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The latest news on Corporate America from Business Insider

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    Corporate Culture

    Seven months ago I transitioned out of a corporate job in market research to work for myself full-time.

    By the time I left my day job to become a personal finance coach, I had nine clients, $22,000 in savings to cover my living expenses and $5,000 in a business account.

    This is how I did it.

    Getting Ready to Go

    The road to self-employment really began six years ago when I dug myself out of $30,000 in debt and radically changed my money habits. Once I sent in that last payment on my last card, I vowed never to go back.

    As I started sharing my story with friends, they started asking me (quietly) if I would help them with their finances. At this point, I was self-taught through books and my own experiences, without any formal financial training. I made sure everyone knew I wasn’t a financial adviser or anything, and I certainly didn’t give investment advice. I was just a woman who struggled and turned things around. I was happy to share, so when my sister suggested that I teach a class on the subject, I agreed. Ten women—some friends, some friends of friends—showed up to the first event.

    What started as a small hobby on the side began to grow into something I absolutely loved to do. I began to teach more workshops in the evenings, and afterward people would ask me to look at their finances privately. I became known as the “money lady,” setting up budgets and helping people get organized. It started with a friend asking me how to create her budget. Another woman wanted me to sit down with her to figure out how to use her tax returns and bonus to get out of debt. Another wanted to figure out how to save $10,000 to go back to grad school. Next thing you know, I had actual clients!

    After about three years of slowly building up a private coaching and consulting practice, I made the decision that I wanted to do this full-time.

    RELATED: Be Career Fearless: 7 Tips From Intrepid Entrepreneurs

    Because money can be a landmine topic for some people, I knew I had to learn more skills around talking about money without judgment. I got certified in coaching at NYU, and by some miracle my classes were approved for tuition reimbursement from my corporate job. After about three years of slowly building up a private coaching and consulting practice, I made the decision that I wanted to do this full-time. I wanted flexibility in my schedule, I wanted to ditch the 45-minute commute and I wanted to help more people, putting them first instead of squeezing them into my nights and weekends.

    After working in market research for nearly 10 years, I was ready for a change.

    Deciding When to Make the Leap

    I love security and certainty—Richard Branson, I am not. Wanting never again to fall into the financial straits I had faced in the past, I decided to build a strong financial foundation first, before leaving my corporate job.

    Over the course of a year and a half, I saved up about $22,000 through tax returns, two bonuses, taking the payout from my extra vacation days, and putting money aside out of every paycheck on top of that. I got married just before I started preparing to leave my job (who can deal with wedding planning and building a business at the same time?), and saved up enough to cover my portion of the household expenses for one year. That way, there wouldn’t be tremendous pressure on my husband, who works in the insurance industry, to pick up all of the slack if my income was shaky during the first 12 months on my own.

    My husband has always been extremely supportive, and we had nightly discussions about when it would be the right time to leave corporate. We decided that when I had enough on my plate in the business to fill up a full workweek, I would leave. And anyway, if it didn’t work out, I had enough experience in market research to go back.

    Since paying off $30,000 six years ago, I still use credit sparingly, and I didn’t take out any loans to fund the start-up of my business. Instead, I created a separate savings account called “Investments” to use as working capital for the business. I used that money to educate myself on the basics of starting a consulting business, as well as for things like my website and programs that taught me how to launch and run a business. Overall, my strategy was to pay for a lot of the major upfront costs in cash from my day job.

    RELATED: $1,500 and a Dream … the Banana Republic Story

    So I doubled down and focused on attracting more clients, to reach my tipping point faster. But once I stopped treating my consulting like a hobby, I got nervous. I had trouble promoting my services beyond word-of-mouth referrals, and I was afraid to follow up with people, breaking into a sweat when discussing my fees. But I knew I had to conquer those fears if I wanted to work for myself, so I hired a coach of my own to help me build those skills.

    To attract clients, I worked around the clock. I hustled, but it was exciting! I woke up about an hour earlier than I had to every morning, and by 7 a.m. I was at my computer with my green tea, either writing posts on my blog or content for my workshops, emailing clients, asking for speaking engagements or studying up on how to run a business. I even took 8 a.m. client calls before showering, and put in a full day of work at my corporate job! I’d teach workshops, and speak or meet with clients on nights and weekends.

    After eight months of really focusing on building my practice, though, it became clear that I had to choose. I essentially had two full-time, demanding jobs, and I was burning out. Clients were reaching out, but I didn’t have the time to take them on. I simply didn’t have enough energy to ride two bikes any longer. It was decision time.

    RELATED: When It’s Time to Call It … Quits

    My Last Day at My “Real” Job

    I crunched the numbers to see if I was ready. Overall, I was running a pretty lean machine. Most of my work was done remotely out of our home office, so I didn’t have to worry about permanent office space. As for health insurance, my husband and I talked about private insurance, but it made the most sense for me to be covered under his plan. I agreed to pay the difference coming out every month. I also applied for professional liability insurance, which can be paid in a lump sum annually. And I calculated how much I would need to put aside every month for retirement. Since I was cutting back, the contribution would be smaller than I contributed in the past at first but would grow over time.

    The day I left corporate, I was definitely excited but sad. It was hard to leave a job that I’d called home for six years. When my coworkers asked if I was taking time off, I laughed. “Time off?” I said. “No way. I have a full schedule next week!”

    It was definitely a rush to open my laptop that first self-employed Monday morning to a full schedule and no boss. I wrote my next blog posts, prepared for a radio interview later in the week, and had three client calls and a consultation with someone who wanted to hire me.

    Financially, self-employment isn’t as drastic of a change as I once thought it might be. The hardest part is creating a system to manage my cash flow so that I can forecast what I’m making every month. I use Excel to plan out incoming client payments and outgoing expenses every month (including what I pay myself). That way I can see all in one place what I need to earn each month. Once I reach that number for one month, any extra carries into the next month. I still pay the same bills I was paying when I was working full time, including the phone, cable, utilities, groceries, parking and part of the mortgage.

    RELATED: Your Ultimate Budget Guideline: The 50/20/30 Rule

    What has changed quite a bit is my “fun money” fund, meaning my allowance for personal expenses, like getting a haircut or buying clothes. For now, it’s half of what it used to be, which means I really have to watch what I’m spending more closely than before I left. But I’m at peace with making sacrifices until my income is more consistent. As long as I can get my nails done every now and again, I’m good for now while my practice grows. I expect to be profitable by April of next year.

    The biggest challenge for me now that I’m self-employed is keeping my confidence up during the natural business ebbs and flows, like during the summer months when people are away on vacation and the phone never seems to ring. I’ve found that when self-doubt creeps in, it helps to reach out to other self-employed friends, or my amazing husband, and ask for a kind ear to listen.

    So far, it’s been a joy, and I don’t see myself going back to corporate any time soon. The flexibility to create my day and really make a difference make the financial ups and downs completely worth it.

    Jill Beirne DaviJillian Beirne Davi is the creator of Abundant Finances, which offers inspirational articles and programs on how to get out of debt, amass savings and live a life full of abundance. 

    LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Please consult a financial adviser for advice specific to your financial situation. LearnVest Planning Services and any third-parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.

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    John CheveddenLOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Shareholder activists come in different flavors. One is the deep-pocketed investor, such as Carl Icahn or Dan Loeb, who takes big stakes in companies and forces management to change strategy.

    Another type is the persistent provocateur who buys a handful of shares and agitates on a shoestring.

    That's John Chevedden.

    Now 67 years old, Chevedden launched his career as an activist - he rejects the term "gadfly" - after being laid off from the aerospace industry in the early 1990s.

    Since then, he has unleashed a relentless flow of shareholder proxy measures at some of the largest U.S. companies.

    Even skeptics grant that Chevedden has become one of the most influential U.S. shareholder activists. James Copland of the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank, says Chevedden is "leading the intellectual curve, getting proposals out there before they start to get traction." 

    Texas attorney Geoffrey Harrison, who has faced Chevedden on behalf of corporate clients, describes him as possibly the most persistent sponsor of shareholder resolutions ever.

    Chevedden's method is to target deep-in-the-weeds details of corporate governance, such as how often directors are elected and when shareholders can call special meetings of investors.

    The measures, he says, are meant to give shareholders more say and make executives more accountable, which in turn improve operations and boost value.

    Last year, 50 of his proposals made it onto proxy statements, disclosures to shareholders on issues requiring a vote and related information. He successfully pushed through 58 proposals as of mid-September, the most of anyone this year. The resolutions won 41 percent of shares voted on average over both periods, in line with the overall average, according to corporate-governance researcher FactSet SharkRepellent.

    He has helped persuade companies to make procedural changes, including grocer Whole Foods Market Inc's move to make it easier to remove directors. Two years before "say on pay" votes became widely required under U.S. law, he successfully pushed the utility holding company Edison International to give shareholders more influence over executive pay. This year, under pressure from Chevedden, Bank of America Corp required its chief executive to hold on to stock for at least a year after he retires.

    The latest sign of his influence: Companies have begun suing Chevedden to keep his proposals off their proxies, with some arguing he can't prove he owns the shares needed to qualify.

    The lawsuits mean additional expenses for a man on a shoestring budget.

    In a series of interviews, Chevedden said he's motivated by a desire to improve how companies are run and is disappointed when executives battle his ideas or shun him at shareholder meetings.

    "It feels like I'm crashing the party," he says.

    For all his notoriety in the board room, the bottom-line impact of Chevedden's work is hard to gauge. Big-money activists suggest the importance of small-scale operators like him is overstated. Chevedden's proposals generally seek procedural changes, and companies often aren't obliged to implement winning proposals.

    Icahn, who became a billionaire through a brand of activism driven by the brute force of buying big stakes, said in an interview that Chevedden's approach does not "move the needle much." It's better for investors to put up their own directors, Icahn says, and negotiate from a position of strength.

    "You can't get these guys on boards to be accountable, unless you have a lot of capital and a lot of firepower," Icahn said. "You get one or two of your candidates on the boards. That's how it's done."

    Chevedden says the support he garners from shareholders "tells you that management could do a better job, and they should listen." Over the years, Chevedden guesstimates, his proposals may have added some $100 million of shareholder value. But there is no way to know for sure.

    Told of Icahn's critique, Chevedden replied: "It's great what he can do with all that money."


    In addition to small-time activists, labor unions - which hold shares through their pension funds - also lodge a large number of resolutions. In theory, there should be another thorn in the side of corporate managers: institutional investors such as mutual fund firms, which own vast swaths of shares in major companies. They, too, are in a position to push reform resolutions.

    But data from SharkRepellent show that since 2005, there have been no shareholder proposals at S&P 1500 companies by the largest fund families. Governance experts say part of the reason for the lack of push from big asset managers is simple: The payoff is often not direct and does not justify the cost.

    Into the gap have stepped Chevedden and several like-minded allies, often supported by the votes of fund firms happy to let them take the lead.

    Chevedden grew up in Southern California. He attended a Jesuit high school and what is now Loyola Marymount University, and eventually the University of San Francisco, another institution run by the Catholic religious order. He also earned an MBA from Pepperdine in 1984.

    Chevedden worked at various aerospace companies over the years, including Allied Signal Inc, now part of Honeywell International Inc, and Hughes Aircraft, then part of GM. His jobs included scheduling parts orders for satellites or turbochargers, and he says he had to learn how to hold engineers accountable.

    "I had to know enough about what they were doing that they couldn't feed me baloney," he said.

    In 1991, at the age of 45, Chevedden was laid off by Hughes, during a time of major retrenchment in the aerospace industry at the end of the Cold War.

    Chevedden responded by filing a complaint against Hughes with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging age and gender discrimination. (Two other employees with the same job who were not laid off were women, records showed). The EEOC turned down the claim.

    Around the same time, he read the 1991 book "Power and Accountability" by Robert Monks and Nell Minow, which drew more attention to shareholder rights. He filed his first shareholder proposal in 1994: a request that GMput on its 1995 proxy a measure to have it disclose more details of employment practices at Hughes.


    In his filing, Chevedden described the move as intended to promote morale among "dedicated employees who made a valuable contribution to Cold War Victory." He denies it was an attempt to get back at Hughes.

    The effort failed. Citing Chevedden's EEOC complaint, GM won the SEC's permission to drop the measure, under rules allowing it to skip proposals related "to the redress of a personal claim or grievance or to further a personal interest." A GM spokesman said executives would not comment on Chevedden's work.

    Chevedden regrouped. He looked up corporate governance experts such as Bart Naylor, a union official at the time, who urged him to push ideas that big fund managers would back. The next year Chevedden landed a measure at GM calling for an independent board chairman. The measure won just 15 percent of shares voted, but Chevedden was on his way.

    Chevedden says he is now more selective in his targets. Any resolution he files now, Chevedden says, must be one that "seems to be good policy and seems to get votes."

    A bachelor, Chevedden lives in a rented apartment in Redondo Beach, California. He wears a 1990s-era Timex watch, and frets over postage and printing costs. He is known to arrive at meetings on foot or by bus. But he gets some respect in high places.

    In May, Chevedden put on a suit and took the Los Angeles subway to the annual shareholders meeting at DreamWorks Animation SKG. There, the Hollywood studio's Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and Chairman Mellody Hobson - about to marry Star Wars creator George Lucas - walked across the room to say hello to Chevedden.

    After the meeting got under way, though, Chevedden began quizzing Hobson on Katzenberg's pay as the CEO twisted in his chair nearby. Chevedden also spoke in favor of a proposal that would diminish the voting power of shares for company insiders. "Without a voice, shareholders cannot hold management accountable," he read from a script. The measure failed to pass.

    A DreamWorks spokeswoman said executives had no comment.

    At most of the companies where Chevedden invests, he owns just around the minimum amount of shares needed to be eligible to file a resolution, or $2,000 worth. He said he owns shares in about 100 companies, choosing them both for growth opportunities and for the chance to sponsor resolutions.

    He also uses his father's holdings and teams up with like-minded small investors, such as William Steiner and his son Kenneth, based in New York. (Chevedden's father, Ray Chevedden, passed away on Saturday.)

    Chevedden declined to talk about his finances and portfolio in much greater detail.

    Company executives and lawyers say there is no reasoning with him. "Some of his proposals are good, but you can never talk to him about his positions or his supporting statement. He wouldn't change them voluntarily," says Gregory Lau, General Motors' retired director of corporate governance, who was on the receiving end of many of Chevedden's proposals.

    Chevedden says few companies offer substantial changes when they reach out. "They want to talk you to death," he says.

    Now with dozens of proposals a year, Chevedden tracks his work on a document with codes. A typical entry, ESRX=WCjc=55•, signifies a proposal he landed on an Express Scripts Holding Co proxy to allow shareholders to take actions such as changing company bylaws by "written consent," rather having to hold a meeting. It won 55 percent of votes cast in May 2012.

    Allies and opponents alike marvel at Chevedden's focus on such minutia. "He has attention-surplus disorder," says Naylor, the governance specialist and former union official.

    His meticulous approach extends to hobbies. A car buff, Chevedden co-authored a book listing 100 years of Oldsmobile cars with details such as their weight and number of engine cylinders.


    Chevedden and former SEC attorney Keir Gumbs estimate that among the hundreds of requests that companies have made to the regulator over the years to block Chevedden's proposals, they have succeeded about half the time. In recent years, some companies have opened a new line of attack against him - lawsuits.

    Since 2010, energy company Apache Corp and engineering firm KBR Inc have successfully sued to leave Chevedden's proposals off their proxy statements, claiming in part that he failed to prove owning shares.

    In June, trash services company Waste Connections Inc won a judgment after suing to exclude from its proxy statement a board-declassification proposal that Chevedden brought with an ally, James McRitchie, publisher of the website The proposal to have all directors face election every year, instead of only some of them, is seen as making it easier for activists to push for changes. Chevedden and McRitchie have appealed.

    Some worry about the companies' decision to go to court. While they have the right to do so, "these straight-to-court challenges may be used as a scare tactic" to deter shareholder proponents, especially smaller ones with fewer resources, said Ann Yerger, executive director of the Council of Institutional Investors, which represents big pension funds and other investors.

    Chevedden told a judge in 2010 that he was "disadvantaged by the extreme expense" of Apache's litigation. He regards the suits as an attempt to silence him.

    A Waste Connections spokesman declined to comment. Apache Senior Vice President Sarah Teslik says the company turned to the courts mainly for a new legal perspective rather than to silence anyone. Teslik also says Apache often reaches out to shareholders to work things out directly.

    "If you want to solve a problem, you talk about it," Teslik says. But when it comes to Chevedden, "He doesn't try to talk to us; he tries to attack."

    Geoffrey Harrison, the Texas-based corporate attorney, represents KBR. He said via e-mail that while the engineering company has moved to elect all its directors at once, as Chevedden had urged, several other shareholders had sought the same change. "Chevedden certainly is not responsible for the company's decision," Harrison says.

    Chevedden says he doubts KBR would have acted without his prodding. Perhaps only someone with his relentless focus could have come this far. When executives offer what he considers to be poor compromises, he says: "I tell them, 'good shouldn't be the enemy of better.'"

    (Edited by Richard Valdmanis, Paritosh Bansal and Michael Williams)

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    man with a pile of money

    The rise of activist hedge funds in the last few years has American companies looking over their shoulders to see if an investor boogie man is following somewhere close behind.

    It's scary, but here's the thing — American companies brought it on themselves.

    Looking back, it made sense that companies were afraid to use their cash after the financial crisis. The world was at a standstill. Demand was weak because unemployment was even higher than it is now.

    As the economy rose off its 2009 post financial crisis low and battled thought the worst of the Euro crisis from 2010-2011, however, people started wondering: When are companies going to start reinvesting all the cash they've been sitting on?

    Real estate mogul Sam Zell even said he needed an "all clear" sign before he would start putting his cash to work.

    But that's not what he, or any other American company that has been hoarding cash for the past few years is getting now. Instead of an all clear, they're getting a warning shot from hedge funds hunting for cash fat targets. Those hedge funds want the companies to use that cash to buy back stock and make shareholders (the hedge funds and their investors) more money.

    That, after all, is their job.

    Here's a perfect example: San Francisco based fund Marcato Capital Management sent a letter to Sotheby's this week arguing that they should sell some real estate in London and New York to free up $1.3 billion in cash. Sure, Sotheby's could then invest that cash into expanding their Contemporary art offerings, as another activist on their tail, Dan Loeb has said.

    But really, you can bet that if that real estate is sold, Marcato, the third largest shareholders of Sotheby's stock, will then push for a stock buy back. And who does that help? Sotheby's shareholders — Marcato.

    Now, Sotheby's (like other cash rich companies) could've spent the money on R&D, it could've hired people (something that would help solve corporate Americas initial problem — lack of demand), it could've paid people a little more (you do NOT want to be a 25 year-old working at Sotheby's and trying to live in NYC or London without help).

    But no.

    Now, Sotheby's will have to worry about waging fierce, expensive fight to fend off investors that don't quit — guys like Third Point's Dan Loeb — that have no problem taking a company to war.

    And the rest of Wall Street has caught on to this strategy because it works, and because there are targets everywhere.

    This week, two veteran hedge fund managers— Jason Ader, of Ader Investment Management, and Andrew Wallach of Cumberland Associates — joined forces to start their own firm. Ader has a background in activism, but Wallach is a value guy.

    "I've been frustrated over the years," Wallach told Business Insider. "I can't tell you how many companies I've tried to explain to share repurchase to. I'm tired of it."

    The language hedge funds use to announce their targets almost boiler plate at this point, too. Check out this press release from Kerisdale Capital, a hedge fund founded by a young investor, Sahm Adrangi. He's going after Lindsay Corp., an irrigation company where Howard Buffett sits on the board.

    Lindsay's management team boasts an enviable track record... Overall, we believe management's operating execution has proved exemplary.

    However, on the issues that fall into the domicile of Board oversight, our assessment is less glowing. Lindsay maintains an overcapitalized balance sheet and its capital allocation plan is ambiguous. Over the past five years, Lindsay has accumulated$100 million of cash on its balance sheet, such that net cash currently comprises $150mm, or more than 15% of the company's market capitalization. Lindsay's cash balance has earned less than 1% annually over the past five years, while Lindsay's return on equity has ranged from 10% to 20%.

    Management has suggested that the large cash reserves would allow the company to react quickly to a potential acquisition target. Yet Lindsay hasn't made an acquisition larger than $35 million in over two decades. That $35 million acquisition was of Barrier Systems, Inc. in 2006, a business that is currently break even and that we believe to have been a suboptimal use of capital and management attention...

    Basically, if you won't put your cash to work, we will do it for you. Throw the word 'Apple' in there instead of 'Lindsay' and you can almost hear Carl Icahn talking on CNBC yesterday.

    This isn't to say that every target isn't putting their cash to good use (with Apple especially, that is debatable) but lets be real — American companies are fat. They got that way because they were scared. Instead of putting their money to work for the good of the country, putting more Americans to work, or putting more cash in their pockets, American companies kept that cash for themselves.

    And now Wall Street has come to repossess it.

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    hierarchy (stairs)

    Hierarchies seem like a logical way to structure a business. After all, if the initial idea was yours, why shouldn't you be at the top, telling everyone else what to do? 

    Actually, there are some very good reasons why a flatter, more democratic organizational structure is better for your business, says Tim Kastelle, a professor of innovation at The University of Queensland Business School. 

    Giving all employees power to make decisions can help drive innovation, which is why some of the most successful companies have adopted this model: from GitHub to Automattic, the firm behind WordPress, to W.L. Gore., which has 10,000 employees and elects its CEO democratically.

    "There is a growing body of evidence that shows that organizations with flat structures outperform those with more traditional hierarchies in most situations," Kastelle writes in the Harvard Business Review. "There are sound business reasons for treating people with dignity, for providing autonomy, and for organizing among small teams rather than large hierarchies."

    Here are a few reasons why your business may be better off flat:

    You're more nimble.

    If your business requires agile maneuvering, quick decision making, and even faster production, you need to trust your employees to do these things in order to be successful. You create a logjam if your team must await your approval on decisions. "Firms organized around small, autonomous teams are much more nimble than large hierarchies," Kastelle writes. "This makes it easier to respond to change."

    You're more focused on innovation.

    If your business requires fast iterations, teamwork around the clock, and autonomy, you need to be flat. A hierarchy is likely to get in the way. "Firms organized with a flat structure tend to be much more innovative — if this is important strategically, then you should be flat," he writes.

    You have one shared purpose.

    A flat structure encourages everyone to work toward a common goal — there is no need for a puppet master controlling people's behavior. If you hired the right people, they will be enthusiastic about fulfilling their shared commitment, Kastelle writes.

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    woman smile happy

    Feeling restless in your current position and eager to move up? Want to do so without shameless self-promotion?

    We all know the importance of doing more than expected and doing it exceptionally well to get noticed. But there’s more to getting promoted than that. Sure, going above and beyond is a great start, but there are several other factors at play you ought to consider when looking to advance your career:

    1. Find your passion.

    Why do you want a promotion? The added benefits? Or do you believe you have something special that position needs?

    Success requires passion and love for what you do. Be the employee who will arrive early and stay late. Be the employee your employers can’t live without.

    Take pride in what you do — even in the most mundane of tasks. Take pride in yourself and your company. If you can’t do that, then reconsider that promotion, because frankly, you don’t deserve it.

    2. Stay positive.

    Don’t complain about your projects, your clients, or your colleagues (including the higher-ups).

    A good rule to follow is to refrain from complaining about your job in general. Even if you’re assigned to work on a tedious task or with a grating client, maintain a positive attitude. Though it can be tough to look on the bright side of things when you’re frustrated with a project, look at it as a worthwhile challenge to overcome to the sake of your promotion.

    Why would anyone want to promote you if you seem to hate the job you’re doing now? People want to be surrounded by those with good, positive energy. Prove to your manager that you actually want to be there.

    3. Turn negative feedback to your advantage.

    Instead of getting defensive when given negative feedback, reflect on it. Criticism is the best advice you can get.

    While we would all prefer to hear good things about our work all the time, it doesn’t push us to improve. Instead, we tend to get complacent and comfortable with where we are. That’s not a good place to be for very long. So use that criticism to grow, no matter how negative it may seem.

    4. Expand your skill set.

    Constantly challenge yourself to take on tasks for which you lack experience. View those challenges as opportunities. Use every task as a way to grow on a personal level and to develop new skills.

    If you fail, you still learn something, even if that something is what not to do next time. But if you do excel, it demonstrates you’re always getting better. And that drive will get you noticed.

    Consider a lateral move to start with — something similar to your current position but in a different department. Gaining experience in other areas of the company will not only help you learn new skills, but expand your contacts and help you better understand your company as a whole.

    5. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

    Would your strengths come in handy if you were given a promotion? Or do you lack the necessary strengths to be successful in a higher position?

    Take the time to focus on what you don’t do so well. If you don’t deal with your weaknesses now, it’ll be more difficult to obtain a higher position and succeed in it.

    This also demonstrates to your boss that you know how to identify and overcome your weaknesses.

    6. Take the initiative.

    Seek out and volunteer to do work from the next level up. A willingness to take on more responsibility demonstrates to your manager (and you!) that you’re already capable for the position and you’re beginning to outgrow your current one.

    7. Don’t constantly play it safe.

    Test out your ideas and challenge how things are done. Of course, be mindful of the manner in which you go about this.

    You need to be respectful and demonstrate that your intention is to make things better. Your risks should aim to improve everyone’s performance and generate results and growth for the company, not just advance your own agenda.

    8. Find a mentor.

    It’s always good to surround yourself with people you admire. Connect with others on your own level or team who possess the attributes you want to emulate.

    If possible, connect with someone in a higher position, preferably the level you’re seeking. Gathering their insight and advice will be invaluable in preparing yourself for the job you seek. They can offer you expert (and personalized) advice on how to get the job, how to do the job well and what’s expected.

    9. Teach others.

    Be a mentor yourself. Helping your colleagues improve their performance is an excellent demonstration of your teamwork and collaborative leadership skills.

    It also shows that you have expertise to share, the self-confidence to do so and a genuine desire to help others.

    10. Don’t expect what you don’t deserve.

    Finally, be honest with yourself. Do you just expect the job? Or are you putting forth your best effort with your current work? Are you continuously making an effort to get better?

    If you simply expect a promotion and aren’t doing everything in your power to expand your skills, demonstrate your desire to learn and take on additional projects, it’s unlikely that promotion will happen anytime soon — or ever.

    Greg Bentley is a human resources specialist who has worked for several large-scale companies. When he’s not busy at work fixing the human resources software for a number of helpless staff members, Greg enjoys studying languages and fighting the good fight to keep bad disco dancing alive and well.

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    gail golden carl icahn

    Unless you've been living under a rock, you've noticed that Carl Icahn has taken every opportunity to shake up Wall Street in 2013.

    It's no shock. He started the year armed with $10 billion in cash.

    The name "Icahn" has meant something on Wall Street since the 1980s, when he gained his reputation as a ruthless activist investor. He did it by taking a controlling interest in companies like TimeWarner, TWA, and Blockbuster.

    Now, Icahn's a billionaire.

    And even in his 70s, Icahn shows no sign of slowing down. This year he's made major money out of Netflix, revved up his feud with fellow hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, and picked a fight with Apple.

    Expect more next year.

    SEE ALSO: The 20 Most Impressive People of the Year

    Like most truly successful Americans, Icahn came from humble origins.

    Icahn was born in 1936. His father was a synagogue cantor (though apparently an atheist); his mother a school teacher. He attended Far Rockaway High School in Queens.

    Source: Icahn report

    He worked his way into Princeton, where he majored in Philosophy.

    He graduated in 1957.

    Source: Icahn report

    After brief stints at med school and the army, Icahn joined legendary mutual fund manager Dreyfus & Co.

    Dreyfus merged with Mellon in 1994.

    Source: Icahn report

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    apple employee

    Fellow Influencer Bruce Kasanoff and I got into a semi-heated debate the other day about the merits of starting a career at a big company or small one.

    We decided it might make sense to publicize our viewpoints and let job-seekers decide for themselves. Here’s a link to Bruce’s arguments in this Point-Counterpoint debate. Mine are below.

    As I make my case for why launching a career at a big company makes sense, some background is in order. The big one: I started my career at a big company. I worked at two others, and within 10 years I was running a small operating division. While I loved the job, and aside from the fact that the recruiters I was using had a better work/life balance than mine, the prime reason I left corporate America were some very public disagreements with the group president.

    For the next 25 years the majority of the people I placed came from bigger companies and I placed them into better positions with smaller companies. Here’s why this was the right decision for them, and why it’s the right decision for any young person who wants to launch a career the right way.

    The Pros of Starting Your Career at a Bigger Company, and Some Caveats

    You’ll learn how to block and tackle properly. Many big companies offer rotational programs to give their new hires a broad introduction to a variety of different positions. If you get into one of these, there is no better way to start a career. Bigger companies also offer great training programs for their new hires. Smaller companies just can’t match this investment in training.

    Time is your most valuable asset; use it wisely. There are more opportunities in a big company once you get noticed. Working at a bunch of odd jobs at a small company isn’t nearly as credible as getting promoted into bigger jobs with more responsibility at a bigger company. The key is that you need to get 2-3 years' experience in stretch jobs early in your career. If you’re not being stretched, it doesn’t matter whether you’re at a big or small company.

    You’ll build a stronger and more influential network that will open future doors. Every HR leader will tell you that their best hires come from referrals. While you can build a small network at a small company, you can build a huge and influential one at a big company. Having the opportunity to work with senior executives and leaders in different functional area will open the doors to future opportunities you’ll never get with small companies.

    You can always leave a big company for a small company, but it’s hard to reverse it. Small companies are always looking for talent who can help them grow and become bigger. They always look for people who’ve had this kind of experience at big companies. For this point alone, it makes sense to start your career at a big company.

    Big company experience is more credible than equivalent small company experience. While it can be frustrating at times to get things accomplished quickly at a bigger company, learning the proper way to work within sophisticated systems and processes is invaluable early in a career. When these same processes constrict a person’s ability to grow, learn or make an impact, it’s time to leave. However, the experience involved in being part of a successful project team is something people starting out in their careers rarely get in a small company, unless it’s led by those who have worked at larger companies first.

    More resources and better opportunities to be involved in more complex and more impactful projects. I’ve talked with many young people with only 1-2 years of experience who have worked on international projects, dealt with senior level executives, worked with state-of-the-art technology and were exposed to world-class professionals early in their careers. This is invaluable experience that is almost impossible to receive at a smaller company.

    Of course, if your first job has you stuck in the back corner of a big bullpen doing mindless work for a mindless manager, you’ll regret the choice of launching your career at some big nameless bureaucracy. But the grass will be no greener doing mindless work anywhere, big company or small. So the best career advice should not be about the size of the company, but the size of the opportunity and the capability of the people you’ll be working for and with. In the long run, time is your most valuable asset. The key to success is to not waste it in the short run.

    As you ponder these ideas, make sure you check out Bruce's counterpoints.

    More from LinkedIn Influencers:

    What Bosses Should Never Ask Employees to Do

    How to Negotiate a Job Offer

    An Antidote to the Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence

    SEE ALSO: 3 Things Small Companies Can Learn From Big Ones

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    Carl Icahn

    Investors and boards all over corporate America are tired of getting kicked around by activist hedge fund managers who buy up shares in their companies and starting shaking things up.

    So they're fighting back against that influence, reports David Gelles at The New York Times.

    An alliance of board members from companies like Hertz and Coca-Cola, big investors like BlackRock and Vanguard, and corporate advisers have formed what they're calling the Shareholder-Director Exchange (SDX).

    The aim of the group is to give companies the tools they need to take on activist fund managers and win. If all works as planned, the SDX will have created the model for how it's done.

    Over the last year it has worked on developing a contingency plan for institutional investors and board members to start a dialogue in activist situations.

    From the NYT:

    “When Carl Icahn shows up in Apple and sends a tweet, Apple stock goes into turmoil,” said Declan Kelly, chief executive of Teneo, a consulting firm that helped organize the exchange. “That means shareholders are disconnected enough from the board’s message that they are responding to a 140-character message and not trusting Apple’s directors. It’s not healthy for the financial system.”

    With this set of protocols (that a board can voluntarily adopt or not), investors and board members can discuss issues like governance, long term plans/strategy and more. It can also be a forum for negotiation between board members and shareholders.

    Or — in the event that a certain hedge fund manager(s) takes an interest in your company — a way for board members and shareholders to talk about presenting a united front.

    Head to the NYT for the full report>

    And check out SDX's press release below:

    Leading Public Company Directors and Institutional Investors Join to Launch SDX - the Shareholder-Director Exchange

    SDX - A Protocol for Connecting Shareholders and Board Members

    Available at

    NEW YORK, Feb. 3, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- A working group of leading public company directors, institutional investors and the advisory firms Tapestry Networks, Inc., Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP and Teneo Holdings, LLC together with Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc., today announced the launch of SDX – the Shareholder-Director Exchange. SDX is the collective best thinking of a broad group of leading corporate governance practitioners on why, how, and when boards and institutional investors should engage directly with each other. Although the SDX Protocol can be used in the context of a corporate crisis, it is intended to be a broader template for discussing and addressing corporate issues in the normal course of business.

    "Market conditions as well as an increasing focus on better and more effective governance practices have demonstrated the necessity of direct communication between directors and shareholders," said Bonnie Hill, Director, AK Steel Holding Corp., California Water Service Group, The Home Depot, and Yum! Brands. "There is a growing call for directors to engage directly with shareholders, but until now, the circumstances and conditions under which that engagement should take place have been unclear. The SDX Protocol was developed in partnership with investors and directors to help navigate these uncharted waters."

    "When boards want to know the views of their shareholders, they should go direct to the source," said Michelle Edkins, Managing Director, Global Head of Corporate Governance & Responsible Investment at BlackRock. "Similarly, as a long-term investor, we believe there are issues on which only a director can credibly provide the company viewpoint. The direct board to shareholder engagement proposed in the SDX protocol will help build mutual understanding on key governance matters when necessary and appropriate."

    Both investors and directors are realizing significant value from direct engagement. Engagement improves transparency, mutual understanding, and the overall quality of governance in the market. Engagement can also reduce transaction and friction costs.

    "Interactions between boards and shareholders of all types need to be rethought with an eye toward developing a common perspective on long-term value creation," said James C. Woolery, Deputy Chairman of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. "SDX will help boards and shareholders demystify the engagement process, and make sure it works effectively for both parties."

    "In today's market environment, boards that are not communicating with their investors on a continuing basis risk making themselves vulnerable to activists who will exploit the vacuum that is created," said Declan Kelly, Chairman and CEO of Teneo Holdings. "Engagement as envisioned in SDX – where the decision to engage is made in consultation with or at the request of management – is a powerful tool to deploy."

    "Historically in the US, the benefits of engagement have been understated, and the costs and risks inflated," said Anthony Goodman, partner at Tapestry Networks. "There are very few elections where dialogue between the elected and the electorate is positively discouraged. The right sort of director-shareholder engagement can help each group do its job better. SDX is about helping that happen."

    "Broadridge commends the working group for its care and insight in creating the Protocol," said Richard J. Daly, CEO Broadridge. "The working group noted that the Protocol is adaptable by companies and directors for their engagement with all shareholders. In this regard, technology can be essential to eliminating the element of surprise that may occur from one year to the next in director elections and votes on pay plans and other matters."

    "Engagement with the companies in which the Vanguard funds invest has long been one of the central tenets of our approach to governance and long-term value creation for our clients," said Glenn Booraem, Principal & Fund Controller, Vanguard. "The SDX Protocol represents best practices of leading companies and investors, and it presents these practices in a way that fosters greater dialogue among market participants for the benefit of all investors."

    "The rules of engagement between boards and shareholders are changing, and SDX addresses head-on the challenges that are top of mind for directors," said Linda Fayne Levinson, Director, Hertz, Ingram Micro, Jacobs Engineering Group, NCR, and Western Union. "The SDX Protocol's ten points will be a powerful reference for directors who want to understand the 'how' of engagement. I look forward to seeing how boards and investors will make use of SDX for deeper and more productive engagement."

    SDX was developed after a comprehensive series of interviews and meetings led by Tapestry Networks. More than 30 directors, institutional investors, and corporate governance thought leaders were interviewed as part of SDX. A group of 17 leading investors and directors served on the working group that developed the protocol:

    Glenn Booraem, Principal and Fund Controller, VanguardLes Brun, Director, Automatic Data Processing, Inc., Broadridge Financial Solutions, MerckStu Dalheim, Vice President, Shareholder Advocacy, Calvert InvestmentsMichelle Edkins, Managing Director and Global Head of Corporate Governance and Responsible Investment, BlackRockTim Goodman, Associate Director and Head of North American Engagement, Hermes EOSBonnie Hill, Director, AK Steel Holding Corp., California Water Service Group, The Home Depot, and Yum! BrandsMichele Hooper, Director, National Association of Corporate Directors, PPG Industries, and United Health GroupLabe Jackson, Director, JPMorgan Chase and Co.Andrew Letts, Managing Director and Head of Corporate Governance, State Street Global AdvisorsLinda Fayne Levinson, Director, Hertz, Ingram Micro, Jacobs Engineering Group, NCR, and Western UnionMike McCauley, Senior Officer, Investment Programs & Governance, State Board of Administration of FloridaEileen Mercier, Director, Intact Financial Corp., Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Teekay Shipping Corp., and the University Health NetworkThomas Mistele, Director, Chief Operating Officer, Senior Counsel, and Secretary, Dodge & Cox, San FranciscoTom O'Neill, Director, Archer Daniels Midland, NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc., and MisonixNathan Partain, President and Chief Investment Officer, Duff & Phelps Investment Management Co.; Director, Otter Tail Corp.Debra Perry, Director, Korn/Ferry International and PartnerReRich Roedel, Director, IHS, Inc., Lorillard, Inc., Luna Innovations Inc., and Six Flags Entertainment Corp.

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    Ten years ago, photographers James and Karla Murray went out onto the streets of New York City to document the beautiful and unique storefronts that, for the better part of the last century, have been the defining face of New York. What they didn’t realize at the time was that they were documenting the end of an era.

    After more than a decade under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s guiding hand, Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs have seen a dramatic change as Bloomberg’s policies championed new development through tax incentives and changes to zoning codes. The rezoning laws have allowed for luxury apartment high-rises in hot spots like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the East Village. Since Bloomberg took office in 2001, more than 40,000 buildings have risen in the five boroughs.

    The casualties of that effort have been the “Mom & Pop” businesses that used to define the neighborhoods that they were in. According to the Murrays, many of these businesses, like Mars Bar and CBGB, closed due to skyrocketing rents.

    The Murrays recently went back to the storefronts they photographed a decade ago to see what has survived and what hasn’t. They were struck by what they found. Nearly two-thirds of the stores they photographed the first time around were no longer there. 

    James and Karla Murray shared some of the photos from the project with us here, but you can check out more at their websiteand blog. The original photographs of the storefronts were collected in the book, "Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York." 

    When the Murrays began photographing the storefronts ten years ago, they interviewed the store owners about their businesses. Many told them then that they feared losing their businesses due to rent increases.M&GDINER10yearsLater1400PxOften landlords pushed out businesses in hopes of converting to condos. Sometimes, those plans never materialized, leaving storefronts simply vacant.GERTELS Bakery10YearsLater1200pxThe East Village’s Mars Bar closed in 2011. It was torn down and replaced by a luxury condo with a soon-to-be-opened TD Bank on the ground floor.MarsBarthenandnow1400pxThe original 2nd Avenue Deli location in the East Village closed in 2006 after the rent increased from $24,000 a month to $33,000 a month.2ndAVEDELI2200pxMost of the small business owners were pushed out when it came time to renew their leases. The businesses that have survived did so because they already owned their buildings.14thStreetOptimo10years1100pxAnother issue is that high apartment rents have pushed out many of the neighborhood's original residents, killing the businesses' loyal customer bases.BARMARTINs10years1400pxLenox Lounge in Harlem closed on December 31, 2012 after a lease dispute. LenoxLounge10Years1400pxCBGB in the East Village closed in 2006 after the building owners claimed the music club owed $91,000 in back rent. A John Varvatos store has since taken over the space.CBGB10years1750pxRalph’s Discount City in TriBeCa was forced to close in 2007 when the building began plans for conversion into a luxury condo.Ralphs10YearsLatersidepxThe Murrays say that the closing of the businesses picked up speed with the recession in 2007. CLAUDIOSBarberShop10Years1400pxMax Fish, the iconic Lower East Side art bar, closed in July 2013 after a rent increase. At the time of the closing, the rent was at $16,000 a month and was due to increase again. A new Brooklyn location is in the works.MaxFish10YearsVertThe Murrays say the biggest issue is that the new stores don't necessarily have any connection to the neighborhood or its inhabitants. "There's a loss of character to the neighborhood," says Karla Murray.MartyandSonsMeatMarket10YearsLater1200pxThe new stores are typical chain clothing and electronics stores, banks, and pharmacies. Even these stores don't always do well. CasaNovaPizzaThenandNowHorz1200Joe's Pizza was forced to close its East Village location when it was subject to a rent hike from $900 a month to nearly $15,000 a month. The pizzeria has since reopened in a new location on 14th street.BleeckeratCarmine10YearsHorzMcHale's Bar was a mainstay of Times Square for 62 years, before the building's landlord pushed out the bar to make way for the Platinum NYC condo tower.MCHALESThen&NowHorz

    SEE ALSO: 26 Vintage Photos That Show How New York Has Transformed Since The 1970s

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    carl icahn

    Everyone is talking about "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," the deep dive into inequality written by economist Thomas Piketty, using a seemingly endless parade of data from countries all over the world and eras throughout time.

    It's a massive book, so a lot of the talk is just talk. Hedge fund billionaire Carl Icahn, however, actually read the monster, and his takeaway is different from anyone else's we've heard yet.

    "I think it's very good, very well thought out. ... And I agree that there are storm clouds ahead," Icahn told Business Insider.

    In his book, Piketty says that inequality is caused by the fact that capital investments grow much faster than GDP. That means those who invest (the rich) get wealthy much faster than everyone else who doesn't — and then that wealth is compounded.

    Piketty says that in the 20th century, the domination of capital's growth was interrupted by periods when GDP growth surged, like the post-war years when the world was rebuilding.

    Other than that, though, there is a constant imbalance which governments and societies must strive to correct. Piketty suggests that this can be done by taxing the rich. Icahn rejects that notion.

    "Piketty's book basically says this disparity in wealth is going to lead to societal problems ... the solutions, though, they're difficult for Piketty to come up with them. Some of them are kind of naive. We're not suddenly going to start taxing at the level he's talking about."

    Instead, Icahn sees this book through the lens of someone who wades deep in much of corporate America. To him Piketty's book is a big call for more shareholder activism.

    1. Corporate boards need to be more transparent, democratic, and accountable.Workers should wake up to the fact that as pension holders, they are also shareholders, and should make their voices heard as such.
    2. Basically, Icahn wants a revolution in which the masses turn into active, vocal shareholders.

    "You don't have a true election at the corporate level, so you don't have accountability," he said, adding "You got a lot of Americans who don't understand that they're getting screwed."

    Take a second to dip into Icahn's mind (if you have the stones), and think of it this way: Until the 1970s companies used to handle defined contribution pension plans for their workers. It made sense that they had a close relationship with the pension funds running the money for these plans (which also included a bunch of company stock) because it was the company taking the risk and putting skin in the game.

    "With exceptions, the funds that run pension funds are picked by the company themselves," said Icahn.
    "They play golf together."

    And that's a problem, because while the entire retirement savings game has changed, the golf games haven't.

    Now, in many cases, it's the worker who contributes their own money to their pension. Companies are just stewards. The way Icahn sees it, that means it's the worker who is taking the risk, and they should have a say in how the company is run, since through their pensions, they are significant shareholders.

    "Piketty says capital is getting more share than the worker. The question is who really owns the shares of those companies," Icahn pointed out.

    The short answer is the worker. But how do you wake people up to the fact that they have capital?

    You might need a community organizer for that.

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    axe chopping wood

    George Orwell wrote that"political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness." 

    For the "1984" author, euphemism was a method by which powerful people cloaked violent acts. The more vaguely you described something violent, the less awful the violence sounds.

    That trend has carried over to corporate America and Silicon Valley, where CEOs and HR departments invent all sorts of creative language to cloak the fact that people are getting fired.

    One example: When the CEO of Fab announced it would fire 100 people in its Berlin office last year, he called the layoffs an "opportunity to start your new job search immediately" in an internal memo.

    As the New York Times has reported, there are at least 48 examples of euphemisms for getting fired. 

    Here's the list:

    1. Asked to Resign
    2. Axed
    3. Canned
    4. Career Assessment and Re-employment
    5. Career Transition
    6. Chemistry Change
    7. Coerced Transition
    8. Decruited
    9. Degrowing
    10. Dehiring
    11. Deployment
    12. Deselected
    13. Destaffing
    14. Discharged
    15. Dismissal
    16. Displacement
    17. Downsizing
    18. Excessed
    19. Executive Culling
    20. Force Reduction
    21. Fumigation
    22. Indefinite Idling
    23. Involuntary Separation
    24. Job Separation
    25. Let Go
    26. Negotiated Departure
    27. Outplacement
    28. Personnel Surplus Reduction
    29. Position Elimination
    30. Premature Retirement
    31. Redeployment
    32. Redirected
    33. Redundancy elimination
    34. Release
    35. Reorganization
    36. Replaced
    37. Requested Departure
    38. RIF — Reduction in Force: "I was Riffed"
    39. Right-sizing
    40. Sacked
    41. Selected Out
    42. Selectively Separated
    43. Skill Mix Adjustment
    44. Termination
    45. Transitioned
    46. Vocational Relocation
    47. Workforce Adjustment
    48. Workforce Imbalance Correction

    Got any more? Tell us in the comments.

    SEE ALSO:  20 Examples Of Corporate Doublespeak You Need To Know During Earnings Season

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    Warren BennisWarren Bennis was the world's most important thinker on the subject that business leaders care about more than any other: themselves.

    When he started writing about leadership in the 1950s the subject was a back road. When he died on July 31st it was an eight-lane highway crowded with superstar professors whizzing along in multi-million-dollar muscle cars.

    Mr Bennis produced about 30 books on leadership. Some of them are classics, such as "On Becoming a Leader" (1989). All are surprisingly readable, stuffed with anecdotes, examples and literary references. He offered advice to leaders from all walks of life. Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks, regarded him as a mentor.

    Presidents from both sides of the aisle--John Kennedy and Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan--sought his advice. If Peter Drucker was the man who invented management (as a book about him claimed), then Warren Bennis was the man who invented leadership as a business idea.

    Central to his thinking was a distinction between managers and leaders. Managers are people who like to do things right, he argued. Leaders are people who do the right thing. Managers have their eye on the bottom line. Leaders have their eye on the horizon. Managers help you to get to where you want to go. Leaders tell you what it is you want. He chastised business schools for focusing on the first at the expense of the second.

    People took MBAs, he said, not because they wanted to be middle managers but because they wanted to be chief executives. He argued that "failing organisations are usually over-managed and under-led".

    Mr Bennis believed leaders are made, not born. He taught that leadership is a skill--or, rather, a set of skills--that can be learned through hard work. He likened it to a performance. Leaders must inhabit their roles, as actors do. This means more than just learning to see yourself as others see you, though that matters, too. It means self-discovery.

    "The process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being," he said in 2009. Mr Bennis knew whereof he spoke: he spent a small fortune on psychoanalysis as a graduate student, dabbled in "channelling" and astrology while a tenured professor and wrote a wonderful memoir, "Still Surprised".

    What constitutes good leadership changes over time. Mr Bennis was convinced that an egalitarian age required a new style. Leaders could no longer crack the whip and expect people to jump through hoops. They needed to be more like mentors and coaches than old-fashioned sergeant-majors. Top-down leadership not only risked alienating employees. It threatened to squander the organisation's most important resource: knowledge. There is no point in employing knowledge workers if you are not going to allow them to use their knowledge creatively.

    The last quarter of the 20th century often saw Mr Bennis in despair. He loathed the Masters of the Universe who boasted about how many jobs they had nuked and how much money they had made. "On Becoming a Leader" is full of prophetic warnings about corporate corruption, extravagant executive rewards and short-termism. He also lamented the quality of leadership in Washington, DC.

    But he became more optimistic in his last few years, at least about the corporate world. The Enron, WorldCom and Lehman disasters taught businesses the danger of hubris. And a new generation of CEOs, whom he dubbed "the crucible generation" and compared to his own second-world-war generation, were more impressive than their immediate predecessors, characterised not merely by tolerance of other people, but respect for them.

    Mr Bennis's work on leadership was shaped by three different experiences. The first was the Great Depression: in 1932 his father was fired from his job as a shipping clerk without explanation and managed to put food on the table only by helping the mafia transport bootleg alcohol. The next was the second world war: he led a platoon into battle at the age of 19 and won a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. The third was more cheerful: the big expansion of American universities during the post-war boom.

    The demobbed war hero went to Antioch College, where he was taken up by its president, Douglas McGregor, a social psychologist who subsequently made his name distinguishing between two approaches to running organisations, theory X (scientific management) and theory Y (humanist management). McGregor pulled strings to get Mr Bennis into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study for a PhD in economics. Despite a frosty reception--one of his professors, Charles Kindleberger, told him to his face that "We didn't exactly throw our hats in the air when we saw your application"--he got a job teaching in the new field of organisational behaviour. The young scholar took full advantage of the intellectual cacophony of Cambridge, absorbing ideas from sociology to psychology, and eventually he tried his hand at leadership itself. He spent 11 years as an academic administrator at a time when universities were being torn apart by student protests, first as provost of the University at Buffalo and then as president of the University of Cincinnati.

    Contrasting counterweights

    When Drucker came to a party at Mr Bennis's post-modern house on Santa Monica beach in California, in the late 1990s, the two men were a study in contrasts: Mr Bennis, thin, tanned and dressed in a light suit; Drucker paunchy, pale and encased in black. Mr Bennis talked animatedly about leadership. Drucker growled that what mattered was followership. But in fact the men were brothers under the skin and worthy counterweights to each other: big thinkers who took subjects too often synonymous with platitudes and gobbledygook, and, by dint of a lot of hard twisting, wrung some sense out of them.

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    jim chanos

    Add Jim Chanos' to the number of voices worried that American companies are running out of gas and in need of real consumer demand to create revenue.

    In an interview with Bloomberg's Masters in Business, hosted by Barry Ritholtz, Chanos explained how corporate buybacks were less a sign of strength and more a cry for help from American companies.

    He said: "What worries me is that corporate America in aggregate, has pre-tax returns on capital in the mid to high teens. The long-term expected rate of the equity markets, is roughly half that. And when corporations embarked on massive buybacks across all industries and all companies, in effect these CEOs are buying the stock market. So what they’re telling you then, is unequivocally that they think that either they’re happy to earn the stock market rate of return or maybe something hopefully better. Or their rate of return on the margin of any new capital project is much much lower, in fact half or less of what is stated.And that does not bode well for the future of profits, or for the quality of earnings reported as current profits."

    The point is that there will come a time when companies won't be able to hide their lack of revenue growth with share buybacks or other handy tools.

    Barclays' U.S. equity strategist Jonathan Glionna wrote about this last week, and he also pointed out that what these companies really need is not accounting hoodoo, but rather it's the almighty American consumer.

    "We believe U.S. equities are transitioning out of a recovery rally and into a period of lower returns as the benefits of margin expansion and share repurchases prove to be already priced in and a return of faster revenue growth becomes a prerequisite for another re-rating higher," he wrote.

    That faster revenue growth was supposed to come from the purchasing power of the American consumer.

    Ideally— as in some ideas we had back in 2008 and 2009 — by this time, this all-encompassing market force was supposed to have bounced back from the recession and started spending money again.

    But it hasn't.

    U.S. Retail sales growth has crept down from May's 0.4% to June's 0.2% to July's flat growth. As Business Insider's Sam Ro pointed out, it was the worst retail sales number in six months.

    Last week Wal-Mart lowered its guidance for the third quarter and revised down full-year earnings to $4.90 to $5.15 per share from previous guidance of $5.10 to $5.45.

    According to FactSet, for 63 companies have issued negative earnings per share guidance and 26 companies have issued positive earnings per share guidance for the third quarter of 2014. In other words, not even American companies think they can pull it out in this environment.

    Check out the chart below:

    factset negative eps guidance 2014 q3

    So there will be no rescue from the American consumer, at least not right now.

    All of this makes for a risky environment in the meantime, especially as corporate cash flows remain high but flat (more on this here).

    To please shareholders, companies still have to figure out how to keep stock prices afloat. That could mean buying more stock while prices are high — which should not please shareholders — or it could mean going another route.

    Chanos says that corporate balance sheets are looking healthier because analysts aren't deducting acquisitions from a company's cash flow as they should.

    “Increasingly we’re seeing acquisitions, which are not taken out of most analysts for cash flow numbers, acquisition are replacing CapEx or R&D," Chanos said. "So companies are buying their R&D or their capital, and that should [be] properly deducted from cash flow, becausein aggregate corporate America is not growing. So by buying each other and buying divisions of each other, in effect, they’re capitalizing their R&D … and that particularly applies for big tech, which are perceived as very cheap companies. If you actually look at them, the only reason their revenues aren't declining at a reasonable rate is because they’re buying other companies.”

    So what we have here is a race against time. If you buy all this, the stock market needs the American consumer to come back soon to prevent some serious selling — earnings are not what they seem.

    We've stopped growing.

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    Mara 18 gang member el salvadorIN 2009 Edward John Schaefer drunkenly swerved his motorbike over a pavement in the town of Marin, California. He hit a father and his daughter. The girl died. Schaefer was jailed for life. Some ten days after arriving at San Quentin State Prison, Frank Souza, another inmate, stabbed Schaefer to death with a "bone-crusher", a seven-inch homemade metal spear.

    The murder was not a random act of violence. Nor was it an example of the haphazard terrors of prison life. Mr Souza was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang. When asked why he did it, Mr Souza replied: "All I got to say, nine-year-old girl." The killing was justice, determined and meted out by the gang. It was one demonstration of myriad ways in which gangs provide governance in prisons. In "The Social Order of the Underworld" David Skarbek, an American political economist at King's College London, shows how gangs have spread through the prison system in the United States. He argues, convincingly, that gangs offer protection and governance in places where established institutions fail, and that it makes sense for prisoners to join them.

    Gangs did not exist until the 1950s. Prisons were governed according to the "convict code", unwritten rules followed by everyone. At its most basic, the code decreed that inmates should not help officials in matters of discipline, nor should they ever give them any kind of information. With a small prison population, this worked. Fearsome reputations and fear of gossip, ostracism and assault constrained much disruptive behaviour. There was no need for organised groups.

    But as the prison population exploded, the code began to fail. It was no longer possible to sustain reputations amid such huge numbers. First-time offenders, ignorant of the code and its rules, became more common. Violent inmates made prisons more dangerous. Officials could not be relied on to protect prisoners: "Most of us have wives and kids or grandkids," exclaims one. "Are you going to risk your life by stepping in front of a knife when you have one lousy piece of shit trying to kill another lousy piece of shit?"

    Gangs emerged to provide protection. Mr Skarbek traces how they then developed into businesses, controlling prisons' booming illicit markets, especially in drugs. Gangs can trade far more effectively than lone inmates. Prisoners listen when they threaten violence; members can ease trade from the outside after their release. Consumers, in this case buyers of drugs, benefit too. Gangs are long-term sellers, so they have an incentive not to drive customers away by abusing their power.

    Even the segregation of gangs along racial lines is rational. As Mr Skarbek points out, for gangs to function well, all members must accept responsibility for the actions and obligations of the rest. Identifying other members is crucial to avoid outsiders freeriding or damaging the group's reputation. Race (and tattoos) provide ways of doing so. In an all-male community where everyone wears the same clothes, race provides a lot of information fast. It is impossible to conceal or change; segregation prevents prisoners moving from group to group or taking advantage of different gangs.

    Mr Skarbek's analysis confounds the assumption that prisons are stuffed with violent, racist thugs who act irrationally. The very logic of gangs' existence may be the key to constraining them. Reduce demand for their services, he argues, by locking up fewer people and making prisons safer, and their appeal would diminish.

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    Sallie Krawcheck was recently named one of the "100 most creative people" by Fast Company. She's a former analyst and senior banking executive who now oversees the Ellevate network -- formerly 85 Broads. Ellevate is a 34,000-strong global professional woman’s network.

    Produced by Alana Kakoyiannis

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    uber protest

    Some of 2013's biggest business fails left American consumers scratching their heads. Remember founder Chip Wilson's comment during a TV interview that "some women's bodies just actually don't work" with Lululemon pants?

    Just when we thought it couldn't get worse than that, 2014 was another year with its fair share of gaffes and meltdowns from some of the most iconic brands and people in the business world that left us wondering, "What were they thinking?" 

    Some of this year's most disastrous corporate incidents led to terminations and bankruptcy, while others included public statements that were just too offensive and boneheaded to overlook.

    Here are the 10 biggest failures of 2014 (in chronological order): 

    Dumb Starbucks's short shelf-life

    Nathan Fielder, the host of Comedy Central's Nathan for You, generated international media attention in February by opening Los Angeles-based Dumb Starbucks, a parody of the national coffee chain. Shortly after announcing the planned opening of a new Dumb Starbucks in Brooklyn, New York, however, Fielder received a visit from the local health inspector, who shuttered Dumb Starbucks because it lacked proper permits. Like many PR stunts, these 15 minutes of fame were really just a waste of everybody's time.

    Donald Sterling's racist comments

    Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling earned the rare distinction of being unanimously voted out of the National Basketball League by his fellow owners in April after an audio recording of him making racist remarks was leaked to the media. No apologies could undo this PR catastrophe, as Sterling has been banned from the NBA for life.

    Vibram's questionable claims

    Vibram, which makes the FiveFingers running shoe, waved the white flag following a two-year legal battle in May, agreeing to pay $3.75 million to settle a lawsuit over false claims the company made about the health benefits of its footwear. Vibram had stated that its "barefoot sports shoes" could minimize foot injuries and help strengthen muscles. The science backing up these claims, however, was nowhere to be found. Some consumers who purchased the shoes were entitled to a partial refund. 

    Dov Charney's ungraceful exit

    After a decade of sexual harassment allegations against American Apparel founder and CEO Dov Charney, the company's board voted in June to remove him from his position. The last straw for Charney reportedly came when an internal investigation found he had let an employee post nude photos of a former colleague and used company money for his personal use.  

    Amazon's smartphone flop

    Amazon began selling its own smartphone, the Fire, in late July, but failed to entice anywhere near the number of customers it had hoped would be interested in the mobile device. The company took a $170 million write-down during the third quarter of 2014, much of it attributed to unsold Fire smartphones, Amazon announced in October, a month after the online retailer dropped the price of the phone with a two-year contract from $199 to just 99 cents. The company reported it had roughly $83 million worth of unsold Fire inventory as of the end of the third quarter. 

    Satya Nadella's troubling career advice 

    In October, during an interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said it would be "good karma" for women not to ask for a raise, but rather, to trust that "the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along." Nadella later apologized for the boneheaded remarks in a memo to Microsoft employees. 

    Uber's proposed smear campaign

    Following a string of PR blunders, Uber dug itself into perhaps its deepest hole yet in November when senior vice president of business Emil Michael floated the idea of formally allocating company funds to dig up dirt on journalists who criticize the company. Buzzfeed broke the story of Michael's remarks, which were followed quickly by an apology. Though Michael referred to his comments as "wrong no matter the circumstance," he managed to sneak in some additional criticism of journalists, calling recent media reports on Uber "sensationalistic."

    Aereo's bankruptcy

    In November, five months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that TV-streaming company Aereo's service violated copyright law, the three-year-old company filed for bankruptcy. "The U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively changed the laws that had governed Aereo's technology, creating regulatory and legal uncertainty. And while our team has focused its energies on exploring every path forward available to us, without that clarity, the challenges have proven too difficult to overcome," Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia wrote in a letter to customers.

    Sony's hack job

    Sony Pictures was hit with an unprecedented cyberattack in November that revealed a trove of highly sensitive information about unreleased movies and nearly 50,000 current and former employees, including financial data. Mounted by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace, the attack revealed that Sony had been storing thousands of emails, passwords, and Social Security numbers on an unencrypted server.

    The New Republic's mass resignations

    Earlier this month, not long after hiring former Yahoo executive Guy Vidra as its chief executive, The New Republic lost Frank Foer, its longtime editor, and more than two dozen other senior staffers, all of whom followed Foer out the door. The resignations were attributed to widespread disagreement with the editorial vision and direction of the publication under owner Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who took control of TNR in 2012. Hughes and Vidra had reportedly set a new strategy for the century-old company, which they said they would position it as a "vertically integrated digital media company."

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    businessman 50s illustration

    While corporations don't have the sex appeal of startups, they employ a lot of us.

    As the Washington Post has reported, 65% of the jobs created since 1990 have come from companies with more than 500 employees.

    That invites a question: How does one navigate corporate life?

    A recent Quora thread tackled that question.

    Here are the takeaways. 

    Focus on production, not effort.

    Working an insane number of hours isn't a ticket up the corporate ladder. 

    "Results are what matter," warns user Nick Simon — it's not about how "hard" of a worker you are.

    "Putting in long hours doesn't make you a good employee," he adds. "It makes you an inefficient employee."

    For greater efficiency, consult Warren Buffett.

    Don't hate on people.

    "Never ever speak foul about anybody behind their back,"said user Aveek Roy Chowdhury. "Even to the best of people. Even the walls have eyes and ears. They also have limbs to kick some sense into you!"

    Put another way: You're the master of what you don't say, you're the slave of what you do

    Study the people that succeed.

    Management might earnestly proclaim that teamwork and dedication are what get you ahead. 

    But you're more cunning than that.

    "Look at the employees who are successful, who get the recognition, who rise quickly — they represent what the company is looking for,"says user Rob Pawlikowski."What do they do that you can do?" 

    Keep improving, on purpose.

    Psychologists have discovered lots about biases.

    One of the biggest takeaways: We're not very good at knowing what we're not good at.

    Thus the need to talk your boss. 

    "Take feedback from your supervisor on your soft skills like communication, leadership, teamwork,"says Arif Nezami."Your supervisor knows best your strengths and weaknesses. Know them and work towards them."

    The best venue for such a conversation? Mega VC Ben Horowitz recommends the one-on-one meeting

    Gather transferable skills. 

    You're not going to be at this job forever.

    Day to day, keep your next step in mind. 

    "The important thing for you is to learn skills that make you valuable for your next job,"says Nate Doromal. "Take some time everyday to learn something new and challenging. If you aren't doing this, then you are at risk of becoming a dinosaur." 

    To know what skills to develop, consider the eleven qualities Google desires.

    Make friends.

    "Make as many friends as possible,"says user Wisnu Nugroho."They will always come in handy. Always." 

    While some grumps will recommend that you isolate yourself from your peers, decades of organizational psych research suggests that continually growing quality relationships is required for advancing to the top

    SEE ALSO: 58 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Everything We Do

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    Reverend Billy Illustration_02On the rainy night before Thanksgiving, a man in the black and white outfit of a minister stood shouting in front of the Ferguson, Missouri police department, at the heart of widespread protests over the police killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old named Michael Brown.

    “Ten, 20 years from now, when your children are grown up, you will remember this as a turning point in American history! We are here. The bulls--- stops here. We’re not afraid! We’re not afraid!"

    The man, known as Reverend Billy, spoke with an intensity that held the attention of sign-toting protesters and stone-faced National Guardsmen.

    “It is no accident that actions are taking place in 37 states at the present time," he said. "The murder of Michael Brown is in all of us."

    Behind Reverend Billy was his choir, a set of performers and activists known as The Church of Stop Shopping, who channeled the locals' energy by singing civil rights protest standards and echoing his declarations to the crowd.

    At 64 years old, this is Reverend Billy's life. He, the Church, and his wife, director Savitri Durkee, protest everything from consumerism to fracking to race relations and spend their days disrupting the businesses of JPMorgan Chase, Disney, Starbucks, and the half-dozen other corporations he’s singled out as the destroyers of America and Planet Earth. He’s gained a following that is at once fervently spiritual and radically political. When there is a cause or an injustice that needs protesting, from New York to California, he’s there preaching, demonstrating, and, on more than 50 occasions, getting arrested.

    As impressive as he is, however, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this activist legend is that he isn’t real, or at least he didn’t used to be. In fact, Reverend Billy was created two decades ago as performance art by a middle-aged theater producer named William Talen, who plays the preacher; but, over time, the character has become all-consuming and powerful.

    A Calvinist kid goes rogue

    revbill3Talen was born in Minnesota, where his parents practiced Calvinism, a branch of Protestant Christianity marked by strict adherence to the Bible. Talen has said Calvinists “try to regiment every part of life.” His father was a local banker for farmers in the area. Talen had little interest in religion or business, preferring hobbies like birding, cello, writing, and — somewhat scandalously — contemporary music and dancing.

    By his teens, Talen’s family had moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, putting them near the Packers during coach Vince Lombardi’s legendary tenure. Talen wasn’t supposed to watch, though, because the games were on Sundays. He did anyway, sneaking into his parents’ garage to watch on a tiny television in the bitter cold. In high school, he took a class withCharles Gaines, the novelist, who was a creative writing teacher at the time. The student became close to Gaines and his wife, Patricia, who was a painter and a sculptor.

    “Bill was attracted to our very unconventional life,” Gaines recalled. “We formed a bond immediately.”

    Gaines described the young Talen as “bright, high energy, extremely kinetic, and obsessed with himself.”

    Talen stayed in touch with Gaines when his mentor moved to New Hampshire, and it wasn’t long before the teenager hit the road himself.

    Talenhitchhiked from truck stop to truck stop, worked on ranches until the proprietors kicked him out, and even worked as a street barker for a New Orleans strip club. He enrolled for a short time at the University of Wisconsin, before transferring to Franconia College in New Hampshire, because the school was known for its avant garde approach to education and because Gaines lived nearby. After college, he hitchhiked up and down the East Coast as a vagabond poet before moving to California to immerse himself in the Beat scene in Bolinas. He drifted in and out of homelessness for a time, before becoming part of folk singer Rosalie Sorrels’ inner circle. Finally, he settled in the Bay Area and became a theater producer, writer, actor, and radio host.

    Those wild years would be enough for most people, but he was just getting started.

    The creation of Reverend Billy

    In the early ‘90s, Talen ran the Life On The Water theater in San Francisco with a few fellow dramatists, where he produced the plays of local playwrights and, once a year, one of his own. After the performance of his play about an architect dealing with yuppie guilt, Talen was approached by a theater producer andformer Episcopalian reverend named Sidney Lanier, a cousin of playwright Tennessee Williams.

    Lanier thought Talen was more of a preacher than an actor. He said Talen could become “a new kind of American preacher,” one who said what needed to be said.

    Talen, then in his 40s, was in a self-described midlife crisis. He began studying with Lanier, analyzing as many ancient religious readings, evangelical sermons, and popular films as he could manage to try to create his new kind of preacher. Here is one of the first attempts at the character:

    In 1993, Talen relocated to Manhattan, where he waited tables and worked at Lanier’s church, St Clement’s, while the two worked on finding a message for their preacher.

    Talen found it outside his door in Hell’s Kitchen. Manhattan was changing all around him. Then-Mayor Rudy Giulianiwas implementing a harsh “Quality of Life” program, targeting low-level crimes like panhandling, jaywalking, graffiti, and public drinking, in an effort to clean up the city. Meanwhile, corporations like Starbucks and Disney were taking over Manhattan, displacing old businesses, opening chain stores, and threatening the gritty, authentic city he loved. In 1997, he began hauling a makeshift pulpit to Times Square and shouting his new theology over the din of other shouters: sideshow characters, theater and comedy club promoters, actual preachers.

    While Talen was always unpredictable, even his old mentor Gaines found the new direction unusual.

    “He wasn’t politically active, as far as I remember,” Gaines said. “To me, his political activity was an outgrowth of the persona of Reverend Billy. He had to start believing in things, espousing things, taking positions for the character to exist. Causes accrued naturally around the persona. The more he did it, the more natural it became. There’s no doubt now that he is devoted to those beliefs.”

    “Watching what happened in Times Square — with the corporations and chain stores moving in — changed him,” said Forbes writer Monte Burke, who has known Talen for decades.

    The message of Reverend Billy was simple.

    “Disney was the devil,” Talen explained. “Mickey Mouse was the anti-Christ. The sin was Disney’s sweatshop labor.”

    Disney represented a bigger phenomenon in America for Talen. In his eyes, Disney’s films and musicals monopolized US culture, while its stores displaced small businesses and exploited sweatshop workers. Talen’s distaste for Disney peaked when he first went inside the Times Square Disney Store. Visiting for story research, Talen couldn’t contain himself. He bought a Mickey Mouse doll, held it over his head, and began preaching. Talen was arrested, he says, and handcuffed to the Mickey Mouse doll.

    The arrest furthered Talen’s resolve to continue his Disney Store preaching in the following years. His exploits got him interviews on local television, a regular 90-second sermon on NPR,features in independent documentaries, and a following of theater people, activists, academics, and upset New Yorkers. Talen soon branded them The Church of Stop Shopping.rev billy times square

    Talen fuses with Reverend Billy

    Talen began to formalize the church by the year 2000, with the church’s choirperforming regularly at Manhattan theater the Culture Project.

    That year Talen met Savitri Durkee, who managed the Culture Project then. Disenchanted with the elitist arts scene in New York, Durkee gravitated towards Talen’s direct approach. She took over direction of the Church and the two became involved romantically, marrying in 2002. Talen’s show initially offended Durkee.

    “I was shocked that someone was co-opting religious imagery,” she said. “It wasn’t satirical. It was stranger than that. He was saying exactly what he meant at a time when artists were taught to be indirect. He was saying things that mattered ..."

    Under Durkee’s direction, Reverend Billy and the Church became more elaborate and more structured. Talen became a community leader in the midtown neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen, protesting unwelcome changes like a new Starbucks, working to unionize local workers, and protecting a community garden.

    The role of Reverend Billy took on added significance after 9/11, when the congregants who used him to fuel their outrage instead looked to him to grieve.

    "People poured in,” Talen said. "We were well-known enough at that point that people trusted us to run a fellowship. We grieved together. We cried together. We helped each other get through a traumatic event."

    Talen became what he had long pretended to be: a spiritual leader. The responsibility drained the televangelist satire that had been the source of Reverend Billy’s creation.

    "At that point, I became Reverend Billy. I became fused with the character. Since then, I've married people, buried people. You're standing there hugging the parents of someone who passed away or something — pastoring is not easy. It's surprisingly powerful,” Talen told the A.V. Club in 2007.

    Here is Talen preaching in Union Square just after 9/11:

    A radical who’s focused on the present

    When I asked Talen about these early days on a blustery evening in November, he gave me as short a summary as possible, even after a couple glasses of red wine. Talen was focused on the sordid present and the bleak future.

    “I want to speak to you radically. If we stated to you what we believe, we would be seen as full of common sense and scandalous at the same time,” Talen said, before launching into one of his trademark tirades.

    “Here is what is killing us. The 8,000 invisible, unregulated chemicals of Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Cargill, BASF; the factory farms, the pesticide-drenching GMO companies. Companies like Starbucks kill people in the Global South through their land grabs, resource grabs, and factory farming. These companies are killing us."

    Soon he switched gears to talk about Ferguson, Missouri, police violence, and the American justice system: "Ferguson is a white, racist, militarized Southern police force in a slave state. You’ve got a white police force and a majority black community. It’s black and white.”

    revbill4After a few minutes, he segued into a tirade against consumerism and gentrification and environmental destruction.

    The marketing [in the US] has gotten more and more aggressive. You must have straight teeth, beautiful clothes, a big house, a beautiful lady. There is the constant threat that you won’t be successful. It’s violent. It’s ongoing ... We’ve long argued that rampant consumerism is a source of violence and racism. This year, everybody gets what we’ve been saying [because of Ferguson]. It’s gratifying, but sad on another level,” he said.

    For Talen, in his infinite reserve of passion and outrage, nearly every cause is linked.

    He told me in his sincerest tone: “Right now, activists talk about Human Rights and Earth Rights. They split themselves up into hundreds of different self-righteous cults. It’s all the same thing. We have to protect the rights of people and we have to protect the rights of the Earth. I’m trying to find a word to describe one thing that all of us can fight for.”

    It’s hard not to get sucked in by Talen’s charisma and enthusiasm. It’s no wonder the man attracted a congregation with only an ideology, an operatic voice, and a red Village Voice distribution box used as a pulpit. 

    Talen’s endgame

    reverend billy michael brownToday, Talen leads the Church of Stop Shopping’s 50 performing members in protests around the country, like in Ferguson, where Talen and a group of 25 held a vigil for Michael Brown, led a Thanksgiving protest at agricultural giant Monsanto, and joined community leader “Mama Cat” Daniels in cooking and performing at a Thanksgiving Dinner for protesters.

    Talen’s group also puts on shows, like “The Monsanto Is The Devil” show I saw at at Joe’s Pub, an offshoot of the The Public Theater. In that performance, Reverend Billy introduced the packed show like a church service, shouting “Welcome to Church!” The choir sang two sets of songs with names like “Climate Change Blues,” “Cops and Bankers,” and “Revolution,” before the Reverend delivered an energetic sermon. Impromptu dance routines broke out during and between songs. The Reverend “canonized” a new saint, as he always does — the Ferguson protester who threw paint on NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. He even put Joe’s Pub on notice, singing, “We got no minimum. You don’t have to buy any drinks. Stop shopping!”

    choirshow3But Stop Shopping goes beyond protests.

    “It really is a church,” said music director Nehemiah Luckett, who is the son of a Methodist pastor. “They are committed to supporting each other to become better people. The more I got to know them, the more I thought that a lot of churches could learn a lot from the group.”

    That sense of community may be what has kept Talen and Durkee around for so long.

    “If you’ve been an activist for any amount of time, you abandon any concept of success. You fail all the time,” Durkee said.

    During nearly every conversation we had, Talen insisted the “plight of the Earth” requires our urgent attention and that things are going downhill — fast.

    “If you look at the Earth and you ask regular people, ‘Will we make it? Will we change soon enough [to stop climate change]’ They’ll say no,” Talen said. “Corporations and politicians will say yes we will. But nothing’s changing,”

    Still, some might question whether Talen’s tactics do anything but annoy people. But Talen calls these acts transformative, as they raise awareness, make people question conventional beliefs, and motivate others to push for change.

    “Politicians eventually find their way to effective social movements,” Talen said, “because so many people become convinced that politicians and businessmen have no choice but to listen.” 

    revbilly5Even when he's beat, he refuses to quit

    Several weeks ago, Talen was at it again. Standing in the lobby of Grand Central, he shouted hoarsely to a crowd carrying black signs emblazoned with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others killed by police violence. Protesters had held a vigil for the previous 18 hours.

    “It looks as if our brothers and sisters in uniform are tightening their surrounding of the names of these victims, of these heroes, of these children, of these fathers and mothers!” said Talen, as he gestured wildly at the 10 or 20 policemen standing a few yards off. “What they are doing goes right to the heart of the uprising that started with Michael Brown. Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”

    Within minutes of speaking, the police moved in on Talen, picking up signs off the ground and breaking up the protest. Talen was arrested without ceremony.

    revbillyarrestTalen was placed in jail alone for 24 hours. Within days of his release, heannounced a $500,000 lawsuit against the MTA for falsely accusing him of attacking police officers during the arrest.

    This is what a living legend looks like, and he’s becoming more real every day.

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    A swanky party hosted by Boys & Girls Harbor in New York City brought together some big names from the arts, entertainment and finance industries on Wednesday night. The 2015 Salute to Achievement event featured Bill Ackman, famed architect Frank Gehry, music executive Lyor Cohen and film producer Steve Tisch – along with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Hudson and others. 

    The highlight of the night might be when Howard Hughes Corp CEO David R. Weinreb performed this duet of the jazz classic "On A Clear Day" with Grammy-nominated singer and former Miss America, Vanessa Williams.

    On its website, Boys & Girls Harbor says its mission is to "empower children and their families to become full, productive participants in society through educational, cultural enrichment."

    Video credit: The Howard Hughes Corporation

    SEE ALSO: Forbes thinks Bill Ackman might be the next Warren Buffett

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    Ross Stores

    Wage growth is here.

    In February, Ross Stores, a discount apparel retailer with a market cap of $20.5 billion, said it was expecting more wage pressures in 2015.

    On the company's earnings call Thursday, COO Michael O'Sullivan said the company will raise workers' minimum wages to $9 an hour in the second quarter.

    During the call, a Morgan Stanley analyst asked whether it's possible that the company's minimum wage climbs even higher in 2016. Here's what Ross' CFO Michael Hartshorn had to say (emphasis added):

    "As we've said before, though, we expect wage rates are going to move up over the next few years. I think you're seeing that in the press almost every day. So it's certainly something that we expect that we're going to be talking more about as we get into our budget for 2016 and our longer term plans and certainly when we talk about our earnings guidance next February, my guess it will be part of that discussion too."

    What Hartshorn is saying is: Wage pressure is here; everyone's talking about it; there's nothing we can do about it, and we're going to respond appropriately.

    And this chart is why:


    The quits rate comes from the monthly JOLTS report, which tallies the number of job openings in the economy. 

    As the chart shows, the quits rate in the retail industry — and the entire labor market — has trended higher through the recovery, and is at the highest levels in several years. 

    The high quits rate indicates that employers are under more pressure to retain their best staff members, who are increasingly more willing to leave their current job for a better-paying one.

    And this move from Ross makes it just the latest big retailer to say it will raise wages for its workers.

    This week, we saw hundreds of McDonald's employees protest for a $15/hour minimum wage and better working conditions during the company's annual meeting. Last month, McDonald's announced a 10% raise for workers in restaurants it owns, though this will impact only around 10% of all McDonald's locations. 

    But these increases do not go unnoticed. 

    On Friday, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen acknowledged that while the overall pace of wage growth has been disappointing so far, positive wage signs are appearing more and more frequently, saying:

    Nationally, there are at least some encouraging signs of a pickup so far this year. The fact that some large companies, such as Wal-Mart and Target, have announced wage increases for their employees also might be a sign that larger wage gains are on the horizon.

    And while increased wages could be pressuring the bottom line for some companies, according to Morgan Stanley, this trend of higher wages is good for everyone. 

    In a note about Ross on Friday, analysts Lorraine Hutchinson and Heather Balsky wrote (emphasis added):

    Ross should also be able to use cost reductions and productivity enhancements to offset some of the various regional minimum wage increases anticipated in coming years, including an increase to $10 in 2016 in California. Wage inflation is not all bad news for Ross as it should be a positive for increased discretionary spending across the middle income consumer.

    Earlier, we highlighted eight charts from Deutsche Bank's Torsten Sløk showing wage trends including rising bonuses, and a surge in the employment cost index.

    And as we've moved through the spring, more and more companies have said the same thing: Higher wages are here. 

    SEE ALSO: Why Warren Buffett thinks a $15 minimum wage will 'reduce employment in a major way, crushing many workers'

    DON'T MISS The minimum wage around the world

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