[Authored by Isaac Lewis, MBA Candidate] The green movement has become a powerful force in today’s marketing environment. Automakers have recognized this trend and are steadily turning what could be considered a liability into an asset. With the rising costs of fuel earlier this year, the heightened awareness of carbon emissions’ impact on climate change, along with a lagging U.S. economy, caused car makers to struggle in attracting and retaining customers. Honda is reaching out to environmentally minded consumers in a variety of initiatives to address environmental and social concerns.
The company's outreach includes support of grass-roots (literally) programs and projects that focus on a healthy environment. In the process, Honda helps to build a sense of community and to create a buzz among those who share concern for the environment. For example, Honda promoted Keep America Beautiful’s Great American Cleanup through May 31 of this year by pairing its car dealers with thousands of volunteers to beautify streets, roads and highways. Company paid grants were awarded to those organizations that collected the most litter and recruited the most volunteers for the clean-up .
[Authored by MBA Candidate Patrick Konyn] Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street? This question is asked over a million times every day in over 120 countries around the world, including India, Egypt, South Africa and Kosovo. What started as an experiment in 1969 to help children from low-income families prepare for school, the Children’s Television Workshop, which later became the Sesame Workshop, set out to expand the medium of television from entertainment to a tool to help children learn (edutainment). Using market research instruments such as focus groups and visual tracking, researchers, educators, and child development experts were able to create a television show that could engage children and teach them as well. This was the genesis of Sesame Street.
Very early on, the producers of Sesame Street understood that they had captured lightning in a bottle. Clinical research documented that children watching Sesame Street were doing better in school than those that did not. Germany was the first country to show interest in collaborating with the Children’s Television Workshop to export Sesame Street. As Big Bird expanded across the Atlantic, the vision of the Sesame Workshop expanded to “make a meaningful difference in the lives of children worldwide by addressing their critical developmental needs.
May 20, 2008 - Written by Ryan Arthur
Good morning fellow train sleepers. Again much thanks to Dean Raines for the "soft sleeper". I personally didn't sleep that well, but I can't imagine having to sleep on the hard sleeper, or even the seats. Jennifer told us that Phoenix takes the trek on the seated cars when she goes back and forth between Beijing and Shanghai. Massive props to Phoenix for braving the seats.
We awoke this morning to the central train station in Shanghai. We were introduced to our new tour guide, Lily Sun. Unfortunately or fortunately for some, although Lily was the opposite sex as John, she apparently read the same joke book for Chinese tour guides.
May 19, 2008 - Written by Ryan Arthur
Ring Ring…Ni Hao. Well if you didn't believe in language barriers, after today you would have seen or heard that they indeed do exist. Today was our real immersion into the Chinese culture sans tourist stops.
Our morning began with a presentation from Cory Grenier, Marketing Project Manager at Lenovo. Lenovo is attempting to become the first Chinese company to be successful in the global market. And from touring their facility it is clear to see they have the capabilities of achieving this goal. With an extremely impressive automated warehouse, computerized inventory monitors, and computer aided manufacturing lines, Lenovo has an excellent infrastructure established that is similar to its non-Chinese competitors. What sets Lenovo apart from its Western competitors is their management style. In Western Management, the employee review process is kept private. Employees are reviewed by their supervisor behind closed doors so that employees are not embarrassed by poor performance. However, Lenovo implements a public review system. The Grape system, as referred to by our guides, allows for all employees to see how each employee is doing in relation to their fellow employees on a daily basis. This system coupled with Lenovo's new product line was an interesting view to the way businesses grow in China.
[Authored by Jeffrey Williams, MACC Graduate] When I was working in the high school in Rennes, France, I lived one block away from a shopping mall, at the end of which stood the gargantuan retailer, Carrefour. It was so large that workers wore roller skates to get around inside. In French, the word “carrefour” simply means “intersection” or “cross-roads”. And, I remember being totally shocked that this Wal-Mart concept had migrated back to the old country. Such arrogance, it would seem, for thinking that the Americans had the idea first and that the capitalistic minds in France simply applied it to their way of life. This blog isn’t in response to any specific news item, but simply a reaction I have to seeing Carrefour, this major family-owned French retail empire, in the news recently.
A new business chamber is forming in Tennessee — the TN Christian Chamber of Commerce. Its mission: to support the economic and spiritual growth of its members by providing networking, professional and spiritual development and community-building opportunities to affect change and make an impact for Jesus Christ in the marketplace.
Last month, I attended the “Faith in the Boardroom” kick-off event, featuring Apprentice Finalist Roxanne Wilson, and was encouraged by the presence of several local business leaders determined to live out their faith in their professions. Roxanne and Celeste LaReau, Executive Director for the TN Christian Chamber of Commerce, shared powerful testimonies that both challenged and inspired.
The TN Christian Chamber of Commerce has a few upcoming events scheduled, including a full-day seminar developed by “The One Minute Manager” and “Lead Like Jesus” author Ken Blanchard that will take place on August 1st at Belmont University. You may e-mail Celeste (email@example.com) for more information.
[Authored by Jeremy Smith, MBA Candidate] As consumers, do we really have a choice when it comes to where and what we purchase? While most businesses have many competitors, there are quite a few that don’t. In many different business sectors, competition seems to be shrinking as large players grow and dominate the field.
A good example is the retail marketplace. Competition is high when it comes clothing retailers or restaurants. If you are looking for a place to buy some new shoes or a dinner for the evening, the choices are abundant. There are many cases where this isn’t true. Retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, Kroger and Publix, Lowes and Home Depot, Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million, and Best Buy and Circuit City may compete with each other, but not usually with anyone else. There are exceptions to this rule as retail giant Wal-Mart carries just about everything. However, they specialize in nothing. In addition, the competing products are usually of a lower quality.
For example, if I need to buy a kitchen sink on a Sunday afternoon, I basically have two options, Lowes or Home Depot. If I need a popular book to read, Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble are my two choices. Other small local or online retailers are available, but sometimes the consumer needs something right away or it might want “to touch” the product to feel comfortable with it. These companies have essentially created local oligopolies and compete only with each other. As a result, the big-box stores who used to offer big savings are now only marginally cheaper than their local predecessors.
A bigger question might be what happens next? In many of cases, one player within each pair is starting to outshine the other. In the fourth quarter of 2007, Best Buy, the No. 1 consumer electronics retailer, posted an 18.5 percent jump in sales while Circuit City lost money. Lowes is continuing to gain substantial ground on Home Depot, and Barnes and Noble is the only national book retailer doing well financially. Will the market eventually support only a single competitor in each such space?
Wal-Mart has already gained this position in several small geographic areas and they are using this position to increase profits. In my hometown of Fayetteville, TN, Wal-Mart is the only major retailer. Grocery stores like Food Lion and Bi-Lo have left town. The market is too small for the addition of a store like Target and the prices reflect this lack of competition. Every item in the Fayetteville store is more expensive than the same item in the Murfreesboro Wal-Mart. Are the fates of larger markets the same? In retail, the rule is to grow or fail. However, should one company win, it is the consumer who would suffer.
--Jeremy Smith, MBA Candidate
[Authored by Dr. Susan Williams, Professor of Management] Doug Stone, author of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Really Matters (Difficult Conversations) counsels us to “get things out into the open” and have those difficult conversations we’ve been putting off – the roommate who won’t clean up her share of the apartment, the employee who interrupts at every opportunity, or the person who plays loud music after midnight. He asserts that the fallout from people not having these conversations is evident all around us – failed management, poor employee morale, even horrific events like the Challenger disaster.
In his recent presentation at the Executive Learning Networks, part of the Scarlett Leadership Institute at Belmont University, Stone counseled participants to quiet “the voice in the head” and think about the other person’s point of view. Most of these failed conversations are based on our internal voice saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” He asked us to inquire of ourselves, for example, “I wonder why she’s doing that?” Assume you don’t know the other person’s motivation and don’t ascribe blame to them. Then you can look for solutions instead of blaming.
Getting clear with yourself about how you feel about certain behaviors is part of preparing for the difficult conversation. Ask yourself why this particular conversation is hard for you. Is it because you have made some assumptions about motivation, or because similar conversations have not gone well in the past?
The three parts of difficult conversations are: “what happened” which deals with the facts of the dialog; a “feelings” discussion that addresses the parties’ emotions; and an “identity” conversation that deals with how this discussion affects our perception of who we believe we are.
Bottom line, inquiring is more important than telling. Stone said, “It is hard to convince someone he is wrong if he feels he hasn’t been heard, so inquiring, actively listening, and really hearing are keys to addressing the issue.” Recognize that difficult conversations are a part of our lives. Search for solutions, not blame.
[Contributed by Joe Scarlett, retired Chairman of the Board of Directors, Tractor Supply Company and founder, Scarlett Leadership Institute at Belmont University] The recent tainted meat scandal in California further demonstrates why uncompromising ethics in business is the only path to long term business success. One-hundred forty-three million pounds of meat were recalled all because of a lapse of ethics. Who wins in this mess? Absolutely no one. Was it avoidable? Certainly.
Since so many of the senior executives of Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Tyco, etc. were exposed and subsequently jailed, you would think that every businessperson in America would have learned the importance of maintaining a high level of integrity in business practices. It is a real shame that some still have not seen the light and grasped the obvious. High standards, honesty, and ethical leadership all pay off in the long run, and the opposite is simply a path to ultimate failure. Wake up business leaders!
In February Westland/Hallmark Meat of Chino California issued a recall for 143 million pounds of beef – six times larger than any previous recall. The company slaughtered cattle that could not walk and failed to notify an inspector, which is a clear violation. Cattle that cannot walk have a higher risk of mad cow disease and bacterial contamination. What were they thinking? Where is the leadership?
Federal inspectors did not identify the problem nor did the company report the problem from its own control processes. A video provided by the Humane Society showed employees attempting to get sick cattle to stand up using forklifts, electric cattle prods and high pressure water hoses. And now speculation suggests that the plant will close. Owners will lose their investment, executives will lose their salaries and perks and the workers will all be unemployed. The only good news in the story, if there is any good news, is that there have been no reports of illness or meat contamination.
Employees clearly violated the rules, so you have to ask a few questions. Were the rules posted, communicated and discussed? Was there a clear path to discuss and report dilemmas and violations? Did the employees believe that the company strived to operate with a high degree of integrity in all aspects of its operations? The obvious conclusion is that the answers to some or all of these questions is no.
The ethical and moral direction in any organization must be set by the CEO and the senior executive leadership. When that direction is set according to high standards and then communicated effectively and repetitively, the organization invariably lives by those standards. We follow our leaders; when they set the right direction, we follow; when they set the wrong direction, or more commonly no direction, we wander into “no man's land.”
Leadership in business is everything. We follow with pride and confidence when our leaders set a clear path that embraces high ethical standards. Workers at every level deserve the right to work for leaders who demonstrate business and personal integrity. -Joe Scarlett, March 2008
RealtyTrac, a firm that keeps up with residential property in foreclosure, reported in January that the number of mortgage foreclosures is increasing faster in some states than the number of new homes sold. Reports are that there were 153,745 initial foreclosure notices sent out in the United States, which was almost half the total sales figure of newly built single family homes and existing homes and condominiums over the same time frame.
Of course in some states, California and Nevada, the percentage of homes affected is far worse than others (e.g., Vermont and West Virginia). The map to the left is based on May 2007 numbers. Therein is a major concern; nationwide homeowners should be mindful of the insidious effects that foreclosures and the rising inventories of homes for sale will have on home prices—and household wealth.
Foreclosures not only cause dislocation for the homeowners being forced out of their homes, but also represent an increased supply of homes for buyers and additional competition for other sellers. Homes in foreclosure or those that are about to be foreclosed force sellers to accept lower prices since they are in no position to wait for better offers. Those sales can help to push prices lower for everyone.
The “wealth effect” which has powered consumer spending during the housing boom is likely to further deteriorate as home equity declines as home prices fall. The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that for the first time in record-keeping dating back to 1945, home equity was below 50% for the last nine months of 2007. The newly issued number highlights the problems that millions of Americans are having keeping their homes, as their mortgage rates adjust upward and their property values decline.