December 5, 2019

Counterfeit Food More Widespread Than Suspected

But a quarter of a mile off a one-lane road here, tens of thousands of liters of counterfeit spirits were distilled, pumped into genuine vodka bottles, with near-perfect counterfeit labels and duty stamps, and sold in corner shops across Britain. The fake Glen’s vodka looked real. But analysis revealed that it was spiked with bleach to lighten its color, and contained high levels of methanol, which in large doses can cause blindness.

No one knows the harm done to those who drank it — or whether they connected any illness with their bargain vodka — but cases of poisoning have been reported throughout Europe, including in the Czech Republic, where more than 20 people died last year after drinking counterfeit liquor.

The Europe-wide scandal surrounding the substitution of cheaper horse meat in what had been labeled beef products caught the most attention from consumers, regulators and investigators this year. But in terms of food fraud, regulators and investigators say, that is just a hint of what has been happening as the economic crisis persists.

Investigators have uncovered thousands of frauds, raising fresh questions about regulatory oversight as criminals offer bargain-hunting shoppers cheap versions of everyday products, including counterfeit chocolate and adulterated olive oil, Jacob’s Creek wine and even Bollinger Champagne. As the horse meat scandal showed, even legitimate companies can be overtaken by the murky world of food fraud.

“Around the world, food fraud is an epidemic — in every single country where food is produced or grown, food fraud is occurring,” said Mitchell Weinberg, president and chief executive of Inscatech, a company that advises on food security. “Just about every single ingredient that has even a moderate economic value is potentially vulnerable to fraud.”

Speaking at a recent conference organized by the consulting firm FoodChain Europe, Mr. Weinberg added that many processed products contain ingredients like sugar, vanilla, paprika, honey, olive oil or cocoa products that are tainted.

Increasingly, those frauds are the work of organized international criminal networks lured by the potential for big profits in an illicit trade in which most forgers are never caught. The vodka gang boss, Kevin Eddishaw, was — but not before he had counterfeited liquor on an industrial scale, generating profits to match, according to investigators, who estimated that his distillery produced at least 165,000 bottles costing the British government £1.5 million, or $2.3 million, in lost tax revenue.

“He was living a very nice lifestyle,” said Roddy Mackinnon, criminal investigation officer for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, “a couple of properties, nice cars: a Range Rover, a Mercedes.”

Here at Moscow Farm, the gang used the production techniques of a modern-day factory equipped with at least £50,000, or $77,200, in equipment (while ignoring safety rules). Gang members bought bottles from the supplier of the real makers of Glen’s vodka, saying they were destined for Poland. When forged label prototypes printed in Britain were deemed unpersuasive, higher-quality ones were brought from Poland. The gang faked duty stamps on boxes.

“They tried to do as much as they could to replicate the real thing,” Mr. Mackinnon said. “They were very professional, there was attention to detail.”

So well was the secret plant hidden that it was detected only when someone suspected in another case led investigators there in 2009.

Though Mr. Eddishaw worked through intermediaries and used pay-as-you-go cellphone numbers, investigators tracked his calls, proving from the location where they were made that the phone belonged to him and linking him to a fraud that brought him a seven-year prison term.

The plot fits a pattern, identified by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, which says organized crime groups have capitalized on the economic downturn.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/business/food-fraud-more-widespread-than-suspected.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Case Study: An Entrepreneur Chooses Potential Growth Over Proven Profits

Aseem Badshah has to decide which promising start-up to pursue.Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times Aseem Badshah has to decide which promising start-up to pursue.

Case Study

What would you do with this business?

Last week, we published a case study about a young entrepreneur in Seattle, Aseem Badshah, who has been deciding how to divide his time and attention between two ventures.

His first business, Uptown Treehouse, creates online marketing campaigns to promote products for companies. Three years old, it earns an annual profit of more than $300,000 on annual revenue of $1.3 million. His new business, Socedo, scans social media and other Web sites to find sales leads for clients. Two hundred companies are already using a test version of the software, and Mr. Badshah has received positive feedback on it.

Now he needs to decide if he should spend all of his time on one of the businesses or split his time between the two. In last week’s article, we asked three experts to offer opinions, and they all gave different advice.

Dan J. Cunningham, chief executive of the Business Ferret, a financial and cash flow analysis consulting firm, suggested a conservative route, noting that Uptown Treehouse’s profits were established and healthy, while the risk of the new venture could leave Mr. Badshah with nothing. Steve Blank, an associate professor at Stanford University and co-author of “The Startup Owner’s Manual,” told Mr. Badshah to stick with one business or the other and put all his energies into it. Fred Dewey, a former chief executive of Kachingle and a co-founder and a partner at  Emotional Intelligence at Work, recommended that Mr. Badshah divide his time between the two businesses.

Many readers agreed with Mr. Dewey. They said that finding a good team to run Uptown Treehouse and focusing there only when needed would help Mr. Badshah grow as a manager. Others pointed out that having a source of capital (Uptown Treehouse) for the new start-up (Socedo) was a rare luxury for an entrepreneur and could help Mr. Badshah negotiate from a stronger position with outside investors. And at only 24 years old, readers commented, Mr. Badshah has plenty of time to learn and try again if things don’t work out.

We contacted Mr. Badshah for a follow-up conversation that has been condensed and edited.

The three experts pointed you in different directions.

It was interesting that each of the three gave me completely different things to think about. That makes me think there is no right answer, and I should do what I believe is best in my particular situation.

What did you take from the reader comments?

There were a lot of different opinions, but no one said I should stop pursuing Socedo, even though it is a risky start-up. I felt a lot of encouragement from people telling me to “Go for it!” and to pursue what I was most excited about.

Does that mean you will try to keep both businesses going?

Yes, I am going to keep both but pause the search for Socedo funding. I had been flying around making presentations to outside investors, but I think my time is best spent working on the business itself and giving my energy to that. The Uptown Treehouse profits mean we don’t need outside money yet if we can operate in a really slim, low cost way. Plus, from initial feedback, we felt that we could get a better valuation later if we continued to leverage the Uptown Treehouse income to achieve more traction milestones with Socedo.

Can you do both?

I do have a strong team in Los Angeles led by my manager, Dillon Bianchi, and over the past six months they have brought on new clients and have continued to grow existing accounts while I have focused on Socedo. They have given me confidence that they can flourish without me and that I am doing the right thing by placing my confidence in them and pursuing both businesses.

Are there any synergies between the businesses?

Yes. The products of the two companies work together — one helps with sales and the other with marketing, so they are related. Lessons one team learns on what works or doesn’t work can help the other team. Also, when I do go to raise funds for Socedo, the fact that I have a proven business that has been running successfully for a few years helps my credibility as a C.E.O.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 5, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Fred Dewey at Emotional Intelligence at Work. He is a co-founder and a partner, not the chief executive.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/an-entrepreneur-chooses-potential-growth-over-proven-profits/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Fighting the Consultant Temptation

The Next Level

Avoiding the pitfalls of fast growth.

Most small businesses won’t touch them with a 10-foot pole, but corporate America has had a long, slobbering love affair with them. I am talking about consultants. The question is, should fast-growth companies use them?

My answer is yes — under certain conditions. Most important, make sure they have actually accomplished what you are trying to do and not just what they are trying to sell. And sorry, but this does not include what they have done for other clients; they have to have done it for themselves. For example, if you want to expand to 500 people, from a staff of 50, you want someone who has experienced this as chief executive, chief financial officer or maybe as head of human resources. The dynamics of that journey will never be understood except by those who have taken it.

This is why I often encourage fast-growth companies to look for mentoring rather than consulting. I have found that most people who have really done it themselves are not interested in the world of consulting — but they are glad to take phone calls, attend meetings or just be there when you need them. I had a mentor, and his only requirement was that I run with him every morning at 5:30. Believe me, there were mornings when I wished I was paying a consultant rather than running 6.2 miles. But my mentor enjoyed the run, and I needed the help, whether I wanted to hear it or not.

Still, sometimes, you really do need a consultant — but it’s not going to help unless you find the right one. When my company, STI Knowledge, reached 200 employees, we tried to transition from QuickBooks to Great Plains accounting software (now Microsoft Dynamics). The consulting firm we chose to help us had about 25 people, and it was fine to get us set up. But in the next six months, we added 150 people, and the accounting system started going up and down 15 times a day. We didn’t really panic until it started providing incorrect numbers. At that point, we couldn’t balance, bill or pay. All the chief executive of the consulting firm could say was, “You don’t understand how much stress you are putting on the system. Have you ever heard of an anxiety attack?”

“Yes, I have,” I responded. “You are giving me one. I am living it 24/7.” I soon learned the consulting firm did not have a clue how to make the system work with our growth rate. I was advised to hire one of the big consulting firms, which would come in and straighten it out. And I did reach out to the big firms, but they all wanted the long, slobbering love affair — the critical success report and scope-of-work analysis before they would touch the nuts and bolts of the system.

I told them the foreplay was unnecessary: “Just fix the system and I will pay you 100 grand.” They wouldn’t do it, so I picked up the phone and called Great Plains. I told them I did not want a recommendation of another value-added reseller. I wanted to know all the companies within a 50-mile radius of us that had installed Great Plains in the previous three years. They eventually agreed and started citing names, and we hit pay dirt on about the 15th one: MindSpring Enterprise, the Internet service provider.

My next call was to the controller of MindSpring who did not know me but had heard of our company. He told me he had been with MindSpring from the early days and that it had more than 1,000 employees. I invited him for lunch that same day and popped the question before we had ordered iced tea: “Who did you use for consultants?” He said that Great Plains had set the system up initially and that it had been his job to manage the growth ever since, using the Great Plains special project division as a resource.

Long story short, I hired Jeff Hayes as our controller, and in three days, our system was functional. In three months, he was a nationally recognized expert on fast growth and Great Plains accounting. He came in as a one-man show and was far more valuable to us than the 25-person or 250,000-person companies. Why? He had done it. He had been where we wanted to go.

What would we have gotten if we had hired one of the big consulting firms? About 70 percent of all expenses in a consulting firm are for payroll. When they figure out what they need to bill hourly, they load it up with all that recurring payroll expense, which includes people and partners who don’t even know your project exists, much less make any contribution to it.

In a fast-growth company, getting cash flow ahead of expenses is a race. You can’t carry people or expenses that do not help you run that race. And don’t convince yourself that you can work out a deal where the consulting firm is paid only on results with no up-front commitment from you — it rarely works, and you will spend more time and negative energy arguing over the bill than trying to get ahead with positive traction and results.

If you must, try paying the consultants a nominal up-front sum on a project basis with a bonus or an hourly basis that covers only their on-site talent costs with a huge upside if the organization gets you where you want to go. I remember one arrangement where we reduced the firm’s hourly rates from $295 an hour to $35 an hour — but the consulting group picked up two nice bonus checks.

Fast companies run on a culture of shared values — like the folks in the early days of Southwest Airlines who wanted low prices to get people off Greyhound buses so the travelers could enjoy their vacations. They know why they are at work, and they know the cause is bigger than they are. It is honest, and it can make a difference in lives. This level of commitment and dedication is not for everybody, and your job in human resources is to figure out who can make the ride and where you can find more high achievers to join in.

This is the human factor of growth, and quite frankly, most consultants contaminate the whole place. Keep them out of this part of the business. Think about snakes in a wood pile. In fact, go back and find that 10-foot pole and grow without them.

Cliff Oxford is the founder of the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. You can follow him on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/fighting-the-consultant-temptation/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Career Couch: New Year’s Resolutions at Work, and How to Keep Them

A. We live in a very goal-oriented culture. And we are accustomed to setting goals for the new year in the belief that they help us move forward in big and small ways, says E.J. Masicampo, an assistant psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., who studies goals and goal planning. “Goals can be extremely effective, depending on how people set and approach them,” he says. “They can inspire you and help you keep the bigger picture in mind.”

Q. Then why do so many goals or resolutions go unfulfilled?

A. One reason that New Year’s resolutions often fail — especially big, sweeping ones — is that people ultimately decide they aren’t worth the trouble, says Eric Schumacher, an associate psychology professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who studies goal-oriented behavior. “The reward is so far in the future that we don’t stay motivated to keep moving toward it,” he says. “When you set smaller, specific goals, your brain can activate behaviors it knows will help you achieve them.”

If, for example, you have a vague goal of moving into management this year, your brain will probably have trouble pinpointing the behaviors you need to get there. But if you instead set a smaller goal beneath the larger one, such as networking with two additional people each week, you now have a specific behavior associated with achieving that bigger goal, Mr. Schumacher says.

Another reason we fail to achieve goals is a lack of emotional investment in them, says Anne Dranitsaris, a corporate psychotherapist and owner of Striving Styles, a consulting firm in Toronto. She says we set resolutions believing that our thoughts drive our behavior, even though we are often “motivated to action by our emotions.” So it’s important to know what motivates you — for example, the need for recognition or power and control— and set goals with that in mind, she says.

 

For example, if you know you’re motivated by recognition from colleagues, setting a goal to be a good team player will be hard to achieve, says Ms. Dranitsaris. That’s because “being a team player means being more collaborative; you need to distinguish yourself from others, not be more like them,” she says. An example of a better goal is to be your department’s top sales performer. “You would stand out not only to your peers but to your leader, which will be satisfying for you,” she says.

Fear and anxiety, however, can undermine your efforts. If your goal is to find a new job, and if you are a very social person with many friends at the office, you may be anxious about leaving that behind. As a result, you procrastinate and decide you need someone to help you redo your résumé, when you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself. “Next thing you know it’s April and you haven’t found the right person to do it,” says Ms. Dranitsaris, co-author of “Who Are You Meant to Be?”

Maybe a goal is simply not worth keeping. Becoming too narrowly focused on certain objectives can make you so single-minded that you don’t see other opportunities to learn, innovate or improve, says Peter Bregman, C.E.O. of Bregman Partners, a leadership consulting firm in New York.

Q. Some goals are short term and some are long term. How do you set goals that are, most of all, achievable?

A. Set an overall goal and then smaller milestone goals at short intervals, says Sheronde Glover, the chief executive of the Business Practitioner, a business consulting and training firm in Atlanta. “With goal-setting, what’s missing is usually the action steps,” she says. “People think about what they want, but they don’t think through what will actually need to happen to get there.”

Say you have the goal of a specific promotion at work. “Clarify what it would take to get into that position,” she says. “Maybe you don’t have all the leadership and public speaking skills you will need, so your first goal becomes enhancing those. That may involve joining a Toastmasters group, taking a management course or working with a particular coach. Establish what needs to happen in three months, six months and nine months.”

Ms. Glover says you should also consider the time, effort and money that may be involved: “If you work all day and have a family, where do you fit Toastmasters in? Think through the sacrifices and compromises you will have to make.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/jobs/new-years-resolutions-at-work-and-how-to-keep-them.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Drilling Down: Andrew Sullivan Decides to Start His Own Business

Dashboard

A weekly roundup of small-business developments.

This week’s Dashboard roundup of small-business news includes a link to a news article about Andrew Sullivan’s decision to leave The Daily Beast and move his popular blog, The Dish, to his own, subscription-based site. Mr. Sullivan writes about politics, the economy, business and culture, but is he ready to be a small-business owner? It seems he’s off to a good start, with more than 16,000 subscribers already signed up — delivering almost half a million dollars in revenue almost instantly. We decided to ask him a few questions as he enters the world of entrepreneurship.

Do you have a business plan?

Yes: to make enough money so we can do The Dish without relying on a sugar daddy or ads.
 

How are you financing this business?

The readers and my savings.
 

How many employees will you have?

Five and two interns. We don’t expect to ever go beyond seven.
 

What’s keeping you awake at nights?

Adrenaline and bronchitis: a horrible combination.
 

Are you going to try to do everything: manage the site, produce content and run the business? Can you delegate?

Patrick is in charge of all the administrative, legal, payroll, insurance matters and he is a relentless machine. Chris is in charge of design and technology issues, and he’s a creative insurgent. And yes, I delegate.

Do you have any business mentors?

Matt Drudge.
 

If all your wildest profit dreams come true, will you start voting Republican?

Only if they stop being lunatics.
 
Gene Marks owns the Marks Group, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management. You can follow him on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/10/drilling-down-andrew-sullivan-decides-to-start-his-own-business/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Global Manager: Judging What’s Important

Harpal S. Kumar is the chief executive of the London-based charity Cancer Research.

Q. Your career kicked off at the consulting firm McKinsey. Can you explain a little bit your decision to go into the charity sector?

A. While I was at McKinsey I had a client, The Papworth Trust, which is a charity, and I did a piece of work for them after which they said to me, “Would you come and implement this strategy for us effectively as chief executive?”

Q. How was that transition?

A. If you look at running a charity versus running a commercial business, the degree of overlap in terms of the things that you have to think and do as a chief executive is very, very high — probably 80 to 90 percent. The metrics are different and the nature of people you generally have in a charity are different, but beyond those two things everything is pretty much the same.

So the fact that one thing is a charity and the other isn’t, isn’t really at issue. What is at issue is the nature of the organization. What is it trying to do? Do I engage with that? Is that something that I want to spend my time doing? Do I think it’s important? And if it is, I’ll do it.

Q. Can you talk a bit more about the differences between charity and commercial organizations?

A. There are some differences in terms of people. Generally speaking, in a charity I don’t think that motivating people is a challenge. People who come to work in a charity are already extremely motivated. They’re probably not as well paid as they could be paid somewhere else, so they’ve come because of other reasons, which is that they believe in the cause. I never have to speak to anyone in this organization about putting the hours in because people work every hour under the sun.

But there’s a corollary to that. Sometimes people are so passionate that they don’t always sufficiently distinguish between what’s really high value and what’s less high value. That’s a management challenge. How do you stop doing things? Sometimes people’s passion can get in the way because everything is important but you can’t do everything. We have to channel our energies into the areas where we’re going to achieve the greatest impact.

Q. Thinking back to when you were a student, what would that Harpal say about the one that is here today?

A. I think he’d be pretty pleased. He’d definitely be surprised. I started off life as a chemical engineer, so the notion that I would be running the biggest cancer charity in the world and be immersed in the world of cancer research and cancer medicine would not be something that crossed my mind. This is an organization that has an enormous impact and I feel very proud about what this organization achieves and to the extent that I have a small role in that.

Q. Was there someone in your youth who made you into that person who wants to have that great impact?

A. My parents, probably. Both of my parents were refugees, so they had absolutely nothing. They got to wherever they got to in life through hard work, through being prepared to do whatever it takes to move forward in life and to overcome whatever obstacles were in front of them.

Q. Where did they seek refuge from?

A. When India and Pakistan came into being — the end, effectively, of British rule in India — they both lived in what’s now Pakistan. As Sikhs they couldn’t stay in Pakistan so they had to move to India and they both ended up in refugee camps. My father came to England and worked sweeping factory floors. My parents did shift work, so one of them would look after the kids while the other went out to work. My father had a grocery shop, so I spent my afternoons and weekends working in the shop. And so hard work was something that was ingrained into me from a very, very young age. But equally what was ingrained into me was that if you work hard, you can achieve things.

Q. Is that also what helps you when things don’t go your way?

A. Absolutely. You don’t get everything right, but if you believe in what you’re trying to do and if you work at it, you can usually find solutions. Both helped — my sort of upbringing but also what engineering teaches you. Engineering is all about problem-solving. Actually, as a training for life and for running a business, it’s great.

Q. So, chuck the M.B.A.?

A. No, the M.B.A. is incredibly valuable in my case.

It gives you exposure to a broad range of business problems and helps you develop approaches to how to think about these problems and an exposure to how other people have approached those problems.

Q. How do you approach business problems?

A. It sort of depends on the nature of the challenge. But certainly something you learn very early on is that there is never perfect information. So you have to be able to make decisions on imperfect information. But A, having the courage of your convictions, and B, being able to spot when it was the wrong decision and quickly changing course if you need to, is necessary. Hopefully you get it right more often than you get it wrong, but you have to be able to spot it when you got it wrong.

Q. Was there anything in particular that you learned from your first chief executive role, which was at The Papworth Trust?

A. Probably the most important thing is get the best team of people around you. One of my chairmen once said to me, “The thing you’ll always realize is that you never hire fast enough and you never fire fast enough.” And that’s true. And you can always do more to get a team of really good people. And equally, when people are not performing, to deal with it quickly.

Q. What else?

A. Spotting talent and bringing them into the organization, sometimes even when you don’t have an opportunity for them.

If you find someone really good, getting them in and letting them grow within the organization, is something I did in that first role, and it proved to be an immensely successful thing to do.

Q. What do you mean by letting people grow?

A. Really good people will create opportunities for an organization that aren’t necessarily visible to the board or the executive. That’s why one of the things I look for is creativity, because they will create opportunities that you might not see otherwise. It’s about spotting that talent and then giving them the space to develop their ideas and to work with those ideas.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/business/global/07iht-manager07.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Job Market Strengthened as the Year Wound Down

One survey showed that private hiring increased last month, while another said that layoffs declined and a third showed that applications for unemployment benefits stayed near a four-year low.

The data led some economists to raise their forecasts for December job growth one day before the Labor Department releases its closely watched employment report.

“The job market held firm in December despite the intensifying fiscal cliff negotiations,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Businesses even became somewhat more aggressive in their hiring at year end.”

The most positive sign came from ADP. Its monthly employment survey showed businesses added 215,000 jobs last month, the most in 10 months and much higher than November’s total of 148,000.

Economists tend to approach the ADP survey with some skepticism because it has diverged sharply at times from the government’s job figures.

But some economists were also hopeful after noting that businesses were less inclined to cut jobs last month.

The consulting firm Challenger, Gray Christmas said that the number of announced job cuts fell 43 percent in December from November, and that overall planned layoffs in 2012 fell to the lowest level since 1997.

The weekly number of people who applied for unemployment figures rose by 10,000, but the four-week average was little changed at 360,000 last week. That’s only slightly above the previous week’s 359,750, which was the lowest since March 2008.

Most economists expect the Labor Department report will show that employers added about 150,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate stayed at 7.7 percent. The economy has added about 150,000 jobs a month, on average, over the last two years. That’s too few to rapidly lower the unemployment rate.

Even with modest gains in hiring, the unemployment rate remains high. It fell to 7.7 percent in November from 7.9 percent in October. The number of people receiving jobless benefits fell to 5.4 million in the week ended Dec. 15, the latest data available. That’s down about 70,000 from the previous week.

Some economists saw potential for stronger gains after seeing Thursday’s data. Joseph LaVorgna, chief United States economist at Deutsche Bank, raised his forecast for job growth in December to 190,000 jobs, from 150,000.

Credit Suisse also raised its forecast to 185,000, from 165,000. Still, economists remained cautious about where the job market is headed.

While Congress and the White House reached a deal this week that removed a threat of tax increases for many Americans, they postponed the more difficult decisions on spending cuts and on raising the nation’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit by late February.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/business/economy/more-americans-seek-jobless-benefits.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Boss: Blair LaCorte of XOJet, on an Unintended Career Turn

As a child, I suffered from exercise-induced asthma and couldn’t play sports. When I was around 10, however, I started running, and my dad helped me track my progress. He kept me focused on the process and monthly goals. In junior high, I joined the track team, and I broke a cross-country record for the course at my high school in Beverly, Mass.

My parents divorced when I was young, and I was able to see two sets of entrepreneurs. My dad had a recruiting firm that was a family business — he employed my aunt and my future stepmother. My mother and stepfather had another business, a small regional airline, also in Massachusetts.

In 1985, after graduating from the University of Maine with a degree in business, I entered the financial management program at General Electric. I left three years later to get an M.B.A. at Dartmouth, then took a position at Gemini Consulting.

In 1992, I wanted a new challenge and ended up in the high-tech industry by accident. My dad had advised me to work for people I wanted to learn from. I always remembered Eric Herr, who had been a managing partner at the Michael Allen Company, a consulting firm where I had worked one summer in business school. I contacted him and he mentioned a position at Sun, which I assumed meant Sun Oil. I told him I’d take it, that I trusted him and that I didn’t need to know any more. I told my friends I was taking a leave from consulting to work at Sun Oil for a year. When the offer letter arrived, however, it was from Sun Microsystems.

That misunderstanding changed my life. For the next 12 years, I worked at a variety of technology companies. I loved the innovation in this industry; merging my business skills with colleagues’ technical skills allowed us to move very quickly.

A year after joining Sun, I followed Eric to Autodesk and became director of strategy. I founded two divisions there. Next I was president of the Internet division at Cadis, a software company, then spent a year as executive in residence at the Internet Capital Group. After serving as a senior vice president at VerticalNet, I started consulting in 2000 for my friend Vic Verma, then C.E.O. of Savi Technology.

In 2004, I returned to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as an executive fellow, and in 2005 joined the private equity firm TPG, which had invested in XOJet. I joined the airline as president in 2009 and became C.E.O. in 2010.

XOJet was started in 2006 and has grown quickly. Our challenge is to educate potential customers about our business model. Unlike charter jet companies that offer corporations and individuals fractional ownership of an airplane, XOJet owns its aircraft. Our customers pay per trip, or pay an annual fee for a certain number of hours, just as customers do in a fractional arrangement. We have also introduced a plan in which customers are guaranteed that a plane will be available when they want it.

I might have worked at my family’s aviation company after college, but I would have lacked the knowledge I’ve gained in a number of industries. I’ve brought to XOJet everything from algorithms I developed at Savi to pricing strategies and marketing techniques from other industries. I’d like to think that my dad, who died before I joined XOJet, would be proud of me.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/jobs/blair-lacorte-of-xojet-on-an-unintended-career-turn.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

On Social Media: How the Toilet Paper Entrepreneur Branded Himself Too Well

On Social Media

Generating revenue along with the buzz.

Mike Michalowicz may have branded himself too well.Courtesy of Mike MichalowiczMike Michalowicz may have branded himself too well.

When Mike Michalowicz published a book in 2008, he was looking for a name that would stick. He chose: “The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.”

He wanted to tie the concept of doing whatever it takes to succeed in business to an everyday object. He chose toilet paper because he figured people would remember it. “Everyone has been stuck without toilet paper at times,” he said, “but we all find a way to survive. That is how entrepreneurship is — you often get stuck with your pants proverbially around your ankles”

Initially self-published, the book was later republished by Harper Collins, and people did remember the name. In fact, it stuck too well. “People couldn’t remember who I was,” said Mr. Michalowicz. “They called me the Toilet Paper Guy. The T.P. Man. Few knew my name.”

As it happens, his real name is hard to spell and hard to pronounce (it’s mi-CAL-o-wits) and something people had struggled with almost all of his life — even after he became an entrepreneur at 24, starting and building three companies with no outside investment money. He sold two of them — Olmec Systems to a private equity firm in 2002 and PGLA to Robert Half International in 2006 — and is now running his third, Provendus Group, a consulting firm that helps companies whose growth has stagnated.

One of the cool things about social media marketing is that you can build a brand with pretty much any name you want. In Hollywood and in marketing, you can always give yourself a new name, and for Mr. Michalowicz, Toilet Paper Entrepreneur was it. Once his book was finished, he pulled together a two-person team, his executive assistant from his first company and a recent college grad who was adept at social media and e-mail marketing. They created the Toilet Paper Entrepreneurs Facebook group, and he defined the criteria to join the group: “This is what made you a T.P.E.: You don’t believe in looking for money to start your business. You are doing something you really believe in. You don’t believe in business plans — three sheets is all you need.” Then he and a few friends invited their contact lists to join the group, and it had nearly 1,700 members the week it made its debut.

He then created his Twitter handle, @TPEntrepreneur, which he has since changed to @MikeMichalowicz, and established a daily blog. He enjoys making jokes, mostly at his own expense, and takes a just-say-it approach to social media, which his fans seem to love. “I like to keep things real and I love to joke around,” Mr Michalowicz said. He said he never promised get-rich-quick schemes, “because it doesn’t exist, and I am always making jokes about entrepreneurial situations and myself.” He shares information on his blog, but his community members also learn from each other.

The T.P.E. community started treating his blog posts like appointment television. Every time a post went up, one of his team members would blast out an e-mail to the Facebook group sending them to the blog. Visitors would see a pop-up ad within five seconds of arriving that invited them to download free book chapters.

Every Wednesday his blog featured an “On the Roll” video to answer questions from his community or offer business tips. He would always do something funny or some kind of stunt at the end of the video. He also used the Web site Help A Reporter Out to solicit content for his blog. He regularly posts questions on business topics and then curates answers from his loyal readers and other small-business owners to create a blog post. He hired a coder to build a simple system that allows followers to submit business tips, Web site links and a head shot directly into a database for his blog posts. This saves him lots of time and lets him turn all of these submissions into one massive post with 50 to 100 contributors. Here’s an example of one he did on contest ideas for promoting small businesses.

Once the post was published, an e-mail would go out to all of the people who submitted telling them that they were on his blog that day and asking them to help get the word out. The e-mail would include language to tweet or to use in a Facebook post, and he always invited readers to put the post on their blogs, too. He did this to build links, Google ranking and traffic. He also used a marketing tool to create pop-up ads on his Web site that invited people to subscribe to his blog and join his e-mail list.

Before long, he was getting 1,000 visits a day. At its peak, the blog attracted up to 70,000 visitors a month and his e-mail list now has nearly 15,000 names. He makes money through his membership club, book sales, speaking engagements, sponsorships, and consulting.

But now, four years later, he has decided he wants to teach people his real name. “Being the Toilet Paper guy helped people get past having to pronounce my name, but at the same time, it painted me in the corner of potentially having to stick with toilet paper for the rest of my life,” he said.

So now, he’s actually trying to kill the T.P.E. brand. “The brand became so strong, so fast, that people call themselves T.P.E.ers,” he said. “I love that, but I recognize it needs to change. I decided I have one shot at having my own name be the brand and it was now or never, so I’ve started pushing Mike Michalowicz for everything I do.”

As part of the plan, he is releasing a new book with a new metaphor under his own name. In “The Pumpkin Plan,” Mr. Michalowicz writes about his own business struggles, feeling like a hamster on a wheel trying to grow his business, until he decided that pumpkin farmers, the kind that grow record-breaking pumpkins, hold the secret to entrepreneurial success. “When you focus on growing one pumpkin exclusively, it can grow to colossal size,” he said. “When you spread seeds everywhere and try to grow everything, the only guarantee is you will never grow something to colossal size. The formula is basically seven steps from selecting a seed, to watering properly, to managing the root, to over-the-top attention. And while some times colossal businesses don’t come from it, the formula is sound.”

It’s the same formula he is using to build his new identity.

Melinda Emerson is founder and chief executive of Quintessence Multimedia, a social media strategy and content development firm. You can follow her on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/22/how-the-toilet-paper-entrepreneur-branded-himself-too-well/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Pressure to Link Drugs and ‘Companion Diagnostics’

The Food and Drug Administration last year rejected the company’s drug to treat a subset of leukemia patients whose tumors had a particular genetic mutation. The main problem was not the drug itself, the agency said. Rather, ChemGenex had not specified a companion test that could reliably detect the mutation so that the drug could be given to the patients it is intended to help.

These days, it is often not enough for pharmaceutical companies simply to bring a drug to market. Regulators and insurers are also prodding the companies to develop tests to pinpoint which patients are most likely to benefit from a drug, thereby sparing other patients from needless side effects and expense.

The pressure has thrust drug and diagnostics companies into sometimes awkward partnerships aimed at developing such tests, which are called companion diagnostics. There were at least 25 such deals in 2010 and 15 in the first half of 2011, up from only seven in 2008, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consulting firm.

“The tests are becoming almost gatekeepers to the drug,” said M. Trevor Page, director of business development at Dako, a Danish diagnostics company.

The F.D.A. issued guidance to the industry on companion diagnostics in July, including its preference for having the test ready for approval at the same time as the drug. The following month, as if to show how it should be done, it approved two drugs and their accompanying tests.

One of the drugs, Pfizer’s Xalkori for lung cancer, works wonders — but only for the roughly 5 percent of patients whose tumors have a particular chromosomal abnormality, as determined by a test from Abbott Laboratories.

The other drug, Zelboraf, from Roche and Plexxikon, can also produce remarkable improvements, but only for the roughly half of melanoma patients whose tumors have a particular mutation. The F.D.A. approved a test from Roche’s diagnostics division to detect that mutation.

But the simultaneous approval of new drugs and tests is still rare. Before August, the only other dual approval was of Genentech’s breast cancer drug Herceptin and Dako’s test for the related HER2 protein in 1998. There are more than 70 other tests that guide drug use in some way, according to the Personalized Medicine Coalition, but they are rarely required and often developed well after the drug reaches the market.

There are numerous economic, scientific and regulatory obstacles to developing companion diagnostics, executives and analysts say.

Often, scientists simply do not know what to test for to predict a drug’s effectiveness, or they don’t find out until near the end of the drug’s clinical trials. And coordinating development and approval of a drug and a test — by two separate companies reviewed by two F.D.A. divisions — can raise the cost of drug development if not done well.

“This is like trying to choreograph a dance,” said Dr. Mace L. Rothenberg, who runs cancer clinical trials for Pfizer.

Moreover, it is often a dance between a giant and a pixie, locked in an embrace but with a tendency to move in opposite directions.

Pharmaceutical companies can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a drug, then can reap billions of dollars a year in sales with high profit margins. Diagnostic companies typically spend several million dollars to develop a test, with annual revenues also around that level, and low profit margins.

“You are really trying to get two very disparate industries to understand each other,” said Mollie Roth, chief operating officer of Diaceutics, a consulting firm specializing in companion diagnostics.

For pharmaceutical companies, the risk is that a test can lower sales of their drugs by restricting use to a fraction of potential patients.

An often cited example of such a problem involved Selzentry, a Pfizer drug approved in 2007 to treat people with a certain subtype of H.I.V.

The test of a patient’s virus, offered by Monogram Biosciences, cost about $2,000, and all samples had to be sent to Monogram’s laboratory in California. Analysts say the cost and inconvenience of the testing deterred use of Selzentry, especially since it was competing with drugs that could be used by all patients, with no need for testing.

“Top management still sees companion diagnostics as an obstacle between their product and the market,” said Jorge Leon, a consultant to both drug and diagnostic companies.

Still, drug companies are embracing companion diagnostics because of pressures to control health spending. Also, in the rare cases where a test is available early in the drug’s development, as was the case with Xalkori and Zelboraf, clinical trials can be made smaller and less costly by restricting them to patients most likely to benefit from the drug.

For diagnostic companies, there is a risk of developing a test in advance for a drug that may never reach the market.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=777d0e5efcf6b48d7be640ce7d7c9638