Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Outlet backlash

Many, if not most, consumers are unaware of the structure of outlet shopping (no longer seconds, price discrimination vehicle, illusory discount - they are simply lower tier lines and effectively are brand extensions). But when they are educated (perhaps by a segment on Oprah), I suspect there will be a real backlash that will have real effects on brands that have most cynically used outlets. Short those brands when the Oprah segment runs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


The D.C. Circuit court decided today that US currency discriminates against blind people. I agree that our form of cash discriminates against blind people. But, at the end of the day, life largely conspires against blind people so I hope the decision was carefully worded enough not to require a pure level playing field in all endeavours. But in the narrow case of money, it seems like the right decision -- money is important and so I think meets the standard for requiring some effort at providing access (but I wonder if it would be cheaper to hand out bill readers than to redesign the currency).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Just Asking

I recall that the initial iPhone announcement was driven, in part, because FCC rules required advance disclosure of handset details as part of the approval process. Would the 3G iPhone be subject to similar rules? Will any official statement merely be timed to match FCC issuance of details? Or have the details already been made public (I'm pretty sure not as 3G is still a "rumor"). Or is 3G similar enough to 2.5G that no new filings will be necessary?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good Guy and Bad Guys

Although our government's initial response to Katrina was flawed in several (many?) ways, I think the situation in Burma is a fair example of the benefits of a government that is more answerable to the governed. I don't think the type of government matters all to much on a day-t0-day basis (failures abound in all systems) but in a disaster, you are likely to see a better medium and long-term response than you would in a country where the leadership faces few consequences for its actions.

The real reason for this post: It feels like China is not in the same camp as Burma. And I'd like to better understand how and why this is (or if I am simply naive or blind).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


A New York Times article yesterday quoted the founder of Citadel, Kenneth Griffin, as follows:

"On top of that, many chief executives of big universal banks, the ones that combine all sorts of financial services under one roof, 'only understand a small part of the business,' Mr. Griffin said, suggesting too many of them come from sales backgrounds. Put those two things together, the traders and the chiefs, and you have the making of an outright debacle."

The primary focus of the article was Mr. Griffin's point that many relatively senior professionals have only modest experience with bad times. But I find the small mention of a sales background as a problem more interesting -- not because it seems correct (I've thought it many times and trust that Mr. Griffin is far smarter than I so even if I didn't agree, would assume it is correct) -- but because it is an indictment of many chiefs (see, for example, James Cayne).

Unfortunately, I think that the situation is unlikely to change. Sales people tend to rise to the top (both because they likely have strong personal/political skills and their performance is more easily quantified). However, the ability to sell isn't highly correlated with the intellectual skills needed to run a complex business. And sales, because usually structured as a percentage of revenue (not profits), often creates a bias towards unprofitable growth and corner cutting.

Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to financial institutions...