Saturday, September 17, 2005

Lingering Thoughts

I can’t help but linger on the current political climate of my workplace.  Amongst the escalated calls and exceptions that my colleagues and I make with customers, we are to be much, much, much more lenient:  The Company has decided that we should do pretty much whatever we can to keep a customer.

Mind you, I work in the receivables management department:  And, typically, many people who call this department aren’t exactly the happiest customers, let alone the occasional batch of kooks or dinks that we get calls from.  

As business textbooks will tell you, and my current supervisor’s intent, the job of a supervisor—even a quasi-supervisor such as myself—is to add value to an organization.  My supervisor most equated this to our ability to have customers who give us high ratings in industry-wide surveys and our company’s stock price.  Knowing full well that stock prices are an irrational element in economics, I have a couple conflicting thoughts about this.

Stock price can be tied to earnings or otherwise just how a particular group of investors are feeling on a given day.  This wonderful dynamic has been studied by many disciplines.  Regardless…if we are making as many exceptions as we have been ordered to make, isn’t that going to have a direct effect on profits?  This, in turn, will have an effect on the stock price when we report lower earnings.  Or will the cost of customers purchase enough good reputation to offset what it is costing us?  Will there be economic spillover that hasn’t been foreseen?

However, on the other side…history has been known to repeat itself.  This, I have been told, happened once upon a time, in a different incarnation of the business.  But maybe, just maybe, one should start counting their blessings and begin thinking about implementation of a “Plan B.”

Friday, September 16, 2005

Through the Fire

Today I walked through the fires of “Hell with Fluorescent Lighting” and came out on the other side. Let’s see how high that I bounce. I’ll get back to that.

For those of you who have been reading my blog for any amount of time know what I do for a living: I take advice calls from representatives and escalated calls from customers in the receivables management department of a major wireless carrier as a quasi-supervisor. In a normal week every person in one like mine will take good calls, bad calls, and, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll run into something that gets you into trouble.

I made a mistake in a judgment call I made on a call yesterday regarding transferring to another supervisor, possibly one with a clearer head for the situation than I apparently had. A customer escalated on a representative and, as the fates would have it, it got to me twice. A string of things that could have—should have—gone differently added up to ensure that the customer contacted the company back and the boss of my boss of my boss of my boss (boss x 4) received enough word of this that I was suspended today pending an investigation of the activities that took place. The management team, in proper stead, took my story and examined the notations made to the account. I was advised that I should type a letter to the investigating officials from the company dictating my side of the story and selling myself to them as being (still) a valuable asset.

Although I’m never too confident in anything, as I know how the universe sometimes unfolds, I knew that my supervisor, the managers over him, and my colleagues would stand up for my integrity as a professional and my value to the team. As things would have it, I came through the fire, knowing that I had made mistakes, still able to retain my badge and keep my job.

General George S. Patton, always one to be audacious, was quoted as saying “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom." I’ve been standing inside the fire for about 6 or 7 months in my current position now, never on the outside looking in. I’ve been a change agent, a team forger, a task force leader. I have helped establish a new paradigm in my department, and if you think for a moment that I’m going to slow down…you’ve chosen the wrong answer.

So, how high should I bounce next?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Yeah, I know. Another quote. I probably should be putting something more in tomorrow.

"Out of every 100 men, ten shouldn't even be there, Eighty are just targets,
Nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle.
Ah, but the one, One is a warrior, and he will bring the others back." - Heraclitus

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

No regular blog entry tonight, however I will leave you with this quote:

"In critical and baffling situations, it is always best to return to first principle and simple action"
- Sir Winston S. Churchill

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Coming Corporacy: Part II

Originally formed in 1885, American Telephone & Telegraph—AT&T coins itself these days as the “world’s networking company.” In over 100 years of operation they have established themselves as a company that is highly aggressive in their practices to the point where the federal government decided that they were too large.

As early as 1949 the U.S. Government sued AT&T for monopolistic practices regarding their capitalization of technologies produced by the famous Bell Labs. Their attempt for AT&T to divest Western Electric caused AT&T to stay out of the business of selling computers, among other things.

Although AT&T was able to escape a larger divestiture at the time, the nails in their coffin were finally sealed after the U.S. Department of Justice finally won an antitrust lawsuit in 1982, after 8 years in the courts. This caused the affectionately-known “Ma Bell” to spawn 7 “Baby Bell” Regional Bell Operating Companies. Technically, the local exchange service operations of AT&T were divested with the agreement that AT&T could go into the computer business—a reversal of the earlier 1949 lawsuit.

The resulting companies, sans the parent company AT&T:

  • Ameritech
  • Bell Atlantic
  • BellSouth Telecommunications
  • Pacific Telesis Group
  • Southwestern Bell Corporation
  • US West

(Note: AT&T also had investments in two independent companies: Cincinnati Bell and Southern New England Bell, or SNET)

Remember the list of babies created by the breakup of Standard Oil from earlier? Let’s go through and see what the disposition of the Regional Bells have been since the divestiture:

  1. Ameritech: Acquired by Bell Atlantic in 1997.
  2. Bell Atlantic: Merged with GTE in 2000 to form Verizon which, in turn, is currently in negotiations to purchase MCI.
  3. BellSouth: No changes.
  4. NYNEX: Acquired by Bell Atlantic in 1997.
  5. Pacific Telesis Group: Acquired by SBC Communications.
  6. US West: Acquired by Denver-based Qwest.
  7. Southwestern Bell Corporation: Changing its name to SBC Communications in 1998, SBC acquired 3 of the Baby Bells and has announced plans to purchase their parent company AT&T.

AT&T, through the 1990’s and until 2001, made several investments into media and VoIP (voice over IP) technologies. Running into debt issues, AT&T spun off AT&T Wireless in 2001 as (at the time) the largest IPO in history. Renowned for it’s business accounts, AT&T Wireless was acquired by Cingular Wireless (owned 60-40 by SBC and BellSouth, respectively), causing Cingular Wireless to become the largest wireless company in the world with over 50 million customers.

The trend that I want to point out is that, with the exception of Cincinnati Bell, the companies formed by the forced breakup of AT&T are larger and more successful than their parent. Compared with 2004 revenues of $30.5 billion; SBC alone reported revenues $40.7 billion for the same time period.

Regardless of government regulation and interference, market forces have ultimately created a handful of behemoths.

In the next post I will briefly discuss a final case study and delve further into the corpocracy form of government.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Coming Corpocracy: Part I

In the future the type of nation-state that most people can identify with today will no longer exist. It will, instead, be replaced with a form of government that has evolved from the previous tyrannies, monarchies, republics, and democracies. No longer will senators, presidents, prime ministers, or even the occasional monarch rule over the land. Instead, shareholders will elect board members who will, in turn, select top executives to run multinational vertically- and horizontally- integrated conglomerates. Maybe shareholders will even have a say in choosing these top executives. As distant as it may seem, this world isn’t very far away. To an extent, a skeleton form of the corpocracy exists today; however, this is only the beginnings of a brave new world.

The most overt act of this can be seen in a recent move by Wal-Mart to take over a 60-acre property in Inglewood, California, outside of San Diego. This is part of their ongoing strategy to open 40 grocery stores that would also have the traditional discount merchandise that the firm is known for. The Inglewood site would have consisted of a larger shopping experience for the consumer, being something of a mall a la Wal-Mart. In and of itself, this is a remarkable feat; however this is not what worries most people involved in the fray—neither is it what will necessarily bring the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company into the corpocratic status that will riddle the global landscape in the future. The fact that the word “sovereignty” has came up multiple times is what makes this different.

Reportedly, the space that the corporate giant was looking to establish it’s sovereignty on is the size of 14 football fields. I have lived in towns the size or smaller than this. It is a nice foothold: Today, sovereignty; tomorrow, establishing embassies in countries around the world. Even though Wal-Mart may be paving the road for the actual land-owning aspect of sovereignty, corporations have been exhibiting sovereign traits for a long time. Between the times of the Industrial Revolution and now, though, significant gains have been made by global firms to this end.

The the original “bad boy” of corporate monopolies: Standard Oil. Formed in 1870 by forming his business concerns into a single entity, John D. Rockefeller borrowed heavily in order to acquire 90 percent of the United States’ oil refining capacity. This move to become the largest monopoly that the world has ever known was a bolder organization than even AT&T or Microsoft. After becoming the wealthiest man in the world, the United States Congress, led by the Ohio senator John Sherman, passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. This law, citing that any corporate front for a combination of firms or corporations who agree not to lower prices below a certain rate (“price fixing”) for the purpose of reducing competition and controlling prices throughout a business or an industry was illegal, was used two years later by the Ohio Attorney General in 1892 to win a lawsuit again the company.

Standard Oil had developed several core competencies that have been adapted to many a playbook for current corporations: Aggressive competitive practices by offering their product for less price because they could produce & supply more of it than smaller competitors (“economies of scale”), and taking control of various aspects of producing oil, such as distribution or marketing (“economies of scope”). They also developed strategies in which they negotiated with various stakeholders to get them better deals for their business.

In the end, the same court of public opinion that businesses today must succeed with sealed the fate of Standard Oil. The Supreme Court ordered their breakup in 1911 into 34 smaller companies. Among these companies:

  • Standard Oil of Ohio (now part of BP, “British Petroleum”)
  • Standard Oil of Indiana (now part of BP)
  • Standard Oil of New York (now part of ExxonMobil)
  • Standard Oil of New Jersey (now part of ExxonMobil)
  • Standard Oil of California (better known as Chevron)
  • Atlantic and Richfield – (now Sunoco and part of BP, respectively)
  • Standard Oil of Kentucky – (part of Chevron)
  • Continental Oil Company - (now part of ConocoPhillips)

Other Standard Oils:

  • Standard Oil of Iowa - pre 1911 - became Standard Oil of California
  • Standard Oil of Minnesota - pre 1911 - bought by Standard Oil of Indiana
  • Standard Oil of Illinois - pre 1911 - bought by Standard Oil of Indiana
  • Standard Oil of Kansas - refining only, eventually bought by Indiana Standard
  • Standard Oil of Missouri - pre 1911 - dissolved
  • Standard Oil of Nebraska - eventually bought by Indiana Standard
  • Standard Oil of Louisiana - always owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso)
  • Standard Oil of Brazil - always owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Esso)

See a pattern above? Regardless of regulation by the government, in the end the effect is still the same.

Tomorrow we’ll look into a couple of other examples of this trend from an historical perspective.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


I abstain on producing a blog entry today on this subject, as my good friend S.J. Christ has written a piece on this very subject that sums up my feelings on it this year very well.

Thoughts on Leadership…

This will be a continuing thing.

Leadership is a science and an art form: Any number of textbook concepts applied to the canvas of human interaction.

I have long held to the belief that the world is black and white, right or wrong. Binary: One condition or another. The “grays” in the world…the color and such…is added when human emotion comes into play. If people didn’t base decisions on such things as emotional valuations or other bias-related factors, the world would be a much simpler place.

There have been myriad disciplines established in order to attempt to explain such behaviors: Psychology, sociology, chaos theory, and game theory are just four that come to mind at this time. Psychology aims to predict, and thus control, behavior; sociology deals with the behavior of these people in groups; chaos theory, the growth of entropy in a system; and the interactions between intelligent agents—game theory.

Leadership, then, is the application of any number of these principles—and more—in order to meet organizational goals. In order to have leadership, you must have a team; in order to have a proper team, you must have leadership. Leadership isn’t the be-all, end-all to team accomplishment, but it is an important catalyst in the execution of such.

What are the qualities of a (good) leader? Literature will vary on this topic, but generally most schools of thought will point out (This list is not all-inclusive):

  • Vision
  • Values
  • Willing to accept a challenge
  • Drive
  • Knowledge: A good mix of practical and “text book”
  • Risk-taking
  • Attention to detail
  • Willingness to take responsibility
  • An ability to complete things properly (read: Good staff work)
  • Mental toughness
  • Awareness of their surroundings, and at least a minimum-level of self-awareness
  • Partnering abilities
  • Administrative skills: The necessary reporting functions of any leadership position to include paperwork and management of people and logistics

Things that P*ss Me Off

You want to know some things that piss me off? Read on, there might be some humor involved…

Like…with the latest al Qaeda warning: "Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Allah willing. And this time, don't count on us demonstrating restraint or compassion.” The tape was done by former Los Angeles-area teenager Adam Gadahn. How does this piss me off? “Only a few years ago, Adam Gadahn was a southern California teenager with interests in the environment and heavy metal music.”

Yep. You read it right. Youth gone so wild, they need to be smacked.

How about this one: The kids (or even “young adults” in their early- and mid-20s). with the cars that are dented, busted up or otherwise a P.O.S. that either has 1) No muffler or an otherwise modified muffler to make it the loudest P.O.S. on your block, 2) A stereo system with speakers or an amplifier worth more than the car, or 3) Nice, shiny rims that are supposed to make the entire thing better.

Or…the respect and common sense people have with cell phones: While walking, riding bike, running, or driving. These are wrong. If you are in a restaurant, store, or any other place with any significant number of people…this is wrong.

Maybe cell phones are an excuse for people to not have what little respect for others that most people once had.