Big Biz Hits the Books

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It’s no surprise that many a big name in business has either had a biography written about them or written their own autobiography. Here are some of the classics (and a few newer ones) to check out this holiday season.

Capital Instincts: Life as an Entrepreneur, Financier, and Athlete by Richard L. Brandt

Wiley, February 2003

An avid sportsman and innovative businessman, Thomas Weisel has developed a reputation as a determined, competitive, and hugely successful name in the business world. He ran one of the biggest investment banks on the West Coast for 27 years and was instrumental in bolstering companies like Applied Materials, Siebel Systems, and Yahoo! in their journeys on Wall Street.

Brandt’s biography delves deeply into Weisel’s business acumen, not to mention his lifelong love of athletics (Weisel is the founder of Tailwind Sports, which manages the US Postal Service cycling team. He was also an Olympic-level speed skater and the chairman of the US Ski Foundation).

The title of the book’s first chapter says it best: “Never Underestimate Thom Weisel.”

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Scribner, April 2016

Nike founder Phil Knight built his business from a startup with a backing of all of $50 to an international superstar company annually raking in more than $30 billion. The Nike swoosh is one of the few icons instantly recognized all over the world.

In his own words, Knight tells the story of how he started Nike with one goal: to import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan, which he then sold out of the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant. At first, Nike didn’t look like much: In its first year, it only grossed $8,000. But thanks to perseverance and solid partnerships with Knight’s former coach Bill Bowerman, as well as the first ragtag group of Nike employees, Knight built a legendary company that survives and thrives today.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Simon & Schuster, October 2011

If you haven’t heard of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, you’ve probably been living under a rock. By finding the intersection of creativity, technology, and innovation, Jobs changed the way we think about user design and the possibilities inherent in everyday technology like computers, animation, phones, music, and digital publishing.

Author Walter Isaac put together this biography based on forty interviews with Jobs, as well as interviews with his family, friends, competitors, and colleagues. He doesn’t shy away from detailing Jobs’s intensely driven, sometimes brutal personality. But Isaac couches it in the context of the ups and downs of Jobs’s life and the legacy of innovation that he’s left behind.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Deckle Edge, March 2013

While not precisely an autobiography, Sheryl Sandberg’s book on women and leadership in business, based on her 2010 TEDTalk on the same theme, reveals a lot about her life and her approach to her work. As COO of Facebook, one of Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Sandberg knows a thing or two about balancing work and home life—not to mention stepping into leadership roles.

Lean In combines research, hard data, and personal anecdotes to create a book urging women to take pride in their professional achievements and to break down gender-based barriers in the workplace.

Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty by Robert Lacey

Harper, June 2015

Lacey’s biography of the legendary Eileen Ford, whose Ford Modeling Agency practically created the concept of the superstar supermodel, looks at both the glamor and the tough work ethic behind one of the fashion world’s most famous entrepreneurs. Ford represented some of the biggest names in fashion—Rene Russo, Christie Brinkley, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and more.

Drawing on four years of interviews with Ford and her associates (including her rivals), Lacey brings to light all of Ford’s determination, business acumen, and passionate personality.

“Ford’s status as a controversial, demanding figure isn’t ignored in Lacey’s portrait of one of the hardest working women in fashion,” wrote the New York Observer. “The juicy details of a tell-all are met with the nuance of a memoir in this portrait of the woman he recalls as the ‘matriarch of modeling.’”

Howard Schultz Steps Down as Starbucks CEO

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Today, Starbucks announced that Howard Schultz is stepping down from his position as CEO. But Schultz isn’t completely leaving the company. The 63-year-old is taking on the role of executive chairman beginning on April 3, 2017.

Kevin Johnson, Chief Operating Officer at Starbucks, will replace Schultz as the new CEO.

“As I focus on Starbucks’ next wave of retail innovation, I am delighted that Kevin Johnson—our current president, COO, a seven-year board member and my partner in running every facet of Starbucks business over the last two years—has agreed to assume the duties of Starbucks chief executive officer. This move ideally positions Starbucks to continue profitably growing our core business around the world into the future,” Schultz stated.

But for as optimistic as Schultz seemed, investors weren’t buying it. Stocks fell by more than 3% following the announcement. Some are speculating that Schultz stepped down so he could pursue his political interests instead.

In an interview with CNN, Schultz stated, “Given the state of things in the country, there is a need to help those left behind.”

It’s still unclear exactly what Schultz was getting at. However, there are clues that suggest that Schultz might be making a run for POTUS come 2020.

For one, he is an outspoken Democrat and long-time backer of President Barack Obama. He even publicly endorsed presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. It’s more than possible that given the results of the election, Schultz will be gunning for the highest political office in the country.

If it were true, there are already hints as to what kind of campaign he would be running. In the past, Schultz has supported a higher minimum wage. He’s even offered his employees free college.

In the mean time, Schultz assured investors that he is confident in Johnson’s ability to take over as CEO. Schultz went as far as to say Johnson was “better prepared than I am” to be CEO.

Fake News: Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

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When Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it sent shock waves throughout the world. Nobody, not even the media, believed that he could win. But he did, and so naturally, people are still trying to figure out why. According to analysts, fake news is to blame.

It sounds ridiculous at first. How do people not know the difference between real news vs. fake news? But believe it or not, it’s more common than you think.

Paul Horner, a self-admitted fake news publisher, is so good of an imposter that he has tricked major political figures into sharing his faux stories on social media. Both Eric Trump and former Trump-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski fell victim to his sham when they tweeted a link to one of his counterfeit stories.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Horner revealed the tricks of his trade. One strategy he uses involves creating a domain name with a familiar URL. In the past, Horner has used the domain “abcnews.com.co” to deceive people into believing that the article is from trusted news source ABC. But in actuality, it isn’t. That small “.co” at the end of it means that it is not in fact from ABC News.

At one point, Horner even convinced the Internet that people were being “bused in” and paid to protest Donald Trump’s election. These claims turned out to be complete and utterly false. At one point, he even convinced social media users that he was the famed graffiti artist “Banksy.” It begs the question: are imposters just that good? Or is America just that gullible?

The answer is: it’s both. The people who publish these hoaxes are lifelong con artists. They are highly skilled in the art of deception. However, readers also have a responsibility to carefully evaluate their sources. Conducting research and assessing credibility is something that every adult ought to know how to do. Unfortunately, not every adult does know how to do this. That’s why this should be treated as a wake up call so it doesn’t happen again.

Standing Out and Fitting In at the Same Time

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It’s commonly received wisdom that in order to get ahead, you have to stand out. But it is also widely known that if you stand out too much, you’re bound to fail. So what’s the correct answer? According to a Stanford Business School study, it’s a little of both.

The study found that people who either fit in with company culture, but don’t fit into one or another operational clique therein, or are the opposite, have the best opportunities for advancement. So an employee might be nonconformist with company culture, but be a strong part of a specific department, or have weak connections to any specific department but conform to company culture, and they manage to both fit in and stand out. The same study found that people who fit in too much actually have a much higher chance of being fired, presumably because it’s hard for them to have their voices heard, and likely seem less valuable as employees.

How is any of this useful to companies or employees? Whether or not somebody fits in with company culture or clicks with the rest of their department is more often than not the result of a lot of different factors, some which can be accounted for and others that cannot. If you’re reading this and you can honestly look at your current workplace experience and see whether you fit in along either axis, perhaps you can work to stand out more (or less) along one of them. On the flip side, if you’re looking for somebody to promote, it may be worth looking at how that person fits into the culture and how they work.

The study is the first of it’s kind, meaning there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the subject. However, it certainly provides an interesting discussion topic.

Social Media to Cut Down on Fake News

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There is no doubt about it: fake news played a huge part in this year’s presidential election. Anyone with a Facebook account was surely slammed with stories about both candidates, often coming from unfamiliar sources.

Now Facebook and Google are making sure fake news isn’t so abundant going forward.

The tech giants will be banning all fake news publishers from using their ad-selling services. Facebook will no longer allow any ads from fake sites to be placed on any third party apps or affiliated websites because the content falls under their “illegal, misleading, or deceptive” category. Google will block any site that misrepresents the truth, and any publisher that tries to push through these barriers will be permanently banned from Google AdSense.

“Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” a rep for Google said in a statement.

While this may seem fruitless (especially after the election) this is actually pretty big news. If publishers can’t make money from fake news sites, they will be less likely to publish them.

While some sites are obviously illegitimate (particularly those that are extremely partisan) many are covert in how they operate, usually by stealing the name of well-known news source and adding letters to the web link. For example, Fox News is www.foxnews.com, but a fake source would print news from www.foxnews.com.co. Not hard to grasp how so many were quick to believe what they were reading when the address bar looks so familiar.

Although these actions are met with open arms, Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook is being unfairly accused of playing a role in the fake news phenomenon.

“Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebookof which it’s a small amount of contentinfluenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said.

Fragrance Products Are Bad for Health and Business

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Over several decades now, we’ve been inundated with products that “smell nice.” From air fresheners to cleaning supplies, we’ve assumed that these pleasant scents are safe to use. Some fragrances even make us feel more relaxed and/or focused. The problem is, these products are harmful, not only for individuals, but for businesses as well.

According to Professor Anne Steinemann from the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, these products all contain hazardous pollutants. As an expert on air pollutants, Professor Steinemann claims that most of these ingredients aren’t even listed on the bottle since many countries don’t require a complete listing of ingredients.

We’ve all known (or are) a person who gets headaches around air fresheners. And that’s not uncommon. According to a recent study by Professor Steinemann, exposure to such products can result in anything from headaches to asthma attacks. And if you think it’s rare, think again: 34.7% of Americans suffer adverse effects from being around such fragrances.

Steinemann also found that 20% of respondents left a store or other business as soon as possible when it had such fragrances. Additionally, 15% of employees had missed work due to headaches or other side effects caused by fragrances. Worse yet, almost every single American is exposed to such products.

Whether or not these products will actually be addressed by regulatory agencies any time soon is questionable, probably even unlikely, but they seem to certainly be causing more problems than they solve. This is where businesses can step in and make a difference.

Businesses should protect employees and customers by removing air fresheners from the bathroom, removing fragrant products from the office or store, and by using natural cleaners. Businesses who stop using fragrances can help customers and employees stay healthier. Not to mention, it saves a lot of money, too.

Better Yeast for More Efficient Biofuel Production

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Fossil fuels are problematic for two reasons: they pollute the environment and they’re not sustainable. The former is a problem that we can’t fix since there’s no real way to make fossil fuels better for the environment. But the latter is something that we can address. We can replace fossil fuels entirely by using a more sustainable alternative, preferably one that doesn’t pollute the planet at all.

While biofuels aren’t completely carbon neutral, they are more sustainable since we can always grow more plants. The problem is, the yeast that we use to make biofuels (the same kind used by bakers and brewers for centuries) isn’t the most efficient biofuel producer. There is a whole category of plant sugars, called xylose, which neither yeast nor humans can break down. Basically, this means that we’re not getting as much biofuel as possible because there is as much as 50% leftover plant matter.

But a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center have managed to purposely evolve a strain of yeast that can eat xylose. This puts us one step closer to more efficient biofuel production. That’s a good thing, since biofuels have been a hard sell specifically because they aren’t as efficient as fossil fuels, both from a production and a fuel standpoint.

You generally need more plant matter than you do with petroleum, which is problem number one. Secondly, you don’t get as much energy usage out of it, so you have to sink more cost into production, which is then passed on to consumers. This is why people don’t buy cars that run on biofuels unless they’re really dedicated, not to mention, wealthier than most Americans. But more efficient biofuel production would help to reduce costs in the long run, and therefore make vehicles that use biofuels more appealing to consumers. Plus, it would help reduce our reliance on foreign oil. It’s a win-win situation.

Improving Cyber Security Through Public-Private Collaboration

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According to George Washington University, the lack of communication and cooperation between the public and private sector is resulting in weak cyber security. While the government is of course involved in cyber security, they’re the main player, and have their own concerns, meaning that the private sector becomes the primary target for cyber crime and other attacks. In essence, the government can’t do enough fast enough to protect the private sector, something which is very much in their interest to do.

That lack of communication isn’t because the government doesn’t care, but because existing laws pertaining to cyber security don’t make public-private collaboration particularly easy. They also limit the kinds of active defenses that private organizations can use, which are some of the best ways to defend against cyber attacks, but involve things like “hacking back,” which are prohibited by existing legislation.

The Active Defense Task Force has been looking into this for a while. It is their recommendation that we amend existing legislature in order to better assist public-private collaboration on active defense. Not all active defense has teams of hackers on staff to go after groups that attack your company, but there are a number of legally allowed system that essentially allow us to detect attacks before they happen and to gather information about those attacks. Some such programs are in effect, but according to the Task Force, they could be better used if they were better developed, and that requires collaboration.

Cyber security is a big deal, and certainly something worth taking seriously. Large scale attacks on private organizations can result in economic chaos as whole swaths of the Internet go down and commerce suffers. Hackers routinely violate and release the private information of not just celebrities but other citizens as well, exposing them to fraud and harassment on a daily basis. Having a better handle on how to prevent such attacks is definitely a priority for our country.

Employees Who Imitate Bad Behavior of Bosses Get Away With

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Want to get away with some shady behavior at work? Imitate your boss. No, seriously! According to a study by researchers at UC Irvine, people are less likely to report unethical behavior by their peers when it’s the same kind of unethical behavior they’ve witnessed from their superiors.

The researchers found that the same did not apply to people who initiated unethical behavior, imitated their peers, or imitated someone from another organization. It seems that unethical behavior isn’t tolerated just because somebody else is doing it, but perhaps because there’s no point in reporting it. The study also found that imitated behavior was reported when the original transgressors were punished.

The study didn’t go into specifics about how to handle these kinds of issues, that’s for further research, but we can probably glean a few things from it. For one, it seems likely that, no matter how sneaky someone is being, other people are going to find out about unethical behavior. Of course, some bosses aren’t particularly shy about it, and that means others in the organization might start imitating that behavior, and that’s likely bad for the organization’s budget, image, or both.

The most obvious takeaway is to not engage in unethical behavior period. But when upper management does it, as is bound to happen from time to time, make sure that the behavior is both reported and corrected. The study found that the details of a punishment didn’t matter so much as knowing that the transgressor was corrected. In other words, it needn’t be something so dramatic as firing someone, it just needs to be enough to make it clear that unethical behavior won’t be tolerated.

Is this going to prevent any and all unethical behavior? Of course not, but the more we understand about what motivates people to perform such actions, the more we can work on fixing it.

Amazon Has Become a Haven for Counterfeit Products

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As Amazon continues to expand, they’ve been allowing more and more companies to sell directly to consumers. That’s great for Amazon and is part of what is driving their rapid growth. But unfortunately, that growth comes with some pretty unpleasant side effects. Namely, it’s given rise to a whole market of counterfeit products that are much cheaper than the real thing. These products are cheap knockoffs that are harming the original manufacturers.

Among the most glaring example is the Forearm Forklift, a set of straps used to move furniture. The company that makes them has been losing sales left and right as customers go to Amazon and do what they always do: buy the cheapest one they can find. The problem is, those cheap sales aren’t the real thing; they’re fakes that can’t deliver on their promises.

Unfortunately, there’s not much that Forearm Forklift can do about it. If another company were making a similar product for cheaper, that would be one thing. But we’re talking about cheap knockoffs that shamelessly steal images from the actual manufacturer in order to scam customers into thinking that they’re buying the real thing.

Amazon is not doing a good job of dealing with this issue. What they need to do is aggressively track down counterfeiters and other fraudulent sellers. While Amazon has started instituting more policies to prevent them from selling in the first place, it obviously isn’t working.

There are a lot of factors involved in their poor response, from Amazon being a huge company with many layers of management to work through, to the breakneck speed at which digital sales spaces are changing, to the simple fact that those garbage items are still generating revenue for Amazon. But if they don’t do something about this issue, it may eventually catch up with them, and people might decide to take their hard-earned money elsewhere.

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