Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Overall, CEOs don’t earn their big paychecks

April 14, 2014

o-CEO-PAY-570

The following is by Mark Symonds for Forbes

It isn’t every day that academic research comes along to tell you something you really wanted to hear and that you suspected was the truth all along.  In this case it’s about the long running debate around top executive pay.

A recent paper by J. Scott Armstrong of the Wharton School and Philippe Jacquart of France’s EMLYON, seem to have finally established that paying top dollar simply doesn’t get a better job done.  And, in fact, it might actually get a worse one done.

According to Armstrong and Jacquard, while there is plenty of evidence that financial incentives can be effective in motivating people to do mundane and boring tasks, individuals do the more interesting and challenging stuff…well, because it’s interesting and challenging.

Perversely, they say, very large financial incentives may actually hinder top performance. The paper argues there is strong evidence that individuals can become fixated on incentives and either become limited in their thinking, unable to digest and adopt new ideas or alternately become convinced that they will achieve the goal automatically so do not need to try as hard as they might otherwise.  Whatever the outcome, every other stakeholder from the more modestly earning employee to the corporate stockholder loses out.

And finally the research also suggests that we might not really be getting the brightest and best talent at the top because the tools and processes used to identify candidates are either limited or downright faulty

There is simply too much emphasis on past performance, personal recommendation, unstructured interviewing, an unwillingness to ask really difficult and searching questions and that more dangerous selection criterion of all – gut instinct. Worryingly, it seems that the headhunters and in-house recruiters charged with hiring occupants of the corner office may be relying too much on perception and too little on good, hard facts.

The paper points out that CEOs who win prestigious industry awards constantly out-earn those that don’t.  Yet the stocks of the companies the award winners head up consistently under-perform in comparison to those of their less publicity hungry peers.  Perhaps because the latter spend their time running their businesses well instead.  [snip]

Unlike many academics, who might shy away from coming up with a solution, EM Lyon’s Jacquart is one willing to give the obvious if uncomfortable answer – namely that current incentive models need to be abandoned and overall executive pay should be reduced.

And he’s also ready with a counter to those who will doubtless argue that this will make it impossible to recruit the right people and bring major banks and corporations crashing to the ground.

“Yes, of course this may make it more difficult to recruit very senior individuals from outside an organization, at least in the short term. However it would force businesses to focus more on the development of the talent it already has, the talent that is more likely to be more loyal to and understanding of its aims, goals and methodologies.”
[snip]

via Big Company CEOs Just Aren’t Worth What We Pay Them.

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Chipotle profits by investing in employees

April 12, 2014

The Chipotle Mexican-style restaurant chain enjoys good profits and good growth, while paying its employees generously and promoting from within.

220px-Chipotle_Brandon_Its current policy began about nine years ago when founder Steve Ells and then-COO Monty Moran visited the restaurants, and notice that the one that were best-run were all managed by employees who had started as restaurant crew members and worked their way up.

They decided to make that into a system, and reward restaurant managers, not for achieving set targets of holding wages and other costs down, but for mentoring employees and training them to be managers.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Why do so many managers ignore the examples of Chipotle, Costco and other companies and instead grind their employees down instead of building them up?  

I am reminding of a saying Bertrand Russell once made about human nature, When people are mistaken as to what is in their interest, the course they believe to be wise is more harmful to others than the course that really is wise.

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Costco: doing well by acting decently

June 12, 2013

CostcoLogo

Retail store chains face tough times because of the slow economy and competition from Amazon and other on-line sellers.  But Costco Wholesale’s sales are up, its profits are up and its stock price is up.

What’s noteworthy about Costco, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, is how well it treats its employees.   “If you treat customers with respect and employees with respect, good things will happen,” CEO Craig Jelinek told Bloomberg.

Costco is the second largest retail store chain in the United States, and is fast gaining on Wal-Mart, the largest.  Here are some facts and figures about the two chains.

  • Average hourly pay for Costco employees is $20.89 an hour, versus $12.67 for Wal-Mart.
  • 88 percent of Costco employees have company sponsored health insurance, in which they pay less than one-tenth of the cost of the premium.  Wal.Mart says “more than half” of its employees have health insurance.
  • CEO Craig Jeninek got a base salary of $650,000 a year, plus a $200,000 bonus, plus stock options worth $1.2 million.  Wal-Mart’s CEO got a base salary of $1.3 million , plus a $4.4 million cash bonus, plus $13.6 million in stock.
  • While Costco is doing well, Wal-Mart is in trouble
Costco's stores are no-frills

Costco’s stores are no-frills

Costco overall is a no-frills operation.  It has no public relations department, and Bloomberg reporters were able to talk to the CEO directly.  Costco does not hire managers out of business school.  Its managers are promoted from within.

Its prices, according to Bloomberg, are competitive with Amazon, which Costco managers see as its chief competitive threat.  Profit margins are thin.  About 80 percent of Costco’s gross profit comes from its annual membership fee.

Costco is not necessarily an exception, according to Bloomberg.  Nordstrom, The Container Store, Sephara, REI and Whole Foods Market, all know for treating employees well, are also doing well in the marketplace.  It is true that Amazon, which is not known for treating employees well, also is successful, but maybe they could still be profitable if they treated their warehouse workers better.

A lot of people assume that being callous toward people is always realistic and treating people decently is always naive, but Costco’s experience shows this isn’t so.  Treating employees as assets instead of costs can be good business price.  Bertrand Russell once wrote that if human beings all knew what was in their self-interest, most would be better people than they are and the world would be a better place.

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Why lobbying is a highly profitable investment

May 24, 2013
Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

Hat tip to occasional links & commentary.

CEO pay and stockholder return: the disconnect

May 24, 2013

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I leave it to statisticians to tell me whether there is a relationship between the profitability of companies and CEO pay.  I just note that the CEO on this chart whose company was the most profitable, Jeff A. Stevens of Western Refining, got one of the smallest compensation packages, and the CEO with the biggest compensation package, Larry Ellison of Oracle, headed a company that lost money.

It is true, of course, that executive pay is related to the size of the company and other factors besides annual return on equity, so there may be other rankings in which these figures seem to make sense.  I’d be interested to know them.

Hat tip to occasional links and commentary.

The high cost of politics

May 23, 2013

ElectionBought

Hat tip for the infographic to United Republic.

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Why good people can’t find jobs

May 23, 2013

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds in its surveys that there are about 10 people looking for work for every three jobs that are open—more than twice the proportion of job-seekers before the recession.  Yet many employers say there is a labor shortage.  They say they have jobs that they can’t find people to fill.

Peter Cappelli, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Center for Human Resources, says that the problem is not unqualified job-seekers.  The problem is bad  hiring practices.

First, he says, when employers advertise for employees, they cast too wide a net.  They get a tidal wave of applications, more than anyone can possibly consider, and so they have to look for reasons to thin out the applications.

Some throw out all applications that use certain buzzwords, or omit certain buzzwords.   Some throw out all applications which indicate that the person is older than a certain cutoff point (even though this is illegal) or that are worded so as not to reveal the person’s age.   Many throw out all applications from people who don’t have the exact skills required, and many throw out all applications from people not currently employed.

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

So if the only person you are willing to hire is someone already doing that exact same job for some other employer, and you don’t want to pay that person a premium wage to lure them away, then, yes, you are going to have trouble filling that post.   I’m exaggerating to make a point, but what I hear from my friends who are looking for work confirms what Cappelli says.  Many employers have arbitrary filtering systems that reject job applications from good people.

Another problem, as Cappelli sees it, is that employers don’t want to hire people they would have to train.  They don’t want to spend the money to train people because they’re not confident that the trainee will stay with them long enough for them to get their investment back.  In fact, the better trained someone is, the better chance the person has of getting a better job elsewhere.

Job-seekers these days spend their own money trying to acquire qualifications they think employers want, but often those qualifications are a mismatch.

According to the theory of how a free-market economy is supposed to work, this isn’t supposed to happen.  According to economic theory, if there is a shortage of workers to fill a certain type of job, then wages for that job will rise until supply equals demand.  The fact that this isn’t happening suggests that theory doesn’t always apply to the real world.

Part of the reason employers are so slow to fill job openings is that the reason they advertise for new workers is merely to appease their over-worked existing staffs.  As long as they are going through the motions, they can tell their exhausted existing workers that they are doing the best they can.

Cappelli has ideas for making things better, including the following:

  • Have employers work with community colleges and vocational high schools to provide training to qualify employees to do specific jobs.  Most American cities and counties want to attract industry and jobs.  This would be a better way to do it than offering tax abatements and other special privileges.
  • Promote from within.   An employer’s best workers are more likely to stay with a company if they have hope of a future within that company.  Taleo Corp., a “talent management” company, reported that, in recent years, two-thirds of all job openings, even in large companies, were filled by hiring from without.  A generation ago, all but 10 percent of openings were filled by promotion or transfer from within.

Cappelli also suggests giving new hires a learner’s wage while they receive on-the-job training.  This could be good, but it offers possibilities for abuse.   Unscrupulous employers could hire cycle after cycle of learners and never give them full pay.  In this age of widespread wage theft, this is a realistic concern.

Click on Why Companies Can’t Find the Employees They Need for an article by Cappelli in the Wall Street Journal.   In fairness to him, his tone is less strident than mine is.

Click on Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs—What You’re Up Against for a review of Cappelli’s book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs:  The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It.  I haven’t read the book.

The profit motive is not an ethical principle

May 15, 2013

Here are links to articles I found interesting about what happens when the profit motive overrides professionalism, social responsibility or obedience to law.

Coming Corporate Control of Medicine Throws Patients Under the Bus

Yves Smith describes the corporate model for medical care, which is to set a limit on how much time a physician can see an individual patient, so as to maximize the number of patients seen in a day.  This means weeding out patients with complicated problems or without good insurance.

Who’s Getting Rich Off Student Loans?  College Endowments

Daniel Luzer of the Washington Monthly tells how college endowment funds invest in student loan servicing and collection companies such as Sallie Mae.   The perverse incentives are that the higher the college tuition, the greater the interest payments and the more profitable the investment.   Sallie Mae is the nickname for a government lender that was privatized in 2004 and became SLM Corp.

When Your Boss Steals Your Wages: The Invisible Epidemic That’s Sweeping America.

Lynn Stuart Parramore of AlterNet reports on the practice of wage theft, which includes not paying for all hours worked, not paying overtime, not paying minimum wage and confiscation of tips.   A survey of 4,000 low-wage workers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles found that 26 percent were paid below minimum wage and 76 percent were denied overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

The Vicious New Bank Shakedown That Could Seriously Ruin Your Life.

Lynn Stuart Parramore reports on how banks such as Chase JP Morgan are committing the same kinds of abuses in collecting credit card debt that they used in collecting mortgage debt.  What they do is “robo-sign” lawsuit claims without checking records to make sure the information is correct, and give “sewer service” (throw the legal papers in the sewer)  of the claim to the debtor.  The result is that debtors’ wages are garnished even though, in some cases, they may be paid up, and lots of fees and charges are added to their debt without their knowledge.

A crazy idea from Walmart management

April 1, 2013

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was a business genius.  But his heirs, to put it as kindly as possible, are not.

iflPt65OEETUWalmart has been foundering of late because it is so understaffed that its employees are not able to keep the shelves of its stores fully stocked.  This is wrongheaded.

Now Walmart management is seriously thinking about giving its customers discounts in return for delivering on-line orders within their ZIP codes.  This is deeply crazy.  No doubt their lawyers and insurance companies will talk them out of actually attempting this.

The Walton heirs are a good argument for keeping estate taxes high enough that important business enterprises do not fall into the hands of the idiot children of great entrepreneurs.  The operation of the free market will catch up with Walmart eventually, but not until a lot of good, hard-working people are hurt.

Click on Walmart faces the cost of cost-cutting: Empty shelves for a report from Bloomberg Business News about the company’s troubles.

Click on Wal-Mart may get customers to deliver packages to online buyers for a report from Reuters about management’s bogus solution.

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Newspaper revenue falling off a cliff

September 12, 2012

The chart and article below are from the American Enterprise Institute’s public policy blog.

The blue line in the chart above displays total annual print newspaper advertising revenue (for the categories national, retail and classified) based on actual annual data from 1950 to 2011, and estimated annual revenue for 2012 using quarterly data through the second quarter of this year, from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).  The advertising revenues have been adjusted for inflation, and appear in the chart as millions of constant 2012 dollars.  Estimated print advertising revenues of $19.0 billion in 2012 will be the lowest annual amount spent on print newspaper advertising since the NAA started tracking ad revenue in 1950.

The decline in print newspaper advertising to a 62-year low is amazing by itself, but the sharp decline in recent years is pretty stunning.  This year’s ad revenues of $19 billion will be less than half of the $46 billion spent just five years ago in 2007, and a little more than one-third of the $56.5 billion spent in 2004.

Here’s another perspective: It took 50 years to go from about $20 billion in annual newspaper print ad revenue in 1950 (adjusted for inflation) to $63.5 billion in 2000, and then only 12 years to go from $63.5 billion back to less than $20 billion in 2012.

Even when online advertising is added to the print ads (see red line in chart), the combined total spending for print and online advertising this year will still only be about $22.4 billion, less than the $22.47 billion spent on print advertising in 1953.

via AEIdeas.

I was fortunate to be able to retire from newspaper reporting in 1998.  Otherwise I’d be in the same position as the auto workers or steel workers a few decades ago.  My local newspaper and former employer, the Democrat and Chronicle here in Rochester, N.Y., is gradually being hollowed out, as resources are shifted to the Internet and specialty publications.  Good reporting is being done, but by a staff that is being stretched thinner and thinner.   The problem is that you can get certain types of information over the Internet free and instantaneously that you would have to pay for and wait to get from newspapers—sports scores, stock prices, weather reports, movie schedules, classified advertising.

I still subscribe, though.  I recently suspended my subscription out of irritation with the D&C subscription service, but accepted their offer for renewal after a few weeks of trying to get along without a daily newspaper.  American print newspapers historically have been important to binding together geographic communities and giving them an identity.  I wonder if on-line publications can fill the same role.  I spend more time each day on-line than I do reading my local newspaper, but my information about Rochester comes mainly from the D&C and City newspaper, the city’s alternative weekly.

Hat tip to Rod Dreher.


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