Executive Times

Volume 6, Issue 6

June, 2004

 

ă 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Ounces of Prevention

Sometimes the themes we develop for Executive Times appear from unlikely places. Occasionally, some intuitive readers note our leaps and trace our lightly traveled paths. For the less intuitive, here’s a peek behind the curtain. In recent weeks, we’ve been barraged by the images from Abu Ghraib and thought the obvious theme of knowing what your employees are doing seemed incomplete. All the obvious paths have been trod: visit locations, ask questions, assess employee concerns, and communicate mission and values constantly and clearly. All of that got us thinking about other approaches to prevention, including preparation. So, we noted recent stories about how some organizations help employees avoid sickness, and how others respond to travel trepidation. We note preparations for global changes, and career changes. Through it all, we encourage readers to reflect on what you can do to prevent or avoid future problems. In the next few weeks, what can you do differently to be more prepared than you are now for likely changes? How can you improve what you are doing to help employees be prepared for their future challenges? How many ounces of preparation are you prepared to chug?

 

Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. One business book is rated with four stars, one debut novel with two stars, one best seller with a DNR rating, and the remaining dozen with three stars. You can also visit our complete 2004 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2004books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 2004 book reviews. You can also check this same bookshelf to see what other books we’re reading or considering. Forty additional books were added to the “shelf of possibility” during May. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering, let us know at books@hopkinsandcompany.com.

Take two, or one, or no aspirin, and don’t show up in the morning
Employer health care costs have skyrocketed, and lots of changes have been implemented to mitigate the rise in expenses. One frequent, but blunt tool has been increasing employee co-payments for prescription drugs. We read in the Journal of the American Medical Association (May 19) (http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/291/19/2344) that a RAND Corporation study has concluded that employees cut back on drugs for treatment of chronic disease by about a quarter when co-payments double. According to the study, “significant increases in co-payments raise concern about adverse health consequences because of the large price effects, especially among diabetic patients.” Take less medicine, need more emergency room visits or hospital stays, and employer costs rise. We were reminded of the expression, “There are no solutions, only new problems.” Some employers have made exceptions to blunt co-payment policies where drugs are required to treat chronic illness. The Wall Street Journal (May 19) (http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB108491551729714914,00.html) called attention to Pitney Bowes, which reduced co-pays for diabetic employees and saw other health costs for those employees decline because they were no longer penalized when purchasing medication. Sick days cost more than co-pays, and some employers are changing policies that lead to undesirable outcomes. Other companies are exploring additional ways to promote health. We read in The New York Times (May 23) (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/23/business/yourmoney/23loss.html) that AstraZeneca International had provided cash incentives and prizes for overweight employees to participate in group weight loss programs in the workplace, expecting a reduction in sick days. Here’s an excerpt from the Times article: “If your company does not provide weight-loss benefits, this may be a great time to suggest that it start them, said Helen Darling, the president of the National Business Group on Health. It represents about 205 large employers on health care issues. And don't be shy, Ms. Darling added, whether you are asking your employer to subsidize on-site fitness classes or to use art or music to make the stairwells more attractive for walking. ‘There's a booming problem when you look at the data on the cost and productivity consequences of obesity among the working population, and it's opening up opportunities for employees.’”

How quickly are you able to identify unexpected and undesirable outcomes for policies you’ve implemented? How do you measure consequences of your decisions? When you solve certain problems, how do you go about examining changes in behavior that respond to your solutions? What tools do you use to ensure that you don’t ignore emerging concerns, and that you resolve problems effectively? Have you had conversations about health issues with employees? Are there ways you can support employee’s efforts to prevent health problems? How creative are you prepared to be to prevent future problems?

Fasten your seatbelt
While some employees hate to travel, especially when work demands eclipse personal commitments, other employees love to get away from the office at any opportunity. Some executives expect employees to drop everything and do whatever’s necessary to get the job done. We’ve noted that when an employee has the courage to say no to business travel, there are a variety of ways an executive can respond. The best executives work out a compromise: flexibility on dates, method of travel, using a different employee. Executives who ignore employee concerns are more likely to lose the employee over an issue that can often be resolved. We read a half-dozen examples of employees saying no to travel in an article in The New York Times (May 18) titled, “Facing the Consequences of Not Going” (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/18/business/18no.html). In the examples presented, executives unwilling to be flexible lost the employees, and those willing to explore alternatives came to respect the employees.

How willing are you to listen to employee travel concerns and explore alternatives? Is there any way that an employee’s personal commitments have an impact on your business schedule and expectations? Are those who work for you willing to say no to travel, or no to other expectations you have of them?

Buffalo’s healthy diet: curried wings
Back when Horace Greeley provided his advice, “Go West, young man” in an editorial in his New York Tribune in 1865, he was encouraging workers to join the expansion of the American frontiers, and many of his readers accurately understood that one of the locations he meant was Buffalo, New York, a place none of us today would consider “west.” For a hundred years that city tamed its part of the frontier and grew, but it has been shrinking in population for the past fifty years. Following the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s, jobs were lost and a variety of schemes to attract new jobs have failed. We read in The Wall Street Journal (May 24) (http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB108535507400819107,00.html) that global transformations are playing out in Buffalo as it tries two related strategies. It’s developed a booming call center business that competes with the centers outsourced to India. According to the Journal, “Buffalo is trying to attract the kinds of call-center jobs in which knowledge of American culture is important, such as handling complicated insurance claims. India's cost advantage fades if a Buffalonian can handle a Blue Cross claim faster than a Bangalorian-and without complaints.” Concurrently, Buffalo is courting Indian investment in Buffalo, to offset criticism that American jobs are not being created by Indian companies. Tata Consultancy Services will be hiring software specialists to test software on local supercomputers. Our favorite quote came from a local professor, responding to anti-Buffalo snobbery coming from Americans, but not Indians: “If you think Buffalo is a dirty place, spend a few days in Calcutta.”

What strategies have brought you to where you are now, and what different strategies will take you and your organization to where you need to be next? What mutually beneficial opportunities exist for you and potential partners? How quickly will you need to adapt to changing situations? Are you ready for change? When transformations are taking place, what are you doing to prevent harm to you and to your organization? What are you doing to exploit opportunities?

High speed on-ramps to the workplace
There are huge potential pools of workers who have been out of the job market totally, and some organizations are finding ways to accelerate the ability of those potential workers to re-enter the workplace. We read in The Wall Street Journal (May 6) (http://online.wsj.com/article_print/0,,SB108379263901403093,00.html) that there are so many mothers returning to work that a host of employment consultants have emerged to help these women prepare to re-enter the job market through seminars, resume help and support groups. A dozen large employers and law firms formed a group called “Hidden Brain Drain” earlier this year to brainstorm “strategies for creating ‘on-ramps’ for women seeking to get back in the labor force.” These employers see the unrealized value in these high-potential women and want to be sure that their companies become desirable places for those women to work. We learned about another segment of potential workers that have difficulty in re-entering the job market: convicted felons. As we went to press, the City of Chicago approved one of two proposed locations for an urban Wal-Mart store. Community hearings about the proposed stores called attention to the need for hundreds of jobs in the communities the stores would serve. Some community members wanted the company to make a commitment to hire ex-cons, the segment of the community with the highest unemployment rate. No commitment was made.

 

How does your organization pursue high-potential employees? What changes do you need to make in your workplace to ease the transition for those high-potential workers?  Have your competitors positioned themselves more favorably than your organization to those potential workers? Do you know what they are doing to attract these workers? Do the on-ramps to your organization have potholes that need repair? How can you make those ramps smooth and safe?


Follow-up

Here are selected updates on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:

Ř      We forecast in the January 2004 issue of Executive Times that while we didn’t have a clue what Richard Strong was thinking when he engaged in short trading in his own account at Strong Financial Corporation, we predicted that his name would not be on the door of the company much longer. In recent days, Strong announced the sale of the Company to Wells Fargo for a fraction of its worth just months ago. In a statement which accompanied the revelation of the $60 million fine he was paying for the $600,000 in illegal gains he made, Strong apologized saying, in part, “Throughout my career, I have considered it to be my sacred duty to protect my investors; and yet in a particular and persistent way I let them down. In previous years, I frequently traded the shares of the Strong funds, at the same time that the advice which we gave our investors was to do the opposite and to hold their shares for the long term. My personal behavior in this regard was wrong and at odds with the obligations I owed my shareholders, and for this I am deeply sorry.”
 

Ř      In the May 2003 issue of Executive Times we called attention to some lawsuits accusing Marriott Corporation of conflict of interest in managing hotels for others. Readers interested in learning more about the business approaches of Marriott should be sure to read the cover story (http://www.forbes.com/free_forbes/2004/0510/066.html) in the May 10 issues of Forbes, titled, “Soft Pillows and Sharp Elbows.”

Legacy

Hard choices
As the forth generation family member to lead the Johnson family of companies, Samuel C. Johnson grew the business forty fold during his tenure, becoming a billionaire in the process. Along the way, he made some hard choices that are models of ideal executive behavior. In the 1970s, he cost the company millions by removed chlorofluorocarbon propellants from the company's products years before the government required it. He left the Johnson board in 2000, confident that the company was in good (family) hands, allowing for an effective transition. In an hour-long memoir film in 2001, he disclosed two aspects of his life that influenced others in powerful ways: “For a long time I couldn't admit that my father was not around enough of the time that I needed him. I guess my biggest doubt about my father was whether he loved me as much as the company.” Sam didn’t repeat that problem, but he did repeat another: his mother’s alcoholism. After family intervention in 1993, he checked himself into a treatment program in 1993 and got that monkey off his back. Sam Johnson’s took a simple approach to environmental issues: do the right thing. Johnson became a model for eco-efficiency, and promoted sustainable development globally. A longtime contributor to Cornell, home of the S.C. Johnson School of Business, here’s what he said when he made a gift there in 2003: “When we set aside the obvious business benefits of being an environmentally responsible company, we are left with the simple human truth that we cannot lead lives of dignity and worth when the natural resources that sustain us are threatened or destroyed.” Johnson’s life of dignity and worth ended in late May, but his legacy continues, in the hands of a family formed by his values. 


Latest Books Read and Reviewed:

 (Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com.  When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com.  Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2004 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2004books.html).

 

Title (Link to Review)

Author

Rating

Review Summary

Purchase

The Art of Mending

Berg, Elizabeth

Forgiveness. Beneath a bucolic domestic life can reside painful memories and scars. In this novel, Berg explores sibling differences, abuse and repressed memories, along with the journey toward forgiveness.

Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror

Clarke, Richard A.

Service. Compelling personal account by career civil servant on his area of specialization: terrorism. Too soon for history, personal perspectives add to the record, recognizing the biases that come with personal involvement.

Blindsided

Cohen, Richard M.

Coping. Well-written memoir of three decades of struggling with multiple sclerosis followed by colon cancer, while coping as a worker, husband and parent. A story of courage and hope, helpful to all readers coping with life’s challenges.

Ask Me Anything

Delbanco, Francesca

Dear. Debut novel describes advice columnist’s coming of age in NYC. Readers of chick lit will especially enjoy this for erratic moments of fine writing.

Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich

Fest, Joachim C.

Caveman. Prominent historian distills hundreds of sources of information to provide tightly written account of Hitler’s last days.

The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness

Groopman, Jerome E.

Scientific. Three approaches: Dr. Groopman’s patients’ stories; his own debilitating back injury; and how science is learning more about mind-body connections. Realistic hope can help us live longer and better.

The Present: The Gift That Makes You Happy and Successful At Work and In Life

Johnson, Spencer

DNR

Carpe Today. You have better ways to spend your time than spending even an hour reading another simplistic message from this popular writer. It’s mostly about “now,” except when about “then,” or about a gift. Take a pass.

But Come Ye Back: A Novel in Stories

Lordan, Beth

Lovely. Novel in stories captures Ohio couple who retires to Ireland and continues to change and grow with all the complexity of mature marriages and long-intertwined lives.

Mosque

Macaulay, David

Pillars. Whether or not you read Macaulay’s earlier books, including: Castle, Cathedral, City, Mill, and Pyramid, you’re likely to observe and to learn something new in this latest book.

The Full Cupboard of Life

McCall Smith, Alexander

Teatime. Fifth in the No. 1 Ladies Detective series set in Botswana, in which an African Miss Marple explores the meaning of lives and relationships, in which a cup of tea is always the start of a solution to problems.

The Five Paths to Persuasion: Identifying and Influencing the Five Styles of Today’s Decisions Makers

Miller, Robert B. and Gary A. Williams

Dialogue. Authors used data and examples to synthesis executive decision making styles to five, and present practical and useful ways to target presentations in ways most likely to lead to success for each style.

Cork Boat

Pollack, John

Sails. Funny and poignant tale of the author’s dream and execution of building a boat made from the corks of wine bottles. Relationships and community are built along with the boat.

Mr. Golightly’s Holiday

Vickers, Salley

Respite. Great descriptive language, imaginative characters, literary references and wit combine to provide ideal vacation reading. Worth re-reading once Mr Golightly’s identity is recognized.

I’m With Stupid

Weingarten, Gene and Gina Barreca

Hilarious. Subtitle tells it all: One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up. At times, you’ll laugh out loud. Often, you’ll read sections aloud to someone of the other gender.

Plan of Attack

Woodward, Bob

Sources. Fast reading inside view of how Bush administration developed policies on Iraq, thanks to the confidence more than 75 sources placed in Woodward who makes this account read as if he were inside every room of the White House.

 

ă 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 723 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Subscription rate for first class mail delivery of the print version is $60.00 per year (12 issues). Web version subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 web. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to executivetimes@hopkinsandcompany.com, call (708) 466-4650, or fax to (708) 386-8687. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (708) 466-4650 or e-mail to reprints@hopkinsandcompany.com. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 

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