"I'll be back." — Carl Icahn at Motorola's (MOT) annual meeting on May 7, on being rebuffed in his quest for a seat on the board, as reported by the Chicago Tribune
In its glory days, the Pocono region of Northeastern Pennsylvania billed itself as the "honeymoon capital of the world." The area's 1960s and '70s heyday drew couples looking for a romantic getaway at spots like Mount Airy Lodge, now closed, and Caesars Pocono Resorts (whose shops feature an array of erotic toys).
Today the areas politicians and developers are wooing a different clientele: Wall Street. The Poconos nine counties are joining under the banner Wall Street West and marketing the region as a second home for companies looking to build emergency backup facilities. Since the September 11 attacks, regulators have urged Wall Street to build alternative trading sites. "For the few people who think of [the Poconos] as just heart-shaped swimming pools, we want to show them that it's much more," says Catherine Bolton, the groups project director.
The area, just 90 miles west of Manhattan, is on a separate electrical grid. And last year the Labor Dept. gave the Poconos a $15 million job training grant. So far, only two small financial data-servicing firms say theyll open offices in the region. One hurdle: no fiber-optic cable, which is needed for rapid-fire trading. (The state is looking for a company to wire the area.)
Thats not holding back some local developers. Lawrence Simon, who heads LTS Builders, says hell break ground this summer on a 4.5-million-sq.-ft. office complex, the Penn Regional Business Center. He says he has a tentative agreement with a "leading world bank" to move into it.
In October, Simon chartered helicopters to fly executives from 19 firms, including Credit Suisse (CS), Merrill Lynch (MER), and Goldman Sachs (GS), to one of the regions resorts. The group dined on filet mignon and lobster. Alas, there was no time for a dip in the seven-foot-tall whirlpool shaped like a Champagne glass.
Pressed to predict the outcome of litigation, legal experts typically hedge. But just ask them about the prospects for shareholder suits against the board of Dow Jones (DJ)—or its controlling Bancroft family—for failing to accept Rupert Murdoch's $5 billion bid. "They don't have a snowball's chance in hell," says Jesse Fried, a corporate-governance specialist at the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.
With one such suit already in New York state court, Fried takes the consensus view that corporate law doesn't require shareholders to give up their stake for the benefit of other shareholders. Murdoch's offer, a 66% premium over the share price, won't prompt a court to create a new precedent, says Fried. "This company went public with a dual-class structure, and [nonfamily] shareholders knew that.... They got what they paid for."
Among the busiest people in the city that never sleeps: the folks who record films illegally. A recent study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America found that 43% of camcorder-shot domestic bootlegged films and 20% of pirated movies seized globally are surreptitiously recorded in New York theaters. To help protect its $5 billion film industry, the Big Apple is launching a campaign against video piracy that the MPAA hopes will serve as a model for other cities. The City of Angels could be next, says MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman.
On May 1, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, proclaiming that "video piracy is not a victimless crime," upped the penalty for illegal camcording. Until now, secret tapers faced just a summons, up to a $250 fine, and the remote possibility of a 15-day jail sentence. Now they could be hit with a misdemeanor charge that could mean as much as six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. And under the new law, the police can use eyewitness accounts—from a cinema employee, for instance—to make arrests. The MPAA will lend a helping hand by supplying training manuals for the NYPD and passing on leads about bootleggers.
The campaign is also urging New Yorkers to walk on by when they see stacks of illegal DVDs being sold on the street. Public service ads slated for TV and movie theaters will use mock film ratings to remind viewers that the quality of pirated films is pretty poor.
The MPAA estimates that video piracy costs the city $637 million in retail sales and $50 million in annual state and city sales tax revenues. "New York has attracted a big chunk of the film industry," says Glickman, and "it should be out front fighting piracy as well."
Car buyers with lousy credit have a new digital repo man to worry about. Sekurus, a Temecula (Calif.) technology firm, is racking up sales of its On Time device, a $250 under-dash gadget that disables a car's starter if the owner falls behind on loan payments. Its main customers are car dealers who cater to subprime borrowers.
On Time also has two nagging features: a light that starts flashing three days before a payment is due and a beeper that joins in on deadline day. Sekurus says that car owners appreciate the reminders and that emergency codes can be used to keep drivers from being stranded.
However draconian, the system seems to keep people on track. While 27% of auto subprime borrowers nationwide fall behind on payments and 15% have their cars repossessed, according to CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore., only 3% of those monitored by On Time become delinquent.
Some 1,500 auto dealers use On Time with their borrowers, many of whom buy cheap used cars at dealerships that issue loans with interest rates as high as 25%. Sekurus, which sells about 100,000 units a year, is starting to see growth in sales to new-car dealers, too. CNW says sub-prime loans for new cars are rising, accounting for 13% of all new-car loans, up from 9.6% in 2000.
Which employers do undergraduates most want to work for? In Universum Communications' 2007 ranking, the 40,000 students surveyed gravitated to super-profitable companies or résumé-boosting public-service organizations, says Universum USA CEO Claudia Tattanelli. "It's a very savvy group," she notes. Here are the Top 5 picks.
In this eco-aware age, employers are increasingly rewarding staffers who leave their cars at home and pedal to work. It usually takes a nudge from an employee or two, "a squeaky wheel to get the process going," says Elizabeth Preston, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists. Here, during national Bike to Work month, a look at a half-dozen bike-friendly companies.
Calvert Group, Bethesda, Md.
A manager of socially responsible mutual funds, Calvert offers its employees $350 toward the purchase of a bike. It also has shower facilities and allows workers to stash their wheels in their offices.
Discovery Communications, Silver Spring, Md.
The company, which sponsors the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team (co-owned by Lance Armstrong), also gives cycling employees $350—toward the price of a bike or for bike repairs. To provide lifts in an emergency, it also pays for memberships in a car-borrowing service.
Environmental Protection Agency, Washington
The agency is home to perhaps the plushest of all workplace bicycle lockups. The 100-bike facility at the Ronald Reagan Building has a motion detector that swings open large steel doors as riders approach. Cyclists punch in a code to enter the main bike-rack area, with its adjacent showers. "Why do we do this?" says spokesman Dale Kemery. "We're the Environmental Protection Agency."
Google, Mountain View, Calif.
Everyone's favorite employer these days offers monthly bike repair classes and has bicycle racks on the shuttles it uses to pick up Bay Area workers. And for every 20 days of pedal commuting, it donates $100 to the rider's charity of choice. "Our employees are very eco-conscious," says spokeswoman Sunny Gettinger. In Europe, where it doesn't run shuttles, Google plans to give more than 1,000 employees free bikes (in its signature colors). At its digs in Manhattan, where office building managers tend to balk at bikes in elevators, it has secure ground-floor bike storage.
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colo.
Cycling is part of the culture for the maker of Fat Tire Amber Ale. Founder Jeff Lebesch conceived the company while biking in Belgium. Employees get single-speed cruiser bikes on their one-year anniversaries. A sponsor of bike events around the country, New Belgium also lets its cyclists drive a company-owned Toyota Prius to business meetings.
Bike commuters at the 500-employee company that manages Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's investments get an extra $100 a month in their paychecks (as do other non-car commuters). There are also changing rooms and bike storage. And cyclists get taxi fare if they work past dark—or are facing the prospect of a Seattle downpour.
One of Harvard Business Online's new blog series (BW—Apr. 30), Tom Davenport's The Next Big Thing offers a refreshingly skeptical view of management trends and bromides. ("Any business book with a number in the title...should be banned from the category as too simplistic for sentient human consumption.")
In recent postings, Davenport, a professor of information technology and management at Babson College, questions the power of "crowdsourcing" and takes a poke at Malcolm Gladwell's popular book on instinct-driven decision-making, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. "It frosts me," he writes, "when Gladwell suggests that intuition is at work when substantial analytical work has preceded a decision." His own hobbyhorses include analytical decision-making (he's the co-author of Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning, published in March) and knowledge management, a business concept he helped launch.
The S&P 500-stock index (MHP), the market's broadest measure, seems poised to break its 2000 record high of 1527.46. Where do you think the index will be at the end of this year?
Our target: 1600. Stock valuations, earnings expectations, and sentiment all support further gain. What's more, share buybacks and private equity buyouts mitigate investors' downside risks. — Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist, Citigroup (C)
The index will head higher, then slow in the second half as investors tire of the tug-of-war between growth and inflation fears. Our yearend prediction: 1560, a chip-shot 3.3% higher return over the current level. — Chris Johnson, CEO and chief market strategist, Johnson Research Group
Our bearish bet: 1200. We found that 36% of U.S. companies failed to beat analysts' earnings estimates in the most recent quarter, the highest level in at least eight years. — Michael Painchaud, Principal and Director of Research, Market Profile Theorems