Monday, January 22nd 2018

The Corner Office: Profit By Paying Off Student Loans

February 23rd, 2015 in Business by

MartySinger2Martin “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 shares this space with other distinguished executive thinkers, who offer occasional musings from “the corner office.”

By Marty Singer

About 18 years ago, a young Venezuelan-born engineer – let’s call him Fred – approached me. He had been working for our Chicago-based company for about a year and he had bad news. His college bachelor’s degree from Penn State had been funded by the Venezuelan government; and, unless he returned to Venezuela he needed to repay $40,000. He wanted to stay in the U.S., but he had no choice but to give me notice that he would be resigning his position.

After a brief discussion with our parent company and my CFO, we offered to pay off the loan in return for a commitment that Fred would work for us for four years and reimburse us if he left early. Indeed, I left the company before Fred. After his four years, though, he joined the team at my current company, PCTEL, where he is one of our most highly-valued associates.

Our policy now is to approach the top, young performers at the company and inquire about their college loans and continuing debt. (more…)


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How to Fix Silicon Valley’s Race Problem

January 9th, 2015 in Diversity by

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What’s missing from this image of four young white men and one Pakistani-American? Well, women for one thing. Blacks too. Not to mention Hispanics. But the sad truth is, the promo pic for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” the sitcom about a handful of engineers who write code for a killer app and launch a startup company in the heart of techdom, is actually true to life.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the problem: Internet companies in Silicon Valley, and now I’m referring to the region in northern California where many of the world’s most innovative and dominant tech companies call headquarters, are remarkably bereft of ethnic and gender diversity. At LinkedIn, for instance, just 2% of the work force is black, and 4% is Hispanic. Google is 70% male, with 91% either white or Asian. The percentages at Facebook and Apple are similar. When it comes to executive leadership positions or representatives on boards of directors, the figures get far worse.

With a record of inclusion this shabby, the time has come for action. (more…)


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A Grocery CEO Talks Growth and New Consumer Habits

December 17th, 2014 in Business by


Robert “Bob” Mariano is Chairman and CEO of Roundy’s, a $4 billion grocery retailer with more than 165 stores throughout the Midwest – including brands such as Pick ’n Save, Copps, and most recently, Mariano’s.  The Mariano’s brand, a compelling hybrid that is part Euro Café and part specialty foods grocer, has been taking the Chicago market by storm. It’s a big bet, intended to add a much needed spark to a struggling Roundy’s group of stores. While big-box grocers such as Safeway’s Dominick’s have exited Chicago’s ultra competitive market, Mariano has been growing his new concept at a swift pace. The plan is to defy the odds and grow Mariano’s stores beyond Chicago to other states across the nation.

Over the summer, the straight-talking native Chicagoan paused from his busy rounds to share some impressively candid answers to questions about his growth plan, his approach to customer service and technology. Here are excerpts from our conversation at the Metropolitan Club of Chicago:

1. You are pursuing a rather aggressive growth plan with Mariano’s at a time when a lot of food retailers aren’t growing. So why are you being so aggressive?

Mariano: Well, carpe diem, you have to seize the day. There’s an opportunity in the Chicago market now, and we are working very hard to accomplish all that we want to accomplish. We added 13 stores this year, it’s about 6,000 employees. You have to turn your hearing aid off to Wall Street. The Street wants results in 13 weeks. But you build a business over a long period of time. I submit that if somebody came up with the idea of the 3M Corporation today, it would never be what it is today. Corporations from years ago took time, they had patience, they even made mistakes. You have to have a level of understanding of what the Street is looking for, but at the same time you have to keep your eye on the long-term value. I’ll admit, it does take a bullet-proof vest sometimes.

2. As a leader you have to be able to look out into the horizon. What is your vision for your stores?

Mariano: We’ve got to be totally differentiated from other retailers. I don’t want to look like Walmart, taste like Walmart, feel like Walmart.  Do I want to be aware of what they do? Yes. But I don’t want to do anything like them. (more…)


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Change in the C-Suite: Kaiser’s CEO Declares Diversity’s Value

December 11th, 2014 in Diversity by

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For a black man in corporate America, it takes courage to stand up to your boss when it comes to issues of race. But that’s exactly what Bernard Tyson did. During one of those somewhat awkward discussions about diversity with a high-ranking, white senior executive at Kaiser Permanente, the executive told Tyson, “I don’t see you as a black man. I see you as a smart individual.” Sounds reasonable enough. But that didn’t sit well with Tyson, then an up-and-coming leader at Kaiser. He was pleased this Kaiser heavyweight recognized his intelligence, but he was disappointed the senior leader dismissed an essential part of who Tyson is: a black man. “I was insulted,” Tyson recalls. “He insulted my heritage.”

In Tyson’s mind, he is unabashedly black, and proud of an African-American culture that, in large part, shapes how he thinks, sees the world, and relates to other people. To disregard that, however benign the intention, is the sort of color blindness that hurts corporations. So, Tyson didn’t hold his tongue. “Wait,” he said. “I am a black man!” He paused and explained to this high-ranking executive that it was important to see the value Tyson’s race and heritage bring to the workplace—the value all black employees bring, precisely because the lens of race gives them a different perspective.

Tyson’s bold stand was risky, but it paid off. In fact, the conversation led to an all-day retreat with a diversity facilitator, who helped Kaiser managers learn to leverage the totality of people on their teams. Today, almost 10 years after that conversation, Tyson has risen to Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente. The $56 billion health care provider employs a diverse workforce of 175,000, nearly 60% of which are ethnic minorities and 13% are African American. About 42% of the members of the leadership team are non-white and 25% are African American. Seventeen percent of the leadership team is made up of women.

But those numbers are rare in corporate America. Kaiser is technically a member-owned non-profit, but compares in size to a Fortune 100 company. In that sphere, Tyson is one of just five black CEOs. Worse, there are fewer African American, Latino, and Asian American CEOs leading major companies than there were back in 2007. (more…)


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HP Charts A New Course As Two Separate Companies

November 30th, 2014 in Business by

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By Kacper Szumiec

Recently, the hard drive on my HP Envy DV6 crashed during what should have been a routine HP software update. But after less than two years of ownership, the computer simply froze up entirely. Every piece of data stored on the hard drive got erased. Customer service was sympathetic and pleasant, but the best they could do was mail me a disk to refresh the drive to its original store-bought status. Any personal data that I didn’t save to the Google cloud was lost forever!

That frustrating experience is why I think HP’s decision to spin off the PC business into a separate company is a good thing. The Silicon Valley computer conglomerate is joining a growing list of companies splitting up in order to produce better products for their customers and to adapt to an evolving marketplace. On October 6, 2014, HP Chairman and CEO Meg Whitman announced a plan to divide the company into what she expects will be two separate Fortune 50 companies. The Printing and Personal Systems division (PCs and tablets) is set to become HP Inc, and the server, storage, networking, services and software units will combine into Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE).

This move will allow HP–whose sales slumped 2.5% from the year prior to $28.4 billion in the fourth quarter reported Nov. 25th–to become more flexible and keep up with competitors such as Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba on the PC side and with the likes of IBM on the enterprise services side. HP has been losing ground to all of those players in recent quarters. The spin-off process is estimated to take until next October, when Whitman would become CEO of HPE and non-executive chairman at HP Inc. (more…)


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Golf and Business: The Value of Networking on the Green

June 27th, 2014 in Business by


By Billy Dexter

billy-dexterThe old adage, “My worst day on the golf course still beats my best day in the office,” adorns many a wall in business centers around the country. The opportunity to spend four to five hours outdoors on a beautiful and well-manicured golf course enjoying the great weather, your favorite beverage and a group of friends, colleagues or clients is something many executives daydream about and try to make happen weekly during the golf season. For others, hitting the green is something to be dreaded, because they fear embarrassing themselves with their lack of golf skills and lack of knowledge about the language or etiquette of the game.

Playing a round of golf is often a better setting than a power lunch or boardroom meeting to make great connections. Executives play golf for professional and personal advancement. Golf is more than just a game; it is a skill that any professional person looking to advance his or her career should learn. Golf provides you with an opportunity to get to know people and business associates in a more leisurely way. (more…)


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NFL’s Washington Redskins Need Courageous Leadership

June 27th, 2014 in Leadership by

redskins-no-logo-small(NBA) Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.  — Magic Johnson, NBA Hall of Famer

Exemplary leadership doesn’t come easily. It takes courage. It takes a strength of character that, frankly, not too many possess. As one chief executive I know likes to say, the best of leaders don’t “succumb to the convenient.” They push to identify the best course, not just the easiest. That’s what the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did when faced with the scurrilous and prejudiced rants of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But the opposite is true of the National Football League’s leadership. When it comes to a series of prejudiced actions tainting the NFL, the league and its leaders have tripped and stumbled, fumbling away the opportunity like a slippery-fingered running back. (more…)


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NFL Players Chief Talks Race and Economics in Sports

June 27th, 2014 in Business by


DeMaurice (“De”) Smith is the Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the union for professional players in the National Football League (NFL). Under Smith’s leadership, the NFL players negotiated a historic 10-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with NFL owners in August 2011. The new CBA achieves unprecedented benefits for players, including new health and safety protocols in effect throughout the season and into retirement. Prior to his work with the NFLPA, Smith was a trial lawyer and litigation partner in the Washington, D.C. offices of Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs. Before his tenure in the private sector, Smith served as Counsel to then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder (now United States Attorney General) in the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Monday, June 9, 2014, Smith made time for a special visit to participate in a luncheon executive chat at the Chicago law offices of Winston & Strawn. The conversation, which benefited the youth educational programs of LINK Unlimited, was essentially Part II in our discussion on the business of professional football (click NFLPA @ Met Club Chicago to read Part I). After a light lunch, an estimated 75 executive guests enjoyed our ongoing discussion about doing business with the world’s richest sports league, race relations in sports and issues of player health and safety. Here is an edited transcript of Smith’s responses to five major topics of inquiry:

1.) Crockett: Pro basketball has been praised for its no-tolerance policy in the Donald Sterling case. The NFL seems prepared to ban racial slurs on the filed but has been more tolerant of racially insensitivity off the field. How do you feel about how the NFL handles race?

Smith: Yes, the NFL is a $10 billion a year business. It’s commoditized, and sold and packaged. But the essence of why our fans love our sport is for the beauty of sport. When it comes to race relations and tolerance of ideas, it seems to me that what we want to accomplish is that nobody should be in the business of trying to intentionally hurt, harm or slur anyone. (more…)


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The Future of Healthcare: How Industry Leaders See It

May 22nd, 2014 in Business by


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was touted as a bill for the better—legislative CPR that would breath new life into the American healthcare system for the good of all. The new policy is supposed to extend coverage to those previously without it, increase access to coverage, boost competition among payors, and limit restrictions from insurance companies. However, the rollout has been undermined by computer glitches, missed deadlines, underwhelming enrollment, and intense Congressional opposition. So, is healthcare reform working? How is it impacting business and patients? What innovations in the delivery of care can we anticipate?

I sat with three top industry executives during a panel discussion April, 23rd at the Metropolitan Club of Chicago: Michelle Gaskill, President of Advocate Trinity Hospital on Chicago’s southeast side; Ken Olson, President of Horton Benefit Solutions, which advises large and small employers on healthcare and insurance matters; and Dan Yunker, CEO of Land of Lincoln Health, the first non-profit health insurance company in Illinois governed by its consumers. In the lively discussion, co-sponsored by Heidrick & Strugggles, we dissected the shifting sands of healthcare. Here are edited excerpts:

On whether the ACA is working?

Gaskill: It’s working for some but there are a lot of challenges for some also. From the provider (hospital) perspective there are a number of pressures that we are still trying to figure out. (more…)


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Huffington’s Secret To Executive Health And Success

May 15th, 2014 in Video by

Perhaps you’ve heard Arianna Huffington’s most recent monologue on success: The apogee of achievement should not to be defined by that quintessentially capitalistic combo of money and power. Sure, success as defined by money and power might be macho. It might lead to a bigger bank account. But at what cost? Huffington, in Chicago recently to give the keynote at the “Women in the Forefront” luncheon organized by The Chicago Network, argues for a third success metric beyond money and power. Well-being. Not that money and power don’t contribute to success. It’s just that without physical and mental well-being—the “third leg of the stool,” as she calls it—we put our health in danger. Without that third leg we risk toppling over, as Huffington literally did back in 2007, when she collapsed from exhaustion, only to awake in a pool of her own blood.

I have to agree with Huffington, the Chair, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post. Particularly, those of us in business tend to lavish rather irrational praise on over exuberant workaholics (I mean the indefatigable 24/7 kind of work fiend). Pulling an all-nighter is held in high esteem by too many colleagues and bosses. Sleep is somehow undermined. It’s considered a sign of weakness. And that’s not only silly, it’s downright unhealthy. So, to her credit, ever since her fall, Huffington has been evangelizing on the benefits of sleep (the 8-hours-a-night, plus a mid-day nap kind of sleep). She’s not espousing laziness, as the modern-day, work-life imbalanced employee might think. The fact is, it is when we are well rested that we are at our best. That’s when we make the best decisions. After all, as Huffington told the Chicago crowd, “we should pay employees for their judgment, not their stamina.” To see Ms. Huffington express her views on the value of sleep, check out the TED video above.


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