• Letter to Former HP CEO Revealed

    In June 2010, Mark Hurd, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard,  received a letter claiming sexual harassment of a contract employee, Jodie Fisher. Hurd resigned from HP on August 6, 2010. As one article described the unveiling, "This Is The Letter That Got Mark Hurd Fired As CEO Of HP." 

    An HP shareholder requested that the letter be made public as part of a lawsuit to, according to The New York Times, "investigate corporate wrongdoing and waste associated with the relationship and Mr. Hurd’s resignation." Now the president of Oracle, Hurd lost his court appeal to keep the letter confidential.

    All Things D received the letter, which describes in eight pages of uncomfortable detail some of Hurd and Fisher's interactions. An attorney working for HP also compiled a timeline of emails that describe more of their communications. The publicity and detail are more than a little embarrassing for all involved. Read the full letter.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Imagine that you own HP stock. How might you feel about this letter becoming public?
    • If you were on Oracle's Board of Directors, how would you respond to this news? What, if anything, would you say to Mark Hurd?
    • This is a good time to remember that email is always discoverable. What can you do to protect yourself against your emails becoming public?
  • Sears Communicates Store Closings

    Perhaps a New York Times article says it best: "Sears has been limping along for years." But after a disappointing holiday sales season, the company has decided to close 120 Kmart and Sears stores.


    In its press release, titled " Sears Holdings Provides Update," the company provides its quarter-to-date performance and the rationale for the store closings and other actions:

    "Given our performance and the difficult economic environment, especially for big-ticket items, we intend to implement a series of actions to reduce on-going expenses, adjust our asset base, and accelerate the transformation of our business model. These actions will better enable us to focus our investments on serving our customers and members through integrated retail -- at the store, online and in the home."

    The press release uses the indirect organizational plan but does use bullets to highlight important changes. The full release also was hard to find. I expected to see this with the list of store closings at www.searsmedia.com, which was referred to in several articles. As of this writing, the release was posted only on www.searsholdings.com, and which stores are closing remains a mystery. This change will bring many layoffs, so we'll continue to see the communications unfold.

    Discussion Starter and Assignment Idea:

    • Analyze the company's press release. Outline the release to show the sequence of main points. What works well about the organization, and what is lacking?
    • Imagine that you're the VP, communication, for Sears. Write an email to employees explaining the news. What, if anything, would you say about layoffs at this point?
  • Interns: Big Job Opportunities with Facebook and other Companies

    Bump internFailing to hire and retain enough full-time employees, several technology companies are hiring more interns. Dropbox, for example, will hire three times as many interns this summer as last, and interns will make up one-third of the company's engineering team. Google will hire more than a thousand interns this summer, while Facebook plans to hire 625.

    According to a Wall Street Journal article, with the "try before you buy" philosophy, many companies are stepping up their intern programs and offering $10,000 for the summer—not a bad cushion for the upcoming fall semester. As a new strategy, venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is now recruiting Engineering Fellows for its clients.

    The encouraging news about increased intern hiring, as most students know, is the increased probability of a full-time offer. As a representative of Google says, most of its interns receive full-time offers.

    (Image source: WSJ, "Tom Greany, 23, a full-time software engineer at Bump Technologies, was originally a summer intern at the company.")

    Discussion Starters:

    • How are you approaching your intern search? What has worked successfully for you, and where do you need help improving your prospects?
    • What are the possible disadvantages of accepting a full-time offer with a company where you interned after junior year?
  • FedEx Responds to Viral Video of Tossed PC Monitor

    How embarrassing for FedEx! One of its delivery people was caught on a surveillance camera throwing a computer monitor over a fence. The monitor broke, and the homeowner posted the video for all to see.

    The company responded quickly by posting a video and blog entry called "Absolutely, Positively Unacceptable."

    In the video, Matthew Thornton, an SVP, apologizes:

    "On behalf of all of us at FedEx, please accept my apology. I am upset and embarrassed for our customer's poor experience. This goes directly against all FedEx values. It's just not who we are."

    As of this writing, FedEx apparently hasn't decided on any disciplinary action for the employee. In the video, Thornton says, "The employee is no longer working with customers." Does that mean he's in central packaging now?


    Discussion Starters:

    • What is your reaction to the video apology? What messages are most and least effective? What works well and not so well about Thornton's delivery style?
    • Read the company's blog post. What's different between the post and the video? Which works better and why?
    • Overall, how well do you believe FedEx handled the situation?
  • The 1% Speak Out: “I am a fat cat. I’m not ashamed”

    A recent Bloomberg article describes how wealthy Americans are speaking out in response to attacks from the Occupy Wall Street movement. Top U.S. earners have been criticized for not paying enough taxes and contributing to the increasing income inequality, which, in 2007, was greater than that of China and Iran.

    Arguments from the richest 1% include their right to earn and keep their income (particularly given high government spending) and how few low-income Americans pay taxes. One recent persuasive letter to President Obama is from Leon G. Cooperman,  a hedge-fund manager. In this video, Peter Schiff, investor, author, and commentator, defends the wealthy in discussion with Occupy Wall Street protestors.

    Contrast this perspective with that of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. In August, Buffett wrote an opinion letter in the New York Times called Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.

    Most millionaires agree with Warren Buffett and support a tax increase, as reported on wsj.com:

    A new survey from Spectrem Group found that 68% of millionaires (those with investments of $1 million or more)  support raising taxes on those with $1 million or more in income. Fully 61% of those with net worths of $5 million or more support the tax on million-plus earners.  

    Assignment Ideas:

    • Research different perspectives of this story further: look at the Occupy Wall Street website, read the Bloomberg article, and find letters and videos of executives and others to get a complete picture of both sides of the argument.
    • Write an assessment of all persuasive arguments. How does each side use logical arguments, emotional appeal, and credibility to explain their perspective?
    • In small groups, choose one line of reasoning and defend your position. How can you support your view with research about the issue?


  • Victoria's Secret Responds to Child Labor Allegations

    A Bloomberg report paints a grim picture of a West African 13-year-old girl who sleeps on a thin, plastic mat; works in 100-degree heat; is beaten; and is fed once a day some days, but not at all on others. Clarissa works for a farm certified as organic and fair trade—and supplies cotton to Victoria's Secret. Video on Bloomberg.

    Bloomberg Clarisse

    Although only a small amount of cotton for Victoria's Secret comes from this region, the company has issued a response, vowing to investigate the situation. In its statement, the company explains the original goals of the program in the region:

    In 2007, we established a pilot program to purchase Fairtrade-certified organic cotton from primarily women farmers in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa that struggles with endemic poverty. We were committed to this initiative because of its potential to generate life-changing opportunities for some of the world’s poorest women.

    In the statement, Victoria's Secret maintains its "goal of improving the lives of women and children in a country where a large portion of the population lives on less than a dollar a day."

    Discussion Starters:

    • If you're a Victoria's secret customer, does the news affect your buying decisions? Does the company's response affect your buying decisions?
    • Read Victoria's Secret entire response. What do you consider the strongest and weakest arguments presented? How do you assess the company's focus on their goals of helping women and children?
  • Wall Street Firms Get "Chilly Reception" at Top Schools

    Are the Occupy Wall Street protests having an effect on college recruiting? According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article, Goldman Sachs has cancelled some campus visits, including one to Harvard last week. Protesters, such as this group in downtown New York, have been targeting Goldman, asking the investment bank to pay more taxes (among other demands). The Occupy Harvard group was active in November, as shown in this video:

    The Bloomberg article paints a picture of "strained friendships" about the issue, with some students protesting recruiting sessions, while others come to learn about job opportunities.

    Goldman Sachs has been quiet about the Occupy movement, while Morgan Stanley denies any serious ramifications from the Occupy protestors. A spokesperson for the firm said, "We have not changed our recruitment activities, and we have not seen any impact on attendance." But a Harvard Crimson survey tells a different story:

    About 22 percent of Harvard 2011 graduates who planned to enter the workforce were headed into finance and consulting, down from a high of 47 percent in 2007, according to a Harvard Crimson survey published in May. Half the students entering those fields said they would have chosen to work in other professions if salary weren’t a concern.

    Discussion Starters:

    • In what ways could the Occupy movement affect your search for a job in business?  
    • What do you think of Goldman Sachs' no-response strategy to the Occupy movement? How do you assess Morgan Stanley's response?
  • "Emergency" Text Message Scares NJ Residents

    Verizon emergency text
    Imagine receiving this text message that produces a strange sound on your phone and locks your Android. The message was just a test, but this was unclear to thousands in New Jersey who called 911 centers throughout the state. In an apology statement, Verizon spokesman David Samberg explained:

    This test message was not clearly identified as a test. We apologize for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused.

    New Jersey's Homeland Security Office issued a tweet and a Facebook message to clarify the  situation. Is it just me, or is the tweet just as scary as the emergency text?

    Homeland Sec tweet

    Discussion Starters:

    • How could this happen? Read more about the situation and determine what could be improved in the message creation and distribution process to avoid a similar situation in the future.
    • Revise the NJ Homeland Security Office's tweet and Facebook message. How can you improve these?
  • "Reply All" Failure Costs Recruiter His Job

    Tired of email spam from people looking for jobs, Gary Chaplin, an executive recruiter shot back a hasty reply:

    I think I speak for all 4,000 people you have emailed when I say, 'Thanks for your CV' - it's nice to know you are taking this seriously.

    If you are not bright enough to learn how to 'bcc'...you are too stupid to get a job, even in banking.

    Unfortunately, Chaplin's email went to the 4,000 people who received the original job-seeker's message—a classic "reply all" mistake. Although some programs make it more difficult, hitting "reply all" is a common mistake.

    Chaplin's other failure is insulting someone looking for a job. No matter how ineffective the original email request, the guy needs work, not unlike a lot of people in today's economy.

    Chaplin lost his £200,000 job and is now, like the original emailer, looking for work before the holidays. He did respond to the incident: "I am mortified by what I did. I meant no offence to this man looking for a job." Really?

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read the full email exchange, reported by The Sun. What other failings in the original email and in Chaplin's reply do you notice?
    • How easy is it for you to hit "reply all" in your email program? What can you do to avoid this?
  • Rick Perry's Ad Called "Anti-Gay"

    Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is taking heat for his new ad that states "...there's something wrong with this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas and pray in school."

    Let the controversy begin! The video received (as of this writing) 10, 104 "likes" and 420, 719 "dislikes," and comments are flowing in on Rick Perry's Facebook page.

      Rick Perry ad FB

    In response to the outrage over the ad, Rick Perry's campaign told the Boston Herald,

    This ad accurately reflects Governor Perry’s faith and opposition to the Obama Administration’s attacks on faith-based organizations. Such attacks include penalizing religious health care providers, attacking the right of churches and religious organizations to make certain hiring decisions, and refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.

    It is a good strong ad that accurately reflects the Governor’s faith and policy positions. We believe it is a message that will resonate with a majority of Republican voters, especially Iowans.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your reaction to Rick Perry's ad? Do you find it offensive, spot-on, or something else?
    • What effect, if any, do you think the ad will have on Rick Perry's campaign?
    • How effective do you consider the Perry campaign's response?
  • EPA Report Links Water Contamination to Hydrofracking

    EPA report imageThe Environmental Protection Agency has published a "bombshell" report identifying hydraulic fracturing as the likely cause of water pollution in central Wyoming. The report adds fuel to the growing controversy about "hydrofracking"—the process of gas drilling that involves injecting large amounts of water, sand, and hundreds of chemicals into shale rock.

    The EPA's findings come shortly after a November report that fracking caused two minor earthquakes.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Review the EPA report. What principles of report writing does the draft follow?
    • How is the report organized? Do you find this organization effective? Why or why not?
    • How could the report be improved for easier reading?
    • Research the fracking issue further. Based on your findings, what is the significance of this report?
  • Apple's Anti-Leak Social Media Policy Gets Leaked

    Although many social media policies are available online, until yesterday, Apple's was not. Last month, an Apple employee was fired ("sacked" to the British) for Facebook posts that the company claimed violated its social media policy. Now, that internal policy has mysteriously been leaked.  Sm policy

    One analysis of Apple's policy compliments the conclusion, which is sound advice for anyone:

    In sum, use your best judgment. Remember there may be consequences to what you post or publish online including discipline if you engage in conduct that Apple deems inappropriate or violates any Apple policies. If you’re about to post something and you are concerned whether you are following these guidelines or any Apple policy, please discuss it with your Leader or HR before posting.

    But the attorney takes issue with what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may call the right to concerted activity:

    Respect the privacy of your coworkers. Blogs, wikis, social networks and other tools should not be used for internal communications among fellow employees. It is fine for Apple employees to disagree, but please don’t use your external blog or other online social media to air your differences.

    Recent cases brought by the NLRB have criticized employers for terminating employees who may be engaging in protected concerted activity (or the right to organize). Read about an NLRB case. Image source. 

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read Apple's social media policy (scroll down). What seems reasonable and, perhaps, unreasonable to you?
    • Compare Apple's policy to another available online. What differences do you notice, and how do you account for them?
    • What was the policy where you worked recently? Did you find that people generally followed the policy or worked around it in some way? 
  • FedEx's New Sustainability Ad

    FedEx's new commercial conveys its "Sustainable Solutions" in an animated story of "how a shipping giant can befriend a forest." The spot was Advertising Age's Creativity Pick of the Day.

    On its website, FedEx touts its sustainability initiatives in three areas: the environment, our people, and our community. In another funny commercial, FedEx executives suggest printing on the back of used paper, but this doesn't turn out to be such a good idea.

    Clearly, FedEx is trying to improve its sustainability image. A 2006 report by Roberts Environmental Center gave the company a C- rating:

    On its website, Federal Express provided only minimal environmental and social
    data. While their efforts to improve fuel and delivery efficiency are
    commendable, their environmental website lacked any performance indicators
    that would increase transparency. The corporation’s partnership with
    Environmental Defense is notable, and the results of this collaboration are
    promising. Despite Federal Express’ positive reputation for corporate
    responsibility, they did not provide the information necessary to score well in
    this report. It seems as though Federal Express has the appropriate data, it
    need only make it readily available to the public.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What are the key messages in the new ad? In what ways is the ad successful in conveying FedEx's sustainability initiatives? In what ways could the messages be clearer?
    • Review FedEx's sustainability website today. In what ways has the company addressed criticism of the Robert's Environmental Center report? In what ways could the company still improve?
  • Overheard on the Train: "Happy Birthday Smiley Face"

    The new iPhone's Siri voice recognition system was the subject of an article in yesterday's New York Times. With the robotic commands and a computerized response, phone interactions with virtual assistants are becoming annoying to people in public places.

    Because the technology is so new, policies haven't yet kept pace. Cliff Cole, a spokesperson for Amtrak, for example, told the Times that it currently bans "phone calls," but not talking with your phone. He said, “We may have to adjust the language if it becomes a problem.”

    People are complaining that users could often just as easily type without disturbing others and that the robotic speech often sounds "creepy."

    According to James E. Katz, a mobile communication researcher at Rutgers, most people will eventually get used to this new behavior, but "there will be a small minority of traditionalists who yearn for the good old days when people just texted in public.”

    Discussion Starters:

    • Have you overheard people talking to their phones in this way, or have you done this yourself? Do you consider it annoying?
    • Imagine that you work as the director of corporate communications for a major company. Write a policy for employees who use their virtual assistant in a cubicle office environment. What is important for people to know, and what rules are reasonable for people to follow?
  • 12 Recent Firings Because of Social Media Posts

    As an early Christmas present, Sam Fiorella gives us 12 examples of employees fired because of posts to social media sites. The line-up includes these gems: 

    • Former Representative Anthony Weiner, who tweeted obscene pictures of himself, thinking he was sending a direct message to one person
    • @ChryslerAutos, who tweeted the F-bomb to followers, thinking he was using his personal twitter account. Scott Bartosiewicz explains what happened in this video.
    • An NBC staff member who posted a video of Bryant Gumbel looking foolish and asking questions such as "What is the Internet?" (Well, it was 1994.)

    Discussion Starters:

    • In these and the other situations, do you believe that the employee deserved to be fired? What are the arguments for and against termination in each case?
    • Of these situations, which do you think is the most egregious? Why?
    • How could some of these situations have been avoided?