Archive by topic: Common sense

Should employees buy the company?

January 9th, 2017

Fellman’s Candidate Selection Matrix™

February 17th, 2016

At a time when the election cycle is too long, and the media spends too much of its time providing poll results, rumors, tweets and commentary rather than facts, it is vitally important that voters take time to cut through the fog and evaluate objectively which candidate(s) are, in their view, best qualified to be president of the United States.

Because voters across the nation represent different backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, core values, etc., individuals may draw vastly different conclusions about qualifications, but an objective approach helps to ensure that each person’s conclusions are based on objective criteria.

Below is a link to a matrix I designed to help voters evaluate those candidates that are of interest to them.  Even if you think you have already made a decision, try completing the spreadsheet. The results may surprise you!

Fellman’s Candidate Selection Matrix  (Note: Depending on which program you use, you may have to select “enable editing.”)

After you complete the matrix, I would love to know

  1. Did you have enough information about the candidates to rate them?
  2. Were you surprised by your results?
  3. Can you tell who my personal choice is from the matrix?  (I tried really hard to be objective and asked friends from both parties to test it!)

© Renee C. Fellman, January 25, 2016, all rights reserved

Renee’s Rule™ – Results! Results!! Results!!!

July 26th, 2015

Last week, the Business Journals ran an article, “3 qualities to look for when hiring a consultant.”

The three qualities were:

1. No ties to the company (that might create a conflict of interest)
2. Depth and breadth of experience
3. Trustworthiness

All three qualities are important, but none is more important than “Track record of producing results.”

Renee’s Rule™ – When interviewing consultants and/or checking their references, be sure to ask, “What improvements did the client company achieve as a result of the consultant’s work?”

The key qualifications for a CEO

January 11th, 2015

I have written before about The Experience Fallacy; i.e., making “industry experience” a must-have requirement for a CEO.

What should be the must-have requirements?  The following, copied from a position description posted on the web, captures perfectly the truly critical attributes:

  • Inspiring and Courageous Leadership: Ability to inspire, persuade, engage, speak straight-forwardly about complex issues, make tough decisions and take difficult actions. Display balanced thinking that combines analysis, wisdom, experience and perspective. Produce data-driven decisions that withstand the “test of time.”
  • Creativity and Innovation: Ability to generate new, innovative and visionary approaches to issues, approaches that are effective and responsive. Bring insightful perspectives on emerging and leading trends and best practices.
  • Build a Talented, Effective Staff Team: Hire, mentor, develop, retain, and manage a diverse staff. Assemble and reinforce a cohesive, dedicated, highly effective inter-disciplinary team. Ability to lead team through change processes.
  • Business and Management Acumen: Ability to manage human, financial and information resources strategically. Bring innovative approaches and solutions to challenges. Streamline and remove processes that do not bring value. Measure success based on results. Set high standards of performance, using accountability measures and benchmarks to track progress.


Open Table + Renee’s Rules™

June 13th, 2014

Unless you were asleep today, you know that Priceline is acquiring Open Table.  My main concern about the acquisition is that Priceline might muck up one of my all-time favorite companies!

Why is Open Table a favorite?  Because they follow one of the most important of Renee’s Rules™:  Make my life easy!

In case you have not used Open Table

• It is easy to make a meal reservation
• It is easy to change a reservation
• If you don’t yet know where you want to go, it is easy to decide which restaurant to choose
• It is easy to read reviews, read the menu, find the location, and visit the restaurant’s website
• It is easy to write a review
• They never bug you with unwanted emails
• The site never malfunctions
• After you make a certain number of reservations, you actually get money back to use at an Open Table restaurant
• BEST OF ALL: I have never, ever wanted, needed, or had to contact their tech support!

So many companies send follow up surveys asking you to tell them about your most recent tech support experience.  The question they never ask but should is, “What should we change so that you would not have had to spend your valuable time contacting us?”


The job of the board of directors

March 9th, 2014

On Thursday, during a panel discussion on “Corporate Governance Perspectives,” a part of Portland State University’s Idea Xchange, Rick Miller, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Avamere, succinctly summarized his view of the role of a corporate director:  “Strategically engaged; operationally distant.”

The question in my mind is, “How distant?”  Elsewhere in my blog I have described major operational shortcomings in well known companies, shortcomings that have a negative impact on the bottom line.  Clearly, the board should not be mucking about in operations, but shouldn’t the board have some way of evaluating operational effectiveness?


Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger: Good for public?

February 17th, 2014

In this article, Joel Maxcy, Associate Professor, Temple University, makes a strong case for the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger being bad for the public.

If your schedule permits, please take a few minutes to read it and tell me whether you agree.


Gender diversity: McKinsey Global Survey results

February 16th, 2014

If you are interested in the topic of gender diversity (In this case, that means women in leadership roles), you will likely want to read the results of McKinsey’s global survey regarding gender diversity.  (The article includes a link to the entire report.)

To me, the most notable finding is the disparity between the perceptions of women and men.  The study notes:  “At all levels, the views on leadership ability diverge by gender.”

As an example, see below:  (Please note: this chart includes responses only from those who agree that women can lead as effectively as men.  It is unfortunate that the chart below does not include responses from those who do not agree that women can lead as effectively as men.)


Bullet-point journalism

December 20th, 2013

My key point:  News publications  should start using a bullet-point format so that readers can quickly learn the main points of news stories of interest to them.

One of the things I LOVE about the internet is that I can get huge amounts of news in a very short time.   That also means, of course, that there is more news available than I can possibly read and absorb.   Too often, from my perspective, it takes too long to read the stories, themselves, or watch the on-line video.

Publications, whether on-line or in print, should have 3 levels of story

  1. Headline:  People can know topic and decide whether they want to know more
  2. Bullet-point summary of key points: For those who are interested but rushed
  3. Story:  For those who are interested in more detail

When the headline leads to a video

  1. Headline
  2. Bullet-point summary: For those who read faster than they can listen or don’t want to take time to watch the video
  3. Video

What do you think?


Has Personalization gone amuck?

September 14th, 2013

Am I the only person who feels “over-personalized?”

The Wall Street Journal on-line now wants to “personalize” my news.  I absolutely love being able to get my news on-line, but one of the biggest reasons I subscribe is to learn about topics that should or might be of interest to me–just like I did when I used to read print newspapers. Over-personalization could deprive me of that opportunity, or, at least, make it more difficult.

On top of that, the current trend to on-line “personalization” can misinterpret my interests.  For example:  On (my home page), I read about the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West hook-up.  Into my mind popped, “What a perfect couple!”  (I do not mean that in a nice way…) and–don’t ask me what possessed me–but I clicked to see the article.   For WEEKS thereafter, every time I looked at Google News, there was news about those two.  Was I interested?  No?  But Google News thought I was.

Somewhere between no personalization and extreme personalization is the perfect solution, and I hope someone develops it soon.

What do you think?

Beware Googlemaps

August 21st, 2013

After I got my iPhone 5, I started to rely on the googlemaps app for voice driving directions.   If I wanted to see where I was going before I left, I looked at google maps on my computer.  I loved being able to see the street view. From my perspective, google maps represented perfection.  In fact, until two weeks ago, I had nothing but great experiences with All Things Google.  Those days are evidently over.

The maps have “lost it.”  For example, last week, I needed to meet someone at 5 Centerpointe Drive in Lake Oswego, OR.  Google maps on my computer and on my iPhone showed it in a part of town 45 minutes from the building’s real location.  This was the second time in two weeks that I had encountered this kind of problem, so I checked and double checked to be sure I wasn’t imagining things.  I did report the map error, and it is now fixed, but the maps have gone from almost 100% reliable to not reliable–Now, I need to check googlemaps against mapquest every time.  That is easy when I am in my home town, Portland; not so easy if I am traveling in an unfamiliar city.

I know I am not the only person having this problem.  My next door neighbors spent two hours driving around yesterday because of the same problem.  (Different address, of course)

Do you have any information about this issue?  If so, please share!

This is not a Renee’s Rule™, but it is a rule I follow:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Oregonian cut-backs, changes, and ……

June 30th, 2013

I suspect that almost everyone hopes that those news publications that provide accurate, thoughtful reporting will continue to thrive in the digital age.

For those of us who live in Portland, Oregon, therefore, it has been difficult to watch the struggles of The Oregonian, long our leading newspaper.  In June, The Oregonian announced that  it is shifting to four-day-a-week home delivery.  Personally, although I do, occasionally, prefer to read “hard copies,” mostly, I love having digital access and, for example, read only the digital versions of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

It is time for The Oregonian  to enter the 21st century:

Most urgent: It is way past time for The Oregonian to require  readers to pay for access to its on-line content.  Much smaller communities figured this out long ago: e.g., the Medford Mail Tribune–a publication in less populous southern Oregon–for more than two years has required payment after a reader has clicked on 10 articles in one month. 

People will pay for content that is valuable to themThe question now is:  What content will The Oregonian decide to provide in order to attract readers?

My most recent post….

May 19th, 2013

As you can see, I haven’t “blogged” since March 7th.  The reason? I’ve simply been inundated on both the business and personal fronts (most of it good!).

Recently, however, someone whom I respect criticized my most recent post, so I decided to clarify its purpose:

  • In several prior posts, I have made the point that poor customer service and lack of attention to operational excellence can lead to lost customers, lost sales, lower profits–poor financial results.
  • I have also written about “the paradox of choice;” i.e., when companies offer too many choices, people may avoid making purchases and/or may buy from a competitor that provides fewer choices–poor financial results.
  • In my most recent post, I was making the point that not only can poor customer service and too many choices lead to undesirable financial results, but they can also lead to undesirable societal results; e.g., increased stress; wasted time; anger and frustration.

If I were a researcher, I would conduct a study and write a book about the impacts of disorganized, inefficient businesses on society as a whole.  To me, that is a topic worth exploring.


Gun violence

March 7th, 2013

I have a theory about what is causing the increase in gun violence.  My theory is overly simplistic and certainly only a part of the explanation, but I am betting you will agree with me:  Life has become increasingly complicated and frustrating, and that undoubtedly means shorter fuses.

I’ve been thinking about writing this entry for some time, and finally wrote down the annoyances of just the last 26 hours:  (As you will soon conclude, I am taking some “personal time” to get some personal business done.)

  1. I had to contact AVG support because PC Tune-up had stopped opening.  I was “connected” to the PC Tune-up department.  After waiting on-hold for more than 20 minutes, I went to the user interface which invited me to enter my info, call in, and gave me a code to enter.  I called. No option to enter the code. Got another rep who was going to connect me to the PC Tune-up department.  I asked, “are you sure I will be able to get through without holding for another 25 minutes?”–The customer service rep checked with his supervisor.  The answer?  No one would be in PC Tune up tech support for 30 minutes.  I do not mean that the lines were busy.  There was no one in the department, period.
  2. I need to buy a new mattress, so decided to get a one-month membership with Consumer Reports.  After I filled out all the info and paid my $$, I tried searching for “mattress.”  (There were 3 places to click–I tried all 3)  Received the following error message:  “Not found: the requested URL…was not found on this server.”  (I have the screen shots!)
  3. I then went to the Sealy site–Do you have any idea how many mattresses there are?  (I didn’t count–but too many)  I gave up–perhaps that is the idea…I called the company to see what mattresses they had that had the key features I was seeking.  The person didn’t know anything more than what was on the site–she told me I would have to look through all the items on the website.
  4. I recently got an iPad mini, in part, so that I could read e-books and check them out from the library.  As it turns out, to do this, I have to log into my library then log into Library2Go, which requires me to enter my library card number and pin every time.  The good news?  I have now memorized my 14-digit library card number.
  5. I had purchased a high-end oven which turned out to be a lemon.  When the company came to exchange it today, they were unable to check the bios to be sure they were correct.  The good news:  At least the tech was smart enough to know that needed to be done and to request the information in advance from the company.  The bad news?  The info hadn’t made it to dropbox.  That means the tech, the reps at the vendor, and I will all have to follow up to be sure I have the right version.

Clearly, none of the above is a life-threatening or significantly life-altering experience, but I am betting that virtually everyone is experiencing these kinds of occurrences increasingly often.  My theory is that some of those who turn to gun violence have simply “had it.”  They have other issues in their lives AND these kinds of issues as well.

Life would be less stressful if these aggravations didn’t occur so frequently.  I have lots of solutions but lack the power to implement them.


Office Depot/Office Max

March 6th, 2013

As you may recall, one of Renee’s Rules™ is “Two sick companies do not make a healthy one.”  

Based on my in-store and on-line customer service experiences with both Office Depot and Office Max, I predict that my rule will prove true for their upcoming merger UNLESS–and this is important–they hire a new, capable CEO for the combined entity. Although it is true that some of their troubles are attributable to the changing environment, the bigger problems is that these two companies simply are not well managed.

I rarely visited the Office Depot store in downtown Portland.  Store layout was horrid.  It simply took too long to find anything.  (Apparently, others felt the same.  The store is a ghost of its former self.)  The last time I tried to do business with Office Depot, I tried to use a coupon I received in the mail to make an on-line purchase.  The website would not recognize the coupon, so I tried calling.  When the customer service rep was unable to solve the problem after 15 minutes, I said, “Thank you very much” and have never bought anything from them again.  I really do “vote with my feet and/or my fingers.”

Office Max seems slightly better, but when I recently returned home from buying supplies at Office Max, I found a coupon that had started that day.  Really?

In the big picture, I am a teeny customer, but the examples above are symptoms of the kinds of problems that affect larger customers, too.

These companies–like too many others (ToysRUs comes to mind.)–simply do not pay adequate attention to operations and to detail.  They do not think about what it is like to be their customer.   The merger will extend life but is unlikely to produce a healthy entity.




Windows 8/Surface–my analysis and prediction

November 25th, 2012

The tech pundits have cited multiple reasons for slower-than-anticipated sales of Windows 8 and related phones and tablets:

  1. Availability and pricing
  2. Poor connectivity, hardware problems
  3. Mixed early reactions
  4. Clumsy interface
  5. Misc. + the “current economic crisis”

Although all of the above reasons may, in fact, be contributing to slower sales, my gut feel (If “gut feel” is good enough for other pundits, it’s good enough for me!) is that the biggest issue is that everyone knows that it’s a mistake to be the first to get a new Microsoft program, let alone, a new piece of Microsoft hardware.  There will be the inevitable “updates” and “fixes.”

Personally, I’m going to wait a few months and then update my PC to Windows 8 and switch to a Windows 8 phone and tablet.    Am betting I’ll have lots of company.

So much for punditry.  Calling Nate Silver!  Any input on this burning issue?




October 21st, 2012

I wish that, instead of reporters and other “observers” providing  media reactions to the political debates, the media would engage “real” debate coaches and judges to evaluate the performances based upon pre-established criteria.

That method would add a degree of objectivity, and the results might prove surprising.



The candidates and the economy

September 30th, 2012

As the election approaches, it is clear that the two presidential candidates have very different approaches to “fixing” the economy, reducing the deficit.

If you have not done so already, I strongly urge you to take a few minutes to go to the 2010 New York Times Article,  Budget Puzzle:  You Fix the Budget.  In essence, it is an interactive spreadsheet that allows you to play with various scenarios.  You can select which cuts you, personally, would make and what changes in the tax code, if any, you would make.  You can run multiple scenarios and see the results immediately.  Categories include

  • Domestic programs and foreign aid
  • Military
  • Health care
  • Social Security
  • Existing taxes
  • New taxes and tax reform

I have mentioned this article before, but with the election approaching, NOW is the time to try it.  I can almost guarantee that you will find it FASCINATING!  It changed my views about what steps should be taken.  If you take it, I would love to hear your reaction.


Personal political information: Opt-in or Opt-out?

June 9th, 2012

Some people may have been thrilled to learn about, which, according to their website, “is a web service that allows you to discover how your friends on social networks are registered to vote, and campaign with them to elect candidates that share your values.

The heart of Votizen is the over 200MM–strong voter database which is social media ready. Voters can connect to their own records to see their voting registration and history, as well as use it to prove their power to those that hold and seek office. Voters can then scan their social networks and reveal the voters they can work with to campaign for candidates they believe in, whether it’s nationwide for a Presidential election, or in a local city council race.”

If you are like me and were dismayed to discover that your personal political information might be available to your “connections” on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, Votizen says that there is a way to protect your information.  Send an email to and ask them to send you an opt-out link.

Don’t misunderstand:  I appreciate Votizen’s stated intention to “create a new political currency based on voter-to-voter connections, reducing the influence of money and increasing the importance of relationships in civic engagement.”  At the same time, I prefer to keep my political affiliations private and think that revealing this kind of information should be “opt-in” rather than “opt-out.”

On a separate note, Votizen’s claims make me worry about our educational system because, unless I am missing something, it appears that the people at Votizen failed to pass or did not take the Common Sense Math course and did not learn the Double Check Your Work rule.

Fact check:  Votizen claims to have a database of more than 200 million registered voters which would mean that approximately 2/3 of all citizens are registered voters.  That felt wrong to me, so I did some checking and discovered that it really is wrong.  The current population of the United States is approximately 314 million, and the US Commerce Department reported only approximately 137 million registered voters in 2010.  (To see specifics, click on this link, the select Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2010, Detailed tables, Table 1.)

As a voter, a former elected public official and a former teacher, I believe that Votizen is wrong on its voter registration stats and wrong to make political affiliations public without permission.


Renee’s Rule™: Check references.

May 6th, 2012

As you probably know by now, the CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, misrepresented his educational achievements on his resume.

Verifying the accuracy of educational claims is easy.  Really easy.  Evidently, however, no member of the Board of Directors asked whether any one had verified all of the statements on Thompson’s resume.

How could this happen?  Apparently, board members “assumed” that basic due diligence had been done when, in fact, it  had not.

Why does this happen?  My personal theory is that many CEO’s and board members have never been intimately involved in or had responsibility for the details of running a business.  They focus too much on the big picture and not enough on the details that can spell the difference between success and failure.

If you have time, I’d love to know your theory!

Call centers off shore

November 26th, 2011

The New York Times today has a story, “A New Capital of Call Centers,” which focuses on the fact that many  companies with US customers are moving their call centers to the Phillipines or back to the U.S. because personnel in the new locations speak better English than, say, their counterparts in India.

Evidently, these companies believe that customers’ primary concern is the quality of the language used by the call center agents.  My primary concern, however, is whether or not the call center agent is actually able to answer my questions, solve my problem, and/or take my order accurately.  Overall,  I’ve had much better luck with the hard-to-understand foreign agents who seem to know what they are talking about than with US-based agents who are poorly trained and/or work in call centers in which no system is in place to help callers actually get their questions answered.

In brief, I wish companies would pay more attention to this Renee’s Rule™: Make my life easy.

What do you wish?



Awards dilution….

November 7th, 2011

When I won a Turnaround of the Year Award from the Turnaround Management Association (TMA)  in 1997, I was thrilled.  In addition to the thrill of being recognized for my achievements, during the award ceremony, I had the opportunity and the pleasure to deliver a thank you and give credit to Ron Torland, the CEO who brought me into the company, gave me full operating authority, worked with me side-by-side, and supported my decisions, some of which were extremely unpopular.  The turnaround would not have been possible without his participation.

When I attended the TMA awards presentation at the conference this year, it struck me that things have really changed.  There were so many awards given to so many people that there were no speeches–just lots of people marching across the stage.

Think about it:  How many announcements about awards events or awards being bestowed do you receive every week?  Clearly, these awards bring people into each organization and its events, and they are are certainly great marketing tools for both the organizations and the winners, but I can’t help feeling that the significance of these awards has been diminished.

Ethical issues in turnaround engagements

October 22nd, 2011

In July, I was invited to write an article for the conference issue of The Journal of Corporate Renewal, the publication of the Turnaround Management Association (TMA). The topic I selected was “Ethical Issues in Turnaround Engagements.”

Although TMA  declined to print the article in the conference issue because they found it to be too controversial, Jack Butler, an internationally recognized partner at Skadden’s corporate restructuring and governance practice,  invited me to participate in the Advance Education Panel he is moderating at the TMA Conference in San Diego next week  and to include the article in the materials distributed to session attendees.  The title for the panel is “Ethical Challenges in Large, Mid and Small Companies.”

I intended the article to be a call to action by TMA, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.  It is my understanding that the article will be shared with TMA’s Strategic Planning Committee as well as the Certification Oversight Committee for the Certified Turnaround Professional program.  I have been invited to submit it again for the March issue, which will be devoted to ethical issues, but I certainly hope that the content will be out-of-date by then!

Although I have made some revisions to the original (suggestions for refinements made by several people I interviewed), all of the basic points remain unchanged.  Here is a link to the article:  Deconstructing the Code.

Steve Jobs made my life easy.

October 5th, 2011

There have been many analyses written about what made Steve Jobs great, but the articles I have read have missed the key ingredient:  Steve was able to make things easy for his customers.  He knew instinctively that people would be more likely to use products that were intuitively easy to use, and his genius was that he was able to turn the idea of easy into the reality of easy.

My sons have saved my Apple IIe and the floppy disks with the  games they played.  We all love our iPhones, iPads, and Macs…..

I’ve been thinking about the  issue of “easy” because I had two “high-end” ovens installed in my kitchen this week.  Really, I just want to be able to put something into the oven and cook it, but the display is so complicated and the instruction book so inadequate that what should be intuitively easy, will take hours.  Will I love my ovens when I finally figure them out?  Of course, but the manufacturer has missed the boat by failing to provide the “customer delight” that results when something is actually easy to use.

Today, most of us feel that it has become increasingly difficult to get things done, so “easy” is now more important than ever.

As you may recall, one of  Renee’s Rules™ is:  Make my life easy.  This was one of Steve Job’s Rules long before it was mine.

Outlook for groupon et al.

June 20th, 2011 update

April 26th, 2011

In my last post, I questioned the wisdom of’s lack of a search function.  In fact, I had actually sent an email to  them about this topic.

Here is a part of their reply: “Because we have a very limited, specialized, selection and each sale only lasts a few days there is no search feature.”

There is hope, however.  When  I visited their site today, there was a “Search” field…It doesn’t work for items on their site–it takes visitors to other websites–but I am hoping this means they listened and will develop an effective search function in the not-to-distant future.  If they do, I may shop there.

What are they thinking?

April 25th, 2011 and are websites that offer products of interest to me, HOWEVER, I don’t shop at either one because those sites have no effective search function.  There is no field that says, “Search.”

What are they thinking?  I assume they think people will buy a larger number of items if they have to navigate through lots of different pages to find something of interest because they’ll see multiple items they’d like to buy.

This may be a great strategy for shoppers who either live to shop or have plenty of time on their hands, but it may prevent busy people from doing any shopping at all on those sites.

Here is the question:  Are the total  sales to people with time to shop likely to be larger than total sales WOULD be if it were easy to search for specific items on these websites?  My gut feel is that if these websites had first-rate search functionality, they would land sales not only from people who have time to shop but also from those who are pressed for time.

Perhaps I live in a warped reality–but most of the people I know (all age groups) would prefer EASY and TIME-SAVING to CUMBERSOME and TIME-CONSUMING.

A retail trend I don’t like

April 22nd, 2011

Retailers are always trying something new to boost sales, but this latest trick, having NO price tag, looks like a mistake to me.

For people who live to shop and have plenty of time to do so, being able to see the price may not matter, but for busy people, having to take time to find a clerk in order to learn the price of an item of interest  is not only annoying but may also prevent them from making a purchase.

Take me, for example:  I definitely do not live to shop and, when I need something,  generally shop en route to some other activity.  A few weeks ago, I spotted the perfect purse at Nordstrom–exactly what I’d been seeking for almost a year: leather, waterproof, big enough to hold an iPad and to serve as a tote for carrying shoes, etc.  Perfect for trips to New York City.  It was not a necessity but would definitely have been  nice to have.

No price tag.  No price tag on the outside; no price tag on the inside.  The clerk was helping other customers but told me that not having price tags on purses was their new policy.   I was on my way to a meeting and couldn’t wait.     Nordstrom lost a sale.

Today, while hiking through a mall on my way to purchase a necessity,   I spotted the perfect gift for my granddaughter at a kiosk.  No price tag.  For that matter, no clerk.  Therefore, that kiosk lost a sale.

I suppose that the theory behind this no price tag strategy is that when customers have to ask the price, it gives the sales person a chance either to make the sale and/or sell different or additional items.

It would be interesting to know (but tough to measure) whether the benefits of this strategy outweigh the costs of lost sales.  I’m sure it is NOT a good plan for customers like me.

Fact or fiction?

April 15th, 2011

The greatest danger to the future of our democracy is that too many people are unable to differentiate between what is fact and what is fiction and too few care.

Although I certainly agree that academic achievement needs to be improved in our country, no job in our educational system  is more important than ensuring that our citizens can  evaluate critically the information they receive.

Perhaps you have followed the Kyl/Colbert saga which prompted this post. Senator Jon Kyl declared in a speech in the US Senate that 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to abortions. He was more than slightly off the mark:  the percentage is only 3%, and his office said that  his comment was “not intended to be a factual statement.”   The comedian Stephen Colbert responded with a twitter campaign that mocked Kyl’s behavior and drew attention to the lack of fact-based discussion which has become all too common.

Regardless of how we may feel about the abortion issue, it is scary to see that our elected officials (and too many others) simply don’t care about basing their arguments on facts.  We will never all agree on all topics, but let’s base our disagreements on FACT rather than on FICTION.  If we do not, we risk domination by demagoguery.

Trends 2011- #1

February 26th, 2011

As a child, growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, I became a science fiction nut, and my interest in the future and what technology can achieve has endured.

In 1985, when I was in my MBA program, I took a course about “The Future.”  It was taught by Harold Linstone.   As a part of that course, each student wrote a scenario of what he/she thought the world would be like in 2000.  I have saved my copy (It was composed on my Apple IIe.   My sons were quite enthralled with it at the time, so it is preserved for all posterity in my safe deposit box.)

Among other things, I predicted that  by the year 2000, there would be “terrorist attacks on our shores.”  Am I prescient?  Not really–To prepare for the assignment, I  simply did a great deal of reading about trends at the time.

Some of my predictions were right; some were wrong.  Some were right, but I had NO  idea what they meant.  (e.g., I predicted that we would be communicating via electronic mail, but I had NO idea that we would call it “email” and that it would dramatically change our lives.)

So..for what it’s worth, I am going to start a series of blog posts containing my predictions about what will occur over the next ten years.  Some will be right; some will be wrong.. In any event I’ll be on-the-record, and it will be interesting to see the extent to which my predictions are accurate.

Did e-readers kill Borders?

February 18th, 2011

It’s easy to blame e-readers and associated technological changes for Borders’ predicament, but they are merely the symptoms and not the disease.

When companies face the double whammy of game-changing technology and a sagging economy, they simply must have a sound strategy and consistent, capable, visionary leadership. Since 2005, however, Borders has had 4 different CEO’s.  How could the company possibly develop or effectively execute a company-saving strategy while there was a revolving door at the entrance to the executive suite?

Beware of LinkedIn!

February 13th, 2011

The lesson:  If you want to invite people you know to “connect” on LinkedIn, don’t use the section that says, “Enter Email Addresses.”

This is a lesson I learned the hard way.

Recently, I uploaded the email addresses of my key professional contacts (people who were already receiving my periodic email updates) to LinkedIn so I could “connect” with those who wished to do so.  There was no indication that these invitations would be different from those I frequently receive from others.  Those invitations appear only once, and I can either accept or reject them. End of story.

Shortly after the upload, however, I received an email from a long-time professional friend who told me that he had received not one—not two—but three separate invites from me to “connect.”   I was appalled and immediately contacted LinkedIn to stop that process.

Now, I have sent an email note of apology to those who may have received the multiple messages.

If I were the CEO of LinkedIn, I would understand that business relationships must be guarded carefully and take steps to ensure that LinkedIn’s processes would be clearly defined so that my customers could proceed without worry that they might damage their valuable professional relationships.  Evidently the real CEO, Jeff Weiner, does not share my concern.

Harry and David

February 12th, 2011

You may be interested in what I had to say about Harry and David in these articles from the Portland Business Journal and the Medford, Oregon-based Mail Tribune over the last two days.

I’ll have more to say on this topic later….but from feedback I’ve been getting, it appears that the problems I saw were only the tip of the iceberg.

Leadership and vision: Setting the agenda

February 7th, 2011

Many people believe that the CEO should have the “vision thing.”  I believe that our presidents (plural!) and other elected officials  should have the the “vision thing,” that it is their responsibility to set the priorities and anticipate problems before they occur.

It appears to me that these officials too often don’t even think about anticipating problems before they occur, let alone initiate preventive actions.

For example:  On February 2nd,  the Washington Post ran a story, Why does Fresno have thousands of job openings- and high unemployment? The answer, of course is that there is a mismatch between job openings and the skill sets of job applicants.  Duh!

We seem to be discovering this nation-wide mismatch only recently, when it has, in fact, been on its way for at least 25 years.

For example, when I was in my MBA program (1984-5), I wrote a paper, “What to do about the coming structural unemployment.”  In the paper  (lost to posterity because I created it on a floppy disk using my Apple IIe), I addressed the unemployment/change in employment opportunities that would result from the two obvious trends:  globalization and greater use of robotics.

If the trends and their impacts were obvious to me, surely they were obvious to countless others.

So here is the question:  Why didn’t we, as a country, pay more attention to this problem earlier?

My answer is two-fold:

1. Elected officials are really fire-fighters who are so busy putting out the the current fires, they don’t have time to attend to the likely future ones.

2. We get the government we deserve.

On the business (as opposed to the political) front:  Is the phenomenon described above any different from the leadership of  Blockbuster and Borders being late to the technological revolution?

Why do some people “see” while others do not?

Distressed Investing + Leadership

January 25th, 2011

Wednesday, I am leaving for the Distressed Investing Conference of the Turnaround Management Association and am eager to see whether presenters spend much time discussing  leadership considerations.

Many investments in distressed companies  fail because the investors (most of them private equity firms) pay too little attention to selecting and managing company leadership, but the last time I attended this conference, 2009, there was only one session (really, it was only one panelist) who highlighted this very important issue.

Mike Heisley discussed the fact that distressed companies require a leader with traits that are very different from those required to lead  a “healthy” company.  He was exactly right.  Click here to view my post from that event.

Smarter than the Apple Analysts?

January 20th, 2011

As you may recall, last Spring, I held a contest, “Are you smarter than an economist?” My two winners, who received $1,000 each for their on-target predictions, were “ordinary” people–well, definitely not economists.

Now, according to, financial bloggers did better than professional analysts in predicting Apple’s revenue, earnings, gross margins, and unit sales for Q1 2011.

Hmmmm…what does this say about professional economists and stock analysts?

Retail sales: Compared with what?

January 16th, 2011

In an article yesterday on The Huffington Post, Abby Wendle reported that retail sales increased for the 6th straight month.

This is good news, but how good is it? How do the sales of the most recent 6 months compare with the same months in 2006, 7, 8?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but tomorrow in my blog I will ask the same question about unemployment statistics. For that question I do have the answer.

One of my pet reporting peeves is a story that omits critical information (facts) that would allow the reader (me) to draw some conclusions about the significance of the story.

On several occasions, my local paper, The Oregonian, has reported the remarkable increase in revenues for some local company but has failed to include what is happening to the bottom line. In several instances, companies that have touted their revenue increases in the press have failed not long after.

2011: The Year of Improved Customer Service?

January 2nd, 2011

It may be that the economy is, in fact, reviving, but we definitely are not “there yet.”

My prediction for the coming year—maybe longer—is this: In those industries experiencing intense price competition, the big winners will be those companies that figure out how to provide excellent customer service while remaining cost competitive.

Consumers have had it. They are frustrated by having to take their time to make ten phone calls to solve one simple problem or by spending time looking for an item in a crowded store only to find a clerk (finally!) who either can’t find the product or is unable to answer questions about it.

Many financial experts in the corporate suite subscribe to the axiom that improved customer service adds cost and, therefore, hurts the bottom line. Although there are situations in which that axiom holds true, operational experts know that the opposite is often the case, that companies that think through their processes and procedures–how they provide their products and services to customers—can develop ways to deliver superior service at the same or even at a lower cost thereby improving margins and retaining customers who would otherwise be lost.


October 18th, 2010

Today, published an article by me, “5 Biggest Business Mistakes.” You can read it by clicking here.

I sent an email to some of my business contacts with a link to the article, and an amazing number responded with either similar views or their own tales of horror.

If you have time, I’d love to see your comments, too.

Leadership and Nokia

October 14th, 2010

In the 9/20-9/26 edition of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Matthew Lynn (and the photo that accompanied the article) implied that Stephen Elop, who became CEO of Nokia on 9/21, is not the best person to lead the turnaround because Elop is not a “phone expert.”

I do not know a great deal about Elop except that he was recently “the Canadian head of Microsoft’s business unit” and that he has software experience and a reputation for “shaking up” businesses, but I do know that Lynn’s apparent assumption—that “industry experience” is central to a turnaround—is just plain flawed.

One needs to look no further than Alex Mandel’s leadership of Teligent in the late ‘90’s to see that “industry experience” does not guarantee success. Mandel had been president and COO of AT&T, but Teligent failed spectacularly under his leadership. Although the failure was blamed on “the downturn and overcapacity,” the underlying issue was that on the ground and in the trenches, Teligent was simply unable to provide the reliable wireless services it promised. The lesson: The leadership skills required to launch a technology start-up with no existing infrastructure are very different from those required to lead a long-established company.

In a turnaround, where time truly is “of the essence,” the most valuable commodity is effective leadership, not industry expertise. I’ve had 34 clients. Of those, 3 were in one industry; 2 were in another; the rest were all “one-off.” Based on that experience, it is clear to me that industry experience is not, by any means, the determining factor.

The most important skills needed in leading a turnaround are

· The “power of the glance;” i.e., the ability to see quickly what needs to be done
· Common sense
· Ability to establish the right priorities
· Clarity of vision and the ability to convey that vision
· Decisiveness
· Ability to mobilize the troops to provide ideas and support the effort

Is having industry expertise a plus? Yes. But it is no substitute for having the right leadership skills. No matter what the industry, it is relatively easy to find someone with industry expertise. It is much more difficult to find someone who has the right leadership skills.

I’m rooting for Stephen Elop and hope he proves Mr. Lynn wrong!

Hats off to American Express!

September 12th, 2010

Recently, I had to place a call to American Express’ customer service. First, my problem was solved right away. Second, almost immediately thereafter, I received a customer survey. Guess what the first survey question was? “Do you remember this call?” (paraphrased)

I almost fell out of my chair. Someone had finally THOUGHT about a customer survey and what it was trying to accomplish!

Customer satisfaction surveys are conducted, presumably, to get feedback about the customer’s “experience.” These surveys could be powerful tools for gaining and retaining customers and for reducing costs, but too often they are not. I call them the “Silly Surveys.” (Actually, some additional “S words” spring to mind…)

How many surveys have you received and wondered, “Which call and what person is this survey asking about?” If you are like me, too often, either I’ve had to talk with more than one support person, or the survey arrives long enough after the incident that I am not sure which incident, contact, or person the survey is asking about.

In addition, too many surveys fail to ask a critical question: Should this call have been necessary in the first place? Instead, it asks: Was the support person knowledgeable, clear, polite? Was the problem solved? The answer is often, “Yes, to all of the above,” but too often, the underlying problem is that the company has a poorly constructed website that makes it difficult to accomplish simple tasks–tasks that are easy to accomplish at other sites. I had to waste my time placing a call that should have been unnecessary.

In the case of the above example, the support person will get kudos (or, at least, won’t get into trouble), but I, the customer, having made too many similar calls to this company, am likely to be considering changing vendors, and the company is missing an opportunity to reduce its tech support costs. If customers could easily accomplish simple tasks at the website, fewer tech support people would be needed.

Renee’s Rule™: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Renee’s Rule™: You can’t have two captains on the same ship.

June 6th, 2010

One of the headlines today in the New York Times reads, “In Gulf, It Was Unclear Who Was in Charge of Oil Rig.”

If “who was in charge” was, in fact, unclear, it is scary, but, in my experience, too often the case.

Example one: Several years ago, in the process of considering whether to accept a family-owned business client, I interviewed 7 family members, most of whom were in the upper echelons of the business.  Because the company had no organization chart, I asked each person to draw one for me.  No two charts were the same.  The mother-in-law thought the son-in-law was running the company; the son-in-law thought the mother-in-law was running the company.  No wonder the company was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Example two: A 25-year-old, FDA-regulated company with operations in both the US and Canada had been cited for FDA infractions before my arrival.  Unlike the company in example one, this company had a detailed organization chart and job descriptions for every position, so when I met with the Director of Government Compliance and the Director of Quality Assurance,  I asked which one was in charge of ensuring FDA compliance.  The two looked at each other. Neither could answer.

You will not be surprised to learn that I solved the non-compliance problem by simply designating one person who had both the responsibility and authority for compliance. As a result, during the first FDA inspection following my departure, the company received  its first-ever absolutely “clean” bill of health.

The lesson: Imagine a ship with two captains, each issuing different orders—a symphony, in which the conductor is “conducting,” while the concertmaster is directing the strings.  No one would ever consider creating either of those scenarios.  That’s  Management 101.  Why, then, do companies, from small to gigantic, allow that to happen?

Renee’s Rule:  You can’t have two captains on the same ship.

Revenues are up!

August 30th, 2009

As you may have noticed, my entries are getting shorter–Working 80 hours a week will do that to you….

My thought for this week:  Every time I read in the business news that “Revenues are up,” I ask myself, what about profits?  Are they up or down?

Renee’s Rule™: Make my life E-A-S-Y!

July 27th, 2009

Recently, I sent an email to key business contacts letting them know my turnaround client needed a new CFO.  I received approximately 160 resumes.

The quality of the  emails most candidates sent was appalling.  Based upon what arrived in my inbox, here is my advice to those looking for work:

  1. Read the job announcement. If you send a lengthy email in response to an ad that includes the word “turnaround”, you should  assume you will not be considered.  Turnaround experts are looking for people who can cut to the chase and won’t waste their time.
  2. Use bullets not paragraphs. Time is money. Cash is king.  Make my life E-A-S-Y.  I am getting hundreds of emails a day.  Which emails do you think I am likely to read? Those with 5 lengthy paragraphs or those with 5 concise bullets?
  3. Make sure that the file name of your resume includes your name. If your resume does not have your name in the file name, you are out-of-the-running with me because I have to take time–my time–to change the file name before I save it.  Please, make my life E-A-S-Y.
  4. Don’t be a pest. If the job announcement says “send email to,” please don’t call.  If you do, it appears that you have no respect for my time.

Renee’s Rule™: Think before you respond. If you were in my shoes, what would you want to know?

  • What has the applicant DONE?
  • What is he/she LIKE?
    • Will he/she be able to work in a highly charged, fast-paced environment?
    • Will he/she be the kind of employee who anticipates what his/her supervisor needs?  who will make my life E-A-S-Y?

Renee’s Rule™: Make my life E-A-S-Y!

Renee’s Rule™: Know what you don’t know.

July 19th, 2009

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with many wonderful CPA’s who truly put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.  They ask the key questions.  They know what they don’t know.

I have also, however, seen some CPA’s do some really appalling things; e.g.,

  • Providing inappropriate advice  ( When I arrived at my very first client, the company was on credit hold or COD with all vendors, bleeding cash, and faced with a threatened shut-down by the IRS.  The CPA, blissfully unaware of the severity of the problems, was billing the customer for business planning assistance.)
  • Being unwilling to recommend a change of CFO when that CFO was clearly unqualified  (I’ve seen this multiple times and don’t know whether this happened because the CPAs did not realize the failings of the CFOs or because the CPAs did not want to risk losing their clients.)
  • Recommending consultants based on industry or turnaround “experience” rather than on RESULTS   (For the dangers related to this, please visit my post, THE EXPERIENCE FALLACY.)
  • Giving false assurances  (Several years ago, I had as a  client a third-generation family-owned business.  The company had experienced increasing losses for three years straight.  The CPA had told the elderly majority shareholders, “Everything will be all right.”  When I arrived, however, the company was at Death’s Door.   The company survived, but it was  an extremely difficult situation.  We had to implement an out-of-court Chapter 11.)
  • Preparing unrealistic financial projections because the CPA did not understand the business

It is really important that CPA’s–and other professional advisors–know what they don’t know.

Renee’s Rules™ for the Recession

July 3rd, 2009

Both national and regional bankers have told me recently that they expect a second wave of troubled companies…..For those companies that may be at risk, here are my key recommendations:

  1. Renee’s Rule™: Don’t sell to customers who won’t pay.
  2. Prepare worst-cast cash projections for each of the coming 6 months; if necessary, take action now to prevent a meltdown.
  3. Solicit ideas from employees and advisors; implement those that will have the greatest impact in the shortest time.
  4. Implement changes to company processes that will lower costs and improve customer service.
  5. Renee’s Rule™:  If you think you may need help, you probably do.
  6. Renee’s Rule™: The sooner, the better.

Renee’s Rule™: What gets measured matters.

June 28th, 2009

Every manager knows the axiom “What gets measured is what gets done,” but too often managers overlook key measurements.

An example: When cash is tight, and profits are lagging, managers, boards of directors and lenders often focus on reducing inventories.  Measuring dollar value of inventory and inventory turns can certainly be useful; however, if  there is no report that shows the AGE of the inventory (how old the inventory is and whether or not it is obsolete) and no report that measures stockouts, inventory reductions may produce undesirable, unintended consequences.

When a company holds old or obsolete items and reduces the size of its inventory, the dollars tied up in inventory do decline, but the % of  “bad”  inventory  increases, and the entity may find itself without  materials needed to deliver orders on time and/ or to stock its shelves with the products that customers want.

In addition, if a company does not write down old or write off obsolete inventory (and, yes, this still happens!), the company is inflating its bottom line.  Since financial statements are the scorecard of the business, if financial statements are not accurate, then management’s decisions are based upon misleading information.

Renee’s Rule™: What gets measured matters.

Renee’s Rule™: If you can’t understand what someone is saying, he may not be saying anything.

May 27th, 2009

I’ve seen some pretty scary hiring mistakes.  Here is an example in which “The Emperor Had No Clothes.”

In the 1990’s, I became  Interim CEO of a  company that was experiencing the worst production problems I had ever seen.  The company had hired a new Director of Materials Management.  He had been referred by a management team member who had worked with him elsewhere, and his references from former employers were excellent.  Everyone told me–and seemed to believe–that this guy was a genius.  During meetings, he typed on his own notebook computer (fairly unusual at that time), looked impressive,  and made “pronouncements.”

I, however, couldn’t understand a thing the guy was saying (plus, of course, materials management  was still totally out-of-control.).  I said to myself, “I have an MBA, am pretty darned bright, and  have run more than 10  companies.  If I can’t understand him, maybe he isn’t saying anything.  Something is wrong.”

HR had checked his references, but I asked them to contact the universities listed on his resume to verify his degrees.  Surprise, surprise:  this fellow had lied on his resume and had no college degree.   Needless to say, that was the end of his employment with the company.  (The company, by the way, was successfully turned around.)

The question in my mind remains:  Why in the world hadn’t someone else called his bluff?  (A question to be explored in a future blog..)

At least three of Renee’s Rules™ apply:

  • If you can’t understand what someone is saying, he may not be saying anything.
  • Too often, people are afraid to speak out when they think something is wrong.
  • Check references thoroughly.

Renee’s Rule™: “Bigger” may not be “safer.”

May 17th, 2009

When is it “safer” to hire a “big” professional firm rather than a smaller one?  This is a topic I’ll be exploring in several different posts.  For the moment, here is an instructional story. (The names and some details have been withheld to protect the guilty.)

Some time ago, a principal from PE (private equity) Firm A, with investments across the country, called me to take the place of the CFO they had hired because he was a consultant with a national (“big”) consulting firm.  Why was the PE firm replacing him?  When the portfolio company’s lender conducted its audit, guess what they found?  The “F” word: Fraud.  (I did not accept this engagement for a variety of reasons I’ll discuss in a later post.)

Several months later, PE Firm B interviewed me for a turnaround in an industry in which I had successfully turned around more than one company.  Did they hire me? No.  Why did they pick someone else?

  • He’s from a national firm, so that’s “safer.”
  • He has industry “experience.”
  • We know him.

Here is what I know about this person:

  • He IS a consultant with a national firm.
  • He was involved with a company but definitely did not lead a successful turnaround in the “industry.”
  • He was the person who was removed by PE Firm A because bank fraud occurred while he was CFO.  (Evidently, PE Firm B didn’t really “know” him.)

I also know that the company was not, in fact, successfully turned around.

Let me be clear:  There are some times that a bigger firm really IS safer; nonetheless, there are many lessons to be drawn from the above story.  Stay tuned for further posts.

In the meantime, remember these Renee’s Rules™:

  • When hiring, RESULTS are more important than “experience.”
  • Always check references.
  • There is no substitute for common sense.

Lean manufacturing: not a panacea

March 22nd, 2009

Not long ago, I attended a meeting of the local APICS chapter at which managers from a manufacturer of dental equipment described the process they used to obtain outstanding cost savings by  implementing  “lean manufacturing” techniques.

Shortly thereafter, during a visit to my dentist–who had recently purchased new equipment from that company–I discovered that there was a major flaw in their new dental chair– absolutely no ability to adjust part of the chair for people of varying heights–a rather major oversight, the hygienist observed.

So….implementing “lean” techniques may have reduced production cost, but it failed to meet the needs of the customer.

Clearly, my dentist purchased the piece of equipment anyway, but, surely, the next time, he will be more careful to check to see that basic necessary features are in place.  In the meantime, he may tell his colleagues who may be contemplating equipment purchases about the design defect…

So..”lean” is not a panacea.  There is still no substitute for common sense.

Renee’s Rule™- There is no subsitute for common sense

March 4th, 2009

It seems like every minute a new book with the “latest” business “secrets” hits the market.  In reality, however, running a business profitably and well boils down to taking care of the basics; i.e., having a well-conceived plan, having a capable leader, and implementing a carefully crafted management control system.  It is astounding to me that so many companies lack these basics—not just family-owned, but also publicly and private equity-owned (You know some of their names.)

Much of the information in this blog may sometimes sound like nothing more than common sense, but common sense and an attention to the basics are too often missing-in-action.

An example from my personal experience: In 2007, a private equity firm interviewed me for a turnaround project.  The company had been losing money for three years; there was no business plan; the president was clearly not qualified; and there was no effective management control system in place.  After I mentioned that the company needed these basics, the managing director said, “We know that.” (As in, “do you think we are idiots?”)  So…if they knew all of that, then where had they been, and what had they been doing for the past three years?  And these were people with MBA’s from prestigious institutions, who, presumably, have a fiduciary duty to their investors and definitely know better.

Find a way to step back from your business, to take a cold, hard look at where you are and what your real prospects are…Are you making money or losing money?