"I apologize to Apple's shareholders and employees.... We will now work...to ensure that this never happens again." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs, on the results of a company investigation that found instances of stock options backdating from 1997 to 2002
The folksy blog by Jim and Laura began on Sept. 27, and from then until Oct. 9, the blogosphere followed the couple on an RV journey from Nevada to Georgia, a trip that involved pulling in every night at Wal-Mart (WMT) lots, where RVs are welcome to park. Every Wal-Mart employee the couple met and wrote about seemed to love working for the retailer. Blog readers started asking questions: Are Laura and Jim real? Or was it all a public-relations stunt?
Yes and yes. Jim is James Thresher, 58, a veteran Washington Post photographer. Laura St. Claire, 42, is a Treasury Dept. researcher, freelance writer, and Wal-Mart shopper. The trip, she says, was the Washington (D.C.) couple's idea. She ran their plan by Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group set up by PR firm Edelman last year that finds ardent shoppers like St. Claire to support the chain.
Edelman decided the group would sponsor the trip. It flew the couple to Las Vegas (where it decided the journey should start), provided a logo-emblazoned RV, and paid for gas and for St. Claire's blog entries. It also set up the blog site, Wal-Marting Across America, which didn't disclose the payments. Says Edelman Vice-President Kevin Sheridan: "They are regular folks who approached us, and we thought it was a great opportunity." Thresher could not be reached for comment. But Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. says that Thresher had permission from his editor to take the Wal-Mart-sponsored trip, after an exchange Downie calls a "miscommunication." Thresher, he says, wound up violating "strict conflict-of-interest and freelance guidelines," was asked to remove his photos from the blog, and "will repay all the expenses incurred."
A battle is shaping up in a high-tech corner of the antiterror world. A Coral Springs (Fla.) entrepreneur has sued the FCC, contending that the agency is wrongly invoking the Communications Act of 1934 to continue to prevent local authorities from buying the same jamming devices used by the military and feds to cripple remote-control bombs, some of which are triggered by cell phones.
Howard Melamed, CEO of CellAntenna, which sells such jamming devices to the U.S. government, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Florida. His argument: that the 2002 Homeland Security Act, which requires authorities to take all necessary steps to fight terrorism, takes precedence over the earlier law, which says only the feds can buy devices that interfere with the nation's airwaves. "It makes no sense why a bomb squad shouldn't be allowed to use jamming equipment," Melamed says. He adds he wouldn't mind if his rivals got all the business should he manage to overturn the law. "It would be my pleasure," he says.
Would local police like access to jammers? "If federal law were to relax somehow, of course we would like to be able to purchase whatever is out there to help in the fight against terror," says detective Delrish Moss, a spokesman for the Miami Police Dept. But, he adds, "at a moment's notice, federal agencies are at our side to help with brain- and manpower as well as equipment."
The Justice Dept. wants the court to throw out the suit, claiming CellAntenna hasn't suffered economic damage and thus has no standing. The case is scheduled to be heard in December.
A fixture of British life since 1948, London's black cabs will roll off production lines in China starting in mid-2008. In a $100 million joint venture, China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group will make cabs in Shanghai to sell in Asia. Manganese Bronze Holdings, the cabs' British maker, retains all other marketing rights. In expanding manufacturing to China, Manganese expects to reduce costs, maintaining its taxi plant in Coventry while gaining access to cheaper parts from Geely's low-cost suppliers. The deal "will increase the appeal of our iconic vehicle" globally, says Manganese Chairman Tim Melville-Ross.
Come for the casket, stay for the consulting. That's the idea behind the "knowledge-based funeral service" now being floated in the industry by Wilson Beebe Jr., executive director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Assn. Beebe thinks mortuaries should go beyond "body-centered" services and offer survivors (often elderly) financial and home safety assessments for a fee. The aim is to prop up profit margins, which have fallen as the industry suffers from trends like a growing interest in cremation, which tends to be cheaper than burial.
Beebe's polls show most consumers like the plan, and he expects test runs at several New Jersey funeral homes in 2007. But the idea has drawn criticism in the industry. "What better way to assess how much money to get out of the family at the next funeral?" says Joshua Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, an industry watchdog group. Funeral Monitor, an industry publication, editorialized that the idea "smacks of inappropriate opportunism."
It's open enrollment season at most companies, the annual rite of choosing the next year's health plan. And experts say 2007 will bring higher out-of-pocket costs along with higher premiums -- an average of $1,896 a year for individuals, up $144 from 2006, according to benefits consulting firm Towers Perrin. What else will the typical 2007 health benefits package bring?
Prescription drug co-payments will rise at least $5 on average, says Watson Wyatt, another benefits consulting firm. And while drugs that treat chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes may be exempt from the increase, specialty drugs won't. In fact, some plans are providing only 50% coverage for these meds. Someone being treated for leukemia with Novartis' (NVS) Gleevec, for example, will pay about $2,600 for a month's supply. (There's no generic alternative.)
At the same time, companies are expanding dental coverage, in part because serious medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease can often be diagnosed by a dentist using fairly simple procedures. But dental benefits will cost employees 7% more, about $288 a year for individuals, according to Towers Perrin.
Rising health costs are prompting companies to double-check who's on their rosters. Some employers are imposing a monthly surcharge to cover a spouse or domestic partner who could get benefits through his or her own employer. (Ford Motor's (F) annual surcharge is $110 for the health plan and $11 for dental benefits.) And employees seeking coverage for children or former spouses who might not be eligible for benefits likely will have to supply marriage certificates, tax returns, or tuition statements to make their case. Ford says such checking eliminated 60,000 people from its health coverage since 2000.
Book embargoes are made to be broken. That seems to be the lesson of the past two weeks, during which The New York Times quoted from Bob Woodward's State of Denial and Carly Fiorina's memoir, Tough Choices, before their official sale dates. BusinessWeek's Elizabeth Woyke talked about embargoes with Will Weisser, associate publisher at Penguin's Portfolio imprint, which put out Fiorina's book.
Why embargo a book?
To protect whatever outlet has first coverage rights and to give all booksellers a fair shot. There are explicit agreements between publishers and booksellers, and the books arrive in boxes labeled: "Don't open until such-and-such date."
There's speculation that Portfolio itself engineered the leak of Tough Choices.
People suspect that publishers play favorites, but we definitely did not leak it. We really didn't want those news stories out before [Fiorina's appearance on] 60 Minutes.
Did the broken embargo affect the deal with Newsweek, which ran an excerpt online but not in the magazine?
I can't comment on any conversations with them or anything that led to their decision. You can see the outcome and draw your own conclusions.
Will publishers give up on embargoes?
After two leaks, back to back, I suspect publishers are looking at the practice pretty carefully, trying to figure out how to improve the way we handle major newsbreaking books.
I'm a small-business founder with fear of the "R" word: I dread retirement even though, at 63, I realize it is approaching. Some days I think I'll survive the transition. Other days, I'm less certain. How can I retire at the right time, graciously, and with a feeling of satisfaction that allows me to anticipate a new stage of my life? -- Marcia Joslyn Sill, Seattle
Your fear is understandable and not unwarranted. True, many Americans slog through years of mind-numbing work inside the hierarchies of large corporations, counting the days until retirement liberates them from servitude. But as a founder, you're probably more like my chief executive clients, who have thrived on the excitement and relative freedom that work provides.
These CEOs take pride in "failing" retirement, involving themselves in boards and other businesses because work has been so intoxicating -- and so familiar. For some people who love working, though, the terror of being without a job can lead to impulsive (and bad) decisions about how to fill the void, including making risky investments to make up for lost income, or rushing into love relationships to ease the loss of self-esteem.
For others, retirement can provide just what you wish: a satisfying new stage of life. But it's not just a matter of finding the right time. You have to achieve the right state of mind.
What's needed to ensure a satisfying retirement? Beyond a comfortable nest egg, the ability to be alone with oneself, a real desire to spend more time at home (and with one's life partner, if you have one), and a realistically fulfilling set of activities to take on.
It seems that for you, retiring feels more like a loss than a gain right now. Have you asked yourself why you "have to" retire in a few years? Company retirement policy, failing health, diminished effectiveness, and a struggling business might be compelling reasons. Or are you merely being obedient to what society says you're "supposed" to do at a certain age? If you retire to satisfy such a convention, you well may be setting yourself up for anger and regret later on.
RETIREMENT is a tough transition for a small-business owner or entrepreneur, whose self- esteem can depend on self-reliance and constant stimulation. As a founder, you probably also have questions about your legacy, about whether your business survives. And don't underestimate the role of guilt in interfering with a gratifying retirement: I know people who feel they're getting away with murder when they're granted a lot of freedom. They find their open calendars disorienting rather than inviting. Ultimately, the "R" word reminds us of the "M" word, mortality. Since life doesn't go on forever, working until the end, for some, feels like the next best thing.
For a sixth consecutive year, baseball's highest-paid team, the New York Yankees, blew it in the postseason. Should owner George Steinbrenner remake the team, or is Steinbrenner the basic problem?
"In this case, the boss's problem is that The Boss is the problem. After firing his general managers 20 times, Steinbrenner should realize that he has been misfiring. He should be the target, not the shooter." -- Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean, Yale University School of Management
"Any halfway competent g.m. could have put together four or five winners with the $1.2 billion he gave [General Manager] Brian Cashman to play with. If Steinbrenner's looking to clean house, he should start there." -- Stewart O'Nan, novelist and co-author of Faithful, about the Red Sox 2004 season
"Maybe it was too easy at the end, and having Matsui and Sheffield back, as good as they are, changed the dynamic and momentum. We need pitching. What we don't need is to blame Joe Torre. Next year -- and we mean it!" -- Mary Jo White, former federal prosecutor, now a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton