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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.

  • Coffee convenience bad for the environment (and expensive)

    image from As a committed coffee enthusiast, I periodically pine for a Keurig single-service brewing machine. The problem is, the little cups that that machine requires are not only expensive--they are bad for the environment. Still--the convenience and the visual artistry of it all does speak to me. I have to admit that the first time I tried to use this machine--at a motel--I had no idea how to manage it, and I made every mistake, creating a colossal mess. Now, however, I am an expert, and each morning--as I am either making my pot of home brew or walking the 1/2 a block to my neighborhood coffee house--I fantasize about what it would be like to have one of those splendid little single-brew machines. I'm not alone. In 2008, single-pod coffee sales were $132 million; in 2013, they were $3.1 Billion. But there are issues. First, to properly recycle the remains of the pods means separating the aluminum top, from the plastic pod, from the wet coffee. Do users really do that? Probably not. Moreover, the #7 plastic that almost all of the K-cups are made from is not recyclable. In addition: there are a lot of tiny cups to recycle. To put it in perspective, the 8.3 billion cups produced last year by Green Mountain for Keurig machines would circle the earth more than 10 times. For now, I'm sticking to home-brewed or my Tall red-eye half-caf dark in a personal cup at my local coffee place. Source: " Your Coffee Pods' Dirty Secret ," by Maddie Oatman, Mother Jones , March 19, 2014. Follow up: Make a chart comparing the cost of a cup of coffee, 5 cups, 10 cups, 20 cups, 100 cups and 365 cups brewed vs. K-cup. What can you conclude from this analysis? What are all of the environmental and health issues of these cups, according to the article?
  • Jobs added in February: what does it mean?

    [View: gew/utility/ :550:0] Link to video from Bloomberg , via LA Times. How can the number of jobs increase by 175,000 in the last the same time the unemployment rate ALSO goes up by .1%? And is this news good or bad? Part of analyzing labor reports is looking at what had been since 150,000 new jobs had been predicted by economists, the increase of 25,000 more than had been predicted is a positive outcome. 162,000 of the new jobs were private sector jobs and 13,000 of the new jobs were government jobs. The unemployment rate was expected to stay flat at 6.6%, but it did increase to 6.7%. Is this because more people than were expected to look for work were entering the job market? Is it because the bad weather decreased job opportunities or eliminated some part time jobs? The Labor Report is filled with statistics, but not many answers. Other factors measured include: The percentage of people in the workforce The length of the average workweek in hours Average hourly earnings (which were at $24.31/hr in February) Source: " Economy adds 175,000 jobs in February; unemployment rate up to 6.7% " by Jim Puzzangherra, Los Angeles Times , March 7, 2014. Follow up: How much has the bad weather affected the employment rates, according to the video? What employment sector LOST jobs in February? How would you explain this loss?
  • Substance vs. form: who you are versus how you look

    image from Which is more important: Who you ARE? or How you LOOK? What you CAN do? or What other people THINK you can do? Whether personal gain influences the decisions you make for others? or Whether it looks as though you could benefit financially from the decisions you make for others? In the current social environment of Twitter and Instagram--where one picture or fewer than 140 characters can communicate information in isolation--without context or the opportunity for rebuttal or additional information, it seems as though "form" may have the upper hand. One bad review on Yelp can unfairly effect the reputation and revenue stream of a restaurant. When it comes to making life choices--about where to live, what to own, who to hang out with, and where to work--form and substance can guide your decision-making process in very different ways. Choices based on how things look to others might bring you a different kind of security of satisfaction than choices based on how you feel and what is important to you--regardless of the opinions of others. According to Peter Vadja , " Substance is the inner you. Substance is your true, authentic self. It's the 'you' who shows up with the conscious intention of doing and being the very best you can be in every area of your life... Substance focuses on truth-telling, not elaborate stories, rationalizations and excuses for avoiding the truth. Substance focuses on integrity, not tap-dancing around honesty, sincerity and self-responsibility. Substance focuses on conscious self-management, not on controlling others ." Peter Vadja is the author of " Becoming a Better You: Who You Are vs. Who You Think You Are ." The issue of substance vs. form also arises in accounting and auditing relationships and in determining whether certain investments are properly held when political figures are part of decisions that affect the profit margins of companies in which investments may be held. Source: " Substance vs. Form, " by Peter Vadja, Management, October 21, 2013. Follow up: Pick an arena (for example--choosing a person to "date"--but don't pick this one, pick your own). What factors influence your choice of who to "date" in substance? What factors influence your choice in form? (That is, how does the person look to you and to others.) How do you decide which to value? How do issues of form and substance affect hiring decisions? What about discrimination issue, in various Human Resources decisions? How do issues of form and substance affect performance reviews and management decisions?
  • Blackfish: whistleblowing ethics and animal welfare

    image from What do the bands Heart, Willie Nelson, and Barenaked Ladies have in common? It seems that all of them have dropped out of commitments to play at SeaWorld due to the " Blackfish " scandal. Animal welfare is a hot-button topic that can polarize fans and radically influence events. If you aren't up on this particular scandal, here are the particulars: "Blackfish" is a documentary, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite , that is critical of the treatment of whales in captivity. It is currently available on Netflix . Controversy surrounding the leaking of documents relating to the 2010 fatal attack by a killer whale named Tilikum on Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer, is a major part of the current issue. SeaWorld has pursued an aggressive campaign to deny harm to killer whales in captivity and to block certain OSHA officers from oversight of their facilities while the whole issue is under review. According to the NYT article, " Whether the film and a subsequent debate about the propriety of orca captivity have taken a toll on SeaWorld’s business — a publicly traded company with a stock market value of more than $3 billion — remains an open question ." Whether relevant or not..."Blackfish"--once considered a contender for the 2013 Best Documentary Oscar--was not nominated. It seems that SeaWorld's pushback against what may or may not have been unfair ethical complaints has had some influence in at least the small community of Academy voters. It remains to be seen what effects accusations--true or untrue--may have on the SeaWorld business model for years to come. Source: " Seaworld Questions Ethics of Blackfish Investigator ," by Michael Cieply, New York Times, February 28, 2014. Follow up: What effect do animal rights issues have on you and your business decisions? Do you eat meat? Wear fur? Wear leather shoes or belts? How do these issues affect your peer group? Are there any broader issues that influence your decisions? What are your thoughts about misplaced indignation and the effects it can have on legitimate business operations? What should the penalties, if any, be for this type of breach? What should the standards of proof or business harm be for damages? Have you seen "Blackfish"? What are your thoughts?
  • Sweet-to-the-core product launch

    image from article linked below Pictured above is one of Ben & Jerry's new "core" ice cream flavors: Hazed and Confused. There is a core of Nutella (chocolate/hazelnut), surrounded by hazelnut ice cream and chocolate ice cream with fudge chips. The products in this launch have multiple ice creams in one yummy container. Ben & Jerry's is a company that started in 1978. During that time, they have expanded world-wide and have remained profitable. One way that they have continued to thrive has been to adapt their product line on a regular basis. This product launch is one innovation. The other products that are a part of this launch are: That's My Jam Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Salted Caramel I wish I could say I'd already done a product taste test. Which flavor do you think will be most successful? Source: " Ben & Jerry's Nails It With New Core Ice Cream Flavors, " Huffington Post, February 25, 2014. Follow up: Read about Ben & Jerry's on their website, linked above. What attributes make Ben & Jerry's different from other corporations, and in what way is it similar in terms of structure? What are Ben & Jerry's "core" values? How do they influence the following: marketing campaigns? product manufacture? employee relations?
  • Income inequality

    [View: utility/ :550:0] video from mediaMatters. com Income inequality may be the greatest problem that current and future generations of Americans face. It matters little who is to blame. It is important to identify and act on the what can be done about it. It is interesting to see how one's perspective can change when one's circumstances change. If a person is doing really well, sometimes they think that income inequality is not an issue. But if they lose their job, or become disabled all of us who are lucky to live so long...grow old--the principle "I've got mine...too bad if you don't have yours" doesn't seem to be the best way to go. Source: " Fox Doesn't Believe In Income Inequality But Still Blames Obama For It ," by Tyler Hansen, Media , January 14, 2014. Follow up: What are your thoughts about income inequality? Are you a "have" or a "have-not"? What about your parents or grandparents? Do you think that solutions to this perceived problem should be implemented? Who should be in charge? What should the governing values be?
  • Small business opportunities for 2014

    image from Thinking of starting a small business in 2014? Here are fields where some experts think there are significant opportunities: Social Media Consultant --Since many companies want to get on the social media bandwagon, but few have the skills to set up and manage social media, an opportunity exists for individuals who know social media advertising techniques. Application Engineer --or "App creator"--These professionals can design small single-function programs to be used on various mobile devices. Green Living Adviser --Companies and individuals need help to learn the skills of living and working in line with sustainability principles. Personal Coach --no kidding--this can be a lucrative career for those who truly enjoying seeing the strengths in others and helping them reach their life goals--and people are willing to pay others to help them. Professional Organizer --The TV program "Hoarders" has help boost business for professional organizers, who help people sort through their belongings and organize their lives and the spaces they live in. Retirement Services Provider --Many service opportunities exist for helping the "active" retiree who wants to learn new skills, or travel on trips that cater to their needs, or rent property in an up-and-coming retirement community. Elder Services Provider --As the baby boom generation ages beyond the "active retiree" stage, they will need more help with "activities of daily living" such as grocery shopping, driving to appointments, paying bills, pet care, food preparation...or help organizing a move to an assisted living situation. Personal Concierge --Busy lives mean that people are willing to pay others to do their personal business--shopping, errand-running, setting up appointments--whatever comes up. Specialty Food Supplier --A person who knows about food and logistics can either market online or provide help to smaller groceries who want to provide gluten-free or other allergy related foods for their customers. IT consultant --More businesses are going fully digital, so the need for professionals able to maintain and debug systems will continue to grow. I haven't personally researched most of these suggestions as a market analyst, but I have personally hired individuals working in 5 of the fields mentioned... Source: " Top 10 Small Businesses To Start In 2014 " by Amber Rose, Empowered Ezine, January 9, 2014, picked up by PRNewswire . Follow up: Do any of these suggestions look like a good fit for you? If so, research the start up costs and possible revenues. Which of these jobs seems to have the most potential--either in terms of money or in terms of personal fulfillment?
  • Body parts: an entrepreneurial business opportunity?

    image from OK...These are mannequin body parts. So I guess it isn't quite as gruesome as real body parts. But who knew they would represent an entrepreneurial opportunity? Actually, the business-- Mannequin Madness --has been in existence for 15 years. The revenues are modest but not inconsequential: they range from $500,000 to $800,000 annually...and the work involves selling, renting and recycling mannequins. The entrepreneur, Ms. Henderson-Townsend, says that she was perusing Craigslist one day...and came upon a person selling mannequins and parts. She bought the entire inventory for $2500. She first ran a rental business part time, but, when her employer went bankrupt in the following year, she pursued the business full time. She found that it was moderately easy to accumulate the non-biodegradable mannequin parts as inventory...which she then recycled to Sears, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren and Kohl's. The Environment al Protection Agency gave her an award for recycling more than 100,000 pounds of mannequin in a year. She hopes her newly independently-contracted "controller" can help her figure out how to manage and control her business and her profits. In addition, she ha s been reading: “ How Rich People Think ” by Steve Siebold. She is trying to develop her "million dollar mindset" in order to maximize her business potential. Sources: " Turning Body Parts--Mannequin Body Parts--Into a Business ," by Coleen DeBaise, The New York Times--Small Business, January 9, 201 4. “ How Rich People Think ” by Steve Siebold, published by London House Press, July, 2010. Follow up: What wacky business opportunity can you brainstorm, given that this one was viable? Check out the book “ How Rich People Think ” by Steve Siebold. Do you think it will help Ms. Henderson-Townsend achieve her goals?
  • Should bicyclists and hybrid drivers pay more taxes?

    image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Image Fuel tax revenues help fund road maintenance and expansion...but if a person is biking or driving an electric car--they aren't paying as much in fuel taxes. So much for the " unforeseen consequences " of a decision to be more sustainable. How can a tax loss like this one be replaced? ...Maybe by creating a new tax on mileage, or on bike usage? It may be hard to measure, but the use of roads by vehicles possibly could be a tax that is shared equitably...or should it? Should gas-guzzlers pay more than the energy efficient? Do bikes "use" roads at the same rate that cars do? Should trucking for business logistics be stuck with all of the liability for road maintenance? There are so many questions regarding the equitable distribution of taxes, but there is no question that cities and counties responsible for road maintenance are feeling the effects of the shortfall in tax revenues. . Jay Friedland (Plug In America 's legislative director) has remarked that several states are imposing special fees on electric cars and hybrids. It will be interesting to see how manufacturers of electric vehicles and other business advocates for sustainable transportation respond to the intent to raise taxes or fees for those opting for "the high road" with respect to energy consumption. Sources: " Bicyclists and hybrid drivers should pay more taxes ,"by Queena Kim, Marketplace--American Public Media, December 31, 2013. Follow up: Do you think bicyclists should pay more taxes? Why or why not? What about drivers of hybrid vehicles? Are you a cyclist or hybrid-driver? Does your own situation influence your opinion? If so, how could you use your own perspective to influence a marketing campaign, one way or the other with respect to energy-saving transportation alternatives?
  • Netflix HR philosophy: Freedom and Responsibility

    [View: / Culture from Reed Hastings :550:0] When a company has been as surprisingly successful as Netflix was in 2013 (its stock price more than tripled this year)...everyone gets interested in what may have made them successful. One key element in Netflix's success is described in the "Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility" slideshow that was originally made available about five years ago. According the the Harvard Business Review article, " Sheryl Sandberg has called it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley." The two main tenets of the Netflix human resource philosophy are: Hire only "A-list" employees ...and be willing to not only let excellent employees have significant responsibilities...but also let them be free from having to deal with employees and colleagues who are not functioning at a high level of ability and effectiveness. Because the "A-list employee" philosophy involves the need to get rid of "deadweight" and to be re-evaluating company needs with a zero-base budgeting philosophy: Create very generous severance packages when laying off no-longer-needed employees. It sounds brutal, but it has been effective, and the approach is influencing other companies. Sources: " Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility, " by Reed Hasting, Netflix, originally published in 2009. " How Netflix Reinvented HR ," by Patty McCord , Harvard Business Review, January-February 2014. Follow up: What do you see as the pros and cons of the Netflix human resource philosophy? What is zero-base budgeting? Read the HBR article. Paraphrase the two employee stories that illustrate the two tenets of the Netflix HR philosophy.
  • Microbead marketing "feature" now a "bug"

    image take by Liu Jin AFP/Getty images via Marketplace "Exfoliating your skin" has been marketed as a positive grooming behavior for several years. Companies have made this easy by putting microbeads--made of plastic--into their soaps. The problem is: these tiny beads make their way through processing plants into the ocean. There they have made changes to the ecosystem, according to several studies. Unilever has taken what it sees as a pro-active stance: they have made a commitment to eliminate these microbeads from all of their products by 2015. This environmentally sustainable stance is being incorporated into their marketing strategy. Peter Zuniac, an investment analyst for Liberum Capital , explains it this way: “ They say if they achieve their sustainability targets, and no one else follows they will have failed. So their objective is that other organizations, nonprofits as well as the competition will eventually follow .” He also said that, as a leader in this area, Unilever might be able to attract investment funds directed as sustainable business practices. Source: " Unilever to dump microbeads from soap ," by Peter O'Dowd, Marketplace American Public Media, December 28, 2013. Follow up: Do you use products with microbeads? What are the advantage and disadvantages? What sustainable items can substitute? What are the pros and cons of Unilever's marketing strategy?
  • Target tells a different story now: PINS were stolen

    image from It could happen almost anywhere these days: Target had a security breach. Its public relations announcement in reaction to the incident reassured customers that their PINS had not been stolen. Molly Snyder, a Target spokesperson said: “ We remain confident that PIN numbers are safe and secure. The PIN information was fully encrypted at the keypad, remained encrypted within our system, and remained encrypted when it was removed from our systems. ” However, that turned out not to be true. Crooks were already selling the data on the black market when Target had to make a second announcement that was more accurate: the PINS had been stolen as well. Major banks had already reacted as though this might have been the case--placing caps on withdrawals, for example. Was it a public relations mistake to give false reassurance at the outset? Possibly. It may have been more reassuring to customers if Target had over-compensated for the breach. But it is also possible that customers are becoming jaded about breaches and do not expect honest information from corporate public relations announcements. Forty million customers were affected. Source: " Target’s Nightmare Goes On: Encrypted PIN Data Stolen " by Nicole Perlroth, New York Times, December 27, 2013. Follow up: What do you think? Would you rather have the whole story of a possible breach in an announcement, or would you rather be reassured about your data, even if the reassurance was false? Explain. Describe an situation that is parallel (or that could occur) in your personal life, where a third party either gives accurate or falsely reassuring information after an unfortunate event.
  • Apple needs new core products for 2014

    J image from www.PatentlyApple .com "Without compelling new products in big new markets next year, worries will grow that Apple's days as a hot growth company are over, limiting future gains for the shares," asserts Alistair Barr in an analysis of information technology companies at the end of 2013. " 2014 is the year he [Tim Cook, Apple CEO] has to deliver, according to investors and analysts." What might be included in a new product line for Apple? According to Tony Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, possible products include: an "iWatch" that might produce a 1% to 2% increase in sales an "iTV" that could produce $10 billion in sales (a 6% increase)--if it could parallel in video what the iPod did for audio. Bu t, according to Brian Marshall, an analyst at ISI Group, " We need something revolutionary from Apple that will move the needle and iWatch and iTV won't do it ." Another analyst , Adnaan Ahmad of Berenberg Bank, suggested in October that Apple acquire Tesla Motors to get back into the forefront of innovation. Tesla is run by Elon Musk --a known innovator and visionary thinker [PayPal and SpaceX as well as Tesla]. Because the potential sales in the auto industry--$1.6 trillion annually--are much bigger than the revenue pool in the crowded phone and TV markets, Ahmad also suggested that a path for Apple might better be directed toward the iCar ...especially since the auto market is growing in the hybrid and electric markets. Where will Apple be at this time next year? Source: " 2014: Apple's crunch year to prove innovation chops ," by Alistair Barr, USA Today, December 23, 2013. Fo llow up: How do you think Apple can integrate its products into the automobile market? If you are already a user of Apple products, how could Apple integrate into your automobile experience? What tech products do you use every day? How much time do you spend with each? How could your experience be improved?
  • Unpaid internships under broad attack

    image from Partly due to a lawsuit in a second industry famous for its use of unpaid internships, the unpaid internship "rite of passage" is becoming risky business for employers. A few months ago, I wrote about a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures won by two interns working in the Hollywood film industry. Now it is the publishing industry that is under attack. Lisa Denmark brought suit against Vogue , one of several magazines published by Condé Nast Publications. Some of her complaints included: being "terrorized" for not using sticky tape correctly on bulletin boards being "forced" to load books into an editor's car being "forced" to take items to a resale bookstore being "forced" to pick up dry cleaning being "forced" to buy and serve juice. Hearst Publications has also been sued by interns. Unpaid internships are sought by many students and unemployed college graduates as a way to "get a foot in the door" or to boost a resum é--particularly in hard-to-break-into creative fields, as well as business and finance . But there is a fine line in federal labor law between enforced servitude without compensation, and what constitutes an internship that is educational and beneficial to the person doing the work. Some businesses have routinely crossed that line, but recent litigation seems to make that gamble less cost-effective. Women's Wear Daily and Cond é Nast have recently cancelled their internship programs due to this risk. This doesn't help anyone. One media corporation, Atlantic Media , has taken a different approach. They did away with unpaid internships a few years ago, and has replaced them with 45 highly competitive, paid "fellowships." One major advantage of this approach is that its pool of applicants can be more diverse. (Unpaid internships have been a luxury that only those with wealthy family support could afford.) “ We were looking for ambitious, creative, original journalists, and we did not want income to be a barrier,” said James Bennet, editor in chief of The Atlantic . “Publishing that includes the web means we need to reach a national audience, and that requires a diverse mix of class, region, race and, yes, generations to do our job. ” Is the following a consequence or coincidence?: The Atlantic has grown 34% in the first two quarters of 2013 . What tasks make a great internship? I think the following pie chart was meant as a joke...but, like most humor, probably has a grain of truth: image from [ joke..?.] Sources: " How Washington Abandoned America's Unpaid Interns " by Stephen Lurie, the Atlantic, November 4, 2013. " Overlook the Value of Interns at Great Peril ," by David Carr, New York Times: the Media Equation, November 25, 2013. Follow up: The author of one of these source articles cites his own experience as producing results similar to those experienced by the Atlantic . Describe that experience and why it was significant.
  • Why Expanding Social Security Makes Sense

    image from Social Security is often "spun" as a divisive topic. But it looks as though the majority of Americans are in favor of it. At the same time, most Americans also like "cutting taxes." "Cutting taxes" and "expanding Social Security" seem to be at odds for with respect to sound fiscal planning. Nevertheless, it may be what many Americans want and expect. There has been a lot of anti-Social Security talk lately. One argument asserts that the Social Security age should be raised to 67 (currently it is 66). The arguments for this are the rise in life expectancy, but according to a NYT editorial by Paul Krugman, the lower-income and more poorly educated citizens (who need Social Security the most) have experienced a decline in life expectancy over recent years. A second argument asserts that seniors don't really need Social Security, because their poverty rate is "only 9%." But the Census Bureau (as opposed to the official poverty measure) says that the poverty rate is really 14.8 percent. Moreover, this rate is likely to increase--affecting vast numbers of senior citizens--because: fewer companies are offering defined benefit pension plans, which have allowed middle class Americans to live decently in their retirement years since they became a feature of compensation plans in the 1960's; people coming to retirement age who have personally funded their own plans have suffered two major mid-life stock market crashes that have negatively impacted their private retirement savings; not all individuals who have been forced into 401K's and out of their defined benefit pensions have invested enough money, or have made smart investments. " We’re looking at a looming retirement crisis, with tens of millions of Americans facing a sharp decline in living standards at the end of their working lives ," says Paul Krugman . " So there’s a strong case for expanding, not contracting, Social Security. Yes, this would cost money, and it would require additional taxes — a suggestion that will horrify the fiscal scolds, who have been insisting that if we raise taxes at all, the proceeds must go to deficit reduction, not to making our lives better. But the fiscal scolds have been wrong about everything, and it’s time to start thinking outside their box. " Sources: " Expanding Social Security ," by Paul Krugman, New York Times , November 22, 2013. " Americans Support Expanding Social Security Not Cutting it ", by Wyoming Beardog, The Panglossian Curmudgeon , November 9, 2013. Follow up: Businesses match the employee's contribution to Social Security. So if Social Security taxes go up, businesses will also have to pay more. What do you think the reaction of large corporations would be to legislation to expand Social Security? What marketing campaign could you devise to sell the idea of expanded taxes to go along with expanded Social Security benefits? What other solutions would you impose to avoid this crisis for people entering the workforce now? Do you think basic income protection for retired people should exist? If so, how should it be funded? Is it a corporation responsibility? National responsibility? Every human for himself?
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