Morning Report

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Miserable MBAs, the Eddie Murphy Rule, and Managing a Business Crisis

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A reporter went to his 15th Harvard Business School reunion and found most of his MBA classmates “wealthy, successful, and miserable”—but he could have learned the same thing just by talking to entrepreneurs: “There’s a possibility, when it comes to understanding good jobs, that we have it all wrong. When I was speaking to my H.B.S. classmates, one of them reminded me about some people at our reunion who seemed wholly unmiserable—who seemed, somewhat to their own surprise, to have wound up with jobs that were both financially and emotionally rewarding…

“Many of them had something in common: They tended to be the also-rans of the class, the ones who failed to get the jobs they wanted when they graduated. They had been passed over by McKinsey & Company and Google, Goldman Sachs and Apple, the big venture-capital firms and prestigious investment houses. Instead, they were forced to scramble for work—and thus to grapple, earlier in their careers, with the trade-offs that life inevitably demands…they had learned from their own setbacks. And often they wound up richer, more powerful and more content than everyone else.”


Home Depot has invested $37 million in Roadie, which describes itself as “the nation’s first on-the-way delivery service” because it utilizes passenger cars that are already on the road: “Essentially, the service lets drivers monetize their daily commute or vacation road-trip. In September, Home Depot said it was partnering with Roadie and another service, Deliv, to roll out express same-day and next-day local delivery for thousands of items to 35 major metros across the US, including Atlanta.”


To get a feel for how the Trade War with China is affecting small businesses, NPR spoke with the co-owner of a luggage store in Lubbock, Texas. “We definitely had some price increases right away. But coming into 2019 now, we’ve had lots and lots of our manufacturers increasing prices,” Tiffany Williams explained. “On the practical side, it’s just trying to understand what our product assortment looks like going forward. And, certainly, with the threat of the 25 percent [tariff hike], that makes everything very different.”

Williams’ advice for the administration: “It’s not a tax on China. It’s a tax on, you know, us…I wish all of our product wasn’t made in China, but I don’t get to have a say in the matter. The supply chains can’t be changed quickly. It takes time.”

Gilroy, CA is known as the garlic capital of the world, and the Christopher Ranch there is the largest garlic producer in the country. According to executive vice president Ken Christopher, two Trump administration policies are having a mixed impact on his company: “For many American farmers, who export a large amount of their produce, the tariff war with China has dealt a big blow. Christopher says he is very sympathetic to their plight, and he doesn’t think tariffs are a long-term solution. But they are certainly helping. Christopher Ranch said sales were up by about 20 percent last year…

“But like most American agriculture, immigrants are a big part of Gilroy’s labor force. And the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented labor has hit many California farmers hard. Christopher says he thinks about this all the time: ‘If the Republican Party is pro-business, if they want to support industries across the country, they need to realize that immigration is a critical function of that.’”


Despite the objections of Microsoft employees, CEO Satya Nadella has decided not to withdraw from a contract with the US Army: “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy. We were very transparent about that decision and we’ll continue to have that dialogue [with employees].”  


Luxury brands like Armani are offering the truly wealthy an opportunity for a “branded residency”: “The owner of the $32.5m penthouse suite of the Porsche Design Tower can actually park their Porsche on the 57th floor thanks to the skyscraper’s ‘signature’ car elevator. But the amenities don’t end there: The penthouse features 4 floors, 2 pools, separate winter and summer kitchens, and an 11-car garage.”


A restaurant’s menu typography can be a big reason for its appeal, even if it is handwritten and illegible. A study from Penn State and Ohio State University found those “who received the handwritten menu believed that the healthy version of Rilo’s was, well, healthier, than when it was presented in Helvetica. They also just liked the menu more, and imagined sharing more about it on social. In fact, people even believed that the restaurant was somehow serving ‘love.’

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The suggestions we got for the greatest business movie ever included titles like “Other People’s Money” and “Wall Street.” Millennial Matt’s sticking with his favorite, “Glengarry Glen Ross” because of the iconic scene with Alec Baldwinif that doesn’t make you think you can sell a bridge, nothing willbut Bill Walker makes a good argument for “Trading Places”: “Apart from being riotously funny, the movie educates the viewer on the workings of trading on the COMEX Commodities Exchange in a simple yet informative way, including futures, short selling, the impact of market forces, and (of course) insider trading.

“In fact, this movie had such an impact that in 2010, the finance-overhaul law included a ban on using misappropriated government information for insider trading of commodities which is popularly known as the ‘Eddie Murphy Rule!’ No joke!”

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A Chinese real estate developer is one of many encouraging entrepreneurs to leave China while they can: “‘China’s economy is like a giant ship heading to the precipice,’ Mr. Chen wrote. ‘Without fundamental changes, it’s inevitable that the ship will be wrecked and the passengers will die.’ …

“It is unclear how many people saw the article before it disappeared from China’s heavily censored internet. But Mr. Chen said publicly what many businesspeople in China are saying privately: China’s leadership has mismanaged the world’s second-largest economy, and China’s entrepreneur class is losing confidence in the country’s future.”


Last week, we published a Cliff Oxford dispatch explaining how he helped a business owner whose credit line had been frozen. Here’s a similar piece from Lou Mosca, chief operating officer of American Management Services and a frequent guest on Mind Your Business:

Several years ago, I got an urgent phone call asking me to meet with an owner in the Virginia area the following day. The business was a contractor that had fallen from about $45 million in revenue to about $25 million in a matter of two or three years. It had just gotten a notice from its bank that it was giving the company about two months to go through an orderly liquidation, or the bank would take it over. The reason? The bank felt that its client had been deceptive because it hadn’t disclosed that the business was hemorrhaging revenue, cash, and profit.

On the first day, I told the owner we had to get the bank situation under control to buy time. So, we sent the bank a letter electronically, requesting a meeting in two weeks where we would present a plan showing how it would get paid. Fortunately, the bank approved within 15 minutes, giving us time to develop a strategy.

That afternoon, we summoned all managers from around the country for a SWAT meeting the next day at company headquarters. There, we began the process of righting the ship, which unfortunately meant cutting costs, cutting overhead, and restructuring the company to be a $25 million business instead of a $45 million business.

Two weeks later, we met with the bank and its attorneys and showed them our plan, which included giving P&L responsibility to each location around the country, tracking ROI on all equipment, rating staff on a scale of A, B, and C (and working aggressively to improve the B’s and C’s), calculating profit into every estimate, and establishing monthly communications with the bank to track the financial performance and project the next three months.

Soon after, I’m happy to tell you, the company began generating $100,000 in monthly profit. Ultimately, it grew to be a profitable and debt-free business with more than $50 million in revenue. The moral? Attack your problems; they’re not going away by themselves.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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