On Monday, April 15, satellite provider Dish Networks shook the wireless world with word of a $25.5 billion bid for mobile phone carrier Sprint Nextel. The offer is the latest in more than a decade’s worth of mergers and acquisitions in wireless, as rival carriers battle for position in what I believe is the most transformative industry on earth.
Dish’s bid has the Sprint board of directors in a quandary. On April 25 the board announced that it formed a special committee to “carefully evaluate” the Dish offer to acquire the company. What’s to consider? Well, as you might know, Sprint also has been presented with a $20.1 billion offer from Japan’s SoftBank for 70% of the company. That deal is currently under review by the Federal Communications Commission, whose decision is expected by the end of May.
I get it. With shareholders in mind, Sprint’s board has much to ponder. But outside the boardroom, one thing is certain: A deal that creates a bigger Sprint is best for you and me. Right now, Sprint is a distant No. 3 in wireless to AT&T and Verizon. Yes, there are millions of passionate Sprint customers across the country, but the truth is the U.S. wireless market is basically a duopoly. AT&T and Verizon control more than 65% of the market. They are the only providers who can effectively bundle nationwide wireless phone service with TV and broadband Internet service. And that means they can do pretty much as they please when it comes to pricing and programming.
If Dish succeeds in buying Sprint, it would create a formidable third competitor. Here’s why: (more…)
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Martin “Marty” H. Singer is Chairman and CEO of PCTEL, which develops antenna, scanning and other solutions for wireless networks. Before PCTEL, Singer served as President and CEO of SAFCO Technologies, another wireless communications company. He was also a Vice President and General Manager at Motorola and held senior management and technical positions at Tellabs, AT&T and Bell Labs. With a Vanderbilt Ph.D in experimental psychology, Singer is a trained thinker. He will share this space with other distinguished executive thinkers, who will offer occasional musings from “the corner office.”
By Marty Singer
In our personal lives, we seem to have no problem peering into the future. Let’s say that you and your spouse are thinking about buying a house. My guess is that you’ll talk seriously about what type of space and location you might need for the next 10 years. You probably thought or are thinking about whether you need a place that accommodates your plans to have or expand your family. If you’re my age, you might be thinking about your knees in 5 or 10 years and the advantages of first floor master bedrooms.
This decision, like so many others that we make as we move through life, is one that is made from the future. You don’t focus on your current situation and plan from that vantage point. Instead, you place the decision squarely in the future. You ask questions about what you should do today in the context of what you believe to be true or close to the truth about the future. You don’t claim to know the future, but you actively reduce uncertainty in your decision by constraining it with conditions that you borrow from a story you tell yourself about your future.
Making decisions about today’s actions in the context of a specific future applies, for example, to graduate school choices. Hopefully, young graduates don’t apply to Law School because it’s a sensible, incremental step from majoring in Political Science or Public Policy. One would hope that those who compete to get into decent schools and struggle through a demanding curricula do all of that in the service of a future practicing law or, even better, working in a specific area for which a law degree is essential to success.
I’m not sure exactly what happens when people walk through the looking glass doors of their companies, but something changes. (more…)
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In Chicago recently, Sheryl Sandberg was holding court with a handful of women professionals during a private reception of the Economic Club. Within minutes, she would be whisked away to address some 1,500 additional executives who were gathered Thursday, March 28 in the Chicago Hyatt’s grand ballroom. What were the chances that I (a man) could get her attention—even for a few moments, when she was so immersed in conversation with these women? I approached, careful not to bombard my way into a group clearly bonding over shared female experiences. Sandberg deftly turned her attention toward me, somehow not offending these women, while also welcoming me. She smiled warmly and extended her hand. We shook and then talked momentarily about leadership and diversity before she was tugged away by officials carting her to her next destination.
The obvious occurred to me: Sandberg is about equal opportunity. I was an interested person whose gender was irrelevant. Yes, her emphasis is on equal opportunity for women. Her popular new book, Lean In, is focused on gender imbalance in the workplace and society overall. She spoke to us in Chicago, as she often does around the country, about things we can do to address this imbalance, such as fair and equitable mentorship and sponsorship of women at work. So, it would be disingenuous to ignore me, even as Sandberg spoke among a group of women. That would be hypocritical for a person whose message is based on the importance of equality. I was impressed. For me, Sandberg joined a list of extraordinary and personally influential women, who have become effective leaders: My mother (a high-school principal), my wife (a supply chain executive), two of my managers (one at BusinessWeek and another at The Oregonian, who were among the best I’ve ever had). We need more women like them in leadership roles. To understand Sheryl Sandberg’s take on why, check out the TED video above … and lean in!
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Leadership in the Field: Interviews with Global Leaders
By Russell Reynolds & Associates with Roger O. Crockett
Val Ackerman, former WNBA President, discusses women in leadership, how to succeed in a male-dominated industry, and the leadership development benefits of sports.
For a glimpse of Val Ackerman’s views on leadership, watch the video interview by clicking the video box.
Valerie “Val”Ackerman served as the founding President of the Women’s National Basketball Association from 1996 to 2005. From 2005 to 2008, she served as the first female President of USA Basketball, which oversees both the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic basketball programs. During her tenure, the programs notched a record of 222-23, including gold medal performances by the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She currently is the U.S. representative to the International Basketball Federation, an adjunct professor of sports management at Columbia University and a sports consultant.
Ackerman was generous in praising several men, including NBA Commissioner David Stern, for their mentorship over the years. She even told me during our interview that she owes as much or more of her success to hard work rather than sheer smarts. Maybe so. But it doesn’t take long, when talking with Ackerman, to discern that she is one smart human being. It’s no easy task for a woman to achieve her level of success and in the male-dominated world of sports. Read the edited transcript that follows (more…)
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John Challenger is CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement and consulting firm, which assists displaced workers in securing re-employment. Under Challenger’s leadership the firm also provides executive coaching and advises organizations on corporate change. Challenger served on the labor human resource committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago from 1991 to 2002. He also has delivered major economic addresses before the World Future Society, the Ethics Officers Association and leading business executives in Japan.
Challenger’s breadth of knowledge on the economy and workplace issues has made him a widely sought media spokesperson on corporate and economic issues. With the stock market and the housing market showing strong improvement, but unemployment remaining stubbornly high, Challenger paused from business in his downtown Chicago office to dig into the numbers and answer five questions about the unemployment picture and the economy overall. Here are edited responses:
1. There’s considerable debate about our national unemployment figures. Does the monthly data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reflect the truest picture of our employment situation?
Challenger: The unemployment rate of 7.7% (in February) doesn’t count people who have looked in the last month. If you add in the number of unemployed and those that have looked in the last year, but not last month, and those working part time for economic reasons—meaning they want a full-time job but haven’t found one, or their hours were cut back. That unemployment rate is 14.3%, down from 15.0 a year ago. They’re both real rates. This second figure is often called the “under-employed” rate, and some people use this number as truer picture of the unemployment rate.
Q: So the under-employed rate is twice as high. Other segments of the population are worse off as well, right?
Challenger: Yes. The unemployment rate is 6.8% for whites, but 13.8% for blacks, 9.6% for Hispanics and 6.1% for Asians. Forty percent of people that make up the unemployment rate make up the long-term unemployed—people out of work more than 6 months. In total, we have 12 million people who are out of work, and 8.1 million who are working part-time for economic reasons. Another 2.6 million people are not counted as unemployed because they have not looked in the last month. There are far too many people unemployed. (more…)
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Does this cover image (left) make you cringe? It ought to. Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s February 25, 2013 cover depicts a cast of black and Hispanic characters whose exaggerated features evoke caricatures from 19th century black-face minstrel shows. The insidious cover imagery is, I must say, journalistically shameful!
The illustration shows these housing residents wallowing in cash inside a two-story home above the headline, “The Great American Housing Rebound.” The subhead: “Flips. No-look bids. 300 percent returns. What could possibly go wrong?”
Well, what went wrong was Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s editorial judgment. The cover image is, in fact, insensitive and discriminatory for its hint of minstrelsy—an ugly American musical tradition in which white entertainers painted on black faces and thick red lips to lampoon African Americans as a dim-witted, buffoonish, happy-go-lucky people. Blacks, and Latinos, however, do not look like the wide-eyed, fat-lipped characters on the cover. Presumably, Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s editors were attempting to be provocative. But the magazine is not a comic strip with license to exaggerate for a laugh.
So, the cover rightly has been widely criticized, not only by readers of color and liberal-minded people of all races, but by media analysts as well. As Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum wrote, “It’s hard to imagine how this one made it through the editorial process.”
He and others have noted that race has been a key backdrop to the subprime crisis. But in illustrating a story about real estate “flips,” no-look bids and high returns, Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s cover flips reality on its head. While the cover depicts people of color flush with cash, the opposite was true of the housing crisis. (more…)
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In 1972, when Al Green topped the R&B charts with “Let’s Stay Together” and Black Americans were defining contemporary style with wide lapels and even wider bell bottoms, John H. Johnson set a mark of his own. The founder of Johnson Publishing Company, which published the monthly lifestyle magazine Ebony, built what was the first and only black-owned building along Chicago’s renowned Michigan Avenue. That 11-story tower, with its distinctive latticed exterior and vibrant interior design, became the symbol of success in black business nationwide. Ebony is no longer published in that building, but the Johnson Publishing empire lives on, now led by daughter Linda Johnson Rice.
That’s worth celebrating. After all, let’s not forget that some 50% of businesses with fewer than 500 employees fail within just five years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Two-thirds go under within 10 years. To borrow from the autobiography written by its founder, Johnson Publishing is “succeeding against the odds.” This year will be the company’s 71st. Neither Ebony nor Jet, Ebony’s weekly sister magazine, have quite the same the influence they once had. They each have been reconstituted and repackaged in an effort to contend in a finger-snap-fast digital age. Meanwhile, the company’s Fashion Fair Cosmetics business, a prestige cosmetics brand for people of color, continues to thrive across the globe.
Indeed, the only way to last in this ever-shifting business environment is for a business to remake itself. To keep the doors open for 20 years or more, it’s required that businesses adjust. In Chicago alone, several have adapted with the times. Besides the Johnson Publishing business, there’s Oprah Winfrey’s famous Harpo Productions, founded 27 years ago in 1986 and now producing TV shows via its recently launched OWN network. Also, Ariel Investments (formerly Ariel Capital Management) remains the nation’s largest black-owned mutual fund after 30 years. Capri Capital, a global private equity real estate investment firm with over $3.7 billion in assets, is celebrating 20 years in the business—the real estate business! And Larry Hollins, founder and chief of executive search firm, The Hollins Group, is enjoying his the 25th year of business.
Hollins started his business in March of 1988, while he was in his early 40’s, with just three employees, including himself. He’s employed 62 people over the years and currently has 12 on staff. It’s those people that he credits for the company’s success. “I always felt I had to have people smarter than me,” he says. “I would be driven by what they knew, and they would be motivated by me. That combination made it work.”
Here are snapshots of a few more major black-owned businesses across the country that have stood the test of time: (more…)
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Maybe Joe Rickey Hundley had a bad day. Or maybe, more likely, he’s just a bad guy. It doesn’t matter. The alleged baby-slapping, slur-slinging airline traveler broke more rules than Ferris Bueller on his day off. Give me Ferris any day. Even an irreverent teenager knows better than to slap a toddler who isn’t even his.
Such behavior is absolutely reprehensible coming from a company president, as Hundley was. Looking at the incident through the lens of corporate leadership, it’s clear this drunken executive acted in a manner terribly unbecoming of an employee—any employee, let alone a top-level manager. If you somehow missed the story, an FBI court affidavit says the accused, Joe Rickey Hundley, an aerospace executive based in Hayden, Idaho, was on a Feb. 8 Delta Air Lines flight sitting next to Jessica Bennett and her young son. Bennett, like Hundley, is white, but her 19-month old adopted boy is African-American. Bennett told FBI agents that as the plane began its descent her boy started crying (which babies typically do), and that’s when Hundley rudely told her, “shut that N—-r baby up.” Then Hundley, according to court documents, slapped the baby in the face, scratching him below his eye.
Most people are appalled that a 60-year-old man would slap a baby, particularly one that’s not his. It’s inexcusable. But there’s an opportunity for a different sort of teachable moment here. No one should rise as high as Hundley did inside a company without fully understanding and abiding by what I call cultural ethics. You’ve heard of business ethics, right? Those are the standards and rules that govern employee behavior. For example, some companies have rules stating they should not use child labor. They should not unlawfully use copyrighted materials and processes. They should not engage in bribery. Such rules are often written in a company’s code of ethics. For employees, these rules establish guidelines they can follow to distinguish between “right” and “wrong,” and direct people toward the “right” choice. Often, there’s a business ethics training workshop required of employees.
Well, I think such codes of ethics ought to be updated to reflect the global environment we live in. (more…)
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Tim Cook, Apple
Its tough following in the footsteps of a legend. But that’s where Cook finds himself. So far it’s been a turbulent ride, and 2013 is emerging as a pivotal year. The Apple iPhone’s dominance in smartphones is under siege by Samsung’s Galaxy line, and new entries by Microsoft and Blackberry will only make things tougher this year. That’s one reason investors have taken a bite out of Apple (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!). Apple’s shares were trading in the mid-$400 range in January, stratospheric by most standards but more than a 30% drop from Apple’s high of $705 per share in September 2012. Despite announcing strong quarterly earnings in January, the bellwether’s stock still slipped 12% in what was its largest single-day loss since 2008.
The erosion caused Apple to fall behind Exxon as the most valuable company in the world in market cap, and left Cook scrambling to explain to employees and investors what’s up. Over the years, Apple has excelled by targeting the high-end and earning loyalty with elegant and innovative products. But that high-end is becoming saturated, and rivals are taking share with lower-priced devices. Most experts believe Apple must carve out new territory among the mainstream. And Cook best start cracking the innovation whip. Apple has relied on incremental updates to its existing lines, while rivals introduce attractive new features. To re-accelerate growth and reinvigorate the stock, Apple needs to launch new products–and, as in the days of old, create new markets.
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!
After just six months at the controls, the former Google star led Yahoo to an upbeat quarterly performance, increasing revenue for the first time in four years. She pumped life into the search business, revamped the e-mail service and redesigned Flickr, Yahoo’s photo-sharing app. Fans attribute the good news to “Marissa Magic”.
But she’ll have to perform many more tricks this year, especially in the critically important digital ad space. (more…)
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What’s the secret to success in business? How does one convert his or her skill set into a climb up the corporate ladder or turn a good idea into a blockbuster entrepreneurial business? The people that do it well become business leaders–CEOs, Chairman, Founders, Partners. There’s no sure-fire method, and a certain amount of luck is needed. But follow the examples set by the successful, and a blueprint emerges. I recently joined Tom Burrell (far left), marketing and advertising pioneer and founder of Burrell Communications, and other successful leaders in a conversation on “Habits for Success” presented by news and lifestyle site, The Root. Click The Root Live to listen.
Burrell talked about the importance of having a mentor to help set us on the right path and keep us there. I couldn’t agree more. No successful business leader achieved success on his or her own. They each had someone who invested in their success and helped guide the way. So what exactly is a mentor? The important thing is to distinguish between a mentor and simply a friend or caring associate. I once asked Dick Parsons, the former CEO of Time Warner and former Chairman of Citigroup, about that distinction. We spoke about his relationship with Vernon Jordan, the Lazard senior adviser and “first friend” to President Bill Clinton. Parsons considers Jordan a friend and adviser on a personal issues. On occasion, if he was wrestling with something at work or a career move, he would call Jordan for his wisdom and ask for his sense of the situation.
A mentor is someone like Ardie Ivy was to me when I was a college senior grappling with how to forge a career. Ardie, a marketing specialist in Los Angeles at the time, took me under his wing. He made my success his personal mission and responsibility. He helped me forge a 5-year plan, the career equivalent to a business plan, only I was the “business”. Ardie was to me as I suspect Nelson Rockefeller was to Dick Parsons, or as former American Express CEO Harvey Golub was to current American Express CEO Ken Chenault.
Besides having a good mentor, here are four additional “habits” I’ve observed in the successful leaders I’ve interviewed over the years: (more…)
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