• Privilege: managing in a business environment where ethnic/racial unfairness is institutionalized

    Privilege.  What does it mean? And why would we need to talk about this in a business context, as well as in a sociological context? 
    Actually, privilege is a serious issue for the workplace.

    Part of the problem is that even some "liberal" Americans don't truly understand how people of color experience "white privilege" on a multiple-times-per-day basis. Many white Americans feel that the civil rights movement has abolished all prejudice and bias--at least for those people who do not consider themselves racist.

    But the people that are affected by the dominance of white "normative" culture and the unspoken assumptions about privilege and position feel differently. Being fully aware of these issues is essential for the next generation of ALL business managers. I will address the nuances of this issue in a future blog.

    Basically, cultural differences among Americans in the United States mean differences in:

    • ethnic identity and acceptance
    • opportunity for recognition, fair treatment, and advancement
    • feelings of comfort in business meetings, restaurants, hotels that host conventions, and other social situations
    • ability to travel without restriction
    • ability to drive a car in certain neighborhoods without fear of harassment
    • acceptance by business peers, vis-a-vis gossip and bullying 

    One of the first social scientists to address this issue was Peggy McIntosh --in a landmark and seminal essay that (unfortunately, but remarkably) still has relevance more than 25 years later. Her focus is white vs ethnic minority discrepancies, but the privilege she describes is inherent in many parameters.

    Acknowledging that there is still a problem is the (sex) educator and social commentator Laci Green, in a piece that diverges from her usual subject matter, but is cogent and enlightening:

    How can privilege can affect the workplace?:

    • Racial/ethnic bias
    • Gender identity bias (male/female/trans/other LBGTQ issues)
    • Age discrimination bias
    • Sexism (male/female bias)
    • Unconscious denial of existing issues

    As human resource departments and managers grapple with these issues from both a legal and employee-morale standpoint--as well as a personal ethical standpoint--everyone in the business environment must become educated and mindful about stereotypes and bias surrounding privilege and other assumptions from previous eras. 

    note: clarifications of language were made in paragraphs 2 and 3 on September 25, 2015.

    Sources: "Is Racism Over Yet?" by Laci Green, via YouTube, June 2015. 

    "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," by Peggy McIntosh, Independent School (Winter 1990) excerpt from Working Paper 189, 1988.

    Follow up

    • Define "Invisible Knapsack" as discussed in Peggy McIntosh's article. 
    • List six areas of institutionalized racism documented in Laci Green's video. 



  • Learn about financial literacy via a rock band

          Trailer for the financial literacy program emceed by the rock band "Gooding" 

    Financial literacy can mean the difference between making "smart" decisions about one's financial future...and ending up struggling to make ends meet, even as an older person. Sometimes, though, it seems as though there is a huge gap between the people that know how to invest and manage their money, and the people that feel clueless.

    Financial literacy programs are trying to bridge this gap. One program uses a rock band that visits high schools and community colleges to make financial literacy seem both more meaningful and necessary...and more accessible.

    What do you think? 

    Source: YouTube video

    Follow up

    • Do you think that the lead singer/ narrator is effective in getting his message out? Why or why not?
    • How would you get across the need for financial literacy to your peers?
    • What messages have worked the best for you? Who delivered those messages and why did they work?


  • Netflix changes its product mix

      one person's take on Netflix's new offerings, August 2015

    Netflix has certainly had its ups and downs as a content provider. In September 2011, it radically changed its product delivery model...and lost many  of it clients in the process. Netflix has also been an innovator in introducing original series, including:

    • House of Cards
    • Orange is the New Black
    • Grace and Frankie
    • Bloodline
    • Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt 
    • etc.

    One of the new series of summer 2015 indicates that Netflix is starting to probe a new market: teens and young adults. Its offering "The Wet Hot American Summer: the First Day of Camp" is one example.  Netflix has also optioned a few YouTube favorites:

    What does this mean? It means that Netflix is trying to respond to its primary demographic, and create meaningful content. Erik Marmack, the VP for global independent content at Netflix, said that "scripted entertainment that focused on teenagers was scarce."

    Netflix is trying to fill this marketing niche. 

    Sources: "Netflix to add Films and TV Series for Teenagers," by Emily Steele, the New York Times, August 24, 2015. 
    "Netflix to customers: Did you like the Price Increase? We've got another surprise!!!!," by Teri Bernstein, Cengage KnowNow Blog, September 20, 2011. 

    Follow up

    • What mistakes has Netflix made in the past?  See previous blog: Netflix. What was the market price of Netflix shares after the 2003 debacle? What is it now? Discuss.

    How is Netflix positioned now to respond to current and future trends? What other market factors help or hinder their prospects? 


  • Chunky Monkey still thriving and accomplishing "social good"

     The History of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream brand, via YouTube

    Ben & Jerry's (makers of Chunky Monkey) was acquired by Unilever 15 years ago. Here is how Unilever describes the Ben & Jerry's subsidiary brand on their webpage:

    When Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started their company, they had three goals:

    • To make the world's best ice cream
    • To run a financially successful company
    • To make the world a better place

    To this end, they made ice cream from hormone-free dairy products and fair-trade ingredients. They cut down on garbage waste. They made chemical-free containers. They set up a foundation to which they contributed 7.5% of their pre-tax profits.  The proof that they were financially successful was Unilever's offer to purchase the company at a 25% premium.

    It was rough going at first, but since the acquisition, revenue has tripled, hundreds of jobs have been added, the subsidiary company is allowed the autonomy to stick to its principles (with even more clout than before), and their multi-national reach has been extended. 

    Source: "Gobbled Up, but Still Doing Good for the World," by David Gelles, the New York Times, August 23, 2015 (print); (online version with slightly different title published August 21, 2015).

    Follow up

    • What were some of the stumbling blocks experienced by Ben & Jerry's in the first years after Unilever's acquisition? How were they resolved?
    • Ben & Jerry's is a "B corporation."  What is that? Previous blog


  • Social media and the stock market plunge

    via Twitter:

    Stock prices have been plummeting over the last few days on the stock market. Some analysts believe that this is a response to the devaluation of the Chinese yuan. Other analysts look at this as part of the "market correction" they have been anticipating, as stocks have been over-valued as a result of the bull market. The Dow Jones Industrial average has fallen more than 1,000 points. 

    What's new and different about this episode of falling stock prices, is that brokers are reporting events in real time on Twitter. Several of these texts can be read in the article linked below. 

    It is up for debate what effect these tweets have on market prices and trends. 

    Source:  "Tweeting the market plunge," by the Marketplace staff, American Public Media, Marketplace, August 24, 2015.

    Follow up:

    • What is a "bull market"? What term is used for the opposite of a bull market?
    • What is a "market correction"? Is it a good or bad thing? For whom? Explain.
    • How was information about stock prices disseminated in 1980? What difference does social media make?


  • Unintentional ethical lapses

    Most people think they are ethical, but that may not be the case. It is easy to be influenced by short term goals, one's immediate environment, and maximizing personal income or power in a business environment. Often people feel that they can use one set of standards for ethical behavior at work...and a different one at home...and still a different one when at religious services. Yale scientist David Armour calls this "the illusion of objectivity," and it means we are unaware of our unconscious biases. 

    The issues addressed in the linked articles relate to the specific biases managers may have that inhibit their ability to function ethically, and strategies to overcome them.  The four main biases are:

    • Bias that stems from unconscious beliefs: This is called "implicit prejudice." It can relate to beliefs about ethnic groups, different age groups, sexual preference, gender stereotypes and other factors. Testing of over 2.5 million people in research cited by the authors show that this type of bias: 1) favors the culturally dominant groups; 2) persists even when the individual consciously does not intend to discriminate; and 3) has consequences both in real-life decision-making, and in costs to corporations and individuals. Acknowledging that one is extremely likely to have this type of bias is the first step to overcoming this. Mindfully watching one's behavior in a group situation when another person voices a prejudice (that is, do you speak up?) is one way to monitor one's progress in this area.
    • Bias that favors your "group": This group can be defined across several parameters, but persists in hiring and loan approvals along ethnic and racial lines. The question the manager or decision maker has to ask him- or herself is: "Would I object to being judged in this way if I, myself, were in the minority or "other" group?"
    • Bias that favors you: A sense of entitlement and a tendency to exaggerate one's own accomplishments and diminish (or not mention) the achievements of others are typical ways in which this plays out. This can be detrimental to morale and cause resentments and divisiveness. A focus on the long view and building trust relationships can counter this tendency.
    • Bias that favors those who can benefit you: Acting unethically often occurs when one is doing things for one's career--making decisions that will advance the firm and thereby enhance an individual's position in the eyes of higher-ups. CPAs who are supposed to be objectively reporting on a company--but who are paid by the company they are reporting on--have an inherent conflict of interest that must be overcome if they are to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. Brokers have the same type of conflicts, vis-a-vis their investment clients. Reminding oneself of Professional Codes of Conduct can help here. 

    Generally, escaping institutionalized unethical behavior can be thwarted by:

    • Gathering facts and data about hiring practices, contracts granted, current employee demographics or other relevant company activities to analyze the trends.
    • Experiencing or studying other environments, where the parameters are different.
    • Openly discussing issues of unethical favoritism, self-promotion or back-room maneuvering in order to unpack unconscious biases and promote transparency.
    • Consistently re-evaluating one's own behavior and decision-making as a manager, erring on the side of self-awareness.

    Sources: "How (Un)ethical Are You?" by Mahzarin R. Banaji, Carol Pforzheimer, Max H. Bazerman, and Dolly Chugh, The Harvard Business Review, December 2003.

    "Managers must refrain from unethical conduct," by Shelter Chieza, The Herald, June 11, 2015. 

      image/chart at top from Prentice Hall slideshare

    Follow up:
    • What personal biases are you aware of? List them and explain how they may affect others. Identify which of the four categories they may fall into.
    • What specific ethical dilemmas have you faced at school or work, and how would you evaluate your response to them in retrospect?
    • Imagine and describe three ethical dilemmas you might imagine facing in your chosen field of work.
  • Motivate yourself by knowing yourself: Myers-Briggs

    What is your Myers-Briggs personality type?

    Myers-Briggs testing may be controversial, but a business student might find it useful in many ways. First, a general knowledge of the information it provides is helpful. The test identifies personality traits that constellate around four parameters. It then groups individuals into sixteen categories that are associated with various strengths and ways of being in the world. It is very useful.

    If you want to know your type, TAKE THE TEST.

    Underlying the test is the axiom that people's innate strengths and ways of taking in information don't really change over time. It is more productive to work with those strengths rather than fight them. More importantly, when one is working with other people, it is useful to realize that  others can do things very differently, but be just as effective as someone else.

    Also, some institutions and business environments cultivate certain personality types, and frustrate others. One example is the public school system's emphasis on conformity and testing.  This is not a conducive environment for some types--and "success" in this environment does not measure many traits that are useful in the world.

    For managers, it is particularly useful, as knowing what type a person is can help a manager motivate the employee. As a personal motivation tool, knowing one's own tendencies can help one structure work flow so that it is a good fit for one's type. It can also help a person have objectivity about how others may see him or her. 

    Knowing the basics about the Myers-Briggs types is also useful when there are conflicts. If a leader can give voice to how different types might perceive a divisive issue--giving credence to various values and proclivities--it might help individuals not take the conflict as personally. Everyone's needs have a value, and the workplace needs also must be met. It helps people get on board--even if a project requires a different work style than one's own--if their own proclivities are understood. Their willingness to adapt for the good of the group can be acknowledged.

    Knowing these types can help a person understand and motivate people in difficult environments--in other words, be a better leader. The Comprehensive Myers-Briggs Chart in the linked article provides a good summary of the types. For a more in-depth understanding of how the types apply to work relationships, love relationships, family dynamics, and career choice, the book Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey is an excellent resource. Keirsey's shortened form of the analytic test can be found in that book and on his website. It can provide an accurate and user-friendly assessment of one's own type.

    By the way, I am an INFP.  

    Source: "The Strengths and Weaknesses of Every Personality Type," by Megan Willett, The Business Insider, February 13, 2015. 

    Follow up:

    • First things first: Take the test. Find out your type. List your strengths and weaknesses. 
    • Ask a family member or friend to take the test, too. Discuss the results and decide for yourself whether this system might be a useful tool for you in motivating and understanding yourself and others.
    • Check out the chart in the linked article. Which types are likely to make the most money? Which types would make the best marketers? Which types would make the best bosses from the subordinates' standpoint? Which types would make the best bosses from top management's standpoint?


  • Angry clowns protest in Brazil

    AP photo by Andre Penner published in The Guardian

    Protestors in angry-looking Ronald McDonald masks and make-up staged demonstrations in Brazil this week. On August 20th, workers are scheduled to be testifying at a Brazilian Senate committee hearing.

    The issues include:

    • Wages that are much lower than the $15 per hour goal
    • Abusive labor practices, world-wide
    • Tax evasion in Brazil
    • Anti-competitive practices across Europe

    The protest efforts are part of a world-wide expansion of a United States-based movement to obtain the reasonable and fair wage rate of $15/hour, and to make labor issues more sustainable by unionizing McDonald's workers across the globe. Global movement leaders are focusing their efforts on Brazil this week in order to clarify and publicize the many abuses that workers and sympathetic observers feel are being perpetuated by McDonald's. 

     AP photo by Andre Penner published in The New York Times

    An on-going lawsuit is being arbitrated in the United States by the National Labor Relations Board (the NLRB). Under review is the concept of whether workers at different owner-operated franchises are "jointly employed" by the McDonald's corporation. If ultimately this determination is made, it will make it easier for a union to organize and bargain for workers. It will also create an entity of thousands of workers that will have more clout in bargaining with McDonald's--and whose victories will apply across the corporation, rather than to a few dozen workers at a given location. 

    Sources: "Union Takes a McDonald's Challenge Overseas," by Noam Scheiber, the New York Times, August 20, 2015.

    "McDonald's faces global scrutiny at Brazilian senate's human rights hearing," by Bruce Douglas, The Guardian, August 20, 2015. 

    Follow up:

    • What is a franchise? Do you think of different McDonald's restaurants as being separate entities, or as part of one large company? Explain your position.
    • What are some of the labor abuses enumerated in the Source articles? List and comment on why you think they are issues for the corporation, and why you think they are issues for the workers.



  • Stock "share price" ≠ "fundamental valuation" ≠ "book value"

       Paddy Hirsch from Marketplace explains two different ways to value stock

    What is the value of a stock?

    This is an important question for a small investor, a business mergers-and-acquisitions expert, an accounting student and anyone reading a business periodical. The answer is: there are several ways to value stock.

    Market valuation is determined by checking the stock trading price: What are other people willing to pay for this stock at this point in time? This is useful to an investor who is going to make a short-term or "available-for-sale" type investment in a stock. A company's "market cap" is determined by taking the stock price and multiplying it by the number of shares outstanding (owned by investors).

    Fundamental valuation takes more work. Anyone investing in a significant portion of a company's shares, or who wants to buy a controlling interest in a company, would do this kind of in-depth analysis. This requires looking at the value of company assets, its existing liabilities, and analyzing the projected net income streams from prior years and predicted into the future. This type of analysis may also include intangible assets (such as a trained employee force, or existing loyal customers), which are not included in a "book value" assessment. 

    Book value (which is covered in every accounting text, but is not addressed in the video above) is the value of stock as determined by the audited financial statements, with the conservative treatment of some assets required by GAAP. It is a number that is often far below the share price of the stock, and useful only for comparison from year-to-year, rather than as a way to determine stock price. 

    Source: "Why a share's price and its value might not line up," by Paddy Hirsch, American Public Media: Marketplace Whiteboard, July 22, 2015.

    Follow up

    • Look up Apple, Inc. on the internet and go to its investor pages to find the financial statements. On the balance sheet, look at Common Stock and the Stockholders' Equity section. Determine the book value of the stock by dividing dollar value of the Stockholders' Equity by the number of outstanding shares (listed in the description beside the Common stock heading).  What is the book value per share?
    • Now, look up the current market price per share of Apple, Inc. It has fallen recently, but it is still pretty high. How does it compare to the book value? What are the causes of this difference? 


  • The ABC's of Google's Alphabet

       Report on Google's new business structure from Fox News and YouTube

    Google is re-structuring. Corporate businesses can re-create and re-organize themselves by dividing their business segments, and managing them  separately. A "parent company" oversees the segments, which usually have different business goals. Each segment company has its own stock and management. The parent company owns 100% (or at least more than 50%) of the stock in each subsidiary segment, thereby controlling each segment's operations.

    Since 1998, Google's first and primary business has been providing an internet search engine and various tools to support that search engine. It is a well-known product--which may even be in danger of losing its copyright protection on the word "Google," due to the common usage of "google" as a verb to mean "do an internet search."

    Looking toward the future, Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brim, see the company moving in many different directions. To support these corporate business goals, they have created a new entity: Alphabet, Inc. Under the aegis of Alphabet, Inc., Page and Brim will separate its stable money-making internet search engine products (Google and others) from its more research-and-development oriented projects, some of which are also already generating revenue. Two of these segments are Nest and Calico, but the Alphabet "umbrella" will house several other companies as well. 

    :  "Google to Reorganize as Alphabet, to Keep Its Lead as an Innovator," by Conor Dougherty, New York Times, August 10, 2015.

    Follow up

    • Read Larry Page's blog to investors about the new entity, linked above at "Alphabet, Inc." Whom does Page name specifically as the new leader of the Google subsidiary? What aspects of the current Google will remain under the Google segment after the transition?
    • List and describe at least three projects/business segments unrelated to the search engine that Alphabet is (or will be) housing.
  • Frugality...and retirement at age 33

       Mark Hardekopf, another example of a thirty-something retiree, via CBS News

    Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods have a plan. "Frugalwoods" is the pseudonym of a couple in Cambridge, MA, who blog about their journey anonymously so that their employers don't know their plans. Mrs. Frugalwoods is a communications manager; Mr. Frugalwoods is an IT specialist. They own a 4-bedroom home in walking distance of Harvard and MIT, and they are expecting their first child.

    They plan to retire at age 33. In 2017. Here are a few things that make (or will make) their plan work:

    • trading yoga classes for service work
    • biking to work instead of driving or taking public transportation
    • planning carefully: even costing out the price of dog ownership before committing to a Greyhound rescue
    • planning to buy 20+ acres in rural Vermont, in cash, at retirement date
    • saving 71% of their income during their working years

    Part of their plan includes extending their income years beyond their retirement dates for their jobs. These revenue streams include:

    • AirBnB tenants on the Vermont property
    • rental of the Cambridge house

    A plan to retire early takes vision, discipline and courage. Do you have what it takes?

    Sources: "How a couple of "frugal weirdos" are saving 71% of their income sot they can retire at age 33," by Lauren Gensler, Forbes, August 4, 2015

    Frugalwoods website

    Follow up:

    • What aspects of the Frugalwoods' plan seem do-able?
    • What aspects seem unrealistic (if any)? 
    • What would you be willing to sacrifice to retire early?
    • What "luxuries" do the Frugalwoods indulge in that surprised you?

  • Millennials are getting FIRED: don't let it happen to you

       from another source: Millennials in The Workplace

    If you land your dream job, do you want to keep it? There are "cultural differences" in workplace expectations between the newly hired Millennials and the Baby Boomer or GenX bosses. Inc magazine recently wrote about three serious disconnects between Millennials and their new job situations:

    • Millennials want to be babied--they are used to helicopter parents managing things for them. Employers, however, don't want to be parenting their employees.
    • "Doing the minimum" is not tolerated by employers. Those who see what needs to be done and who "fill in the cracks" make good long-term employees. 
    • Keeping Millennials happy is NOT a responsibility of the employer. Perks may be offered...but an employee has to DO THE WORK. They need to find self-directed, internal motivations to enjoy work. 

    Source: "3 Reasons Millennials are Getting Fired," by J.T. O'Donnell, Inc.com, August 4, 2015. 

    Follow up:

    • Take this quiz to find out where you can improve your skill set. Write about what you discovered.
    • Read the article for details: What impact did parental bribes have on Millennial expectations? How can both Millennials and their bosses address this issue with transparency? 

  • Grand Rapids, MI ranks 3rd in economic growth

    Experience Grand Rapids 

    For more of a "full body" experience:

     For fun and profit: the Insane Inflatable Event at Grand Rapids Millennial Park, August 2015

    When thinking about where to locate for quality of life or business and investment purposes, many factors must be considered. Some of these involve personal preferences (weather, closeness to family), while others involve practical and financial considerations. For the practical side, SWOT analysis can be employed:

    • Strengths 
    • Weaknesses
    • Opportunities
    • Threats

    AreaDevelopment, a business-to-business consulting and publishing company that specializes in evaluating where businesses will thrive, used several sources primarily based on government data to determine the top cities for economic growth to determine the top cities for economic growth. In this study, number one was Denver, and number two was Houston. 

    Here is what they have to say about Grand Rapids:

    from AreaDevelopment.com

    For a "rust belt" city, this economic recovery is remarkable. It may be in part due to the growth of tourism sparked by the city's support of cultural events. Experience Grand Rapids is an organization devoted to making the city's events accessible to both tourists and residents. Their training program for service providers, CTA (Certified Tourism Ambassadors), is a national certification alliance that sets high standards for customer service interactions. This positive experience for residents and tourists alike may be a factor in the city's growth. 

    Sources: "Grand Rapids Joins Big Leagues: Ranks 3rd in Nation for Economic Growth," by Shandra Martinez, mlive.com, June 23, 2015. 

    "No. 1 Grand Rapids," for Forbes, 2015. 

    Follow up:

    • What are your practical criteria for deciding where to live and work? Use SWOT analysis to compare your top choices. 
    • Think about cities that you have visited for interviews or to consider as a place to settle. What were your experiences, both positive and negative. Were they a factor in your determining your quality of life if you were to settle there?

  • "Creepy" advertising

       consultant Susan Stripling shows how to do "highly targeted" ads on Facebook

    Most of us have had the experience of using social media, and seeing ads pop up on our page that are directly related to something we have recently researched online, purchased, or talked about in an email. The euphemism for this type of advertising is "targeted" or "highly targeted" advertising. Some people call it "creepy" advertising.  

    My first experience with this was somewhat unsettling. I'd sent a friend a children's story I'd written about two sisters running away to Catalina Island, off the coast of California. The next time I hopped onto Gmail, my right margin was populated with places to stay and eat on Catalina. Yikes. 

    Social networking platforms are aware that there is a fine line between effective targeted advertising, and advertising that is so personal that it makes potential customers feel as though their privacy is being invaded. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel is promising to address this issue to maximize effectiveness by use of its 3V Advertising:

    Snapchat CEO and 3V Advertising

    Source: "Snapchat CEO Promises Better, non-'Creepy' Digital Advertising," by Martin Beck, MarketingLand.com, June 22, 2015.

    Follow up

    • Describe how you might react if you received the targeted advertising regarding wedding photography described in the YouTube video above.
    • What are the "3V's" of Snapchat's advertising policy? Why are these important?
    • Is creepy advertising more likely or less likely to result in a purchase by you? Explain your position.
    • Think of some parameters that you might use to target-market a product interesting to you.