cell phone by subscribers of Verizon Wireless (VZ) V Cast and Amp'd Mobile. "We really wanted mtvU to be the ultimate jobs hub," says Stephen Friedman, general manager of mtvU.

Many of the featured entry-level stars haven't been typical cubicle dwellers. They have included a consumer marketing assistant at EA Games (ERTS) who tested video games with pro athletes and a medical technologist who examined a four-foot-long tapeworm at a lab.

Corrections and Clarifications

In "Kick-start your career with MTV" (UpFront, Feb. 13), the correct name of the MTV Networks television channel for college campuses is mtvU. The broadband channel on the mtvu.com Web site is mtvU Über.


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