Archive for February, 2009

Book Review: While America Aged …

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

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Lowenstein, Roger. While America aged : how pension debts ruined General Motors, stopped the NYC subways, bankrupted San Diego, and loom as the next financial crisis. Penguin Press, 2008.

My sister is a salaried engineer for a company that was spun off from General Motors. She emailed recently:

Yesterday a man in sales with 25 years, and a reputation of being a very hard worker, was “let go.” The rumor is there will be 52 more salaried people let go between now and the end of next week. Interestingly, we found out that they just hired 11 salaried people. People hired after 1995 do not get the same retirement benefits as those of us hired before 1995. They are firing people who have been here a long time and replacing them with hirees with fewer retirement benefits.”

Using three case studies, this new book in the Ford Library discusses the pension crisis that is looming over American industry. Author Roger Lowenstein begins in Detroit in the 1940’s, where the UAW bargained for pensions in labor contracts. General Motors complied because promises for future benefits did not incur costs in the present. Pension and health care costs for retirees would not come due until many years in the future. Over time, the union’s success brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy as the number of retirees grew, the benefits grew and those promises came due.

Lowenstein also discusses two other cases, transport workers in New York City, whose union led a strike in 2005 that brought the city to a standstill, and the pension crisis in San Diego, sparked by city officials who doled out benefits to city workers but declined to impose higher taxes. The final chapter in the book suggests changes in the ways corporations, unions and the government manage benefits, paying for them in the present, instead of charging them to a future generation.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business. All rights reserved.

Book Review: Buying In

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

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Walker, Rob. Buying in : the secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are. Random House, 2008.

The mass market is dead, according to author Rob Walker. So is the couch potato consumer, who used to care what four out of five dentists recommended. Yet the new consumer purchases more branded products than ever before. In today’s environment where there is a paralyzing abundance of options available to the consumer, what makes people buy what they do?

The first part of the book is about branding, how marketers attach an idea to a product. Consumers will often participate in creating this meaning even though they don’t fully understand it themselves. Also important to consumer choice is the eternal tension between people wanting to be individuals, unique and special, and desiring to be part of something larger than themselves. Plus, consumer choice is about self expression. Product choice is powered by emotion, often unconscious to the consumer.

Walker also discusses new forms of marketing, such as hiring regular Americans to talk up products with friends and acquaintances, or to drop suggestions for purchases at stores. He also includes dozens of stories about branded products, including Timberland boots, PBR beer, the iPod and Red Bull. Interestingly, the section on Red Bull cites a study by Dan Ariely, Baba Shiv and Ziv Carmon, all of whom are or were at Fuqua at one time.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business. All rights reserved.

Inside the Meltdown

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Last night PBS aired a Frontline documentary on the cascade of financial catastrophe that begin with the rumors of Bear Stearns’ imminent failure and ended the passage of the $700 billion bailout plan. Producer/director Michael Kirk says, “How did it all go so bad so quickly? Who is responsible? How effective has the response from Washington and Wall Street been? Those are the questions at the heart of Inside the Meltdown“.

In addition to hosting the entire documentary for free on its web site, PBS also has additional interviews with Alan Greenberg, Paul Krugman, Sheila Bair, Martin Feldstein, and others.

Book Review: Superclass, the Global Power Elite

Monday, February 16th, 2009

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Rothkopf, David. Superclass : the global power elite and the world they are making. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

The superclass is comprised of the 6000 most influential people worldwide. Included in the group are top government leaders, military generals, key executives and shareholders from giant corporations, Arab sheikhs, influential artists and scientists, and leaders of the world’s religions.
Membership in the superclass is transitory and lasts only as long as someone has the power to influence millions of people internationally. Overrepresented are people who trace their cultural roots to Europe, who attended an elite university in the US, and who are men who work in business and finance. People from Africa and women are seriously underrepresented.

The superclass redirects massive assets among markets; creates, dislocates or eliminates jobs around the globe; determines the viability of governments; and plays a vital role in shaping the global era. As a group the superclass helps define the tenor of our times and decides what our priorities are. The superclass possesses a disproportionate amount of power in the world.

Author Rothkopf discusses relationships among these global leaders and their implications. He addresses the nature of inequality of wealth and power and questions whether national borders are still relevant. He discusses trends in global power and makes some predictions about the future.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business. All rights reserved.

New Movies for February

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Our latest titles include:

Bangkok Dangerous
Brideshead Revisited
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Dora the Explorer: Pirate Adventure
Drillbit Taylor
Eagle Eye
Generation Kill
A Good Woman
Lakeview Terrace
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Pineapple Express
Righteous Kill
The Secret Life of Bees
The Story of India
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Book Reviews: Productivity Rules

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

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Allen, David. Making it all work: winning at the game of work and business of life. Viking, 2008.

Allen, David. Getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity. Penguin, 2001.

Allen, David. Ready for anything: 52 productivity principles for getting things done. Penguin, 2003.

In conversation with 1st year Ethan Dameron, I noted the time pressures that I see in MBA students — Too much to learn and too much to do in a six-week term. Ethan recommended books by author David Allen, management consultant and executive coach. The Ford Library purchased Allen’s new book Making it all Work, as well as his two earlier bestsellers, Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything.

Author Allen believes that people experience stress when they are over committed. The key to a stress-free life is to manage the to-do list and Allan has developed a simple and effective method for dealing with heavy workloads. As people begin to close the loops on commitments, they can relax and focus on what needs to done with increased productive energy. When their minds are clear and their thoughts are organized, people can accomplish more than they ever thought possible.

Most of the book Getting Things Done is prescriptive. Allen has a specific method and he shows the reader how to implement it. Allen’s new book Making it all work contains much of the content from the original book, Getting Things Done, with additional motivational material. In Ready for Anything, Allen discusses his principles in a series of 2- or 3-page chapters.

Getting Things Done and Making it all Work are also available in audiobook format from the Ford Library.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business. All rights reserved.

Book Reviews: Nudge and Sway

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

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Brafman, Ori and Rom Brafman. Sway: the irresistible pull of irrational behavior. Doubleday, 2008.

Thaler, Richard H. and Cass R. Sunstein. Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. Yale, 2008.

Most people consider themselves to be rational. They evaluate their options and make decisions rationally, or at least they think so. Recently, a number of books have been published that show that people routinely make bad decisions because they are not paying attention; because they are influenced by their emotions and expectations; because they are pressured by social norms; or because they have limited self control.

The most popular and well-regarded of these books is the best-selling Predictably Irrational by Fuqua faculty member Dan Ariely. Predictably Irrational is a fantastic book that has been reviewed extensively, including reviews in the New York Times and on NPR.

Predictably Irrational is the first go-to source in learning why and how people behave as they do. But two other new books also merit mention: