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Teri Bernstein, MBA, CPA has been teaching full time in the Business Department of Santa Monica College since 1985.  Prior to that, she worked in Internal Audit and Special Financial Projects for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, CBS, Inc., and Coopers & Lybrand (which is now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers).  She attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.


  • Maximizing productivity: take the strengths survey

    image from the energystrategy.eu No one can be productive at work when they are preoccupied with their problems or wallowing in unhappiness. According to the consultants at Energy Strategy (based in Amsterdam), a key to maintaining personal happiness is cultivating your strengths. Since many of us find it difficult to identify our own strengths, it is best to ask people who know you well...or take this Character Strengths Survey (it is the near the bottom of the list). The survey results will identify five strengths. Then you can make of list of what gives you pleasure and another list of what, if you were at the end of your life, would you look back on and feel had meaning. Match up your strengths with what gives you pleasure and meaning, and you have some paths to happiness. Making rituals to remind you to take actions multiple times per day to give your strengths an opportunity to influence your environment, and you have a chance at increasing your happiness--in spite of what your natural state seems to be. If you are at work, your strengths are what will build your success. I did these activities at a workshop--and, simple though they seem, they were not easy. I was a little at odds with one of the strengths that both the survey and friends had identified in me: bravery. How could that lead to pleasure or meaning? Most of the times in my life where I have acted bravely have been extremely uncomfortable. One of the young people in my breakout group had an interesting insight. She asked how I felt in the moments or days before I took an action that required bravery. Did I feel torn? In an ethical dilemma? Was I afraid? Did taking action relieve any of these negative feelings? Were there positive results? She had a good point. Acting from bravery led to being less unhappy, if not happier. And those actions produced positive outcomes in the long run. Hmmm. For most people, identifying strengths and building on those strengths can lead to increased satisfaction and business success. Can you identify your strengths? Source: " Happier at Work: How to Embed the Science of Happiness in the Way We Work " by Rens ter Weijde for Energy Strategy , workshop May 31, 2014. F ollow up: Take the survey. What are your five identified strengths? How do you resonate with those strengths? How are you at odds with those strengths? How can you see applying these exercises to improving your work performance or managing others?
  • California dream or tragic corruption?

    image from www.senate.ca.gov Two widely divergent opinions are expressed in the linked article. Corruption and collusion are alleged by those supporting one side of this issue. Fairness is alleged by those supporting the other side. In any event, the issue--a loan program for California high school graduates without U.S. citizenship--highlights how divergent opinions can be when money is involved. The communication techniques on both sides of the issue can be identified and analyzed by a critically-thinking reader. What arguments are emotional? What arguments are fact-based? How are hyperbole used by each side? Identify, for each side, the selection of only those facts that support their position. Demographic predictions for the state of California--and their implications for business--seem to have been ignored by both sides. Nevertheless, demographics are usually a major factor in the business economy. Source: " Senator Lara Announces the California Dream Loan Program–College Loans for Illegal Aliens " by Stephen Frank, California Political News and Views, April 4, 2014. F ollow up: Putting your personal feelings aside, analyze the positions taken in the linked article with respect to principles of business communication. What effect might SB 1210 have on small business in California? Read the demographic data on Report P-1(Race) as you form your thesis. Comment on the communication techniques used by those posting comments to the linked article.
  • How much would a Made-In-America iPhone cost?

    Ironically, the image above is from the Moto X, which can be made in America for approximately the cost of making it overseas. "How much would an iPhone cost if it were entirely made in the U.S.?" This question was posed on a recent Marketplace radio-cast. The supporting data had already been analyzed by IHS Technology . The bottom line? A 100% American-made iPhone would cost around $2,000...compared to the $650 - $850 retail cost of the iPhone on the market today. It turns out the the increased price is partly due to labor costs and partly due to supply-chain issues for component parts. Labor in the U.S. is two to three times the cost of labor in China, where the phones are currently manufactured. But access to the needed parts is a larger factor. Whole "villages" have evolved around iPhone manufacture in China (for example, Shenzen) . Component parts are nearby and few logistics problems exist to keep the assembly lines for iPhones moving. In addition, labor costs for the manufacture of component parts--the most expensive of which is the display-- are also a factor . Source: " How much would an all-American iPhone cost? " by Stacey Vanek Smith, Marketplace, American Public Media, May 20, 2014. F ollow up: Does it matter to you where the iPhone is made? Is maintaining production facilities and production jobs in the USA a value to you? List your reasons. Read the link regarding the Moto X as well. One point in that article is that customization is possible with the Moto X. What do the authors of that article see as the pros and cons of American production for that phone? What percentage mark-up, from cost to retail, is IHS assuming in arriving at the $2,000 retail estimate?
  • Brainstorm: harnessing the amazing and wonderful adolescent brain

    [View:http://community.cengage.com/GECResource/themes/gew/ utility/ :550:0] Full length video via YouTube If you are between the ages of 12 and 24--this book can empower you and help you become more effective in your business life and in your personal life. If you are an educator or a manager, it can provide guidelines about motivating students or employees. If you a public policy wonk, it can provide you with the template for an incubator that could solve the world's problems. But if you are an entrepreneur looking to make a fast buck, there is no magic bullet here. A classic way to make money is to create a problem or a need and sell a product or a service that will fix that problem or assuage that need. Demonizing "the teenage brain" and naming diseases and syndromes to identify as a "problem" what may in fact be a natural evolutionary necessity creates business opportunities. Therapists, counselors, pharmaceutical companies, testing laboratories and departments in institutions of higher learning can all profit. If the characteristics of the adolescent brain are hard-wired as part of human growth--making this a problem to be solved is, from a marketing perspective, a huge and unending potential source of revenue. The author of this book takes a different perspective. He argues that the human brain is infinitely "programmable," and that each individual is the best programmer for their own brain. He also argues that the years between 12 and 24 are like a Silicon Valley incubator (or "start-up accelerator") . Any effort during this time period can bring greater life-time rewards. And some of the most effective tools are totally free. The investment requires a small amount of time daily, and the willingness to be in charge of one's own personal brain development. Source: " Brainstorm " by Dan Siegel, M.D., published by Tarcher, 2014. F ollow up: Are the approaches suggested by Dr. Siegel low-risk or high-risk investments? If you were managing a department with individuals in their first jobs out of college, how could you apply some of these principles in a practical way?
  • Wanna make $21 per hour at McDonald's? Move to Denmark

    image from reuters In Denmark, there are two McDonald's wage levels: $21 per hour applies to adults 18 years of age and over. $15 per hour is the minimum wage for workers under 18 years old. Even the lower wage level is more than double the minimum wage for adults in the U.S.--and it exists in a public policy environment where health care is universal. These wage levels were not McDonald's idea. They were bargained for by a union--and putting that union in place required years of work. Sometimes the discussion in the U.S. media around the minimum wage ignores the profits being made by large corporations. The talking points center on the hurdles all costs are for small businesses just starting up. An additional argument for a higher minimum wage is that boosting wages for the lowest paid workers also boosts the salaries of entry-level professionals. This might mean less profit for stockholders of corporations like McDonalds--or fewer bonuses at the highest levels of management. Nevertheless, it also might mean that the social service costs of low-income wage earners are shifted away from middle class taxpayers and onto the corporations who are profiting from the labor provided at these low wages. What do you think? Source: " I’m making $21 an hour at McDonald’s. Why aren’t you? , " by Louise Marie Rantzau, Reuters: The Great Debate , May 15, 2014. F ollow up: One definition of the "minimum wage" is a " living wage ": the wage level that, with full-time work, can support a four person family at a lowest-rung middle class level. What do you think would be the living expenses at this level? What are the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage in the U.S.? What would be your definition of "minimum wage"? Is the concept of a "living wage" relevant? Would one wage work for the entire country? Research the wages paid at Chipotle, Costco and Walmart. How do minimum wage laws affect large corporations and small businesses differently? Have you ever supported yourself while being paid a minimum wage? Explain how that worked or didn't work. Read the article to find out how working for the current U.S. minimum wage affects others, if you do not have experience of your own.
  • Berkshire Hathaway: TRUST is everything...no matter what others say

    [View:http://community.cengage.com/GECResource/themes/gew/utility/ :550:0] video from WSJ: Woodstock for Capitalists Charlie Munger, vice chairperson of Berkshire Hathaway ,was at " Woodstock for Capitalists " recently. Munger is a long-time friend of Warren Buffet. Munger's take-away quote: “ By the standards of the rest of the world, we overtrust. So far it has worked very well for us. Some would see it as weakness.” The statement was a response to the overwhelming trend in businesses and educational institutions to "lawyer up." In addition, businesses are now spending millions on consultants that specialize in (minimum-possible) compliance with regulations. Munger's point was that a better use of business energy is to hire those you trust...and to skip creating an environment of distrust and policing. The Rock Center for Corporate Governance (Stanford University) is studying Munger's thesis with respect to its validity and efficacy as corporate policy. Source: " Berkshire Hathaway Promotes Trust , " by Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times , May 5, 2014. F ollow up: How much does Berkshire Hathaway spend on corporate counsel? Why is this unusual, and what other policy is unusual with respect to other corporations' behavior? Could it constitute "negligence," as suggested in this article? Munger has said (regarding the policy in Roman times), " If you build a bridge, you stood under the arch when the scaffolding was removed .” What do you think this means, in terms of being a metaphor for modern corporate behavior? In what other (major) ways is trust important to business transactions?
  • Dealflicks: selling seats nobody wants is a valuable business

    image from wefunder.com Dealflicks is like Priceline: it tries to match moviegoers with seats that are not otherwise going to be used --and offers big discounts. According to Sean Wycliffe, CEO of Dealflicks, the statistics show that 88% of movie theater seats go empty. This is a marketing niche that was crying to be filled! Entrepreneur Kevin Hong teamed up with Wycliff and website whiz Zachary Cancio to start the business with venture capital funding. Wong and his sales teams have traveled the U.S. in their minivan trying to woo theaters across America into signing up with their service. image from article linked below Dealflicks is very flexible--letting the theaters set prices and determine which shows get discounted. Moviegoers access the deals via phone apps or the Dealflicks website. Dealflicks makes its money by taking 10% to 20% of the ticket price. Last year, sales were $245,000...but they are projected to be more than $2 million this year. Source: " Dealflicks aims to put movie fans in cheaper seats, " by Richard Verrier, the Los Angeles Times , May 6, 2014. F ollow up: According to the article, when do discounted tickets really work for the theater owners? What are the downsides? Who funded Dealflicks? What was their motivation? Why does Wong make sales calls by minivan rather than by phone?
  • Lying with statistics: how to read the labor graphs

    Note: You can't really play the video, it is a screenshot [due to an embed FAIL]. The Video is linked at NYT On the first Friday of the month, the labor report comes out. The airwaves, business print, and internet sites are full of conclusions and spin. But what does it all mean? In fact, the statistics--and the way they are presented--can be very misleading. The "margin of error" in the reports could mean that EITHER one of the following two graphs would be accurate, based on the exact same set of data: OR..using the SAME data, the jobs report could look like this! What is the difference? The statistical swing is partly the result of the unknowns and seasonal fluctuations. Is the job increase or decrease the result of holiday hirings or layoffs? Are people slow to start looking for work again? Or... has there been a sampling error in the data presented? [Note: the sampling error of a few hundred thousand jobs in question is a small percentage of the 130 million jobs in the economy, but the sampling error is extrapolated as though it represents the economy as a whole.] In addition, one month of data can't really tell you what the trend is. The problem is: the Labor Report and the analysts who read the report influence stock traders. Traders influence the market...So misleading labor statistics can really skew the real-life results of financial trading based on the labor analysis. Also, the voting public can be influenced by "trends" that don't really have a basis in reality. One reason for this is that each one of us, as a human being, has a brain that is wired to make sense of whatever data we get...so we are more comfortable coming to a wrong conclusion than we are with hanging out with random, meaningless data. All we can do is be aware of the problem, and try not to take action on data that we don't really understand. Sources: " How Not to be Misled by the Jobs Report , " by Neil Irwin and Kevin Quealy, the New York Times , May 2, 2014. F ollow up: According to the article, what conclusions CAN be drawn from the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Report?
  • 48,000 Adidas and Nike workers on strike in China

    image from the Associated Press via the Epoch Times; linked below " 48,000 workers at the Chinese shoe supplier to Nike and Adidas, Yue Yuen (part of the Pou Chen Group), have been striking since 14 April. Workers went on strike to demand that the company repay years of stolen social insurance payments, implement a significant wage increase, and sign legal labour contracts (having found that the company had been making them sign fake work contracts for nearly 20 years). The company had responded by offering a measly wage increase and cost of living payment that the workers rejected. The sheer scale and longevity of the action represents an historic turn in the formation of global capitalism. There are a number of reasons why this strike is terrifying not only for the supplier factory bosses in China but also for transnational capitalism." The above, slightly alarming report from http://wire.novaramedia.com/ first came to my attention while I was perusing the blog site The Daily Kos . Since the strike was large, since the strike involved American and European companies, and since the strike had been on-going on for almost two weeks, I was surprised that it wasn't being reported elsewhere. The Associated Press (AP) did report that about 75% of the striking workers returned to the job within the last few days, even though there was no formal agreement with the immediate Chinese employer, the Taiwan-based Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Ltd . The AP also reported that the return to work had been "assisted by the police," and that it was unclear why the workers had, in fact, returned. Global labor issues influencing this industry include the shortage of a migrant labor, and increasing labor activism. These and other factors are driving up prices. It remains to be seen how this dispute finally settles out. Sources: " Huge Strike in China (and not a word from anyone) , " by James Leo, the Daily Kos , April 27, 2014. " Strike ends Partially at Massive Chinese Shoe Factory That Produces for Adidas, Nike, New Balance ," by the Associated Press , published by the Epoch Times , April 26, 2014. Follow us: @EpochTimes on Twitter | epochtimes on Facebook F ollow up: Why do you think a huge labor strike like this is not getting major media attention on CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews and in the major newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal)? What are the major issues involved in this strike? Do you think they have been resolved? Why or why not?
  • What "the 1% don't want you to know": Paul Krugman on Thomas Piketty

    image is from an interview at BillMoyers.com, via VIMEO According to Paul Krugman 's analysis of newly observed changes in the structure of the U.S. economy, if you are not part of a family in which you will get a piece of inherited wealth--you and your own heirs are doomed. Not only will you never be rich--you and your family will become poorer with each generation...as those with inherited family wealth become richer. The focal point of the interview linked above between Bill Moyers and Paul Krugman is the new book by Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics: Capital in the Twenty-First Century . In the book Piketty delineates how 67% of the increase in the top-heavy distribution of wealth that has occurred since the 1970's is the result of huge raises given to corporate executives. These huge salaries, combined with tax and other governmental policies in the U.S., have created the perfect storm for the formation of an oligarchical economic structure that has now become hard-wired and institutionalized. Krugman makes the additional point that wealth is now so concentrated that it is invisible to most of the public--the shear size of the fortunes are out of the realm of what the average person can understand in terms of wealth management. The impact of this wealth concentration on middle and lower income people in the United States is much more pronounced than it is in Europe because governmental policies in Europe create a higher standard of living for the poorest 20% by providing health care, higher minimum wage and other income and social service support. book image from amazon.com Krugman experienced reading Piketty's book as as "Eureka!" moment, as it showed how radically the economic structure had changed when analyzed over the long term. The book also pointed out that o nce wealth is held in the hands of the oligarchical few, it becomes nearly impossible to change the laws to tax the wealthy at a greater rate. The concentrated wealth has gained control over public policy as well. Can the situation be changed--to favor real competition and the growth of small businesses and the middle class? I'm going to read the book to find out... Source: " Bill Moyers w/Paul Krugman: “What the 1% Don't Want You to Know ” " by bobswern, the Daily Kos , April 18, 2014. F ollow up: According to Paul Krugman, what forces might counter the oligarchical situation which we now find ourselves in? [this is about 18 minutes into the interview] What is the "high r, low g" economy that Krugman refers to? According to Bill Moyers and tax analysts, how many times greater are top management salaries more than low income workers, based on recent tax data?
  • Managing Up vs. Managing Down: two different skill sets

    Kim Bowers of CST Brands: image from the New York Times article linked below Kim Bowers is the CEO of CST Brands , a large "corner store" retailer (they are a spin-off from the gas station company Valero ). She was recently featured in the NYT "Corner Office " article area, focusing on her views about management and human resources. Ms. Bowers indicated that over time, she has become "less tolerant of bad attitudes," and is quicker to sense when investing in an employee would be a waste of time and resources. She also has strong views about "managing up" (knowing how to communicate effectively with your boss) versus "managing down" (leading or inspiring the employees who report to you). Kim Bowers says: " I put people into two different categories: people who manage up really well and people who manage down really well, and I love the latter. If I find someone whose team would walk across hot coals for them, that’s the person I want to work with because I know there is authenticity there, and they are supporting their teams and vice versa. It’s the folks who manage up really well but have this underlying storm all the time who concern me because you don’t know if they’re just trying to charm to cover up. " Both skills need to be developed for an employee to be able to adapt to different types of leadership. Here are some guidelines from a different source: graphic from sochal.wordpress.com Ms. Bowers also has some advice for college students: " Make sure not to set your expectations too low for what you can do, and recognize that at every twist and turn you’re going to have opportunities to expand your horizons, and you should take those. You shouldn’t be looking just to climb the ladder, but be open to opportunities that let you climb that ladder ." Sources: " Kim Bowers of CST Brands on Managing Up vs. Managing Down ," by Kim Bowers, the New York Times, April 5, 2014. F ollow up: What was Kim Bowers' "CIA story"? Has fate ever intervened for you in a big decision? Do you think Ms. Bowers' early management experience shaped the views she holds today? Do you think her family position (birth order) influenced how she manages? Give examples. Do you do better at Managing Up or Managing Down? Why? What is hardest for you in the area where you are weaker?
  • SAT scores wanted by employers in hiring process

    chart published in the Wall Street Journal Did you think that once you got into the college of your choice that you could forget about your SAT scores? As it turns out, they might follow you from job search to job search. What employers are looking at these scores? McKinsey & Company , Bain & Company , Goldman Sachs . Even though performance on ACHIEVEMENT tests rather than APTITUDE tests (like the SAT) is a better predictor of success, the differences aren't enough to make employers develop their own tests. It is easier for employers getting thousands of applications to use the usually-available SAT test score to weed out candidates from these large applicant pools. And according to the NYT article, the SAT " measures what psychologists call 'g,' or general mental ability — how well a person might respond to an unspecified challenge. In this age of rapidly changing technology and constantly upgraded skills, 'g' may be a better predictor of success than expertise in a specific software package . " Sources: " How Businesses Use Your SATs ," by Shaila Dewan, the New York Times , March 29, 2014. F ollow up: What do you think about the pros and cons of using SAT scores to weed out candidates for employment? What did the article say were reasons that some employers do NOT use SAT scores in their hiring decisions?
  • Too late for Obamacare?

    image from healthcare.gov website Many individuals who have not been lucky enough to have parent-sponsored or employer-sponsored health care--as well as uninsured individuals--procrastinated when it came to signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Some of the hesitation was due to the technology failures, but some of it was due to a mis-perception about where one might land in the pie-chart below. The big fear, of course, is that one would be unable to get a good deal on new insurance, and would fall into the 3% "potential losers" category. In any event, the "deadline" for enrollment was March 31, 2014. But there might be ways for those who did not manage to obtain coverage to still be enrolled, according to an Associated Press article. image from offeringhope.org Here are some possibilities to obtain a second chance to sign up, or avoid a fine for being uninsured: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE GRACE PERIOD : If you started to enroll by March 31, but couldn't finish, have until April 15th to complete an online application or until April 7th to turn in a paper application. USE A SPECIAL ENROLLMENT PERIOD : Special 60-day enrollment periods are being considered by the federal call center (800) 318-2596 and by the state marketplaces. Some of the special extension are being granted for emergency hardships, for example: bad weather, domestic abuse, illness, errors by advisors and insurance companies. These special enrollment periods also open up throughout the year for life events (job changes, marriage, divorce, parenthood). SIGN UP FOR MEDICAID : There is no deadline for those eligible for Medicaid to sign up--and now Medicaid is open to adults making less than $16,100 per year, as well as families with children. BUY INSURANCE OUTSIDE THE GOVERNMENT MARKETPLACES : Even if you can't get the government subsidies this year, you can still buy insurance privately. Obamacare means you can't be refused for pre-existing conditions, so it will be more "worth it" than it was before. PLAN AHEAD FOR THE NEXT ENROLLMENT PERIOD : It starts November 15, 2014 and it runs for 3 months. Do your research early! Sources: " Putting Rate Shock Into Perspective ," by Joan McCarter, The Daily Kos , October 31, 2013. " It's STILL not too late to sign up for Obamacare ," by The Associated Press via blackamericaweb.com , April 1, 2014. Follow up: What is one of the hurdles that people wanting to take advance of the grace period or special enrollment periods have to jump through? Will proof be required, or is it on the "honor system"? Explain the pros and cons of this. In an ideal world, how would health insurance be handled? Do some research and provide support for your answer.
  • SUCCESS

    Doesn't everyone want to be successful? However one measures success in one's own terms, the idea of achieving one's goals feels good. I like Winston Churchill's spin on things. Actually, I think it is the best advice ever. So many biographies of great leaders have been stories of failure upon failure, until success was achieved. Sometimes, even then--it is not the success imagined...but the results are a substantial improvement from the starting point. The article linked below has advice that can apply to everyone, but it is more in the mode of the "do this and you will succeed" model...it doesn't really address the back-tracking aspect of every success story. The cartoon below can tell my own story: image from mpmhspharmacystudents.blogspot.com Source: " 9 Soft Skills for Success, " by Sean Hewitt, Ask Men . Follow up: Actually, Winston Churchill is not quoted accurately in the image above. What did he really say? Does the paraphrasing mean the same thing? Describe a failure from your own life that led to a later success.
  • Reasonable compensation or crazy windfall?

    Coca-Cola recently sent out its annual report...and it seems that its executive compensation is excessive--much like the compensation of many U.S. corporations. image from the New York Times Coca-Cola disclosed that it planned to pay $13 billion over the next year to its top executives. This represents 14.2% of the value of the company. David Winters, an analyst at Wintergreen Adviser (and Coca Cola stockholder), who "wants to own Coca Cola stock forever," took exception to this proposed payment, and was surprised that Warren Buffett, who owns a 9.1% stake in Coca Cola, would tolerate this. Coca-Cola's response was inconclusive, but since the compensation package needs to be approved by the shareholders, it remains to be seen whether it flies. According to the article, " Mr. Winters’s analysis 'is misinformed and does not reflect the facts .'" The reality is that there are contingencies. Still, the upside is huge. What, really, is fair compensation? Source: " A Question of What’s a Reasonable Reward ," by Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times , March 24, 2013. Follow up: Research the ratio between lowest worker's compensation and the highest executive compensation as norms. Check out Japanese business norms, as well as historical (1970's) norms. How does this relate to the current levels Coca Cola is proposing?
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